Exploring Mozambique's Capital, Maputo
Published: September 2011
By Maria Shollenbarger
Brown-sugar beaches, a pulsing nightlife, the best seafood on the East African coast. For years, Johannesburg insiders have frequented Mozambique’s alluring, but under-the-radar, capital. Now, the secret’s out.
Make the grand Portuguese-colonial Polana Serena Hotel (1380 Avda. Julius Nyerere; 258-21/491-001; www.serenahotels.com; doubles from $218) your home base. On the edge of a bluff overlooking the Indian Ocean, it resembles a five-star Palm Beach property plunked down in the middle of Africa. In the rooms, things are a bit less breathtaking; those in the main building channel an Ivana Trump-circa-1984 aesthetic, while the ones in the Polana Mar annex have a decidedly Hawaii Five-0 feel. But a total renovation is scheduled to start later this year, and you’ll spend most of your time lounging by the palm-fringed cliffside pool anyway—few settings in southern Africa can rival it for bygone-era glamour. At lunchtime, head north on Avenida Marginal to Costa do Sol (10429 Avda. Marginal; 258-21/450-115; lunch for two $25). Costa’s piri-piri prawns—each the size of a small banana—are famous from Cairo to Cape Town; the seaside location encourages a languid, open-air meal. Take an afternoon siesta, then hop in a hotel cab and start your evening at Café Camissa (194 Rua de Argélia; 258-82/415-3100), which functions as a bar-gallery-salon for artists and journalists. Owners Paul Honig and Tina Cossa book excellent live music on the outdoor stage during the weekend. Move on for dinner to Clube Naval (1886 Avda. Marginal; dinner for two $40), an utterly African hybrid of restaurant, bar, and semiprivate nautical club, it’s one of the city’s social epicenters. Wash down scorching-hot Zambezi, curried chicken, or fish dishes with lots of Laurentina, the excellent local lager, or one of the quite good Portuguese wines on the list. Once midnight rolls around, follow the crowd to the Train Station Bar (Praça dos Trabalhadores; no phone; drinks for two $10), inside Maputo’s venerable, but largely defunct, railway station, for the meanest caipirinha in town and marquee names in jazz and African music. The racially mixed (and uniformly hip) clientele spills out onto adjacent platforms, where trains still occasionally pull in late at night, disgorging their passengers into the midst of a full-blown party.
Grab the ferry across the channel to the Catembe Gallery Hotel (Catembe Jetty; 258-21/380-0501; brunch for two $16), for Maputo’s best Sunday brunch or just a stroll along the pristine beach. The whimsically decorated lobby—murals on the walls, a Droog-style chandelier above the bar—opens onto a terrace with snapshot-perfect views of Maputo’s skyline. Try one of the pizzas; the restaurant makes all its cheeses from the milk of African buffalo. Back in Maputo, explore the cacophonous fish market (Avda. Marginal and Rua Palma), where fishmongers cajole shoppers in Tsonga, Ronga, and Portuguese into picking from their eye-popping catch. Walk your selection over to any one of the open-air cafés lining the market’s west end; a vendor will grill it to perfection and sell you a beer and some freshly roasted cashews to go with it. After sunset, it’s time for more music: Gil Vicente (295 Avda. Samora Machel; 258-82/323-7300) has everything from blues to samba to spoken word. Next, make a beeline for Mambo Caffe (73 Rua Travessa da Palmeira; 258-84/390-0080), a multilevel nightclub complete with Western-style bouncers. Find a spot in the souk-like atrium, which is lined with low Moroccan sofas and open to the night sky; the DJ’s, from Angola, South Africa, and Europe, favor Y2K-era electronica and old-school disco. Finish the evening at Coconuts Lounge (38 Avda. Marginal; 258-21/487-635), a thatched beach hut on the water, where NGO expats, young professionals, and the requisite smattering of working girls all rub elbows over heady Technicolor cocktails and a sound track of thumping house music. It’s deeply weird, wildly fun, and quintessentially Maputo.
How to Get There
South African Airways and LAM (Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique) each has daily nonstop flights from Johannesburg International Airport.
Best Times to Visit
In winter (June to July), temperatures rarely dip below 60 degrees; the summer months (December to February) can be extremely warm, and the risk of malaria is higher. Spring and fall are very pleasant.
What to Know
Immunizations for typhoid, diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, and—if you travel outside Maputo—rabies are recommended, as is an antimalarial. Stick to bottled water and beer (draft beer is sometimes thinned with tap water). Be prepared for evidence of severe poverty and for the city’s many beggars, who are often small children.
Avoid walking in the streets at night; you can find licensed taxis at hotels.