Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Guide to Maputo

A guest post by @misswretched 

Getting There: Kenya Airways flies direct from Nairobi to Maputo for approximately $900, round-trip. Don’t miss your flight, as KQ only operates three flights a week: Sunday, Tuesday and Friday morning. You could be greatly inconvenienced especially if traveling for business. Ethiopian Airlines also has a Nairobi – Maputo flight, though it requires a lay-over in Addis. KQ does also have connecting flights via Jo’burg, though you’ll need a visa to transit through South Africa.
Kenyan citizens require a visa to travel to Mozambique, which typically takes 3 days to process. The Mozambican consulate is located in Bruce House, Nairobi. Make a point of calling the consulate to confirm visa fees ahead of time. You’ll need a letter from your host and you can easily download a visa application form online. With a multiple entry visa you can visit Swaziland from Maputo by road, so don’t miss the opportunity if you’re interested. 
The Maputo International Airport (also known as Mavalane International Airport) is a beautiful, new, hassle-free airport which Nairobi’s JKIA should aspire to. Though small, the airport is fairly modern and construction of the refurbished terminals by the veritable Chinese is still ongoing. There are no unexpected taxes as far as I know and you can get a visa upon arriving; it’s cheaper but not advisable. The local currency is the metical (meticais in Portuguese, pronounced meti-cash, also known as mets), with the current exchange rate being 28.4MT to the US dollar. A cab to and from the airport should cost you no more than 600MT (21USD).
Getting Around: The shapas (matatus) and buses are most preferred means of transport by locals. Buses run on a regular schedule and are slightly more orderly compared to Nairobi. People actually queue in line to get aboard. Public transport is relatively affordable (you’ll pay no more than 20MT to get around town). There are a number of tuk tuks, though not as popular.
It is quite easy to get around on foot if you enjoy walking, depending on where your hotel is located vis a vis your meeting venues. Alternatively, you can rely on cabs which are easy to find at reasonable costs.

Beautiful Bilene - Gaza Province
 Communication: Vodam and MCel are the two main mobile operators in Mozambique. For about 200MT, you can get a SIM card if you are unable to roam with your regular line (you’ll have to go through a SIM registration process). It is relatively expensive to make international calls. Wi-fi hotspots include Café Mar Mara, Milano Grill House, and Café Acacia, all for free or for a small fee. You can also access free wi-fi at the Maputo Shopping Center food court and at the airport. Cybercafés are few and far between in the CBD.
Accommodation: Accommodation in Maputo is super expensive. You’ll be looking at approximately $95 for a one-star bed and breakfast with basic, clean accommodation. These are locally known as recidencials and include Hotel Royal and Hoyo Hoyo. Hotel Royal is fairly comfortable if you are on a tight budget. You’ll have a spacious, clean room, basic breakfast, limited wi-fi and friendly service. The one thing they won’t tell you is that guests are allowed to smoke in their rooms, which leaves smoke circulating through the ventilation systems. So if this compromises your comfort, be warned. Whatever you do, don’t stay at Hoyo Hoyo: no fun being cooped up in a moldy matchbox for $95 a night.  
If you are willing to spend more, Hotel Villa Das Mangas is a three-star-ish boutique hotel that’ll give you more bang for your buck than some of the five-stars. You’ll drop about $130 a night for bed and breakfast in this Portuguese villa style hotel, but it’s well worth it. Hotel Cardoso is a five-star Lornhro Group hotel with a beach-front view, but the accommodation is over-priced and there’s nothing to write home about (so I’ve heard). I spent an average of 50USD a day (excluding accommodation).
Electricity is reliable in Maputo, but you'll need a two-pin adapter to charge any of your electronics, which ou can easily buy one from street hawkers for about 100MT. 

Language: Portuguese is the official language of communication in Mozambique, and you will have no choice but to learn a bit of it. The average person you meet will speak little English, and probably not fluently. All communication and signage is in Portuguese for the most part, and there are no English newspapers. So when you visit Mozambique, don’t be one of those tourists who doesn’t care to learn a word and expects everyone else to communicate to them in English. Instead, learn how to say good morning, please, thank you, how to order your breakfast and how to ask for your bill. It’s easy and people will appreciate your efforts and treat you even more hospitably. You can also learn phrases like ‘fala Inglês?’ (do you speak English?) and ‘não falo Português’ (I don’t speak Portuguese) which can be helpful when navigating your way around. In Maputo, restaurant menus often have both English and Portuguese and hotel staff usually speak decent English.
Food and Drink: Portuguese style galinha and batatas fritas (grilled chicken and chips) is probably the most popular meal you’ll find in Maputo. It’s often served with lemon, vinegar and salada. Local food also includes xima (shima), a softer version of ugali, though it is not as popular in mainstream Maputo restaurants. Fish and seafood are staples and come highly recommended.
I stayed along Ave. 24 de Julho which has a number of nice cosmopolitan restaurants and bars including Mundo’s, Piri Piri, Mimmo’s and Cristal, and plenty of cafes including Nautilus and Café Mar Mara. One of the nicest cafes is Café Acacia (at Hotel Cardoso on Ave. Patrice Lumumba) which is set on a beautiful park with a view of the beach. Dolce Vita is a more exclusive café-bar-lounge combination, located across the South African High Commission on Ave. Julius Nyerere. The fish market along Mira Mar is a tourist attraction for fresh fish and seafood and there is a cool bar by the name of Xima that serves local dishes as well. If you get a chance, try out a porcaria (equivalent of a typical nyama choma joint) for delicious pork and xima. There is Lola’s Place tucked inside the city, but chances are you’ll have to drive out of Maputo for the porcaria experience.
2M (dois-em) is the local beer, the Tusker of Mozambique if you will. You’ll pay about 40MT for the 750ml bottle. You can get beer and liquor almost anywhere and everywhere, even at roadside kiosks. However, woe unto you if you are a Kenyan who enjoys ‘warm’ beer. The Mozambicans will laugh at you and look at you funny! All drinks are served ice cold; actually there is an ice factory within Maputo that manufactures…yup, ice. Ciders are equally popular and you’ll also get more varieties than you do in Kenya, such as Hunter’s Dry, Hunter’s Gold, Redds Gold and Savannah Dry.
Sightseeing and Shopping: A visit to Maputo won’t be complete without an ocean drive along Ave. Marginal, Mira Mar and Costa do Sol. Costa do Sol has some spectacular views including beautiful condominiums and beach side properties. You could also cross the ferry to Catembe on the other side of Maputo Bay for more beach fun. There are lots of nice little museums scattered around including the Museu da Moeda (museum of money) which is located downtown, across the historical Fortaleza de Maputo, a national fortress. The Caminho de Ferro de Moçambique (CFM), also downtown, is the central train station and is ranked among the most beautiful train stations in the world. Make sure you pass by the Samora Machel monument too. There are also a number of nice little parks within the city including Jardim dos Professores (Garden of Professors) and Jardim dos Namorados (Garden of Lovers) which are perfect for reading a book or relaxing. Mozambique has some first class beaches too, so if you are traveling on holiday or have a weekend to spare (during the warm season), take a short road trip and check out the very best of the Indian Ocean. I spent a blissful weekend in Bilene (Gaza Province), a small beach town 150km north east of Maputo. There are lots more places to visit in and around Maputo so be sure to ask your host or hotel.
CFM Central Train Station

There is a weekly craft market downtown (Masaai market style) every Saturday for your locally made crafts and souvenirs. The Maputo and Polana Shopping Centres offer a more exclusive shopping experience; both host impressive designer stores like Cartier and Lacoste.
Others: All in all, Maputo is a nice little city to visit. I felt relatively secure when walking around, no particular threats or warnings received, and as a tourist I was just asked to be vigilant. I found it rather interesting that residential buildings and commercial buildings are mixed in together in many parts of the city, like banks on the ground floor of multi-storied housing blocks. There is also something very European about Maputo; maybe it’s because the people there eat bread with every meal (in little loaves, never sliced) and speak a language more ‘dreamy’ than French or English…
See also Guide to Nampula

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