Travel Guide | Mozambique

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Maputo, capital city of Mozambique, is situated on the south coast. It is gradually being rebuilt after years of war. Both it and Beira, Mozambique's second largest town, also located on the coast, are built up and have historic Mediterranean style buildings, forts and shipwrecks that make for interesting exploring. The national parks of Mozambique are Banhine and Zinave in the south, and Gorongosa north of Beira.

Attractions and National Parks

The Bazarruto Archipelago:

The Bazaruto Archipelago is on the spectacular southern coast and also is a national park and number one destination in Moçambique. The main islands making up the archipelago are Santa Carolina, Bazaruto, Benguerra and Magaruque. Accommodation is predominately top end lodges, many offering activities such as diving, surfing, fishing and other watersports in the clear blue waters.


On the north coast, at the mouth of a huge bay, is Pemba - another top destination with a range of watersports on its stunning waters, beautiful beaches and coral reefs. Some say the Pemba coast has the most beautiful beaches in the world. Pemba is in Cabo Delgado the most northerly province of the country and is the home of the Makonde group of people, who are concentrated on the Mueda Plateau. Pemba town sits at the mouth of the world's second largest natural harbour. The view of the bay from Pemba's heights is spectacular and there is hardly a view to compare with this place on the Southern African coast.

Most basic food supplies and alcohol can be bought in Pemba town, there is a good local market selling vegetables, fruits and street food. The reef is within striking distance of the beach and allows for safe, protected swimming, snorkelling and diving. Other places of interest to see are the lighthouse south of Wimbe and Pemba's boat yard. The Makonde craft co-operative has an excellent collection of their unique sculpture work in ebony. The prices are high so be prepared to haggle!


Inhaca is a small inhabited island on the periphery of a large estuarine bay, on the fringe of the tropics. Four broad shores have a large tidal range, and easily accessible coral reefs, sea meadows and mangrove swamps as well as rocks and sand flats, also encompass a spectrum of habitats, some being exposed to erosion by wind or by sea.

Large areas of the evergreen forest bush-land and dunes are unspoiled. The intertidal ecosystem is characterised by predation of benthos (Starfish, Oysters, Clams, Sea Cucumbers, Brittlestars, and anemone are all benthos) by birds and humans during low tide but fish species may form the third group of predators at high tide when the intertidal area is flooded.

Ibo and the Quirimba Archipelago:

There are 27 islands between Pemba and the Rio Rovuma, which forms the border with Tanzania, the area remains one of the last undiscovered places in Africa. Ibo island (part of the archipelago) was formerly the capital of Cabo Delgado the northern province. Ibo's architecture and history rank closely to Ilha de Mozambique but its atmosphere and rustic charm is certainly unique. It is one of the most ancient settlements in Mozambique with Muslim traders actively established in the area before the 15th century.

The main fort still houses a handful of traditional silversmiths and their handmade jewellery is found no where else. In the 18th century Ibo was a major supply point for slaves from the interior and it soon became a major trading post for the Portuguese. The ancient trade buildings are still visible to this day. Ibo boasts 3 forts, a beautiful old catholic church and numerous old administration buildings. Access is difficult, it is the quietness and the islands atmosphere that makes it so special.

Geography and Climate

The climate is tropical to subtropical. Terrain is mostly coastal lowlands, central uplands and high plateaus in northwest, and a mountainous western region. Moçambique has a coastline of nearly 2 500km (1 550 miles) on the Indian Ocean with lagoons, coral reefs and spectacular strings of islands. This Makes it Paradise!

From the Bazaruto Archipelago with its astounding marine life to the coastal plains that rise to a vast plateau of wooded savannah covering almost half of the country's area, it is a tropical environment that will leave the traveller breathless with its contrasts. The north and west are mountainous regions, patched with forests. There are about 25 major rivers flowing through the country, of which the Zambezi is the largest.

The People

Portuguese is the official language and English is only spoken in the southern tourist regions. The major ethnic groups each have their own languages. The indigenous tribal groups of Moçambique make up about 99% of the population. There are 16 major ethnic groups, the largest of which is the Makua of the northern region. The Makonde, another northern group, are famous for their traditional and contemporary carved figures and also their lupembe wind instruments.

Other major groups include the Sena, found in the centre of Moçambique, and the Shangaan on the south. Europeans including native Portuguese, and Asian residents make up less than one percent of the population. The traditions, stories and arts of Moçambique's ethnic groups have survived the colonial era and years of civil war. Since Moçambique gained independence, her sculptors, painters and writers have been coming into their own and some are even becoming known worldwide.

The Makonde are known as master carvers throughout East Africa, and their work can be found being sold in tourist markets and in museums alike. The Makonde of Tanzania and Mozambique are separated by the Rovuma River and are culturally distinct. Immigration from Mozambique to Tanzania has resulted in a blurring of ethnic identities and a sharing of certain ideas.

Because of the relative isolation of their homeland, the first contacts with Europeans did not occur until 1910, and then they were very sporadic. The coastal location of the Makonde, however, indicates that they were involved with Swahili slave traders for centuries. Recently, enclaves of Makonde have developed on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam and of Kambia in Kenya, although they seem to limit their interaction with outsiders, preferring to identify with their own cultural traditions.

In the traditional homelands of the Makonde the primary source of food comes from slash and burn farming. Crops include maize, sorghum, and cassava. This is often supplemented by hunting. Carving for the tourist trade has become a major industry for Makonde artists along the coast and near the cities. Individual settlements recognise a headman who has inherited his position matrilineally, based on his family's position of power within the community.

There is no ruler of all the Makonde peoples, as each village maintains a certain degree of independence. The Makonde have retained their traditional religion despite centuries of influence by Islamic traders. Their practices center around the celebration and remembrance of the ancestors.

When to go

The best time to visit Moçambique is during the winter months from April to September. The southern parts of the country are generally dryer and less tropical than the north. The best months for game viewing are August and September, towards the end of the dry season. The best time for bird-watching is usually November and December, which is the hot, rainy season.

A wide variety of fish are attracted to the warm waters of Moçambique, with larger fish populating the waters in summer, and small to medium sized fish in winter, making the coast a good fishing and diving destination.


The first written record of Mozambique dates from the 10th century AD, when Arab writer al-Mas'udi mentioned the town of Sofala (south of present-day Beira) and the iron-using people called the Wak Wak who lived there. Long before that time, perhaps as early as the 3rd century AD, Bantu-speaking peoples from central Africa migrated to the region, where they grew crops and raised cattle.

Their settlements took on increasing complexity. By the 10th century, settlements featured stone enclosures, and their inhabitants played an important role in intra-African trade to the west. Over the next several centuries, traders from north-eastern Africa and later from the Middle East and Asia arrived by sea, prompting ports along the Mozambican coast to flourish. Sofala, among the most prominent ports, developed as a trade center for gold from the interior.

Commercial settlements also developed to the north of Sofala at Angoche, Moçambique Island, the Querimba Islands, and the mouth of the Zambezi. The beads, cloth, and other goods brought by Arab and Asian traders attracted caravans of agrarian-based traders from inland Mozambique. They in turn distributed the goods to the African interior.

A struggle for control of this trade developed, and it was soon won by the cattle-owning chiefs of the Karanga in the south and the Makua in the north. Slave trading was also common throughout this period, in both the coastal and interior regions.

European Colonisation

In 1498 Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope and stopped in Mozambique en route to becoming the first European to visit India by sea. His arrival initially made little impact on Mozambique, but soon afterward a small stream of European traders began to visit the coast of Mozambique.

In 1505 the Portuguese occupied Sofala, establishing a fort and installing a friendly Arab ruler there. However, the gold trade was already in decline and Sofala was ill-suited as a port, so the Portuguese moved their base north to Moçambique Island. Over the ensuing years the island developed as an important seaport and way station on the route to India.

By the mid-16th century, European settlers had begun to penetrate the Mozambican interior, occasionally encountering stern resistance from inhabitants. In 1561, for example, Gonçalo da Silveira, leader of the first Jesuit mission to eastern Africa, was killed by Shona people whom he had tried to convert.

In response, the Portuguese sent a large army, which from 1569 to 1575 attempted to conquer the central African gold-mining region. Most of the soldiers died of disease, and little was achieved beyond the occupation of the lower Zambezi Valley and the establishment of 2 new bases on the Zambezi at Sena and Tete. Thus by the close of the 16th century, much of Mozambique was still beyond Portuguese control. In fact, despite Portuguese presence along the Zambezi, Maravi chiefs had established the powerful chiefdoms of Karonga, Undi, and Lundu in the region north of the river.

In 1607 and 1608 the Dutch twice tried to seize Moçambique Island from the Portuguese, failing both times. The assaults nonetheless made the Portuguese aware of their precarious hold on Mozambique and prompted them to try again to subdue the interior. This time the Portuguese used locally recruited armies and by 1632, after prolonged warfare, they occupied a wide swath of land from the Mozambican coast to the northern half of present-day Zimbabwe.

Portugal maintained control of the region by ceding prazos (land grants) to European colonists. The prazos made their owners virtual lords of African fiefdoms, with nearly complete control over Mozambican labour and resources. In modified form the prazo system lasted until the 1930s. The Portuguese established fortified mining camps in the highlands of western Mozambique and northern Zimbabwe, but Portugal had difficulty attracting European settlers into the area. Partly as a result, the Rozwi chief Changamire was able to lead a revolt in 1693 that succeeded in expelling the Portuguese from most of the highlands.

Ivory and Slaves:

Despite their eviction from the highlands, the Portuguese gradually extended their control up the Zambezi Valley and north and south along the Mozambican coast. In 1727 they founded a trading post at Inhambane, on the southern coast, and in 1781 they permanently occupied Delagoa Bay, an important location farther south on the site of modern Maputo. Dutch and Austrian traders had briefly settled at Delagoa Bay, and English and American traders had hunted Whales and traded ivory with the nearby Nguni and Tonga chiefs. From Delagoa Bay, Portugal controlled a prosperous ivory trade, which in turn attracted caravans from the interior.

At roughly the same time as the rise of the ivory trade, climatic changes and the rise of the slave trade had even greater effects on Mozambique. The trade in slaves, which had existed at a low level before the arrival of Europeans, continued throughout the colonial period, under the hand of African and European traders. By the late 1700s, however, demand for slaves had grown. When prolonged droughts started in Mozambique in the 1760s and became endemic from the 1790s, crops failed, cattle suffered, chiefdoms faltered, and traditional patterns of long-distance commerce were disrupted.

Banditry and slave raiding increased, and large numbers of slaves were brought to the coast. By 1800 Mozambique had become one of the world's major slave-trading centers. Hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans were sold to slave traders and sent to the Americans. Until at least the 1870s, no other form of commerce generated as much profit.