Time passes quickly when you’re in Maputo, especially on a first visit. One moment you’re eating a pastel de nata for breakfast and the next you’re having flame-grilled crayfish for dinner. Here’s my advice about what to do during a two-day visit to Mozambique‘s capital city, with some practical travel advice at the end of this post.
Day 1 in Maputo
I walk through Pancho Guedes’ Maputo – what was then Lourenço Marques – a cityscape transformed by his characteristic H-shaped buildings that allow for the flow of natural light, with their visceral designs, extended drain pipes and chimneys, and mosaiced façades. Guedes was to Maputo what Gaudi was to Barcelona. Students of architecture pilgrimage to the seaside capital city to see his buildings beyond the printed pages of a book, to admire how sunlight falls on their curves, and how shadows creep into their corners.
Jane Flood, of Maputo a pe walking tours, takes me to but a few of the 100-odd buildings Guedes designed during his 25-year career in this, his adopted homeland, which led to the incorporation of African motifs in his designs. Guedes was a provocateur, who was dubbed the alternative modernist. His architecture was one of the imagination that fused art and architecture.
His former home along Avenida Julius Nyerere embodies his creative notion of building inside out. His vision flows out onto the pavement through the black swirls of the wrought iron gate. In the changing socio-economic landscape, many of his buildings have been restored and have taken on a new function: one houses an NGO, another is a TV company, yet another is home to a pastel-painted frozen yoghurt parlour – where we indulge in respite from the humid heat – there are apartment blocks with peeling paint and even a hair dresser.
As we flâner along crumbling pavements down streets named after philosophers, poets and socialist leaders – a brief history lesson on Mozambique’s communist past – we pass the works of fellow architect José Forjaz and the Santo Antonio da Polana church, which is dubbed the Lemon Squeezer for its shape. It’s probably the most famous church in all of Maputo. By now I can distinguish between the Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Bauhaus buildings that delight photographers looking for symmetrical compositions.
The mustard yellow Smiling Lion apartment block with its sinuous, convex ceiling and mosaic detailing is like an illustration from a child’s storybook. There’s delight in the detail. But it’s also a reminder of Mozambique’s and Maputo’s recent history, as it is located across the street from the military base.
Later, I tiptoe between what seem to be segments of tanks, a car radiator, rocket launchers and mortar shells on the sandy ground in a courtyard. There’s a metal heap of bullet belts, soldiers’ helmets and other deconstructed bits of weaponry I can’t make out. Lifeless bullet shells lie like confetti.
Traditional African masks are nailed to the wall, above a wooden workshop table, but they’re not made of mahogany that shines with a coat of shoe polish nor are they made of hand-carved stone. Instead the eyes are bullets, the nose is a handgun barrel and the ears are hollow grenades.
This is the workshop of sculptor Gonçalo Mabunda, one of 10 artists part of the ‘Transforming Guns into Hoes’ programme led by the Christian Council of Mozambique. After the 16-year-long civil war ended in 1992, it offered ploughing instruments and seed grain, bicycles, and sewing machines in exchange for firearms and weapons. More than 800 000 weapons have been decommissioned and given to Mabunda and fellow Maputo-based artistes to be used as a medium of expression.
These remnants of war are made into masks and thrones that narrate the country’s past and reflect on post-conflict Mozambique. It’s a cathartic comment on national memory and reconciliation and Mabunda’s artwork has been exhibited in London, Paris, New York, Tokyo as well as at last year’s Biennale in Venice.
As we leave, his parting remark is that we visit Núcleo de Arte – a co-op atelier, where seedlings grow in a muraled corner while canvases with generous dollops of paint dry against the boundary wall. The adjoining gallery displays a dog made of tyre rubber, a car radiator with a distorted smile, carved muses and an upcycled robot out front. This is the place for flowing conversation over drinks, as jazz fills the courtyard on a Sunday by the light of dusk.
Maputo is the nucleus of Mozambique’s art scene, but it’s not just in the formal spaces of art galleries and museums that one becomes aware of this fact: it’s in the streets, the designs of mosaiced buildings and in the fancy footwork at Face to Face bar, where locals make the moon blush with their sensual khizomba moves.
Day 2 in Maputo
By morning, the neoclassical building that houses the Maputo Central Market has a steady flow of locals – mostly mothers with children hiding behind the folds of their kitenges – who have come to buy ingredients for dinner.
Frozen fish thaw in streaks of sunlight that slice the market into dark and light, while sand-covered crabs lie in cardboard boxes. Fruits, balanced one atop the other, are arranged according to the colour wheel. Buy bird’s eye chillies here if you want to make your own peri-peri sauce, ask for the traditional recipe that was brought by Portuguese colonialists and mastered by Mozambicans.
Chatter is interspersed with machetes striking coconut shells. I am offered coconut water, sticky custard apple, a handful of cashews and avocado sprinkled with sugar, as I meander between the market stalls. There’s also an offer to braid my hair with extensions at one of the many beauty stalls on edge of the market.
Then I’m pointed in the direction of Casa Elefante, across the street, which I’m told is on of the most popular places to shop for kitenge in Maputo. I’m given a demonstration of how to wear the motley African fabric; it’s wrapped around my chest, then my waist, I can even wear it as a headscarf and later I see it being used as a baby sling.
A walk past the yellow and green Jumma Mosque through Baixa – named so after one of Lisbon’s downtown neighbourhoods – reveals more of the city’s colourful character. Stop at a pavement cafe for a pastel de nata egg tart and espresso, before you continue through the red light district towards the train station. Perhaps it is the iron latticework dome, or that it was designed by French engineer Gustave Eiffel, but Architectural Review named it one of the world’s 10 most beautiful train stations. (You can find more photographs of the train station in my 2015 in Photographs post.)
Once you pass the artefacts within the Fortaleza de Maputo fort, from there it’s an uphill walk along Samora Machel Avenue, so you may want to rest in the Tounduru botanical gardens. You’ll know you’re there once you reach Machel’s statue on your right. Across the street is the Iron House (Cassa do Ferro), another of Eiffel’s works, although not as popular initially as the pre-fabricated metal house does not fare well in the tropical climate. The governor for whom it was built abandoned it and it’s now the Ministry of Art and Culture.
A few steps further up is Independence Square with its neoclassical City Hall and another, bigger statue of Machel and the neighbouring whitewashed, Art Deco Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception.
By now, it’s time for a siesta at Chez Rangel, the music bar established by photographer Ricardo Rangel. Grab a Mac Mahon beer or two, known as a 2M among locals, before heading off to dinner where you’ll have a choice of Portuguese Trinchado, peri-peri chicken livers or succulent crayfish, at some of the city’s finest eateries: Zambi (yet another building designed by Guedes), Taverna or Sagres. Then it’s off to sample the nightlife that Maputo is so well known for at Coconuts Live. And before you know it, sunrise will bring in another day in the coastal city where time is a fleeting.
A number of Mozambican islands and archipelagos are easily accessible from Maputo. Be sure to read about my island holiday on Bazaruto Island, if you’re planning a trip this part of the world.
Where I stayed in Maputo
I was hosted by the Southern Sun Maputo, which is the only hotel in the capital situated on the beachfront. This four-star hotel is close to the city centre and only seven kilometres or 15 minutes from Maputo International Airport.
Before checking in I went in search of the infinity swimming pool, which overlooks the beach and is shaded by palm trees. Ask for a sea-facing room when making your reservation. My room had lots of natural light streaming in through the sliding door that leads onto the balcony.
The hotel caters to leisure and business travellers, so all rooms have a work desk with ample power sockets and a USB portal. The complimentary Wi-Fi (500mb per day) was fast and reliable, there’s a fully-equipped business centre and conferencing facilities.
I sipped on G&Ts at the immaculately decorated lounge opposite the indoor bar, while Evolve Restaurant caters for every palate, whether you savour their speciality Mozambican seafood feast, the buffet dinner or a wood-fired pizza. The restaurant’s decor changes with each meal. Otherwise relax on the wooden deck beneath the parasoles while enjoying the free Sunday lunch-time jazz performance.
Address: Avenida de Marginal, Maputo; T: +258-21-495-050; E: [email protected]; W: www.tsogosunhotels.com/hotels/maputo.
The best time to visit Maputo
Maputo is hot just about year round. It’s a tropical destination after all. But if you’re looking for a little bit of reprieve from the heat then head there in winter time (especially in June and July) when it’s a little bit cooler. Though you can still expect temperatures in the late 20s centigrade.
Summer time, especially around December and January can be stiffling hot and humid especially in the sun, with temperatures in the mid 30s centigrade. Make sure you have a sun hat, sun cream and air con or a fan at your accommodation. The wet season is usually from December to March, this is when it’s most humid.
Malaria in Maputo
Maputo is found within a malaria area, so consult your medical practitioner before you travel. If you choose to take prophylactics keep in mind that some brands require you to start the course of medication a few days, and sometimes up to a week, ahead of your arrival. Take along insect and mosquito repellents, Citronella candles or incense and remember long-sleeved shirts and long trousers for the evenings.
I also self medicate with some gin and tonic, thanks to the quinine that’s dissolved in tonic water. That’s what gives tonic water its bitter taste. And in case you didn’t know, quinine was used as the original prophylactic against malaria. Don’t be silly though, the self-medicating part is simply meant as a lighthearted joke! ;)
All good hotels will have have sheer curtains and mosquito nets over the windows and beds.
Yellow Fever Certificate when visiting Maputo and Mozambique
Only travellers who recently travelled to countries that have Yellow Fever are required to submit a certificate.
Do you need a visa to visit Maputo?
For South African travellers: Visas are not required by South African passport holders for a stay of up to 30 days. Though you must have a valid passport with two clean passport pages. Your passport should be valid for at least a month after your planned return.
For international travellers: The average turn around time for a Mozambican visa is 24 hours and it costs R600, when applied for at various Mozambican embassies in South Africa or the High Commission. A single entry, 30-day visa, applied for at the airport and border posts costs $37. You can pay for your Mozambican visa at the Mozambican border or at local airports using South African rands, American dollars, British pounds or Euros. Mastercard and Visa credit are also accepted, provided that they have been authorised for international use. Just to be on the safe side, have your printed hotel reservation with you or an invitation letter from the local or Mozambican resident you will be visiting, plus a copy of their DIRE.
Remember to declare your valuables, such cameras and computers, at the border posts using a customs declaration form. You may need to show this when leaving the country.
While all the facts were correct at the time of writing (November 2017), please do follow up with the relevant authorities to confirm travel information before embarking on your trip.
Maputo is a seven-hour drive from Johannesburg, call it nine with the stops, so it’s worth a visit over a long weekend. Is there anything I haven’t included in this article? Please tell me in the comments below.
I was hosted by Southern Sun Maputo. I maintain full editorial control of all content published on this website. You can find more of my photographs from this road trip on my Instagram account by using the #EagerJourneystoMoz hashtag.