It’s fair to say that I first started planning a trip to Mozambique sometime in the early 2000s. The allure of images of those magnificent Indian Ocean beaches and marine life grabbed my interest and didn’t let go since.
Awkward travel arrangements, high fares and trying to see the rest of the world got in the way, but then Ethiopian Airlines started a service from Dublin, with one change at Addis for Maputo (of which more anon) and fares as little as €550 return. Game on.
Combined with a trip to Johannesburg and Kruger, a classic bush and beach trip awaited. And it’s the beach I want to focus on first.
I was a little worried in advance. Would all that anticipation lead to almost inevitable disappointment? Was Tofo truly this empty ghost town out of peak South African holiday season? Was eight days too long to stay, making the omission of Vilanculos a catastrophic error?
Firstly it had an active little scene. Those vast expanses of empty beach are virtually unfillable, but evening and night in the compact village and market area were sociable, with adventurous tourists and welcoming locals and long-term residents always at hand for conversation and a few 2M beers or dirt cheap South African wine. This also includes the infamous bracelet selling kids, who will become an entertaining sport (with exceptions: I’m looking at you Pedro!) and tell yourself what you want: you will buy a few before your time here is out!
Restaurants like Brankos, Casa de Comer, Sombras and (pricey) Casa Barry are delicious with Brankos hot rock tuna a dish to travel to a different hemisphere for. Add in the grills and stalls of the intermittently bustling market and choice is not an issue. And everyone seems to make Hotel Tofo Mar on a Friday night.
But the beach. That captivating strand. Walk for miles north to Barra, or head south to Tofinho, the Cave of Assassins and beyond. Safe swimming to the southern end of the main Tofo Beach, and surfing sites galore. At breakfast, spot the humpback whales breaching. Then the daily coming and going of rib boats for diving and ocean safaris to find the whale sharks and dolphins that seem to teem in these waters.
Of course you can just sit there and look out at all of this too, with September when we visited giving guaranteed sunshine and perfect temperatures. Landlubbers can hire fat tyre bikes, go horse riding, or head to Inhambane or elsewhere on the coast. A safe destination, I found myself hitchhiking for the first time in about two decades.
And then you might just have some memorable unplanned moments. The arrival onto the main road and beach of a local wedding party and its accompanying band. The invite to join a local dinner or boat trip. The perfect sunset light coming through local villages in the dunes on horseback. Being up close to the local fishermen’s lives and livelihoods.
Tofo – its colours, its rhythms, its ambience – takes a hold. Looking down from the air on the coastline stretching unspoiled for mile upon mile, I thought of those destinations where you hear the refrain “you should have seen it 20 or 30 years ago before it was discovered.” Tofo is known, but remarkably unspoiled, a compact but seemingly fragile friend to travellers that some day will be unrecognisable from what it is now.
Mozambique’s turbulent past and testing present may delay that day. It shouldn’t delay yours.