On a trip to see Mozambique's community tourism projects MANCHÁN MAGANfound a quiet paradise largely untouched by tourism
In five decades of epoque-changing writing Bob Dylan has offered only one piece of travel advice: “I like to spend some time in Mozambique/ The sunny sky is aqua blue/ And all the couples dancing cheek to cheek/ It’s very nice to stay a week or two.”
If Dylan’s imprimatur is not reason enough to visit the country, what about the 2,500km of white sandy coastline that appears regularly on lists of best beaches? Or the blend of African, Arab and Portuguese influences that make its culture feel as much Mediterranean as African? Or the diet of crayfish, cashew nuts, coconut and giant prawns? Or the coral reefs and palm islands that offer some of the best diving and big-game fishing in the Indian Ocean?
It was my search for affordable community tourism projects, where a family can holiday in beautiful surroundings immersed in local culture for about €35 each a day at lodges or camps from which the local community benefit in an equitable and significant way, that took me to Mozambique.
In previous features for Go, I’ve visited projects in Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania. This time I went to several community tourism projects across southern Mozambique though, while some offered great potential, none were ready to be recommended to readers of The Irish Times. So, I’ll focus on conventional tourism, as a critical mass of general tourists are needed before community tourism can succeed.
It’s worth looking at why the country has so few tourists, considering its heart-stopping beauty. Predictably enough for Africa, the reason is war. Mozambique began its struggle for independence from Portugal in the 1960s, but only in 1974 did the colonisers eventually flee, leaving the place stripped bare, destitute and without an educated class fit to govern.
South Africa’s apartheid government spotted Mozambique’s weakness as its opportunity and funded a right-wing guerrilla movement which sparked 20 years of civil war, killing hundreds of thousands of Mozambicans, destroying infrastructure and wiping out wildlife stocks. Only in 1992 was peace declared. Progress since then has been fast and the country is now one of Africa’s rising stars.
The capital, Maputo, is a quaint, dilapidated place that travellers tend to skirt on their way to beaches farther north. The nearest beauty spot with good tourist facilities is Tofo, about seven hours by bus north of Maputo on a wonderfully exciting road. (One can fly, but it’s far less fun.)
Tofo is simply a vast arc of silver sand, lined with dunes, coconut palms and a hotchpotch of beach cafes, campsites, guesthouses. It has excellent diving and snorkelling facilities and there’s great surfing nearby at Barra and Tofinho. During official holidays the place becomes raucous with South African revellers, but one can always find peace by heading a little farther north or south along the glistening crescent and azure waters that stretch for miles. There are numerous beachside budget accommodation options: cabins, bungalows, guesthouses, from €10 a night. The nearest transport hub is Inhambane, a sleepy colonial seaside town, which is the headquarters for many global aid organisations operating in Mozambique, including Irish Aid. Convoys of air-conditioned white Toyota Land Cruisers jam the main street.