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Despite a history of war and colonisation and high levels of poverty today, Mozambique is enigmatic. Rarely does it fall on traveller’s itineraries, nor is it the world’s number one expat destination. However, unique traditions, a variety of cultures and unrivalled tropical coastline means this gem should not be missed.
Surrounded by South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania, Mozambique is in good company. The locals are warm and welcoming, ready to hand you a delicious plate of matapa and a chilled 2M beer. Sit back, relax, and let us guide you through one of Africa’s most mysterious countries.
The majority of Mozambique is covered by a tropical climate, with regions that are more subtropical or semi-arid to the west. The Parque Nacional do Limpopo in the south west of Mozambique has a warm desert climate. Mozambique boasts 2,500 km of coastline and is surrounded by Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Swaziland.
The rainy season, which is hot and humid, tends to start in November and end in March. Due to the length of the of the country the levels of rainfall vary between the north and the south, with the rains lasting a few weeks longer in the north. January is by far the wettest month and the humidity levels can be unbearable at times.
The dry season spans May to October, but there is a cooler period from mid-May to mid-August. The emergence of the sun means the humidity drops and better weather spreads from the south to the north. During these months the weather is perfectly tropical, with clear skies and plenty of uninterrupted sun. Rain is a rarity and most visitors head to Mozambique between May and August to benefit from the comfortable temperatures, although when the sun is at its highest see the mercury rise to 30°C still.
Mozambique was ruled by Portugal between 1894 until 1975. It was known as Portuguese East Africa until FREMLIMO, the Mozambique Liberation Front, negotiated for its independence. Today, the country’s culture is still heavily influenced by Portugal’s historical rule, but is also influenced by Swahili and Bantu philosophies.
Those who are born and raised in Mozambique tend to belong to a local group and each has different beliefs and customs that have been passed down for generations. Some of the most prevalent groups include Makua, Thonga, Shona, Sena, Nyungwe and Yao. Each has a strong affinity with song and dance, with both being performed at celebrations and ceremonies. However, each group has different religious beliefs, healing methods, rules for the young and social hierarchy rules.
One of the most well-known ceremonial dances is performed by the Makonde people and its known as mapiko. These locals live in northern Mozambique and is a dance just for men who cover themselves in cloth and wear wooden masks to perform the piece. The dance grew out of male attempts to change the power of their women because the Makonde are a matrilineal society. In the dance the men represent challenging spirits.
There is a north and south divide between local groups that is very notable. Like the Makonde, the majority of northern groups are matrilineal. This means that men of the village trace their ancestry back through their mother and will often live near their wife’s family when married. In contrast, the northern groups are patrilineal; families tracing their descent through the male line.
When it comes to religion 40% of Mozambique’s popular are Christina, with Roman Catholicism being the most followed denomination. In the northern regions the people are mostly Muslim and this equates to 25% of the total population.
Regardless of which faith people follow, nearly half the population practices traditional animist beliefs, where the spirit of ancestors can affect the lives of the living. Christianity is also non-traditional in Mozambique, with groups incorporating their own beliefs and focusing on spirits headed by one all-powerful God.
Mozambique is a multilingual country and the official language is Portuguese. However, this is only spoken by around 3% of the population and this tends to be amongst the well educated in the coastal towns. Other than in hotels, English is rarely spoken.
The majority of Mozambican dialects (of which there are over 60) are of Bantu descent. The most widely spoken indigenous language is Makhuwa, spoken by 4 million Makua people. Sena and Tsonga languages make up a further 22.2% of the ethnologic makeup. Other well-known Bantu languages spoken in Mozambique include Swahili, Swazi and Zulu.
Whether a pedestrian, passenger or driver, Mozambique’s roads can leave little to be desired. In the capital Maputo, and many of the large cities, the roads are chaotic and locals play by their own rules. Expats and visitors are welcome to drive in the country as long as they have their home license with them. If you think you can stomach dangerous driving, potholes and unpaved roads, give driving a try. Given the questionable level of public services available, driving can be an attractive option.
Maputo’s public transport system is better than elsewhere in Mozambique. Generally speaking, public transport is unreliable. Many expats and visitors utilise the expertise of a driver or private taxi to get from A to B. The capital is home to Mozambique’s international airport which operates services to national destinations and Portugal, Turkey and Qatar. There are other airports throughout Mozambique, including some unpaved in the rural areas. Flights to these locations are by private arrangement only.
Trains in Mozambique tend to be used by travellers mostly as they ferry to and from Maputo and South Africa. They lack sleeping facilities which can be uncomfortable for overnight travel and are often cramped during the day. The trains in Mozambique run to their own schedule, despite a timetable being in place and are not geared towards day to day travel.
When it comes to buses there are two kinds in Mozambique. There are the chapas, which are local minuses, or coaches that are used for long distance journeys. Chapas are used for both long distance and short local travel and the mini-buses are often piled high with luggage. Drivers have little care for capacity limits so prepare to feel somewhat snug. They are the cheapest form of transport in Mozambique.
Long distance coaches are marginally more comfortable than chapas and primarily used to travel between cities or to neighbouring countries such as Zimbabwe and South Africa. The intercity buses tend to depart at 4am once a day.
There are two ferry routes serving Inhaca Island, Maputo and Catembe. They are a handful of trips daily and this doubles on the weekends. Expats and travellers alike should get to their desired ferry port early to ensure they secure a spot aboard.
Expats should be aware that Mozambique is a severely underdeveloped county and the healthcare facilities and spread of diseases reflect this. 70% of the population live below the poverty line and live on the equivalent of £1.50 per day. With food and water the priority, medical needs are rarely met.
There is no healthcare system in place in Mozambique and there are inadequate resources. There is rumoured to be three doctors per 100,000 people. Mozambicans who can afford it often head to South Africa for treatment. However, in 2012, a private hospital opened in Maputo. The facility has a maternity ward, intensive care unit and pharmacy and offers surgical, obstetric, paediatric and gynaecological services. It is the first of its kind and, in the future, will be a nursing school.
The Metical, shown as MZN or MT is the official currency of the country. Each metical is comprised of 100 centavos. Notes come as 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1000 meticais. Denominations of coins include 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 centavos and 1, 2, 5 and 10 meticais.
Due to Mozambique’s underdevelopment, expats will notice that banking, money and taxes are not an easy business. The ease and access of banking is by no means as smooth as other countries. This being said, there are a number of international banks in Mozambique including Barclays. Popular South African options in the country include First National Bank and Standard Bank. Their head offices tend to be in Maputo but there are branches in the larger towns throughout Mozambique.
The language barriers can be an issue when wanting to open a bank account in Mozambique. It is best to take a local friend along with you to translate. Expats wanting to open an account with a bank will need to show:
Like many of Mozambique’s public services, schooling is a challenge. Education is split into three stages; primary, secondary and higher. Mozambique does have a national education system but much of the country’s schooling is paid for by international funding.
Education is compulsory and free for children up until the age of 12. To graduate, parents are charged fees so many children do not complete their secondary education and a large number of those aged 12 to 16 are sent to work to support their families. Due to a lack of resources, enforcement of the compulsory education law is scarce and some children never attend one day of school. There is also a high disparity in students, with twice as many boys attending school as girls.
Expats are welcome to send their children to public school in Mozambique. However, the standard of education is incredibly low. Virtually all parents home school their children or opt for them to enrol in an international school.
The majority of international schools are located in Maputo and English tends to be the language of teaching. However, there are French and Portuguese schools too. Parents must remember that international school fees are extremely high and it is definitely something to consider before moving to Mozambique. Furthermore, demand for spaces is high so parents should get in touch with the admissions board way ahead of moving to Mozambique. Some popular choices for families include:
Gender: Co-educational Curriculum: International Baccalaureate (IB) Ages: 3 to 18
www.mis.ac.mz/ Gender: Co-educational Curriculum: British National Curriculum Ages: 3 to 18
www.ygsinternational.org/index.html Gender: Co-educational Curriculum: Calvert & Cambridge Ages: 3-18
It is not surprising that after 500 years of Portuguese rule that Mozambique is influenced by the country when it comes to food. However, there is a strong African influence too. Mozambique is a foodie heaven, particularly for those who want to indulge in fresh fish, seafood and juicy tropical fruits.
Matapa is a tasty traditional dish but is rarely found on the menu at tourist restaurants. You will most likely find that your Mozambican friends cook this favourite for you. The peanut sauce stew is bright green due to pigment from cassava leaves – Mozambique’s answer to spinach – and strewn with prawns, whole peanuts, garlic and coconut milk. It is often served with plain white rice.
Stemming from Portugal, you will find peri peri chicken available throughout Mozambique. Many people have been to Portuguese restaurant Nandos, but there is nothing like the traditional thing. Chick is marinated with lemon juice, garlic and peri peri sauce before being flame grilled and served with fries.
A popular Portuguese street food you must try in Mozambique is a prego roll. A steak is doused in fiery peri peri sauce and served in a fresh white roll known as pao. These can be picked up easily throughout Mozambique and are an inexpensive but filling treat.
If you crave fish, scour the menu for peixe grelhade, the catch of the day. Lulas is fried calamari and prawns are considered a highlight. They are served shell-on and slathered in peri peri sauce of lashings of garlic. You can have them grilled or fried and served with fries or rice.
After your delicious meal the perfect sweet treat is a tropical fruit salad. Due to Mozambique’s climate, delicious tropical fruit grows everywhere. Mangoes, papayas and bananas are readily available and very cheap at the markets and street vendors.
Alcoholic tipples in Mozambique tend to be Madeira wine or locally produced beers such as Manica and Laurenta. A larger you will see everywhere is 2M as it is the national larger of Mozambique and a joint brewing effort between the country and South Africa. South African beers such as Amstel, Castle and Lion are also popular. In terms of soft drinks, fizzy pop Frozy and fruit juices are widely consumed in Mozambique.
Expats and travellers to Mozambique should exercise caution. The country experiences political tensions and, due to high levels of poverty, wives of crime are commonplace. Petty theft is the most prevalent crime in Mozambique, with much taking place in Maputo. Kidnappings are also on the increase, so expats and travellers shouldn’t travel on their own, particularly at night. Generally speaking, however, crime levels in Mozambique are no higher than any other African country and most of the time people live and travel without a hitch. If you do need emergency services, the numbers are as follows:
The most concerning safety aspect in Mozambique is related to health. Due to development and poverty diseases spread rapidly. Common diseases include tuberculosis, cholera and leprosy. The greatest threat by far, however, is malaria.
Malaria is the leading killer of children in the country. The Mozambican government has been promoting the use of indoor sprays and treated mosquito nets, which have been deployed to those who are vulnerable. If they can receive more funding, the aim is to provide every citizen with a net and take the strain away from the limited medical resources here are. Those travelling to Mozambique should visit their doctor 4 to 6 weeks before their flight to receive inoculations and malaria advice and information.
HIV and AIDS is becoming a huge issue amongst teenagers and adults in Mozambique. Over 25% of the population are said to be infected due to a lack of education and availability of contraception. However, the government are trying to quash this outbreak by educating through various campaigns.
Mozambique may suffer in some respects, but there are some places that show the country for what it really is. Blessed by Africa’s finest flora and fauna, there is no better place to go on safari. There are also historical and community sites to experience Mozambican heritage and learn from the locals who make the country so special.
Amongst 500,000 hectares of floodplains, forest dunes and mangrove swamps are elephants, white rhino and a variety of other game species. In the winter months, the herd and their new calves can be seen around park headquarters. Visitors to the reserve can experience some of Africa’s most special wildlife in a unique setting.
Mozambique’s nearest island, accessible by road, is home to Fort Sao Sebastio. It dominates the north of the island and is the oldest complete fort still standing in sub-Sharan Africa. Parts of the historical site date back to 1558 and the tiny Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Baluarte is a must visit.
Located in the small fishing village of Macunhe is Machilla Magic. It is an arts and craft centre open to everybody to uplift the community and show visitors the skills and talents of Mozambicans. Visitors can learn to create traditional jewellery, weave, create fabrics and carve objects from mafureira wood.
A southern town in Mozambique, Bilene is a popular beach resort with dream-like beaches. White sand gives way to azure blue waters rich with colourful reefs and fish. Although it is a tourist trap, Bilene is undeniably beautiful and definitely a perfect beach day location.
Located in the protected Great Rift Valley, Gorongosa is Mozambique’s premier national park. Those who look after the park and its inhabitants focus upon conservation, conservation, science and community to ensure the wildlife and the people are getting the best from the project. Enjoy a safari at Gorongosa and clap eyes on lions, elephants, crocodiles and hippos.
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