A number of you on Instagram asked how I found Maputo and were likely met with comments denoting a boring city.
In hindsight, I realise that I was misinformed. Maputo is not a tourism hub, so why should I treat the city as if it is?
Given the lack of information provided online, I just rocked up in Maputo and winged it, which clearly affected my experience. Maputo is like many other major African cities, where people live, work and occasionally play. Cities of this nature take a lot of knowledge and tact to conquer. So while it may not have the typical tourist feel:
If you truly want to experience a city like a local, then you should visit Maputo.
I appreciate Maputo for its stunning scenery, rough edges and everything in between. Maputo is in fact a vibrant, fast-paced city, depicting a different side to Africa, given its Portuguese colonial history. You will be one of the few tourists in the vicinity, and if you dress accordingly, you may blend in as a Mozambican.
For these reasons, I believe your experience in Maputo will be dramatically improved if you are armed with a few tips before you go.
Maputo is huge
Maputo doesn’t compare to sheer size of Johannesburg (1,645 km²) or Cape Town (400.3 km²), but Maputo (346.8 km²) feels just as big. What may seem like next door on a map may actually be a 30 minute walk away.
Given Uber’s absence in the city, Maputo doesn’t share South Africa’s ease of getting around either. Tuk tuks and taxis are the top viable options, the former being slightly cheaper.
Both are prevalent throughout certain parts of Maputo, but not so much in other areas. It is not always certain that you will find transport in the area you are in.
Tip: Negotiate a day rate for transport with your driver instead of taking individual rides. This will save you searching for transport every time you complete an activity. Having an idea of where you want to go throughout the day will help when negotiating.
Accommodation is expensive, so choose wisely
Bring all your coins to Maputo. While other aspects of your budget may be cheap, accommodation will take the cake. Approach with caution if anywhere seems to be too cheap.
However, if you are looking for affordable accommodation, there are a few backpacker hostels located in the city.
Concerning where to stay, Baixa may seem like the obvious choice at first. This is the downtown area of Maputo, and taxis are in abundance. But Baixa is loud and hectic so you are better off leaving and staying in a nicer area – you will still need to take transportation everywhere either way.
The nicer hotels tend to be in the Polana and Sommerschield districts.
Where I stayed
Joli Guesthouse (Melanin Travel rating: 4.5/5)
The best thing about staying in new places is that the rooms look as beautiful as they do in the pictures. Joli Guesthouse is an intimate accommodation located in Sommerschield, with 10 rooms and beautiful decor. Joli Guesthouse has only popped up on the block and already has stunning reviews.
I stayed in the Junior Suite, which has a comfortable king-size bed, air conditioning and a separate lounge area. Each room is provided with a handbook for places to go, emergency numbers and takeout spots should you want to have dinner at the guesthouse.
The staff were both lovely and helpful, answering all of my questions and giving me a local insight into Maputo. One employee even created my whole itinerary for the day!
Breakfast is free and served in the dining area, which adjoins the lounge. Hot breakfast is made upon request, and cold options are provided in a buffet style. Treats are often available through the day as well. What I appreciate about Joli Guesthouse’s food set up is that dishes are wrapped so insects cannot fly onto them. I think a lot of hotels in hot countries need to take a leaf out of their book.
If you want to explore Sommerschield and beyond, take advantage of Joli Guesthouse’s two bicycles, which are free for guests. If you feel like lazing around, there is a pool out back.
Overall, I had an enjoyable stay at Joli Guesthouse and have no doubt that you will too. Hopefully, by the time you visit, the reception will be 24 hours (it currently closes in the evening).
Maputo does not feel dangerous
At least from my personal experience. There is little information online, but the sources I did find “prepared” me for what could possibly happen in Maputo. I had been warned in South Africa and Swaziland too so you can bet I was shook before I arrived.
After spending the whole first day clutching my bag and worrying about potentially being robbed, I realised that my heightened fear actually felt kind of silly. The few locals I spoke to told me Maputo was safe, but I was still shaken by the advice I had been given.
I later discovered that no one really cared about what I was doing. Yes, I was stared at because I looked Westernised, but people just went along with their day.
By the second day, I was walking around with my iPhone in hand and my DSLR camera swinging around my neck. I would have happily explored Maputo by foot and felt safe, but please look back at my first point.
Yes, muggings and other crimes may happen in Maputo, but they will also happen in your backyard. So please do not treat Maputo any differently!
Tip: One piece of advice that I received from locals and foreigners alike was to avoid the police. It’s common for officers to ask for your passport (you must carry original identity documents at all times) and extort you for a bribe payment. Sometimes, they may even take you back to the station. So as a rule of thumb, do not expect the police to be your saviour if you need one.
You’ll get around without Portuguese, but it will be tough
As someone who is notoriously terrible at learning languages, I couldn’t pick up Portuguese to save my life. As with any country with an official language other than English, getting around by yourself will be tough. Not everyone will understand you, and you will not always know what you are ordering, which may leave you feeling isolated.
However, don’t despair. Every market seller I spoke to knew broken, if not conversational, English. Some tuk tuk drivers would even use Google Translate on their phones when driving me around Maputo.
Africans are born hustlers, so we will learn as much of the language they need to get the job done.
Tip: Download an offline map of Maputo and a translation app. Also, stay in good accommodation so you have access to effusive staff who will help you when needed. I became really close with one woman who worked at Joli Guesthouse, who would negotiate my taxis and translate when I needed to make a phone call.
You won’t need to spend a lot of time there
To see the main attractions in Maputo, 2 to 4 days will suffice. Add a few more days to your itinerary if you want to get a real local feel for the city.
I would definitely return to Maputo, but only with a friend so we can experience the city together. That way, the language barrier would not be so isolating, and I’d get to go clubbing and turn up (apparently, the nightlife scene is lit).
To be honest, you will only understand the beauty and restlessness of Maputo if you experience it yourself.