At the end of a recent 5000 km roadtrip through Mozambique, I sat down to make a list of the advice that made my trip a success.
1. Pack light
This is the most important thing. Before you even leave your doorstep, toss as much as possible from your bag, especially if you plan to travel without your own wheels.
Hauling hefty luggage will only give you headaches if you’re navigating Mozambique’s chaotic public transportation, and more often than not you’ll be charged extra fare for bulky bags on buses and chapas (chapas are Mozambique’s extra-crammed version of South Africa’s minibus taxis).
How to do it
I travelled with nothing more than could fit snugly on my lap while seated in a packed vehicle. A second pair of trousers would’ve been mighty useful, but I didn’t regret my tiny knapsack. Pack two changes of clothes (shirts, underwear) and a bar of laundry soap. The hot Mozambican sun will dry your daily washing in no time! Read 10 tips on how to pack a backpack.
2. Take the slow road
Of course my packing suggestions won’t matter if you’ve got your own wheels. But I chose to leave my little car behind, and I’m so glad I did.
Aside from the fact that self-driving in Mozambique means putting up with a maze of official-dom (see “about those police”, below), my dedication to slow transit gave me the opportunity to meet so many amazing and kind Mozambicans who rely on this transportation daily. While fifteen-hour days of marathon chapa rides can get old, it gives a glimpse into Mozambique that the air-conditioned luxury of your own 4×4 will surely miss.
How to do it
Cultivate your patience before you leave home. Talk to strangers: find locals who can give directions to chapa and bus stations. Hang around the afternoon before your departure to inquire about buying bus tickets or to learn the earliest morning departure time. Set your alarm for the wee small hours of the morning – many long-distance chapas leave at 5am or earlier. Have small change handy in your pocket to buy bread, fruit and juice through the windows from roadside vendors.
3. Pack a good guidebook
I met plenty of travelers who were at loose ends without a guidebook, or even with an out-of-date book. Tourist information is scarce in Mozambique and the country is constantly changing, so it’s key to pack a current guide. There are two I’d recommend:
The Getaway Guide to Mozambique, 3rd edition (Getaway, 2011).
Sure, this looks like shameless self promotion, but the Getaway Guide gave me the best overall introduction to Mozambique: things I should see, places I should go, and how I should plan my trip. I read it cover to cover before leaving home.
Mozambique, 5th edition (Bradt Travel Guides, 2011).
This is the guide with by far the most detail: up-to-date accommodation and restaurant listings, excellent maps, and as much info as possible on transportation options for every destination. I met several other travelers with this book, and as we glimpsed the familiar book cover poking from our shoulder bags we shared smug nods over our excellent choice.
4. Don’t drink the tap water
I know, I know: you’re all rolling your eyes at how blindingly obvious this is. However, it needs to be said.
I’m always too optimistic about the quality of tap water. And there’s a good chance you might be safe drinking from the faucet in major destinations south of Vilanculos. However, when travelling it’s best to play safe and stick with bottled water. Whatever you do: don’t drink the tap water in Beira or other parts north. Trust me.
How to do it
Boil your drinking water, or purchase bottled water – be sure to check that the bottle seal isn’t broken. Read this article on medication to pack while travelling in Africa, paying special attention to the sections on antibiotics and oral rehydration salts. And make sure you review how to prevent traveller’s diarrhoea.
5. About those policemen…
Law enforcement officers in Mozambique have a bit of a reputation, and it’s not entirely undeserved. Chances are good you’ll lose track of the number of times you’re asked for your passport, or the number of times your vehicle is stopped for an “inspection”. Be prepared and you won’t have any problems.
How to do it
Carry your passport with you ALL. THE. TIME. Smile and be polite when you are addressed by police officers. Follow all the rules of the road if you’re driving; be prepared for countless roadside inspections if you’re travelling by bus or chapa. If you want to avoid these hassles as a driver, leave your car at home and stick to public transportation (see “take the slow road”, above).
6. Be a smart traveller
Mozambique is much safer to travel than in decades past, but it’s important to be aware of current events. In 2013, travelers should be aware that recent political unrest can mean added roadblocks, as well as regulated road travel with military convoy in some areas. An election in November 2013 means that this situation may not ease up for awhile. It’s still possible to travel at times like these, but it is crucial not to put others or yourself at risk.
How to do it
Keep up to date on current affairs before you leave home. I checked with officials at the Mozambique High Commission to be sure my travel plans weren’t unwise. While on the road, ask locals if they have any news or advice. And ensure you have a Plan B: I knew that if road travel became unsafe, I had the option either to turn back and explore in the other direction, or to max out my credit card for the next flight out of the country (find a guide to Mozambiquan destinations here).
7. What are you waiting for?
Mozambique is one of the world’s best-kept travel secrets. So, what are you waiting for?! Get yourself over there!