How To Stay Safe While Backpacking In Mozambique

We like to consider ourselves adventurous travellers. Recently, we backpacked through over 20 countries in Africa with a shoestring budget and nothing but our charm to protect us.

We loved every minute of it, almost. As incredible as that trip was, I can say hand on heart that backpacking in Mozambique truly put our marriage and our adventurous spirit to the test. So to help others, we wanted to provide a comprehensive guide to public transport in Mozambique and the best budget accommodation in Mozambique too.

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Table of Contents

A beach with a very low tide - there are fishing boats stranded on the sand and the foreground is palm fronds.
Mozambique beaches are some of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen

Introduction to backpacking in Mozambique

In terms of backpacking, parts of Mozambique (in other words, its beautiful beaches) are a great choice! There are lots of great value hostels, the food is cheap and delicious, and there are lots of things to do. The rest of the country is a little trickier however, and there is a big problem for backpackers of how to get around.

We travelled through Mozambique via public bus. We could not really find a single thing online which gave comprehensive information on how to do this. There was the odd anecdotal blog post (usually out of date!) about how people personally travelled a certain route.

Consequently, we made A LOT of mistakes. It was extremely hard, and wanted to share this post to help others avoid the stress that we had! This is a more general overview, but you can go through each (nightmare) public transport journey we had if you check out this section below.

We always try to be completely transparent with our experience when travelling, so for the sake of honesty, we must say that, even if you are a backpacker, if you have the option NOT to travel Mozambique via public bus (i.e. if you have the budget to hire a car), this would be a much smoother experience for you.

We had heard amazing things about Mozambique before we visited and though we did have some great moments in the country. Given our time again, we would hire a car for sure, and we think we would enjoy Mozambique all the more for it.

That’s definitely not to say it can’t be done, and we think with more planning, we would not have found this quite as stressful as we did!

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A bit about safety in Mozambique

We can say hand on heart that Mozambique is one of the most beautiful countries we have ever visited. Each beach is absolutely immaculate (with barely any people), the snorkelling is some of the best we’ve ever seen and the marine wildlife is incredible if there at the right time.

This is a country with a troubling history (thanks, largely, to colonial intervention and the East African slave trade). Consequently, a lot of the locals are naturally distrusting of tourists, and I think particularly white tourists. That’s not to say that they’re not courteous and helpful, because they absolutely are (if anything, they’re more polite than most people we’ve met travelling!), but there is a certain distrust which, combined with Mozambique’s strong hustle culture, can lead to tourist scams.

This was something we ran up against a lot, really an embarrassing amount, given our previous travel experience. Perhaps we thought we knew it all, but we were speedily proven wrong here. I definitely would not want to put anyone off visiting Mozambique and it’s worth adding that again, a lot of the scams we were taken in by were to do with public transport and getting around so again, a car might have saved us a lot of drama.

Overall, we are aware that we did Mozambique ‘all wrong’ if such a thing is possible, but we’ve definitely learned from that experience and feel that a return trip is in order to fix this, and enjoy everything this beautiful place has to offer!

If you want to read more about safety in Mozambique, we cover it really thoroughly in this post.

Murray is walking down a sandy path flanked with palm trees. He is carrying a purple umbrella like a parasol.
Some roads in Mozambique are just made of sand

Insurance for travelling through Africa

It’s always a smart idea to have good comprehensive travel insurance, especially when visiting ‘off-the-beaten path’ places. We use SafetyWing for our travel insurance and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them when visiting Africa or any other region. They are affordable and reliable, and have an easy price calculator you can use to work out your cost below. Their nomad insurance is also brilliant for longer trips.

Know before you go

Here are the basic things you’ll need to know before backpacking in Mozambique:

  • Some basic Portuguese is a must for backpacking in Mozambique. We’ve seen some online guides claim that you don’t really need Portuguese in Mozambique. We are not sure if maybe these people only stayed in tourist areas, but even if they did, that was absolutely not our experience at all. Yes, there will normally be some random person in the area who can help you with basic English translations but this is not something we would recommend relying on
  • Mozambique is generally inexpensive but the tourist areas can be a bit pricey. It’s best to go where the locals go.
  • The currency is Mozambique Metical. You can’t pay in other currency, except in very touristy areas, which might accept USD.
  • ATMs do not always work, and some will only work for visa, not Mastercard. It’s best to sort currency as soon as you arrive as many places do not accept card

Our Route

The route we took is one which, in our opinion, will come in useful to most tourists, and that route is as follows. We have posted about each of these individual journeys as well.

Interactive Map:

Here’s where we went:

If you click on each of there, you’ll be redirected to a blog post detailing how to do each journey.

Nelspruit/Mbombela (in South Africa) – Maputo
Maputo – Inhambane (- Tofo/Gunjata)
Tofo/Gunjata – Inhambane – Maxixe
Maxixe – Vilanculos (in our guide to beaches and diving in Mozambique)
Vilanculos – Chimoio (in our guide to safety in Vilanculos)

We then also went from Chimoio to Blantyre in Mozambique, which is a surprisingly easy journey. You need to book a Nagi bus in Chimoio (which departs around 5am) to get to Tete, a city further North. From Tete you can stay overnight and take another bus, or you can take a chapa (taxi bus) to Zobue, the border town with Malawi, and then another bus in Malawi once you’ve gone through border control. Be aware that chapas from Mozambique cannot cross the border into Malawi, only big buses, so if a chapa driver tells you they are going all the way to Malawi – they are not, not matter how insistent they are!

We’re speaking from experience on that one.

Because of the current situation in the North of Mozambique ( there is a terrorist insurgency from an extremist group named Al-Shabaab, who are looking to form a breakaway regime), we did not go further North and chose instead to head into Malawi, which was a good choice for us. If you are taking a different route from this, then this will still be useful as the same general rules apply for bus travel in Mozambique. We have verified this with locals.

Public Transport in Mozambique

When you’re backpacking in Mozambique, of course you need to know how to use public transport. Personally, if you do have just over a backpacking budget, we would advise hiring a car in Mozambique as it is significantly easier than relying on buses, but we’ll still talk you through the buses just in case. If you want to hire a car, we use Rentalcars.com (part of Booking.com) and they’re great! Generally cheaper than most other search engines, and really straightforward.

Check prices below:

Getting around within cities and towns

Within towns and cities, you can walk, or use taxis or chapas. A chapa is a type of public bus, which we’ll come to below. Taxis are cheap, but there are currently no taxi booking apps in Mozambique, so you just have to flag them down. You need to negotiate prices before getting in and it does help to have some basic Portuguese for this.

Some places will also have motorbike taxis, but this was not as common as elsewhere in Africa. Tuktuks are not yet common in Mozambique. For safety reasons, we probably wouldn’t recommend a motorbike taxi, unless you have no other choice.

Travelling between cities

For this, you need to use public buses if you don’t have your own car. As mentioned, even as a backpacker, we do recommend having your own transport, as it will make your experience much better but if you are hell-bent on getting around by public transport, here’s what you need to know.

Firstly, it is important to know the difference between the two different types of buses in the country. There are two types of public buses: buses and chapas.

What’s the difference between a bus and a chapa?

Buses / Coaches

Mozambique has a network of at least five different bus networks, which run up and down the country. When we talk about these companies, we are talking about proper buses, coach-style large 30-40 seaters. They occasionally have toilets on board, usually ‘air conditioning’ (well, a feeble stream of air which you can blow on your face) and don’t stop very often (normally only main towns).

If you pre-book these buses, you will get a seat to yourself, and they do not always try to cram more people on into the aisles, though this did happen to us on a few trips. We’ll come to how to pre-book later.

The bus companies we saw were: Entre Rios, Mazenga, Etrago, Nagi and CityLink – there are almost certainly more but we’re not sure where they go. These ones all have a base in Maputo, and also sometimes a base in other cities in the country, such as Chimoio. These buses are not too bad at all – we found the most punctual to be Nagi, the most comfortable to be Etrago.

The bus depots are rarely where Google seems to think they are, so in our experience, it is best to take a taxi there (the drivers will usually know the way) or ask for directions. If you DON’T pre-book, it’s very hard to get on these buses, and if you do get on, you’ll end up sitting on the floor without a doubt.

Emma is taking a selfie of her and Murray, who is sitting backwards in the aisle of a bus and looking really grumpy. His face is red and sweaty and there are people all around him so he is truly wedged in.
Note: the buses will fill to capacity even if that means you (who were silly enough not to pre-book) sitting on the floor backwards on your bag, surrounded by chickens. Speaking from experience.
Chapas/Xapas

Pronounced shapa by the locals or chapa when they’re talking to tourists, these are ‘taxi buses’. If you have visited anywhere else in Africa, you will have seen similar-style vehicle. They are mostly small 12-seater Toyota Hiaces, into which the conductors cram 16+ passengers, plus 2-3 in the front seat and impossible amounts of baggage.

They go up and down the country between smaller and bigger towns (usually a maximum distance of about 4-6 hours. More often they will only travel backwards and forwards one or two hours. They do not have air-conditioning, usually blast very loud music and do tend to stop every 3-5 minutes to pick up and drop off passengers.

What we will say is that we heard a lot of negative reports of these chapas before we visited Mozambique (with regard to safety more than comfort), but actually since we were prepared, we didn’t find them that bad.

The drivers and conductors do not, however, have any regard whatsoever for safety or comfort. Honestly, we have travelled a lot in Africa, and we have never experienced taxi buses/chapas/matolas/dala dalas (whatever you want to call them) quite this unsafe. Make sure you pick one that doesn’t look like it’s literally falling apart (more likely than you’d think), and that if you are traveling with baggage, they at least have some space to put it where it isn’t just going to fall out of the boot. Also, definitely get that travel insurance!

Emma is taking a selfie of her and Murray in a chapa. It is cramped and they are sitting on their bags - they look tired but happy. They are backpacking in Mozambique.
Crammed in the back of a chapa thinking it could be worse…

How To Book Public Transport in Mozambique

Buses

Super important note: the buses need to be booked in advance, otherwise you will normally not be allowed to board. This only applies to buses, not chapas.

If you are allowed to board without pre-booking, it will be at the discretion of the conductors. I must say, they are not normally generous with this in our experience. If you are allowed on, you will almost certainly be seated on the floor in the aisle, unless by some miracle the bus is not full. Bus journeys are generally long and uncomfortable, so you will want to book to make sure you have a seat, and you can only do this if you have pre-booked your ticket before travel.

The best way to do this is at a booking office, which will be found at the main bus depot/station in each city. Some cities (perhaps most notably for tourists, Vilanculos) do not have bus depots, so you either need to book your tickets in advance in another city. You can also try to call the bus companies, BUT you will need to pay them via M-Pesa (a kind of digital currency only used in some African countries, so you may need to enlist help from a local to do this).

Honestly we think booking in person in another city is easier. NOTE: there is currently no means of doing this online and the numbers on Google are often incorrect for local bus companies in Mozambique.

Phone numbers for booking:

The correct numbers that we have found are below:

Entre Rios Buses (this guy is based in Vilanculos) – +258 84 021 4270

Nagi Bus Manager – +258 87 288 2882

If you find somebody who says they will pre-book the ticket for you in a town where there is no bus depot, ask them how they are intending to pay the buses. Advance tickets can only be paid for in M-Pesa if not booked in person, it is not possible to pay the money to the driver on the day. If they don’t know or say they will pay the driver for you, then they have not pre-booked the service.

It is up to you whether you still choose to take their help. It is often easier to have local assistance, but they basically will not be doing anything you could not do yourself with enough confidence/Portuguese. You should not have to pay for your bags on standard buses, these can be placed under the carriage, so you can say no if asked to pay extra for these.

Chapas

Chapas do not need to be booked in advance. To get on one, you need to stand on the side of the road in the direction you want to travel and flag them down. In some places, you need to go to chapa depots, but normally there will be a conductor around to show you what to do. They will stop if they have space. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, they’ll have a sign on the front with their final destination.

Always ask the conductor for a price before you get on and don’t let them put your bags on the bus until you have negotiated the fare you want to pay. It’s useful to have an idea of what you want to pay in your head. You can try to ask locals how much it would be, or watch them negotiate first. Often the conductor will try to charge you extra for your baggage, which is frustrating, since they don’t ask locals, but to be honest understandable if they’re big backpacking bags that take up the place of additional people.

If you are asked to pay for your bag and can squeeze it somewhere out of the way easily, we’d suggest just firmly saying no and paying the agreed price. It’s also a sensible idea to pack light if planning to travel Mozambique by public bus anyway. Note: we’re only saying this because the drivers normally do not ask locals to pay for baggage so this is a tourist scam. You will only widen the tourist-local divide by agreeing to it.

A vast expanse of beach dunes with the sea in the distance
Where desert meets the sea in Mozambique

Our Top Tips for Booking Buses in Mozambique

  1. ALWAYS allow yourself at least 2 nights in each destination so you have a day to pre-book your next bus – with enough preparation, it would be possible to arrive in a city in Mozambique and book a ticket to your next destination for the following day but, as you will see from what happened to us, you will save yourself a lot of stress if you have a full day to find where you need to go
  2. Have cash to pay – card is not possible on the bus, and normally not at the bus stations either. Sometimes they do have card machines, but they are always broken.
  3. Have some rudimentary Portuguese at least – we’ve seen some online guides claim that you don’t really need Portuguese in Mozambique. We are not sure if maybe these people only stayed in tourist areas, but even if they did, that was absolutely not our experience at all. Yes, there will normally be some random person in the area who can help you with basic English translations but this is not something we would recommend relying on
  4. If you know where you’ll need to be throughout your trip and on which dates, consider asking a local to tell you which buses go where. You can also find this out from tourist information at the airport. Armed with this information, we’d recommend going to pre-book all of these buses in Maputo on your first day. If you hire a taxi for the day, the drivers will usually know where all the depots are and help you and it shouldn’t be expensive.

Overall, bus travel in Mozambique is not an easy feat, especially not during busy periods (Christmas/New Year/peak season), but it does not need to be impossible! Do not underestimate it and most important is to make sure that you have left yourself enough time to book a ticket to your next destination, even if this means staying an extra day to go to the ticketing office when it is open. We hope this is helpful.

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Choosing backpacking accommodation in Mozambique

While there isn’t yet an obvious route for backpacking through Mozambique and therefore, hostels etc are not common, we did find some real gems!

We’ve put together a list of our favourite backpacking accommodation in Mozambique. Of course, this list is intended for backpackers, but we have added a few ‘splurgeable’ places, in case you really need a break from the budget lifestyle. We’ll also only cover the route we did, since we couldn’t comment on any other places, but hopefully we covered the place you’re going.

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How to choose accommodation in Mozambique

Since accommodation in Mozambique is not always on booking platforms etc., you do need to learn how to choose it well in order to stay safe. This is especially important for budget accommodation. As a general rule, we look for places that are centrally located, unless marked otherwise, and get a rating of at least 4/5 on TripAdvisor. If we can find the place on Expedia/Booking.com etc, this is better. We trust the reviews on these platforms more because they come from people who have actually visited these hotels.

Backpacking accommodation in Maputo

We heard some really negative reviews of Maputo before we went, but it was actually the place we had the fewest issues! Everyone we met was really kind and we had a lot of help from locals here.

Maputo has some really sweet guesthouses, but not much in the way of backpacking hostels. There is one, the Base Backpackers, which is where we stayed, but we didn’t notice many others. We did like the Base a lot, the staff were really kind and the location is good. They also have a kitchen and even an ATM that works on site, which is useful as getting money out in Mozambique can be tricky.

Otherwise, Guesthouse Malagueta Inn II is also lovely and the top rated hotel in Maputo for Backpackers. We wandered in here one day and would recommend. It even has a pool, which is impressive for the price!

Backpacking accommodation in Tofo

Tofo is nice and has some great accommodation options for backpackers! We have two major tips for finding accommodation in Tofo:

  1. Book it IN ADVANCE. We could not believe how fast accommodation filled up here! Granted, we were travelling close to New Year, but it was still really unbelieveable!
  2. Make sure your accommodation is in Tofo itself and not Inhambane, Maxixe or any of the surrounding towns. Booking platforms we have used do not seem very good at distinguishing between all of these places. A lot of the affordable accommodation will be in Inhambane, but you will then have added costs when you need to travel every day to Tofo Beach. Inhambane does, however, have a lot of facilities Tofo doesn’t have, like bars, restaurants, ATMs etc.

So where should you stay?

We’d recommend the Mozambeat Motel, which is great value for money and well located. There are also lots of different casas, which rate well. You can check which ones are available for your dates via the search tool below. We recommend sticking to a rating of 8+.

Backpacking accommodation in Vilanculos

Vilanculos is another place with loads of options for backpackers. Ours and seemingly everyone else’s favourite is Baobab Beach Vilanculos. We heard so much about this place before we went that we weren’t sure we’d like it, but safe to say, it really lived up to the hype! It’s centrally-located and has options for dorm and private rooms. What really makes it though is the amazing manager, Rebecca, who seems to know everyone in town. She is so hands on with the guests and great at organising whatever you need.

If Baobab is booked out, which does happen quite often, the other great choice for backpackers in Vilanculos is Vilancool Beach Resort. The beach here is also lovely and the set up is similar to Baobab. They’re both good options.

Backpacking accommodation in Chimoio

Chimoio is not a typical place for backpackers to visit, therefore backpacking accommodation is limited. We stayed in a sweet hotel in the middle of town (really close to the bus station) called Pensao do Viajante. We booked it on Airbnb, but you can also book them directly via their Facebook page. The place was run by a super sweet mum and son duo, and they were so fast to respond. They even allowed us to cancel one night free of charge, though it was within fees, and were really adaptable when we needed them to be (because of bus was cancelled).

Backpacking accommodation in Tete

For Tete, you should consider which side of the river you’d like to stay on. The Northern side of Tete is more of a ‘city centre’. It’s closer to the airport and perhaps has more in terms of facilities. The Southern part is nearer to the bus station and has a large supermarket, but not many bars, restaurants etc. On the Northern side of the city, we’d recommend Tete Palm Hotel and for the South, we’d go with Hotel Fatima.

Unfortunately Tete is not regularly visited by backpackers so it doesn’t have too many hostels etc yet. These options are the best value we found while we were there.

Eating out as a backpacker in Mozambique

Anyone who has read this blog before will probably be aware that I am a vegan, but my husband is basically a carnivore. This means that eating out as backpackers is a challenge for us at the best of times. In Africa, we found most budget places tended to serve EITHER meat or vegetarian options. Mozambique, by comparison, just didn’t seem to understand the notion of vegetarianism at all.

They do have one very cheap local vegan dish and that is matapa. At least, I am pretty sure it is vegan! I found a couple of recipes online suggesting it sometimes uses fish oil, but it should be vegan most of the time. At its base, Matapa is cassava leaves with ground peanuts and coconut milk. We regularly didn’t have it with fish or shrimp (which is the most common way to serve it) and people didn’t seem to think that was strange.

Either way, eating out in Mozambique is generally not expensive. Vegetables, though not common, and matapa are usually the cheapest thing you will find. Meat and seafood is, of course, usually pricier. In touristy places, like Tofo and Vilanculos, we regularly found foreign food options like pizza, burgers etc. We normally prefer to stick to local options but this was somewhere we had to cheat a bit so I didn’t end up starving!

Cheap activities in Mozambique

Actually this was something we struggled with. The places where you might want to do ‘touristy things’ are the beach areas such as Tofo and Vilanculos and honestly, they know what tourists will pay and they price activities accordingly. In other words, they’re very expensive. Despite Mozambique being generally very affordable, we blew our budgets completely in Vilanculos for this reason.

However, there are some cheap things to do, and you can help yourself by prebooking:

  • Snorkelling – of course diving is expensive, but you can take yourself snorkelling without spending much. We had our own snorkels but you can hire them too. The seahorse tour (snorkelling with seahorses) in Vilanculos is a great value option too. The company is working to help conserve seahorses as well so it’s a good choice. You can book this at Baobab Beach Hotel.
  • Hiking – there is some nice hiking in the North of Mozambique, though you might need to take a few buses to get to it.
  • Beaches – of course the beaches in Mozambique are generally free, which is great! If you’re a beach person, Mozambique is a great destination to visit on a budget.
  • Museums – Maputo has some museums worth visiting, including the History Museum, which is 100 Mets for foreigners (around $2 USD/£1 GBP)

There are also some very cool not cheap things to do such as snorkelling and diving tours! If you’re interested in snorkelling and diving in Mozambique, this is the post for you!

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Packing List for Backpacking in Mozambique

Things to keep in your day bag (hand baggage):

  • A power bank: this is an absolute MUST – for safety besides anything. You will need to have emergency phone battery in case of any sticky situations, but of course you can also use your phone to entertain you! Murray downloads a load of games on his, as well as some films and I listen to podcasts. We use a solar powered charger, which we are really happy with. It has four charges in it, so we could easily keep both phones fully juiced on any trips as needed.
  • A local sim card: we used Vodacom and it worked great throughout Mozambique
  • An eye mask, earplugs and a head pillow. Trust us and thank us later! You will not be able to sleep without these (unless you’re some kind of super sleeper!).
  • A scarf – ideally sprayed with some kind of perfume. Again, you will thank us for this one! The smells on African buses are interesting to say the least, so you will want something to protect your olfactory senses! Those with long hair can also use it to wrap their heads, which can be very useful on dusty days
  • Snacks and plenty of water for travelling days – as you can probably tell from above, these bus journeys can get very long very unexpectedly so it’s best to be prepared for any kind of situation. For that reason, we always travel with a Lifestraw carbon filter bottle so we can fill up anywhere without worrying whether the water is safe or not
  • Natural sunscreen and bug spray. For choosing sunscreen, we always avoid the chemicals listed on savethereef.org and for bug spray, we always use Incognito. It’s brilliant and completely natural, we actually find it works better than traditional sprays.

Make sure you wear comfy clothes when travelling, that you don’t mind getting dirty, as buses in Mozambique are often not the cleanest experience.

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    Post written by Emma

    Emma

    2 comments
    1. You’re so awesome! I don’t believe I have read a single thing like that before. So great to find someone with some original thoughts on this topic. Really.. thank you for starting this up. This website is something that is needed on the internet, someone with a little originality!

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