Posted by: Alex MacGregor | February 23, 2010

Two Nights in Maputo

Following our great stay in Johannesburg and wonderfully comfortable trip in South Africa, it was time to head to a place where a comfortable trip is almost impossible–Mozambique. We would first arrive in Maputo, the sprawling capital, from where we would soon catch a flight to the rural north of the country.

After a bit of a scramble off the bus, we finally found a hotel just off Av Karl Marx.

Our hotel’s antique elevator. You have to push the correct knob and pull all the others back to have any chance of landing on the correct floor. Still, you pretty often find yourself stuck in between levels or just on the wrong floor altogether. I learned eventually that the hotel employees don’t even bother with the buttons–they just jam the emergency stop button when they want to get off.

Unlike most African cities, Maputo is a city of high rises–mainly owning to its cosy relationship with the USSR after independence from Portugal.

Even if the country did go a bit wild building monolithic concrete highrises, a good amount of (sometimes crumbling) Portuguese colonial architecture remains.

The train station, designed in part by Gustave Eiffel’s firm:

Maputo’s markets. It’s not a good idea to go into the last one if you plan on eating chicken anytime soon.

The cathedral.

Surprisingly, there is enough of a tourist presence to warrant a Saturday craft market, with some nice art on display.

All in all our time in Maputo was eye-opening and fascinating, although definitely frustrating at times. The heat was immense and communication was difficult (our strategy was to try to pass Spanish for Portuguese, which had mixed results). Things that would normally take a minute elsewhere, such as acquiring a bottle of water, could turn into a lengthy process.

But the worst quality was the police. We’ve been in countries where the police have a reputation for looking out for themselves before the general public, but in Maputo we were stopped twice by police within a couple hours asking to examine our passports.

The first time we did not have them (who wants to carry around a passport at night?), and the police gave us a very hard time. “To sort this out we need go to the police station.” “I think you jumped the border.” (Ahh, yes, because I want to be in Maputo just that much!) And so on with his nonsense.  Thank god Caroline made herself start crying (far and away the best thing you can do in this situation) and he eventually gave up (“Don’t worry…is not a crime. Is a mistake!”) without getting anything. And the next time we were prepared, shocking another police officer as I pulled the passports from my leg moneybelt (something a properly-trained police officer never would have let me do).

So in order to protect the Mozambican state from foreign spies and criminals posing as tourists, the government passes a regulation that gives police a free ticket to shake down what few tourists do make their way there and that lets all the crooks know that tourists always have a passport on their person. What a wonderful rule!


  1. […] second biggest city–and is congested and noisy instead. We figured that after Maputo, Addis Ababa, and a host of other African cities, we were ready for […]

  2. […] say that this one is the most dirty, hectic, and chaotic I’ve seen. It makes Maputo’s chicken market seem tolerable. When open sewers meet unpaved market streets, it’s a very rough situation […]

  3. […] of the center’s business streets couldn’t help but remind us of Portuguese-speaking Maputo, if only a […]

  4. […] and plenty of stress. Which of our adventures could be complete without a police run-in? We were stopped (very predictably so in a rental car on this touristy trail) and of course asked […]

  5. […] neighborhoods mark a unique part of exploring Bucharest. The only parallel I can draw is with Maputo, Mozambique, where Stalinist housing blocks rise awkwardly out of crumbling Portuguese colonial blight and […]

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