When and where it is safe to drive
Never underestimate the deadly serious hazard which land mines and banditry may present to the foolhardy in parts of Mozambique. Although the clearance of the most important roads has been a priority since the October 1992 peace agreement, estimates of the number of mines, which remain undiscovered, reach many hundreds of thousands. A general rule is that, if you use only roads that have obviously been driven by a large number of vehicles (in fact, the majority of the roads that you are likely to use), you should be safe. However, as soon as you give in to the urge to blaze your own trail, you run a very real risk of encountering a few mines. Quite apart from the fact that it is illegal to drive over dunes and along beaches in Mozambique, it may be useful to consider that even some of these were mined.
Roads in Mozambique are not the exclusive domain of the motor vehicle. In the bigger towns they are crowded with pedestrians, hawkers, beggars, street kids and the homeless. Look out for anyone wandering aimlessly in the middle of the road, as they may be mad and sometimes seem to be determined to stumble slap-bang into your bonnet. In the countryside human and animal-drawn carts jostle for a sliver of the smoothest road surface while belching trucks wheeze their laborious way around potholes. All this, combined with a sometimes precipitous and jagged verge, makes for difficult and dangerous overtaking on some roads.
While domestic (as well as wild) animals were almost entirely wiped out during the period of upheaval, they are making a strong comeback and are already becoming an additional hazard. Since for many years walking was the only way to get around the country, pedestrians became the ‘kings of the road’ and are now understandably reluctant to give up their status to motorists. They should be given the benefit of the doubt (i.e. a wide berth). It is recommended (and quite acceptable) that you hoot when approaching people. The upshot of the above is simply:
DRIVE SLOWLY AND CAREFULLY AND NEVER AT NIGHT (on the main roads).
Length of stay
Remember that by road via Inchope, Gorongosa and Caia (the recommended route in the rainy season) it is over 2 500 kilometres from Maputo in southern Mozambique to Pemba in the north. If you are planning a ‘whistle-stop’ tour of the entire country in your own 4x4 vehicle, you may anticipate an average speed of 80 km/h, which amounts to at least a six-week journey (less if you only include the coastal areas).
If you intend to hitch and use public transport across the country, allow for an average speed of 40 km/h between places and expect delays due to unreliable schedules and possible breakdowns. If your time is limited and you still want to see the best of Mozambique. the only way is to make use of domestic flights. Book your seats on L.A.M. well in advance and contact the charter companies such as Sabinair if you intend to travel to destinations that are not served by L.A.M.
ROAD (PUBLIC TRANSPORT)
Getting around the country is hampered by a shortage of domestic flights, slow and sometimes unreliable buses, poor roads, lack of bridges and long distances. For example, assuming that the ferry over the Zambezi at Caia is operating, the shortest route by road from Ponta do Ouro in the south to the Singa ferry over the Rovuma in the north is nearly 3000 kilometres long. In the southernmost half of Mozambique, and in parts of Tete and Nampula provinces, reliable bus services operate, while along the coast between Quelimane and Angoche, rides in dhows may be more comfortable and easier to get than lifts on the rare, uncomfortable trucks. The point where buses and taxis leave from is called the Terminus and these are often adjacent to the Central Market (mercado) or on the outskirts of town.
Since little maintenance was possible until recently and due to past sabotage, some roads in Mozambique are still severely pot-holed and certain bridges are unstable. Nevertheless roads, bridges and ferries are being continually repaired and it is already possible to take buses or to drive in a two-wheel-drive vehicle from Maputo to Pemba via Inchope, Gorongosa and Caia, during the dry season. Minibuses, Land Rovers and trucks (covered and open) provide public transport within the cities and larger towns. These are collectively referred to as chapacem (tin one-hundreds) as they originally charged Mt100 (now Mt2 000) per trip. Chapas can also sometimes be hired (lugada) by individuals at reasonable, negotiable rates. Taxis are usually available at the airports, railway stations and the major hotels. Expect to pay about Mt20 000 per kilometre for a town taxi in Maputo, Beira, Nampula and Pemba.
Between towns chapacem and buses operate with prices that may vary relative to their reliability and degree of overcrowding. Fares are around Mt20 000 per 100 kilometres for the chapas and around Mt40 000 per 100 kilometres for the buses (machimbombos - the local expression for a bus that may look as if it has fallen from a cliff). Find out from the locals which vehicles are to be recommended. Expect frequent breakdowns and if you need to get somewhere far away in a hurry, for instance to catch your plane home, rather go by air.
If you plan to cycle in Mozambique, you should be aware that outside of Maputo, unless you purchased your bicycle in Mozambique, you would not be able to find any spares. Due to its novelty, a white person cycling is quite a spectacle to Mozambicans and their responses could range from fear and derision to delight and astonishment. Do not expect any respect from drivers in general and move off the road if being passed by large vehicles such as trucks and buses. Beware of dogs when passing through villages and do take the 'rougher' routes if on a mountain bike, as these are usually safer and far more rewarding. On main roads, fuel stations (garages) are good places to pitch a tent (ask permission first) as they have lights, water, toilets and sell basic foodstuffs and drinks. My own preference is to pedal down a footpath to a village well away from the road to avoid being disturbed by passing traffic or criminals.
Passenger trains (both directions) run between Johannesburg and Maputo (change trains at the Lebombo/Ressano Garcia border) as well as daily between Cuamba and Nampula. The trip from Johannesburg to Maputo takes the whole day (unless you get into a minibus (chapa) from Ressano Garcia to Maputo) and 1st class costs R170 (US$23) while the Cuamba - Nampula train takes 6 - 8 hours and 1st class costs Mt120 000 (US$7). There are no longer passenger trains between Beira and Machipanda (Zimbabwe border).
Inside Mozambique, L.A.M. operates domestic flights between Maputo and the following towns: Beira (Sofala province), Tete (Tete province), Quelimane (Zambezia province), Nampula (Nampula province). Pemba (Cabo Delgado province) and Lichinga (Niassa province). At the time of writing the flight from Maputo to Pemba (single) cost U.S.$250. L.A.M has recently improved its reliability and service quite remarkably but it is still not advisable to allow any of your valuables to be packed in the hold.
Air charter companies such as Sabin Air, Natair, T.T.A., S.T.A. and Metavia operate from airports in Maputo, Beira, Quelimane, Tete, Nampula, Lichinga and Pemba. Fares are fairly high. On domestic flights you will have to pay an airport departure tax of US$10.
Apart from short trips in chartered speedboats from the mainland to the islands off Maputo, Inhambane, Vilankulo and Pemba, there are no regular and reliable passenger boats in operation between ports on the Mozambican coastline. Transmaritima in Maputo. tel. (01) 42 6146, as well as Navique in Maputo, tel. (01) 42 3118 or 42 5634, may be able to help you get onto a cargo boat going along the coast.
A luxury ocean passenger cruiser does anchor off Inhaca, Bazaruto and Mozambique Islands regularly. Contact Starlight Cruises, Johannesburg tel. (011) 807 5111, second floor Norwich Life Towers, 13 Fredman Drive, Sandton.
Until a reliable passenger ship service is re-implemented along the coast of Mozambique, you will have to settle for buses, minibus taxis, the domestic airline (L.A.M.), private air charter companies or your own vehicle (be it a bicycle, car, four-wheel-drive pick-up [bakkie] or overland ‘muscle’ truck) to get around Mozambique.
The security situation is likely to remain fluid, with some continuing risk to overland travellers who ignore the advice in this chapter and that of other travellers. If you hear rumours of unofficial roadblocks or are concerned that a particular route may have become unsafe (whether due to bandits or heavy rains), consult with bus and taxi drivers as well as with aid workers who use the road regularly before you use it. If you are near a phone, contact your consulate.
As Mozambican cars and trucks often have no lights and that the drivers are not the world’s most predictable (often drunk), don’t drive after dark and anticipate drunken driving from midday onwards. Livestock and the mentally ill also wander about unsupervised along the roads while potholes and unsurfaced roads are particularly difficult to negotiate at night. Official police checkpoints often have no warning signs and are difficult to spot even during the day, let alone under conditions of poor visibility.
There is a 50 kph general speed limit in all urban areas (can be as low as 30kph), which is being strictly enforced by means of radar. A fine of Mt1000 000 is standard throughout the country even if you are just 5km over the limit. Not surprisingly, bribery is rampant.
A carnet de passage is not presently required, no matter what country your vehicle is registered in. Original (or notarised copies of) vehicle registration papers are required, while 3rd party insurance and temporary import permits are obligatory and sold at the border. The charges (and exchange rates) vary from frontier to frontier. At some borders you may be approached by highly obstructive uniformed or plain-clothes police ‘checking’ for stolen vehicles so pre-empt any problems by arranging a police clearance document for your vehicle before leaving home.
The southern half of Mozambique (including Tete province) is easily accessible by road from South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Most main routes through the provinces of Maputo, Gaza, Inhambane, Sofala, Manica, and Tete have either been upgraded or are presently undergoing improvement. Petrol and diesel are readily available and the longest distance you can anticipate between pumps (south of the Zambezi) is 500 kilometres. Note however that disruptions of fuel supplies do occur periodically due to unforeseen circumstances, and some towns away from Maputo and Beira may on occasion run out of petrol and diesel unexpectedly. If you are driving your own vehicle, a diesel engine is an advantage as, not only is this type of fuel around 20% cheaper than petrol, it is also more likely to be available from construction camps and logging operations (if you ask nicely) in outlying areas.
Petrol, diesel and paraffin is sold at markets (mercados) in most towns but it will probably cost more than you would pay at a petrol station, so buy just enough to get you to the next pumps.
The northern half of Mozambique, i.e. north of the Zambezi River (Rio Zambeze), has always been less developed and this is reflected by a lack of good all-weather roads and a scarcity of opportunities to fill up your fuel tank. The inaccessibility of the provinces of Zambezia, Nampula, Cabo Delgado and Niassa is presently (roadworks continue) aggravated by the lack of an all-weather road between Mocuba (Zambezia) and Nampula.
The Caia ferry and the bridge between Vila de Sena (Tchena) and Mutarara have been repaired; the only year-round overland route (4x4 during rain) from the southern to the northern half of Mozambique (other than via Malawi) is the recently opened road from Inchope via Gorongosa (town) to Caia. Three access roads, one from Chiponde/Mandimba and one from Nayuchi/Entre Lagos on the Malawi border, as well as one from Nampula via Cuamba and Mandimba serve Niassa province. The Rovuma ferry between Kilambo and Quionga (if it remains operational) has opened up an entirely new route (there is no other) from the north (Tanzania) into Mozambique. If you are driving in northern Mozambique, haul sufficient fuel with you to cover 800 kilometres and re-fuel wherever possible.
DOMESTIC FLIGHTS: Air Mozambique
(L.A.M.) serves all the provincial capitals (except Inhambane) with excursion fares for periods of 7 to 30 days being offered at a 10% discount (if 25 or under, ask about the Youth Fares). Flights are usually fully booked, with Pemba and Nampula being especially popular destinations during December and January. It is essential that you book at least three months in advance, or contact one of the charter companies.
Unfortunately, while standards of service, safety and punctuality have been improved, L.A.M. flights have in the past been dogged by robberies during loading and off-loading from the baggage hold, and it is advisable to carry all your valuables and important documents with you in the cabin. If you would like to be met at the airport, make this clear when you are booking accommodation, failing which private taxis do meet most scheduled domestic flights as they arrive. Airports are usually less than 10 kilometres from town centres and a taxi ride should cost you no more than U.S.$10 or the equivalent in meticais.
LONG-DISTANCE BUSES AND TAXIS
In Mozambique long-distance buses are called machimbombos (pronounced ‘mashinbonbos’), long-distance taxis are called chapas(pronounced ‘shappas’), while ‘metered’ taxis that operate in town are simply called taxis. New bus services are operating along the main routes in southern Mozambique and, while they are fairly comfortable, journeys are slow, due to frequent stops to drop off and pick up passengers. Chapas range from minibuses and pick-ups (bakkies) to tired-out trucks (camiões) and even tractors. While much cheaper on the long haul than machimbombos, chapas are often overcrowded and generally an unsafe mode of transport. Bus terminuses are located either adjacent to the main municipal markets or on the outskirts of town on the main road to the next large village.
If you are planning to make use of machimbombos and chapas, don’t allow your luggage to be packed on the roof as this exposes it to theft and damage by rain or by other cargo. Arrive well before the departure time (sleep at the terminus) to ensure that your gear is packed safely in the lockers underneath the bus, or in the back of the chapa. Place all your valuables in a small bag and keep this with you at all time. Take a towel or sarong along with you to hang up against the window to provide shade; a bottle of water is essential and make sure you have small change (in meticais) handy to purchase the food and curios that will be on offer through the windows wherever the bus stops. Remember, especially on less travelled routes or on the poorer roads, the rickety truck or trembling tractor you’ve managed to hitch a ride on may just break down in the middle of nowhere. Be prepared to be self-sufficient for a few days when using public transport in Mozambique and don't expect to arrive on time.