Written by: Jaii Fredregill
Destination: Tofo Beach, Mozambique
Visited: August 2019
We did not find a lot of recent information on getting to Tofo Beach from Maputo when we were traveling in Mozambique, so we are hoping that posting this will be helpful to other travelers. It is good to note that the South African Rand is widely used in Mozambique. Keep this in mind when negotiating, and make sure you are clear on which currency you are discussing at the beginning of negotiations, because 1 ZAR is about 4 MZN, so a misunderstanding can be costly. We found the majority of locals in Mozambique were not out to rip us off and were pretty fair with prices, but, of course, there are a few people who will absolutely gouge a tourist.
If you would like to read about scuba diving or whale watching in Tofo Beach, please checkout our post, Following the Whale Song: Scuba Diving Tofo Beach, Mozambique.
The juvenile whale shark we swam with in Tofo Beach
Most tourist travel first to Maputo then to Tofo Beach. There are some flights available to the Inhambane airport which is just 30 minutes from Tofo, but these are limited and extremely expensive. There are more flights available to Maputo, or there are buses and trains from several South African cities to Maputo. Many South Africans and other nearby tourists prefer to drive themselves, and you can also rent a car in Mozambique, but we found that for just two people it was a bit expensive.
Driving from Maputo to Tofo Beach takes about 7-8 hours. We met a couple of guys who said they had been stopped and detained by police officers for about 2 hours while they searched their car and everything in it. According to these travelers the police then told them that they would have to go to the nearest police station with them to make sure they checked out. At this point the travelers offered the police a small bribe and were allowed to go on their way.
We also met people who made the drive with no problem whatsoever. Personally, I think if you make the drive and are pulled over for a shakedown, you should not wait 2 hours to offer the bribe.
Fatima's shuttle (chapa), Tofo Beach
We stayed one night in Maputo, and went to the Junta bus depot the next morning, which is about 20-30 minutes outside the main city by taxi. We arrived in Maputo late, so we just hired our driver from that night to take us to Junta the next morning for 200 rand. This is probably too much so don’t be afraid to negotiate.
In the morning, we arrived in Junta at 5:30 a.m. because the chapas don’t leave until they are full and the early chapas typically fill up faster. Our chapa took 90 minutes to fill up. This is a 9 hour journey by chapa, so getting there early also allows you choose a good seat. If you are prone to car sickness, as I sometimes am, I recommend sitting in front of the rear wheel well next to the window latch so you can crack the window for air.
Keep in mind, the chapas also take on cargo, so your luggage will most likely be stuffed under a seat. The seats themselves are quite narrow and some passengers choose to book two seats. We did not feel we needed to do this, because, we did not see much reward for spending the money and also many locals rely on the chapas and we did not want to cause someone to lose the seat.
Chapas go from Junta to Inhambane, except for one called “Fatimas Shuttle,” which goes directly to Tofo. If you take the chapa to Inhambane, the cost is about 800 MZN you then have to take a taxi another 30-minutes to Tofo Beach, which I am told cost about 80 MZN. You can take a public bus for less if you can find one. Fatima’s shuttle is 1000 MZN, and drops off right by Liquid Dive, and our hotel, so we took Fatima’s shuttle. Fatima’s shuttle also stops at Fatima’s and a couple of other places in Maputo.
If, unlike us, you are planning your travel in advance, you can email the hotel called Fatima’s Nest with questions firstname.lastname@example.org. I have no idea if they will respond.
Returning to Maputo on Fatima’s shuttle is the exact opposite route, but the shuttle leaves around 4 a.m. from Fatima’s Nest in Tofo, so you need to get there at least 15 minutes before and you should buy your ticket at their bar a day in advance.
A very subdued afternoon image of Junta with a chapa shown on the far left. In the early morning you will see far more chapas and touters selling everything from food to solar chargers for your mobile phone.
Full-sized Etrago busses go from Junta to Inhambane. I believe the Inhambane stop is part of a longer route, so you may have to ask which bus stops there. These are big busses that look a lot more comfortable than the chapas. I was told by the tourist information in Tofo that they cost 700 MZN from Inhambane to Junta and should be booked a day in advance, which I believe you can do at the Tourist Info in Tofo Beach. I believe you can catch these buses in Junta, but since I took the chapas like a sucker, you may want to confirm pick up locations. There are phone numbers on the Ertago website if you would like to phone them directly.
If you would like to take this bus from Inhambane to Maputo, it is easiest to stay the night before in Inhambane rather than Tofo, because the bus leaves around 5:00 a.m. and hiring a taxi at that hour from Tofo is very expensive. The chapa was OK in one direction, but if I had it to do over I would have adjusted my timing to take this bus. Here is the link to their website http://etrago.co.mz/.
Look for Thomas in the yellow booth at the market.
If you need a SIM card, taxi, cigarettes, snacks or anything else, find this yellow booth next to the produce stands at the local market. Inside you will find Thomas, I found him to be the most reasonably priced for most things in Tofo Beach, and in Mozambique overall.
If you are not from one of the following countries, you probably need a visa to visit Mozambique. Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Swaziland, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia or Zimbabwe.
You can apply ahead of time for a visa through a Mozambique embassy, but if there is not one in your area, the process of applying by mail can be complicated. I have heard you are required to send your passport to a Mozambique consulate, but I cannot confirm this. I do know that applying for a visa in advance currently cost around USD 100.
Luckily, you can now obtain a visa upon arrival. Travelers we met who flew to Maputo told us the cost at the airport is USD 100. However, in Komatipoort the price is only USD 50. You can pay in USD, ZAR, MZN or Euros.
You can take an air conditioned bus or a train to Komatipoort from Johannesburg and other cities in South Africa, but there are a few things to consider if you do.
This might seem like a lot of information, so here is a picture of a honeycomb eel we encountered in Tofo, just to break it up a bit.
We took a bus from Johannesburg to Komatipoort, because although Intercape would sell us a ticket to go all the way to Maputo, they would not allow us to board the bus without visas for Mozambique, which we did not have. There are two Intercape buses per day. One leaves at 7:30 a.m., and the other leaves at 10:30 p.m. for an overnight journey. The price for each is around ZAR 300 / USD 20.
It was risky, but we decided to book tickets to the border to get our visas and try to buy a ticket the rest of the way to Maputo from there. Keep in mind that the bus is not obligated to wait for you and there are a limited number of buses and trains that run between this border and Maputo. Another drawback is that Intercape charges another ZAR 300 / USD 20 just to get from Komatipoort to Maputo.
You can also take a train. However, it is essentially the same situation and the train station is 6 kilometers from the border, so you have to get from the station to the border to cross.
The way it played out for us was as follows. We gave the luggage porter a gratuity when he loaded our bags. This is a polite thing to do, but it doesn’t hurt to be a little extra generous (wink wink nudge nudge). In fact, when we got to the border we explained our plight to the porter and the driver and told them that Intercape had told us to purchase the second ticket from them after we got our visas and crossed.
They told us to hurry up, because they could not wait long. We did our best to comply, but our visas took over an hour. There were many excuses given but I still have no idea why there was such a delay. We were the only two people applying for visas.
When the porter did not see us get back on the bus, he came in to see what was taking so long. Over the course of this hour he received repeated phone calls from the driver and told us several times that he was going to have to unload our bags and leave us there, but that is was not safe.
In the end he never left us, and once we finally got the visas we took the same bus the rest of the way to Maputo with him. We also purchased our tickets very informally, asking him the price and giving him a bit more for helping us. The total cost for the second ticket was less than the price Intercape had quoted us.
The Intercape buses are big comfortable buses that stop for food and bathrooms. There is also a toilet on the bus, but it's about what you would expect from a toilet on a bus. Intercape has a religious affiliation of some sort and our entertainment on board reflected this. If you don't want to listen to it, just bring headphones. There is no drinking or smoking permitted on the bus.
You can book tickets with Intercape online here https://www.intercape.co.za. If you are from the U.S., be advised that they use a two factor verification called Verified by Visa. The United States does not participate in this program, so you will have to call you credit card or bank and ask if they can turn off whatever gets triggered by this very stupid program Visa has come up with.