I spent six days in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.
Two friends joined me for the last two days but the rest of the time I was alone. Other than booking my flight and accommodation and buying a guide book — the Bradt Travel Guide for Mozambique, which has a short and rather disappointing chapter on Maputo but was helpful nonetheless — I made zero plans before going. Once there, I continued making zero plans and just wandered around looking at things.
I realized Maputo is one of the most underrated travel destinations in Southern Africa (perhaps surpassed only by Johannesburg), especially for people who like cities. Maputo is cosmopolitan, with incredible food, history, architecture, art, and culture. There aren’t many cities like that in this sparsely populated corner of the world.
Here are the top 15 quirky places/things I discovered in Maputo. This list is by no means comprehensive. Read to the end for a few tips about visiting the city.
My Favorite Things in Maputo
Quirky architecture is everywhere in Maputo.
2) Museu De História Natural de Maputo (Museum of Natural History)
This is one of the strangest museums I’ve ever visited. The building is stately and and beautiful and the exhibits are fascinating, yet…repulsive.
The Museu De História Natural deMaputo is on Rua dos Lusíadas in the Polana district. Admission is free.
3) Catedral de Nossa Senhora da Imaculada Conceição (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception) and the monument to Samora Machel
Maputo’s main cathedral is in the center of town on Praça da Independência (Independence Square). Right next to it is the massive, nine-meter-tall monument to Samora Machel (pictured above).
4) FEIMA – Feira de Artesanato, Flores e Gastronomica (Crafts, Flowers and Gastronomy Fair) of Maputo
This outdoor craft market, nicknamed FEIMA, is the best place in Maputo to buy crafts and souvenirs. In fact it’s one of the best craft markets I’ve ever been to. The setting is beautiful, the things for sale are beautiful — there are lots of run-of-the-mill African crafts but also lots of really great art — the vendors are chilled, and there are several cafés of the premises.
FEIMA is on Avenida de Matires de Machava in the Baixa district.
5) Casa Elefante
I don’t sew, but if I did I would have gone to town at this incredible fabric shop. I’ve never seen so much beautiful African material in one place.
Casa Elefante is at 1845 Avenida 25 de Setembro across the road from the Mercado Central.
6) Mercado Central
This is the main central market in downtown Maputo, with vendors selling fresh produce, fish, household items, crafts, and whatever else you can imagine. The market is beautiful, spotless, and the vendors are friendly. I loved it.
The Mercado Central is also on Avenida 25 de Setembro.
7) Jardim Tunduru Botanical Gardens
This large botanical garden is in the center of town and popular with locals because it’s the best place to escape Maputo’s stifling heat. I spent 45 minutes there on a shady bench, watching birds and lizards and screeching bats in the trees.
Jardim Tunduru has several gates but only one of them is open. Enter and exit through the main gate on Rua Henrique de Sousa, just down from the Praça da Independência.
8) Breakfast at Pastelaria Pizza House 3
Pastelarias — bakeries with attached cafés — are dotted all over Maputo and great places to stop for a coffee or inexpensive meal. The Pastelaria nearest to my flat was called Pizza House 3. (I never saw anyone eating pizza.) It was on Avenida 24 de Julho in the Polana district.
I had breakfast there twice and bought all my bread from the bakery at the back. A tasty oval-shaped loaf the size of a small baguette costs 10 meticais (2 rand, or 16 cents).
9) Louis Tregardt (Louis Trichardt) Trek Memorial Garden
This was my weirdest Maputo sight-seeing experience. In the middle of a bustling downtown neighborhood on Avenida Ho Chi Min is a pristine memorial to South African Voortrekker Louis Trichardt (spelled Tregardt in Portuguese — important when locating the memorial on Google Maps), who died of malaria here during the Great Trek.
I don’t have time to explain the complicated historical and cultural significance of the Great Trek and why I found it strange that this memorial — funded by the South African apartheid government in 1968 — still stands in Mozambique, a country that has more recently experienced socialist rule and violent civil war. But it’s super interesting and worth a visit.
The memorial is tricky to find — I almost walked right past the gate. It’s on Avenida Ho Chi Min near the corner of Avenida Felipe Samuel Magaia.
10) Estação Central dos Caminhos de Ferro (Central Railway Station)
Maputo’s Central Railway Station is world-famous: In 2009 Newsweek ranked the station #7 in an article about the world’s grandest train stations. The Maputo station has appeared on several other such lists.
Opened in 1910, the station was long rumoured to have been designed by French architect Gustave Eiffel. But that is untrue. The station was designed by by José Ferreira da Costa and modeled after the old central train terminal in Joburg (which now sits in Newtown just under Nelson Mandela Bridge).
The station is exceedingly pleasant to visit. Walk up and down the platforms to see some beautiful old photos of the station. There is also a café and a small museum.
The Central Railway Station is just off Avenida 25 de Setembro, a short walk from the Mercado Central.
11) The Scala Cinema
I was charmed by the old Scala Cinema, an Art Deco theatre built in 1931. I don’t think the theatre is operating anymore but the building has been beautifully maintained.
I wandered inside and found the lobby decorated with old movie posters and giant antique film projectors. Upstairs is a restaurant, Wood’s Lounge, where you can sit on the balcony overlooking the street. I had a very pleasant meal there.
Cinema Scala is on Avenida 25 de Setembro, one block east of the Mercado Central.
12) Costa do Sol
Restaurante Costa do Sol is a seafood restaurant just outside Maputo, about a 15-minute taxi ride from the city center. Costa do Sol opened in 1938 and is famous for its prawns. The restaurant provides a great excuse to get out of town and hang out by the beach for a couple of hours.
The beach is pretty but not quite inviting enough for sunbathing — there’s a bit of rubbish scattered around and the water isn’t super clear due to a nearby river mouth. Nonetheless, my friends and I enjoyed a quick stroll on the sand and wading in the warm, shallow water.
Before lunch we sat outside one of the many beachside shacks and had a beer, which was fun but hilarious and slightly stressful at the beginning because two lady beer shack owners had a boisterous, 10-minute argument about which one of them was going to serve us.
Costa do Sol is at Avenida Marginal 10294.
13) Dhow Moçambique
Dhow is a gorgeous, classy restaurant/bar in the Polana district, with a great view of the harbor. The restaurant serves Greek food and everything is glorious except for the prices — Dhow is on the expensive side and geared toward tourists and expats. It’s worth it anyway for the amazing setting.
Dhow is at 4 Rua da Marracuene. The street dead-ends at the ocean — when you reach the end, look for the gate to your left.
14) DEAL Espaço Criativo (Creative Space)
My Airbnb host tipped me off to DEAL (Design, Entertainment, Art, and Literature), a private home turned into an art gallery and craft store. Every single thing in this place is beautiful and locally made and all of it is for sale. DEAL also has a really nice restaurant in the garden.
DEAL is at Rua Jose Mateus 265 in the Polana district.
15) Maputo’s Fruit and Vegetable Vendors
Everywhere you look in Maputo there are people selling fruit and vegetables from mobile carts or stands. Besides providing the great convenience of shopping while walking, these vendors create a wonderful sense of vibrancy on the streets. Joburg needs more of this.
Quick Tips for Visiting Maputo
- Portuguese is the national language in Mozambique. I don’t speak Portuguese (beyond bom dia and obrigada) but didn’t have much problem communicating — most restaurants and shops have at least one English speaker.
- South Africans don’t need a visa to visit Mozambique but most non-Africans do. Visas at the airport cost $50 (you can pay in dollars or rands) and can be purchased on arrival. Don’t go straight to the regular immigration line — there is a small table in the corner where you need to go first to buy your visa.
- Print out a copy of your accommodation booking before you leave. Immigration officials will give you a hard time if you can’t provide the exact address where you’ll be staying.
- We stayed in an Airbnb in the Polana district on Avenida Ahmed Sekou Touré. Our flat is called “Love Maputo Polana” on Airbnb and I highly recommend it. Shout-out to our awesome hosts Maria and Patricia.
- A taxi ride from the airport to town should cost around 800 meticais (about $12 or R180). It’s best to arrange a taxi in advance if you can.
- It’s hard to navigate Maputo without Google Maps and wifi is not prevalent. I recommend buying a local SIM card at the airport. I had a bad experience with my mCel SIM card (the signal was very spotty) but my friend swore by her Movitel card.
- Except for the cheap and delicious bread and the local beer, I thought food was a bit expensive in Maputo — perhaps 15-20% more expensive than in Joburg.
- I found walking alone in Maputo during the day to be 100% safe. I never felt vulnerable and wasn’t harassed or even approached by a single policeman or hustler. I’ve heard you should carry your passport at all times, and I did, but no one ever asked me for it.
- It’s freaking hot in Maputo. Dress accordingly and drink coconuts.
Central Mozambique was hit by a disastrous cyclone last week. The storm was far north of Maputo and the city wasn’t affected. But hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have been killed in the city of Beira and surrounding areas. If you’d like to donate to help the victims of Cyclone Idai, Health Alliance International is a good charity to support.