Go There: Mozambique
Maputo to Inhambane, the southern region's gems.
By Craig Ritchie
Where: Mozambique sits between South Africa and Tanzania on the southeastern coast of Africa. At one point it was the poorest nation on Earth after a bloody ten-year independence quickly followed by a fifteen-year civil war, which ravaged the country and left much of its populace with nothing but traumatic memories of landmine blasts and loved ones lost. These days Mozambique is again a beautiful land of pristine coastlines, lush tropical vegetation, growing international trade as well as bustling tourism—and a people filled with true elation that theirs is a country slowly returning to its former glory.
What: The southern provinces of Mozambique offer some truly world-class waves, from the famed tubes of Ponto do Oura to the immaculate reefs at Tofinho, with many a wave-rich gem for those willing to take their four-by-fours well off the beaten track. The islands just off Maputo deliver incredible sand-bottom points when conditions are just right. Venture too far north, however, and some swell directions can be blocked by Madagascar.
When: You can find surf all year round, but June to August is the best bet, with April, May, and September still decent enough. If you have a couple of weeks, you will get quality surf. If you're coming from abroad, a good idea might be to time a Mozambican surf trip just before or after a visit to Jeffreys Bay.
How: You're going to need to own or rent a car, as the public transport is as basic as it comes. It's not unusual to see a fully loaded bus cruising along the highway at such a crazy angle that it's almost toppling over to one side, with a family of goats tied to the roof—on top of the pile of suitcases. Make sure you have all your papers and legal documents (proof of car ownership, driver's license, passport with valid visa, and so on) in order at all times, as the Mozambican police and traffic cops will jump on any chance to serve "spot fines" if even the smallest thing is out of order. President Guebuza has been vocal about clamping down on police corruption, but nevertheless, you may well be on the receiving end of a truly undeserved $50 speeding fine. You can maybe bargain it down a bit, but trust us, just look at these bribes as part of the overall cost of the trip. It's better than causing a fuss and going to a Mozambican prison.
Places to stay: Whatever your budget, Mozambique can accommodate—from five-star hotels in Maputo to reed-mat-on-the-floor bungalows and everything in between. A number of South African and Portuguese expats have set up guesthouses, camping grounds, backpackers, and self-catering apartments that now pepper the Mozambican coastline. A quick browse of Google and you can find contact details for accommodation at practically every spot you plan to surf. One idea might be to only make reservations at one spot before you arrive, and while there speak to the locals or ask other traveling surfers about where to stay at the next spot. We strongly recommend a visit to Casa Barry at Tofo.
Places to eat: As with most big cities, Maputo offers everything from major fast food chains to the finest prawns you'll ever eat. Make a mission to Costa del Sol restaurant—expensive by Mozambican standards—and enjoy a seafood platter on the porch where Bob Dylan wrote some of his most famous lyrics. In Tofo, the campsite restaurant has incredibly cheap baskets of prawns, fish, and calamari that are caught and cooked the same day. If you choose to buy fresh seafood from the locals on the beach, just make sure they're not undersized. Venture off to the village markets for cheap bags of cashews, fresh coconuts, and bunches of bananas.
Babes and dudes: This really depends on the time of year you're there. December/January is full of tourists (sometimes half of Johannesburg and Pretoria drive through for Christmas and New Years'), but then you're not really going to be getting the best conditions for surf. There's a ton of backpackers and business travelers in Maputo pretty much year-round, and a good selection of bars, nightclubs, and live music to check out. The further north you go, the more you'll be trying your charms out at the campsite bar.
Crowd factor: Again, the further north you venture, the less crowded it becomes. Even so, "crowded" is not a term one usually associates with Mozambique. When Ponto de Oura is firing, you can expect some dedicated Durban surfers will be on it. The same day, any number of northern spots will be rolling off unridden.
Stuff to bring: Malaria pills, sunblock, and a well-stocked first-aid kit, for sure. A Portuguese phrasebook wouldn't hurt either, as many Mozambicans speak no English whatsoever. As a primer, "camarão," "ondas," and "obrigado" are three very important words (prawns, waves, and thank you, in case you were wondering). Boardshorts will normally see you through even in the middle of winter, with a springsuit as a seldom-used but handy backup. A step-up will be essential if a solid swell hits Ponto, and you'll definitely want to bring a backup shortboard plus your own ding-repair kit.
If the surf is flat: Swim, fish, dive, ride horses, visit local village markets, and enjoy being in a peaceful, tropical paradise. Tofo has the world's largest whale shark population and among the most bountiful for manta rays and a host of other exotic sea life, which have made the Mozambican reefs their home. Bring a good book as well, as you will get your share of flat or onshore days even in the surf season.
More information: Your dollar will go far as the current exchange rate is 26 meticals to one U.S. dollar, with the minimal legal Mozambican salary being the equivalent of about $60 a month. Even South Africans feel rich in Mozambique.
On the Web, check out casabarry.com, as it's a great starting point for anyone visiting Tofo. Another good site to visit is wheretostay.co.za, which offers a number of accommodation options for many Mozambican destinations. And for some cultural enrichment, go to wikipedia.com and read up a bit on the country's history and appreciate the intense struggle that its people have been through.