The many faces of Maputo

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Maputo, Mozambique’s dizzying capital city, wears its historical layers like the fast-peeling coats of paint on many of its old buildings.


First came Portuguese colonists; then the Marxist rebels who set up the People’s Republic of Mozambique back in 1975; and now the city has turned 180 degrees away from Communism to become an investment-driven boom town.

Maputo today is a far cry from what was left after the civil war that ravaged the country from 1977 to 1992.  But fortunately, flights to Maputo are nowadays chock-a-block with business people, and tourists looking for a new experience. “All of a sudden, Maputo is a very exciting place to go and to be,” says Richard Udovenya, Honorary Consul for Mozambique in Melbourne. “You feel energised. There are brilliant opportunities not just in mining, but in agriculture and tourism too.”

Ilha de Inhaca

The Confederation of Economic Associations of Mozambique forecasts that the country’s hydrocarbons sector will receive investments of a huge US$50 billion over the next seven to ten years. Much of this investment will be directed at developing the major gas fields just offshore from Pemba, in northern Mozambique. Other giant resource projects include the mining of gold and coal.

One result of this big thrust of development has been a huge building boom in Maputo. Major construction projects now underway include Edificio 24 (an office/residential block at the corner of Avenida 24 Julho and Avenida Salvador Allende); the 47-storey Maputo Business Tower; and the 15-storey Vodacom building. Further projects, including restoration and rehabilitation of the Marginal waterfront precinct, are also on the drawing board. You may get jovially hassled every few metres, but a daytime walk through Maputo is still one of the best ways to explore the charms of this city, with its wide, tree-lined boulevards and multicultural buzz. The layout of the city is particularly inviting, having been modelled on Portuguese port cities such as Lisbon. Long avenidas (avenues) run perpendicular to the waterfront Avenida da Marginal, with cross-streets leading up to Maputo Hill, towards the airport.

Even with super-capitalism now at the forefront, many of the streets in Maputo still bear revolutionary names. For example, the city’s Praça do Mercado (Market Square) lies at the corner of Avenida Vladimir Lenine and Avenida Mao Tse-tung. Karl Marx must be turning in his grave at the irony!

Take a walk starting at Avenida da Marginal, and stroll along Polana Beach, where the Holiday Inn is Maputo’s only beachfront hotel. Just to the south, the Clube Naval welcomes non-members to its pub and Docks Restaurant, overlooking the marina. Just opposite Clube Naval, the street market at the intersection of Avenida Eduardo Mondlane and Avenida Julius Nyerere is my favourite place in the whole of Mozambique to buy artworks – I picked up a painting in fine Afro-Cubist style (a style that the painter might have invented) for a very modest sum indeed.

For more striking art, drop into the foyer of Hotel Terminus in Avenida Francisco Orlando (just off Av. Eduardo Mondlane). The walls are a riotous zoo of psychedelic animals – elephants, hippos, and wildebeest. And for even more great art, make a detour to Museu Nacional de Arte in Avenida Ho Chi Minh or to the new Nucleo de Arte (194 Rua d’Argelia), home to over 100 painters and sculptors, with the very popular Café Camissa attached.

You may wish to stop for a bite at one of the many quiosques (kiosks) along the avenue. O Santuário, gets very crowded at lunchtime but serves great food – including a genuine Portuguese-style feijoada (bean stew) for around US$3.

From Avenida Vladimir Lenine, cross diagonally through Jardim Botánico Tunduru (The Tunduru Botanical Gardens). With its fountains and arching tree canopies, this is a great place to rest during the heat of the day. The gardens were designed by British expatriate Thomas Honney in 1885, and feature fine collections of palms, cycads, and succulents.

From the gardens, walk down Avenida Samora Machel and turn right into Avenida 25 de Septembro (the name commemorates the date of the start of the War of Independence against Portugal, back in 1964). Past Avenida Karl Marx you’ll come across the Mercado Central (Central Market), housed in a domed colonial-era building dating from 1901. This is a great place to stock up on one of the country’s main exports, namely cashew nuts. Inhambane-style basketware is also on offer at the market.

Not far from Central Market, the jetty opposite the corner of Avenida 10 de Novembro and Rua da Imprensa is the docking place for the hourly (6am-8pm) ferry to the southern village of Catembe. The Catembe Gallery Hotel’s Restaurante Marisol comes with a high recommendation. In late September 2012, work started on a bridge across the Estuário do Espirito Santo (Espirito Santo Estuary), which for the first time will give a direct road connection from Maputo to Catembe.

Finally, a real shimmering white-sand beach – Macaneta Beach – can be found on Ilha de Inhaca (Inhaca Island), in Maputo Bay. The government-run Nyeleti ferry leaves the Catembe ferry jetty at 7.30pm on Saturdays, Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, returning at 3pm. You can stay overnight on the island; but with so much happening in downtown Maputo, you might want to get back to the beating heart of Mozambique.


Maputo, Mozambique
Distance: 6,025 km
Flight Time: 10 hours, 35 mins
Frequency: 3 flights a week via Johannesburg

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