Our last stop in Mozambique was Vilankulo, an ocean-side town often considered the most northern point on the southern Mozambique backpacker circuit. After a week luxuriating on the idyllic beaches at Tofo and Barra, we had begun to question our plan to spend another week on a beach. Will we be beached out?, we wondered. (Follow-up question: Can one ever really be beached out?)
Luckily for us, Vilankulo is very different than Tofo or Barra. While the beaches at Tofo and Barra are gorgeous stretches of soft white sand, perfect for sunbathing or barefoot strolls, the beach at Vilankulo is more narrow – only several feet wide when the tide is high – and less inviting, studded with broken shells, seaweed, and bits of man-made debris. The beach would increase dramatically in size when the tide went out, the water receding to expose nearly a football field worth of waterlogged sand. Late one morning we ventured across the temporarily naked ocean floor, exploring the tiny sea life that had been revealed, while locals hunted for crabs around us.
When we arrived in Maputo, we had a vague idea that we could reach Tofo and Vilankulo “by bus,” but we did not have the details down. The process seemed fuzzy at times, and our best information came from reading the accounts – sometimes several years old – of other travelers. In the hope that it might help others plan their travel through southern Mozambique, here is how we made the journey:
Maputo to Tofo.As we have mentioned before, we took the Fatima’s Backpackers shuttle from Maputo to Tofo. Although Fatima’s does not actually operate the shuttle, it contracts with a local minibus operator to make the journey directly (albeit not nonstop) to Tofo. The shuttle leaves from Fatima’s Backpackers in Maputo around 5:00 a.m.1 and arrives at Fatima’s Nest in Tofo sometime in the early afternoon. (After leaving Fatima’s, the shuttle goes to the Maputo bus station to pick up more passengers before departing hopefully an hour or so later, and also stops a couple of times along the way at petrol stations for refueling, toilet breaks, and the purchase of refreshments.) The journey costs 700 mets per person, which is a decent price considering that taking the Fatima’s shuttle saves you the trouble of i) getting yourself to the bus station in Maputo – which was nowhere near where were staying, ii) locating, and then getting yourself and your baggage2 onto a bus heading to or through Maxixe, iii) taking the ferry across the bay to Inhambane, and iv) catching a chapa3 from Inhambane to Tofo.
As some of you may know, I’m not much of a snorkeler. I’ve never demonstrated much success in keeping water out of my snorkel and, by extension, my mouth.
My first snorkeling experience was during a trip to Cancun during Spring Break 2002. There were so many people in the water that I got lost from my group (everyone pretty much looks the same when all you can see is a snorkel and the tip of some fins), and, distracted by this concern, I tried to swim under a school of fish. I ended up gulping down such a huge quantity of salt water that, when I was finally reunited with my group and back on the boat, I was sick the whole way back to land.
I tried snorkeling in Mexico once again during Spring Break 2006, with only slightly more success. When all my friends (new law school friends, not friends who had been present for my first snorkeling disaster) jumped into the water, I hung back. It wasn’t until they were all waiting in the water, looking at me expectantly, that I finally admitted, “I don’t really like water. Or fish.” I finally forced myself off the boat, but I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed the activity. I distinctly remember thinking Thank God as I grasped the ladder to pull myself back onto the boat.
We spent the night in Inhambane on our way up the coast to Vilankulo. Inhambane is located on the same peninsula as Tofo and Barra, and the bus to Vilankulo left from Maxixe (a larger town across the bay from Inhambane) in the morning. The most expeditious way to reach Maxixe from Inhambane is a twenty minute ferry ride. We figured that spending the night in Inhambane would make it easier to make it from the ferry to the bus on time and wanted to have some time to wander around the city, which is supposed to be one of the nicer provincial capitals in Mozambique.
We enjoyed wandering around the central part of town, checking out some of the cool art deco buildings, the old mosque built in 1840, and the 18th century Catedral da Nossa Senhora da Conceição. Also mixed among the tidy houses were a few errant abandoned buildings, with subtropical foliage dramatically taking over the manmade structures. Overall, things were very quiet as it was Sunday evening, and the sidewalks were completely rolled up in most of the town. Continue reading Transiting & Wandering Through Inhambane (Or, when Marc Drafts a Post)→
On Saturday, we left Tofo for Barra, a beach town just north of Tofo. The beaches were just as beautiful as those in Tofo, white and serene, and we had them almost completely to ourselves. We alternated between drifting in the water, splashing in the waves, and digging for sea snails, crabs, and other tiny creatures.
The accommodation in Barra is farther and more spread out from the actual town than in Tofo, and most of the lodging is self-catering. We stayed at the Bay View Lodge, a pleasant collection of chalets each equipped with hot water, air conditioning, and cooking facilities, including a kitchen and an outdoor grill (or, if you are South African, a braai); alas, we had nothing to cook. Continue reading The Barra Interlude→
As mentioned, we sampled a lot of restaurants during our nearly one week in Tofo. What follows is our rather haphazard guide to dining in Tofo, with a special note that we visited during low season. In most cases, we were the only or some of the only people eating in the restaurant; things might differ (they might not be out of hummus!) during high season.
Mozambeat. We had a delicious prawn curry here, but the best part of our dinner was the atmosphere: relaxing on a couch, listening to great music, and watching the fire flicker. We also had breakfast there, and, while the kitchen was a bit rushed in the morning, the food was delicious: I had a huge bowl of fruit, yogurt, and muesli (so big that I couldn’t finish it), and Marc had a good-looking egg, ham, and cheese sandwich.
We went to Tofo to unwind, and, between frolicking in the ocean (including diving), reclining on the beach, and drinking beer while watching the sun set, I think it’s safe to say that we unwound.
We arrived in Tofo, a staple in the Southern Africa holiday circuit (which as Americans we had been blissfully ignorant of until the New York Times beat us there by a month and a half), last Monday via the Fatima’s shuttle (more on that in a future post). The shuttle terminated at a backpacker place called Fatima’s Nest, which was a substantial walk to Mozambeat Motel, where we had made arrangements. While we waited for the Mozambeat staff to come get us (“Come get your people,” the guy at Fatima’s had said during a phone call), we ogled the view: a stunning spread of soft white beach and brilliant turquoise ocean.
Mozambeat Motel was, for lack of a better phrase, really cool. The cabins have outdoor showers and hammocks, and everything is decorated with a funky vibe. The bar/restaurant (which has one wall that is open air) played awesome music, and the food was good. The night that we stayed there, we enjoyed prawn curries and worked on our blog, while relaxing on a wide couch and listening to the music. Mozambeat isn’t on the beach, but it has an inviting-looking pool.
But, for us, not being on the beach – especially this early into our trip – turned out to be a deal-breaker. As we discovered that first afternoon, although Mozambeat might have been just a couple of kilometers from the water, it was a dusty slog to the beach, and it’s a long, dark walk back after sunset if you forget to bring your torch (which we did, and ended up having our wits nearly scared out of us by an errant dog that raced past us). Worse, your inclination to carry money and entertainment items to the beach with you, since you have to walk such a long way, means that you’ll be unable to relax in the water, as you will constantly be keeping an eye on your stuff on the beach, jumping up whenever anyone walks near it. (For the record, no one seemed to show the slightest interest in our stuff, although there were lots of hawkers who were keen to sell us additional things.)
So on Tuesday morning, after only one night at Mozambeat, we packed up our things and headed for a spot closer to the beach. We checked into Casa Barry, and settled into a little cabin for the next four nights. We didn’t have an ocean view, but we were close enough that we didn’t need to bring anything with us – we could go right from our front door to the ocean in a minute. (This was exactly what we did as soon as we had checked in.)
Most of the hotels in town are located along the beach, and Casa Barry is located at the northeastern end of the beach. We were initially pleased because this end seemed to retain sun the longest and also was far enough away from the other hotels and bars we thought might be loud, but we were later even more pleased to discover that our end of the beach had many fewer jellyfish than other stretches. We enjoyed beers from the deck of the restaurant while watching the sunset almost nightly, but we were in easy walking distance from the other restaurants and hotels around town. (We sampled just about every restaurant in Tofo, which we’ll tell you about in a future post!) The staff at Casa Barry couldn’t have been nicer.
We really only had two beefs with Casa Barry. One, the electrical outlets only took South African plugs and we had not yet picked up an adapter for such, and were unsuccessful in our efforts to procure one in town. (The staff helpfully let us charge our devices in the office.) Two, the night that it rained, it also rained inside our cabin – only in one place, but that place happened to be directly above our heads. (We moved the bed, and the next morning they changed our sheets for us.)
We would whole-heartedly recommend either Mozambeat or Casa Barry as places to stay in Tofo: Mozambeat if you’re looking for a cool place to stay, and Casa Barry if you can’t be bothered to carry your things to the beach and enjoy sunsets over the water.
Since we arrived in Tofo on Monday, we had done nothing but laze about and frolic in the Indian Ocean. We figured that it was high time we did something with ourselves, and so we signed up for a SCUBA review course with Peri-Peri Divers.
We first tried diving in Thailand during our bar trip in the summer of 2008. We did an adventure dive off the coast of Koh Pha Nagn, and we had an amazing time. So amazing, in fact, that we got open water certified in Honduras in early 2010.1
We had packed our PADI cards and our dive log books (neither of which had seen the light of day since we completed the open water certification four years ago), and figured that Tofo – which our guidebook tells us is the unofficial diving capital of Mozambique – was the perfect place to put them to use.
We met our dive master Frida, a friendly Scandanavian woman with an apparent affinity for the color pink, at 8:30 this morning,2 and she wasted no time in administering a quiz. This was, after all, the reason that we had signed up for the SCUBA review course rather than doing an adventure dive: we wanted the chance to review how much dive knowledge we had retained (or lost) and to brush up on our skills.
After we finished the quiz (on which we both performed admirably), reviewed the Recreational Dive Planner3 with us, and practiced setting up our kits, we moved on to the pool to practice our skills. Going under in the pool was at once both familiar and strange. Continue reading Our First African Dive→
We originally planned to leave Maputo on Saturday morning at the ungodly hour of 5:00 am (the pick-up for which we were instructed to arrive at the even more ungodly hour of 4:30 am) and head north for the beaches of Tofo, but we were convinced to stick around through the weekend. While our decision was admittedly somewhat based on how unappealing a 4:00 am wake-up call sounded after a late night playing Cards Against Humanity, it was largely based on the promise of beaches that weekend.1
On Saturday morning, we left Maputo at the much more reasonable hour of 10:30 am and headed for Macaneta Beach. The trip to Macaneta was an adventure, taking us over a dusty road with literal hills and valleys for around 45 minutes until we reached the ferry across the Incomati River at Marracuene. After the ferry was loaded with passengers and what seemed to be an inadvisable number of cars (six!), we were ferried across the river, where a safari-style vehicle was waiting to shuttle us another 30 minutes down the road (and a stretch of sand that was only a “road” in the loosest sense of the word) to our destination. Continue reading Macaneta Beach Weekend→
It’s Thursday morning in Maputo,1 which means that we are starting our fourth day in Africa. I know I’ve only updated social media in that time period to the tune of zOMG SOOO TIRED, so I’m going to do my best to cram the last few days into this post. (Spoiler: We do a lot of sleeping.2)
On Monday, we arrived in Maputo. After much-needed naps and showers, we plodded about the house slowly, trying to gather our thoughts, until our friend Tiffany and her friend Jeff arrived home. They took us out to dinner at a restaurant (the name of which is lost in a jetlagged blur), where we drank Mozambican beer (Laurentina Preta) and ate the best fried calamari I’ve ever had and grilled prawns.