Big Five game viewing, beautiful beaches and palm-fringed islands are all within hours of Maputo. When you’ve had enough of the Mozambican capital’s lively music scene, delicious food and interesting architecture (as well as its humid heat and hawkers), here are seven great bush-and-beach day trips from Maputo.
1. Inhaca Island
Mozambique has some of the most beautiful tropical islands in East Africa, but if you don’t have time to visit the Quirimbas or Bazaruto Archipelagos, you can get a taste of laid back island life by taking a two-and-a-half hour ferry ride from the city across Maputo Bay to Inhaca Island. Only 31 square miles large, Inhaca Island has a diversity of beautiful landscapes: picture high sand dunes, inland wetlands and palm trees. Large areas of the island and its shores have been under protection for decades, so its mangrove forests are full of birds, its beaches attract egg-laying turtles and on the western side of the island are pristine coral reefs where you can go diving.
Northwest of Inhaca is Portuguese Island, which you can walk to if the tide is low and go snorkeling in the lagoon. You could catch the ferry on your own (or do the shorter and more expensive flight) or do a guided day-trip trip with Mozambique Travel, which organizes a stop at Portuguese Island for a swim, and a seafood lunch on Inhaca Island. If you have the time, make a weekend of it and stay over at the beachside Pestana Inhaca Lodge, which offers 40 thatched rooms set in lush tropical gardens and coconut groves, a lovely pool, restaurant and bar.
Macaneta is a tiny but beautiful island located about 30 km (20 miles) north of Maputo. To get there, leave Maputo early in the morning and catch the hour-long train from the city’s historic central train station to the town of Marracuene, then take the ferry to Macaneta. Spend the day walking on the beach, swimming in the warm Indian Ocean, having lunch and lazing next to the pool at a local lodge, and horse riding, before heading back to the city in the early evening. If island life starts to seem more alluring than being in the busy city, stay overnight at Macaneta Blue Beach Resort, a collection of modern, chic self-catering houses a short walk from the beach.
3. Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is South Africa’s flagship reserve and one of the best places in Southern Africa for game viewing. A 74-mile drive from Maputo takes you across the border and into the south of the park, which has some of the highest concentrations of its wildlife. Kruger’s great for self-driving – you are likely to see many of the Big Five, which are often spotted from the main road or from the many waterholes marked on the map. But if you don’t want to drive, Mozaic Travel offers day-long chauffeured trips to Kruger from Maputo, with guides to help you through the border post (it can be a bit overwhelming, especially for first-time Africa travelers) and lunch at one of the park’s camps.
At weekends the beachside town of Bilene, a two-hour drive north of Maputo, teems with Mozambicans and South Africans from across the border enjoying the white sand beaches and warm water of the Uembje Lagoon. Rent a car in Maputo, making your way up north – driving in Mozambique is relatively easy, as long as you stick to the speed limit (there are traffic cops everywhere, even on the smallest village road). Lazing on the beach in Bilene is tempting, but there are so many activities here to choose from that you’d be missing out if you did. Choose from snorkelling, windsurfing, kayaking and kite surfing or learn to dive – it’s a great place for beginners, as the lagoon water is safe and calm. Lunch on inexpensive prego rolls and piri-piri chicken at Complexo Palmeiras or ask a local to point you in the direction of Sonia’s Prawns behind the curio market for the best prawns and chips in town. If you want to stay the night, Tenda Tora has spacious self-catering bungalows with private plunge pools a short drive from the lagoon.
While only a short ferry ride from Maputo across the bay, Catembe feels like it’s hours away from the big city. This stretch of coast gives you a taste of the undeveloped rural Mozambique of dirt roads and dusty villages. There’s a lovely stretch of beach for long walks (although the brown water is unlikely to tempt you to swim), picnics and amazing views of Maputo’s skyline. There are a few places to eat in Catembe: a popular spot is the pier-end Marisol Baia Restaurant at Catembe Gallery Hotel where you sit right above the sea and tuck into seafood tapas washed down with tropical cocktails.
6. Maputo Special Reserve
If you want to tick off wildlife sightings then Maputo Special Reserve (also known as Maputo Elephant Reserve) is not for you. While you may spot game (the reserve is home to hippos, impalas, zebras, giraffes, kudu and hundreds of elephants), it’s not teeming with wildlife. The attraction is the untouched wilderness of coastal and mangrove forests, grasslands, rivers and lakes of this remote, untouristy spot that’s only 55 miles from Maputo. One of the most important bird areas in the country, the reserve boasts 427 species – more than enough to keep the bird lovers happy. You need a 4×4 and pretty good driving skills to navigate the sandy tracks of this wilderness area. For the inexperienced 4x4ers it’s best to opt for day-long or multi-day guided trips with Dana Tours (www.danatours.net).
7. Hlane National Park
Not far from Maputo is the tiny landlocked country of Swaziland, and Hlane Royal National Park, home to four of the Big Five – lions, elephants, rhinos and leopards – as well as hippos, giraffes, antelopes and the highest density of nesting white-backed vultures on the continent. You could drive yourself, but a better option is to do a day trip with Mozaic Travel, where you’ll go for a game drive on an open safari vehicle and get the added bonus of a bush walk to track elusive white rhino on foot.
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