War, as the
bumper sticker says, is not healthy for children and other living
things. It can, however, preserve gorgeous beaches from
over-development, and thats just what happened in Mozambique: There
are miles and miles of wide, unspoiled seascapes strung along the
deep blue Indian Ocean.
Landmines, or at
least rumors of their existence, tend to discourage the developers
and sun worshippers.
southeast Africa, convulsed for decades as one of the worlds most
vicious war zones -- first in the battle for independence from
Portugal, then in a harrowing civil war fueled in part by the old
apartheid regime in South Africa.
But peace was
reached in the early 1990s, and today Mozambique is politically
stable, democratic, open and welcoming. And its people appear
intent on pampering international tourists, putting the past behind
and building their nations economy.
Long cleared from the tourist zones. (And, Im told, the beaches
were never mined.)
primary attraction is its coastline. Porpoises dance in schools
over the waves, and the coral reefs are healthy, vivid and rife
with sealife. Lovers can spend entire days on the golden sands and
see no one. And chances are good that no one will see
After decades on
the no-go list, Mozambique is hot. A few months ago, The New York
Times led off its Sunday travel section with a piece on Mozambique
headlined, Africas Rising Star. Among the jaded, deep-pocketed,
been-there-done-that travelers for whom the planet is not nearly
lonely enough, Mozambique is emerging as the next brag-worthy place
to check off their lists.
The beaches may
be mostly undeveloped, but there are some wonderful places to stay,
including ultra-expensive, world-class island resorts that count
Saudi princes, African presidents and the likes of Paul McCartney
and Virgin CEO Richard Branson among their guests.
jet into the capital, Maputo, in Mozambiques south, then transfer
to smaller planes to fly up the coast to Vilanculos, Beira and
I went a
different way, one of a small group of journalists who were driven
into Mozambique from South Africas Kwazulu-Natal
between relatively prosperous South Africa and struggling
Mozambique was drawn starkly at the border, where a nicely paved
highway suddenly morphed into a sketchy track of blond sand amid
dunes and tall grasses. We walked past South Africas brick border
station and into Mozambiques corrugated border shack before
bounding north into the wild country.
To our right,
along the ocean, was the Maputo Elephant Reserve. I felt sure wed
be stopping there, but we didnt. A British resort proprietor later
told me the elephant population has been severely decimated in
Mozambique, and many of the remaining herd are riddled with scars
from bullet wounds. During the wars, food became so scarce that
elephants and other large wildlife were slaughtered for sustenance,
sometimes with machine guns fired from helicopters. Now fearing
humans more than ever, the elephants cower in the
Spotting a shy
pachyderm isnt out of the question, and its possible youll see
other wildlife, but -- especially compared with South Africa --
this is not a game-viewing destination. That said, the country has
begun restocking its game parks. Botswana donated 500 elephants to
Gorongosa National Park, in the central part of Mozambique. And
throughout the country, the bird life is impressive, including
brilliant flocks of pink flamingos.
After a couple
hours drive, we pulled into the little beach town of Ponto do Ouro,
where we climbed some wooden steps to the balcony of a local
restaurant. Like most beachside seafood eateries in Mozambique, it
serves giant tiger prawns that can reach nearly a foot in length. I
went with the smaller king prawns, of less impressive length and
girth but more tasty. The prawns, served with their heads on (thats
where the tastiest juices reside), make the headless version most
Americans are used to seem tasteless and rubbery by
Odd as it may
sound, the prawns go very well with brew, the national beverage
made of equal portions beer and Sprite.
War isnt good for
tourism, declared Luis Esteves, a South African of Portuguese
descent who owns the Kaya Kweru Lodge, also in Ponto do Ouro. But
Mozambique is pristine.
who sold vegetables during the war, Esteves sees a great future for
Mozambique tourism. His hotel, just opened, pays 10% base
commission and will be part of a multi-hotel complex now under
construction. He expects it will primarily serve South Africans who
drive into Mozambique.
Esteves took us
out on a boat to see dolphins, after which we motored some of his
4x4 quad bikes to nearby dunes, giant, rolling, endless, unspoiled.
It was great fun, but as we sped by locals walking home we wondered
how they were weighing all the changes: more money and jobs, yes,
but a lot more visitors making big noises.
Setting off again
in the 4x4s, we drove north on sand roads, dirt roads, chunky
potholed roads and stretches of no road at all. Eventually, we
found ourselves at a wonderful little ocean retreat called Ponta
No quad bikes
here -- just horseback riding. The resort was more like a Zen
retreat, isolated and still. Theres a swimming pool with a view of
the sea, but nothing more, other than the soothing sound of surf
and breezes through palms. Accommodations are in small, wooden
chalets nestled among the trees, facing the beach. The paths
connecting the main building with the cabins and the beach are
planked with smooth, wooden walkways to protect the sands and
plants underneath. Inside the cabins, simple but tasteful interiors
are dominated by bright white gossamer nets over the beds, whose
practical purpose is to keep mosquitoes out but whose aesthetic
effect is to transform the bed into a lovely private retreat.
Commission is 15%.
The diving nearby
is world class, and visitors can take bird walks that might include
hippo or crocodile sightings.
Too soon, we
drove off and eventually ended up at an industrial bay, where an
auto ferry carried us across to Maputo, Mozambiques capital and
economic center. Maputo is not a beautiful city. We stayed at the
five-star Hotel Polana, built in an elegant, Old World style, rich
with gardens. Also on the grounds was a jewel of a swimming pool,
and there are breathtaking views of the sea.
The only jewel I
discovered in Maputo itself was its pale-green beaux arts train
station, nearly 100 years old and recently restored.
It makes most
sense to fly out of Maputo. The alternative is a harrowing 13-hour
car trip filled with death-kissing moments. (Then again, perhaps
your driver, unlike mine, wont swerve from oncoming traffic, drop
two wheels off the edge of the six-inch shoulder, furiously rub his
eyes and shout, Cant see jack! Cant see jack!)
My advice: Take
It turned out
that our driver, Benedito, was not only the son of a general but
the head of marketing for the governments tourism authority. During
a calmer portion of the journey, on a newly paved stretch of
roadway, I asked him whether he felt the nations flag, which
prominently features a Kalashnikov AK-47 automatic rifle, got in
the way of his marketing campaigns.
He nodded with
understanding but launched into a long story about the nations
brave fight against the Portuguese and what the gun represented,
noting that the flag also includes a hoe and a book. The fight
against the Portuguese, he suggested, was a unifying force that
brought together Mozambiques many ethnic groups and
We are proud of
that flag, he said.
realized, it was more likely that the governor of South Carolina
would climb atop the state capital dome and set the Confederate
stars and bars aflame than it was that Mozambique would take that
gun off its flag.
reach Vilanculos, which sits on a lovely bay within site of
Bazaruto Archipelago, a group of mostly undeveloped islands ringed
with sandy beaches.
developments there tend to be fancy indeed, such as the Indigo Bay,
owned by a Saudi businessman who made his personal fortune in
juice. Its elegant but perhaps more expensive than youd expect to
find in Mozambique: Rooms go for around $600 a night. To put this
in perspective, thats nearly twice the annual income of the typical
For the less
well-off, the Vilanculos Beach Lodge, a cluster of thatch-roof
cabins, is a wonderful and far less expensive alternative, and
agents get 20% off the rack rate.
Mozambique is not
for everyone. But for those with a sense of adventure, the early
developmental stages of the countrys tourist trade promise rich
rewards. In fact, for some, part of its appeal will be arriving
before the big planned resorts are finished. The early-adopters
still have a few years but probably not much more than
the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].