Sunny Days at Ilha de Moçambique with a quick stop in Nacala

From Pemba we went to Nacala, to quickly check the development around the port. Once there and since we were so close to Ilha de Moçambique, we decided to spend 2 nights there.

Nacala is one of the most important ports of entry in Mozambique, currently serving mainly the north region. But with the interest in coal rising in Tete, the Nacala port is projected to extend its influence to the central region in the next years through the Nacala corridor.

The port of Beira plays a vital role in the central region, and the Sena line (railway connecting Beira to Tete) has currently been rehabilitated to serve the coal mines. But due to the limited capacity of the port and low water depth, this is viewed as a short term solution.

But how far-off is the Nacala corridor to become the solution? Historically there has always been a flow of goods between Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia, with Mozambique serving as a port of entry to these inland countries.  The gradual deterioration of the railway line connecting Mozambique and Malawi has imposed a change from rail to road transportation of goods.

There is a tripartite agreement signed between the three countries regarding the operational framework of the corridor. There is a private consortium Sociedade de Desenvolvimento do Corredor do Norte (SDCN), from which the Brazilian Vale is the major shareholder, which holds the concessions for the infrastructure from Mozambique to the Zambian border. Theoretical all interests are aligned but limited agreement of operational details has raised some skepticism about the plan. The current political situation in Malawi will also not help. Is there a third solution on the table?

The truth is that the development of this corridor would definitely unlock the great economical potential of the region, namely the provinces of Niassa and Cabo Delgado in Mozambique, which as we’ve said before haven’t yet seen development as other regions.

In the afternoon we arrived at Ilha de Moçambique. There is plenty of offer to sleep and eat there, we recommend Ruby Backpackers. They can help you organize tours around. You can easily spend 1 day touring around Ilha but it’s really worth it to organize a boat trip with fishermen to visit the islands and beaches around.

This time we opted to visit Ilha de Goa and Varandas. Last year a 5 star Dutch owned  lodge opened and its called Coral Reef Lodge. Though prices are a bit over the top, it’s an interesting option to have lunch outside of Ilha.

Ilha de Moçambique is a beautiful place, full of history and full of stories and we were really tempted to spend some more days. Still we had a trip to finish…

Next stop, Quelimane!

Blue Paradise, Pemba and Quirimbas

For people that love the ocean like we do there is no better feeling than at the end of a super long drive , to ride over the last hill and see the blue ocean staring right back at you.

Pemba is a growing beach town on the north of Mozambique and the gateway to the Quirimbas Archipelago. It has mostly see growth through tourism but recent investments in offshore gas and oil research are also contributing to current development.  The American company ANADARKO, has recently announced discoveries of oil in Rovuma Bassin, but these discoveries were deemed as non-commercial due porosity characteristics.

In Pemba you have very nice beaches, like Wimbi or Murrebue, but you must not leave before you visit the Quirimbas Archipelago. To get to there , although you could get onto a boat from Pemba to one of islands, it is much easier to Tandangahe (3 hours), where you can then hop on a dhow and be in Ibo Island in more or less 30 minutes (with a boat engine) .  Before doing this trip we strong recommend that you check , while still in Pemba,  at what time the tide is high, as the boats will only take you at high tide.

Then from Ibo, which is one of the main island on the Archipelago it is quite easy to go to the other islands. But be aware that the most beautiful are quite far (about 3 to 4 hours by boat), however there are some which are much closer, like Rolas or Matemo, and are definitely worth while a visit.

Ibo and Quirimbas Island contrasts with rest of the archipelago that is inhabited. In Ibo you have at least 3 forts to visit. The main one is simply beautiful and full of character.

Inside you can even see the artisans working on silver pieces.

But there is nothing we could recommend more than the sunset at Ibo. Probably one of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen…

In Ibo we can recommend Miti Mwiri which is the lodge which we stayed in.

Well, the next stop is in Ilha de Moçambique.

Bush to the Beach in one day!

Well, to begin let me show you where we’ve started. In the town of Marrupa, the Bush.

The road starts off well, yet to give you an idea of the road we’ve crossed, it took us about 5h00 hours to do the first 140km (Marrupa to Balama). But it’s doable (and more important it’s worth it) on the dry season. We advice everyone not to try it during the wet season, as there is a 90% chance of getting stuck there.

Not many cars pass by so you can imagine how happy people were to see us,  especially the kids! The older were more suspicious, wondering what were doing there.

On the tougher parts everyone was available to help, we were quite impressed.

Now, let me tell you about what we saw: beautiful villages, inspiring smiles, some good “machambas” (family agricultural plantation), but very little support infrastructure. Unlike some other areas, we saw very few NGO’s logos around and yet… (let me not even begin to talk)

Entering the Province of Cabo Delgado we “crashed into” the value chain of the cotton production. The sign was clear “Ouro Branco”!

We saw the plantations, fields and fields of cotton production…

… and then storage in the villages.

Well, then we wondered: Who and how is this being transported? And reaching Balama we got the answer.

Finally who is buying this cotton? Plexus in Cabo Delgado, Sanam in Nampula, China Africa Cotton in Beira, OLAM em Manica… Well, several investments are being done in this industry.

From Balama the road improves a lot, though construction works are being done between Balama and Montepuez (90km). From Montepuez to Pemba (200km) the road is in perfect conditions.

Well, last but not least, let me show you where we’ve ended. In the town of Pemba, the Beach.

 

Next stop, Quirimbas!

 

 

Beautiful Niassa

After a short visit to Malawi, we crossed the Mandimba border to Mozambique. It isn’t a very busy border so it was quite quick to cross. Please note that the borders open at 6:00 am and close at 6:00 pm. On the other side of the border expect mainly gravel road and some parts of tar road until you reach Lichinga. We took our time as our plan was to sleep in Lichinga, the gateway to Niassa Reverve.

The road is quite scenic.

In Lichinga you’ll find quite a few options for accommodation. Because it was already quite late when we arrived we decided to head straight to Hotel Girassol, which we knew it would be good option.

To access the Niassa Reserve from Lichinga you have two options. You can either drive to Marrupa (250km on a tar road in very good conditions) and then access the reserve through Mecula (another 130km gravel road in reasonable conditions) or you can do it by plane which can be arranged by some of the lodges in the area. However be aware that tourism in the Reserve is still not for everyone due to the fact that it is still very expensive and there are limited options.

Most of the concessions in the reserve are for hunting. If you have the money for it you will be in a position to access a very exclusive wilderness destination.

The Niassa National Reserve is open to the public from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm, however its recommended that you make a reservation at the Maputo head office by calling (+258 21329808). Also, there is very useful information at the Reserve´s website: www.niassareserve.org/.

Even though the park is heavily inhabited you can still see some wildlife, however you will need at least two to three days at the Reserve so that you may drive out into these areas.

The province is attracting more and more investment, exclusive tourism (both in Lake Niassa and Niassa Reserve), tobacco production and wood extractions are driving the province. But either because it was greatly affected by the war or just because of the geographic isolation, while travelling we could see that the province hasn’t yet seen development as other regions.

All in all we were warmly welcomed by the people and their beautiful stories.

Next step: from the bush to the beach. Next stop, Pemba!

What’s happening in Malawi?

We drove about ~500km from Tete to Lilongwe (Malawi). The roads are in very good condition in both countries. Arriving at the border, plan at least one hour to cross it. If coming from Mozambique on the Malawian side you will need to pay 5,000 kwacha for the car. Additionally you are required to have an international insurance; at the border you will have plenty of offer to purchase a Malawian insurance. Always negotiate the price first before signing any document. Then enjoy the road…

… and the people.

Yep, this is food.

On the way to Lilongwe we found UKaid everywhere, in every village. Apparently UK has historically been one of Malawi’s bigger donors. But for how long? Later in the day we found out that in April, Malawi deported a British envoy who criticized Malawi’s President. In June U.K. withdrew aid worth $550 million for Malawi… They were not the only to do it. With donors contributing with ~40% of the national budget, the economy has been impact severely. What’s happening in Malawi?

We stayed at Annies Hostel, which we recommend, but there is plenty of option in town. We had dinner at Four Season and then had a drink at the bar in the gardens where we watched a performance by Mandela and Simple – Reality Music. Thanks for showing us around George! We had a great time at Lilongwe, which we recommend!

We left early in the morning in direction to the lake. We were prepared with two jerrycans, because there is limited fuel available in the country. Apparently the country has been running (or not) without fuel for the last weeks.  Forex constraints are limiting payments overseas. What’s happening in Malawi? (And why aren’t we hearing about it on the news?)

And finally we reached Lake Malawi. What a beautiful view… What a beautiful country!! We will be back with more time for sure.

Next step is to cross the border (Mandimba). Our next stop, Niassa Reserve!

Tete, Mozambique’s version of El Dorado

Tete is a Mozambican version of El Dorado. You can feel how busy the city is once you step in, the traffic to cross the bridge, people up and down, the queue to the bank, the queue to the petrol station, the nightmare to find a room in a hotel, the trucks, the Brazilians, the Portuguese, the South Africans, the Zimbabweans, the Malawians,… Holly “%&”! everyone is here.

But this is all new, and somehow the city was, and still is, not ready to receive everyone. New hotels being built, supermarkets opening, new Bank branches, new restaurants, you can spot the bricks of this entirely new infrastructure.

Is not that everyone decided to move to Tete to enjoy the 40º degrees on the shade… There is one reason, the minerals. The coal in Tete is one of the major recent modern day findings in the world, attracting important amounts of foreign investment to the region. Vale, Rio Tinto, ENRC, Jindal all have licenses to explore in the region. Most of the projects are in early implementation phase requiring significant amounts of labor for set up. But is anyone thinking on what’s next?

The city is worth to pass by, to see with your own eyes Mozambique’s driving engine.  But make sure you book your accommodation well in advance, since most of the rooms in the hotels are booked for the next years for the companies licensed to explore the coal and all their sub-contractors. And if you are in the mood for Italian, have dinner at La Bella Italia (our pick).

Around Tete there are several spots worth a visit. Our advice would be to go to the rock forest; you will need to ask around how to get there.

Next destination: South Malawi.

Impressive start at Cahora Bassa

Our trip officially started at Cahora Bassa… and what a kick-off!

Cahora-bassa represents an important landmark in the kick-off of Mozambique’s economy. With limited investment after the civil war, Cahora-bassa was without a doubt a very important asset for the country.

Handed back to Mozambique in 2006, Cahora Bassa is today a big pride to this young economy.

Like us, you can access the site by car. Plan a 2 hour (~150km) drive from Tete. The dam is situated in Songo, a very nice village where you will find nice accommodation and food (Ugezi Tiger Lodge, Centro Social HCB). Alternatively you can sleep in Moringa Bay Lodge in Estima (~40km).

Once there you can easily spend 1 or 2 days. You can visit the site (But remember to book in advance +258 25282157). Or just enjoy the breathtaking view from the top.

You can also rent a boat at Ugezi Tiger Lodge and drive in the lake where you will find crocs and hippos.

The Hidroeléctrica Cahora Bassa capacity (2075MW) is above the country needs. HCB exports most of the energy produced to South Africa (~1300 MW) and Zimbabwe, weighing more than 10% of overall country’ exports. To connect Mozambique to the Appolo station in South Africa there are 2 parallel lines covering 1,400 km, of which 900 km is in Mozambican territory. Because there is yet no transmission line between the dam and the south of the country, the energy is then “re-imported” to Maputo. The Zambezi river has additional hydro potential but further developments are constrained by the current transmission capacity.  CESUL, a transmission line that will connect the north to the south is for these reasons, and among others, one of the most important infrastructure projects currently on the pipeline.

We left Songo towards Tete. The road is in very good conditions but you should be careful with the animals crossing the road. (This applies to all the country).

Take your time and you will spot interesting sights…

… and beautiful people.

Next stop, Tete.