A long weekend getaway to Ponta do Ouro in Mozambique is an absolute must and can be a blast but don’t be fooled, you need to be a little savvy.
Confessions, Colonialism & Corruption
The Kosi Bay/Ponta do Ouro border post in the distance
Confession time: though I’m half Portuguese, I hardly speak 5 words. I know how to say “cheese” and other food things. However, I’m in the process of actually learning right now.
My father was born and raised in Mozambique, in what was then called Lourenço Marques. We’ll never be able to deny how colonialism benefited settlers from Europe, and as such they seemed to have a great life there. For some reason, we don’t speak of it much. My dad left for the “even greener pastures” of South Africa when he was 16 or 17, only to end up joining the army and go fighting in Angola. Strange times.
Despite a very real connection to Mozambique, I went there for the first time in my life only this year, more than 60 years after my father left forever. I’m not going to lie. I’ve heard lots and lots of stories of bribery and corruption from travellers heading through Mozambique. One friend told me to budget R2000 for bribes if I wanted to drive anywhere deeper into the country. It was a little bit depressing to think that this is so rampant and everyday that people budget holiday spend for it.
So, despite being quite excited for the trip, I was also somewhat apprehensive, and worried for my friends as I had arranged the whole thing.
To avoid too much drama, we opted to head to the popular Saffa vacay spot of Ponta do Ouro, close to the border. This feels a lot like the South African version of the American spring break destination, Cancun. In Ponta, you can pay for everything in South African Rand and safely leave your car at the border. One quick 12km transfer and you’re where you need to be, so drama with officials and police should be minimal. Ponta is said to be more tourist-friendly and less corrupt but I did always feel anxious whenever we walked past any police officers (though nothing ever happened). Further research and feedback from seasoned travellers seemed to suggest that Moz is currently trying to “straighten up and fly right”, and corruption is said to slowly but surely be diminishing. Despite all these good news stories and positive vibes, we did still encounter some trouble at the border.
Our non-white, non-South African friends didn’t go cruising through as easily as we did, and it seemed to me the darker you are, the more likely you are to get pulled aside. A SADC passport holder in our group got a longer grilling than anyone else but was stamped through in the end. A friend from a non-SADC country got asked to “step inside my office” where he was requested to offer “drinks money” or it would “not be today, maybe tomorrow” that he might be allowed through the border. Another alternative offered by the border official was that he leave the Ponta border and go try his luck at the Swaziland border post. Huffing, I stood at the little office window, insisting they explain to me what the problem was while being told to “step away”. At this point, we were also loudly trying to phone the anti-corruption hotline and making ourselves heard outside the little office door, until they finally stamped him through. Possibly they decided it wasn’t worth the trouble after all. They also gave us a few long stares when we eventually departed Mozambique a few days later; and the very same border official repeated my name a few times, holding onto my passport and apparently taking a minute to decide if he would let me pass unhindered.
Don’t get me wrong. Despite border issues that made me feel very aggressive, once that was behind us, we had an incredible long weekend. From the moment we left the border post heading to our destination, it was “smooth sailing”. Well, as far as that is possible when you’re jumping up and down while off-roading on some very undulating sand roads. See a video of our initial drive from the border here.
Important side-note: do not even attempt to venture into Ponta do Ouro or Ponta Malongane if you are not driving a 4×4. 4H is an absolute must in the thick, soft sand, and you’ll have to reduce your tyre pressure too.
From the moment we hit town, I relaxed. No more worries about getting pulled over by cops or having dodgy situations arise. We walked almost everywhere in Ponta. Upon arrival at our accommodation, we were warmly greeted by Ana, the owner of Tri-M Waves Lodge. Tri-M boasts self-catering apartments a straight shot down from the main intersection, and is a great & central place to stay.
Tri-M Waves Lodge & the Melting Pot Restaurant
Tri-M Waves Lodge features:
- Air-conditioned bedrooms.
- A fairly well-equipped kitchen.
- A restaurant on-site, open mostly for breakfasts and lunches. Dinners only on the weekends.
- An awesome pool on-site.
- Helpful managers and staff who can assist you with basically anything.
- Cleaning service almost every day.
- Walking distance to the market area, and if you don’t mind a bit more of a walk, to the beach as well.
One of the main market strips
All the Holiday Beach Vibes
On our first day, the Wednesday (a public holiday in SA), we arrived in Ponta around 1pm. The place was still pretty quiet, and it seemed most people would only arrive the following weekend (Easter weekend) so we were in luck. It was a beautiful warm sunny day. We spent all daylight hours left to us checking out the town, walking all over, and leisuring on the beach. This was fantastic because it would end up raining non-stop the following two days (Thursday and Friday).
When it rains …
When the power goes out, meals are improvised e.g. “burger”
Though the following days’ weather was not much of a deterrent for those going on scuba missions, and it didn’t affect the nice warm weather the first day, it was raining buckets endlessly. Nevertheless, we walked to the market, bought some groceries, and spent most of our time eating, relaxing and reading in and around our accommodation spot. In the afternoon, we decided we couldn’t stay cooped up in our apartments all day and headed to Ponta Malongane to find entertainment and (more) food. Though we couldn’t attempt a proper Hole in One at Jack’s Bare Foot Bar, due to the weather, we chilled for a while, having a few drinks, and listening to deep house music. Jack’s had just gotten a new water feature all along the bar, thanks to the rain!
A note on dogs: everywhere you go, you will run into dogs. Some of them have owners and name tags, but most don’t. The dogs are almost always some version of Africanis. They are extremely friendly and will follow you everywhere, even if you don’t feed them. We basically adopted at least 4 dogs (one for each day) during our stay in Ponta, and lost them at some point every day when they randomly disappeared again.
So much glorious (and cheap) beer to be had in Mozambique!
During our stay, we kept running into a huge group of scuba holidayers, who were making merry at every bar and restaurant around town. Whenever we ran into them, we tended to turn around and go somewhere else, because the wait for food is long enough (everywhere) without having a group of 40 – 50 people in the queue ahead of you! So our first hopeful foray to the famous Drunken Clam (for amazing seafood) was cut short, and we ended up at Amigo’s, just a short distance away. Despite our dashed seafood hopes, the food at Amigo’s was still great, and we had a glorious evening of food, beer, and very loud music, interspersed with brief breaks of writing our names and dodgy notes on the wall, apparently an Amigo’s tradition.
Amigo’s (Ponta Malongane) where the writing is on the wall
Not bad for six people, and charged in ZAR
By the time Friday rolled around, we were still facing a full day of rain and by now, the temps were dropping. We would soldier on!! After a seriously leisurely morning, we went back to Ponta Malongane to have our seafood meal dreams come true at Drunken Clam. As luck would have it, we had the whole place to ourselves during lunch. This was likely due to the rain and the falling temperatures. We spent the evening back at our accommodation, playing board games, watching Spanish telanovelas, and eating leftovers and fresh bread.
Drunken Clam has incredible EVERYTHING, so you absolutely must go eat there. Even their slices of fresh, toasted, herbed bread was so good, we ordered some for take-away!
A note on seafood: though prawns are mostly on the SASSI red list at this time, or in some cases at least orange, it is available absolutely everywhere in the Pontas. There seems to be no way to determine how seafood is caught, and whether methods and sources are sustainable. Nobody can seemingly answer this question. Chances are, it’s not sustainable. It’s a tough decision to make. If you’re worried, and prefer to err on the side of caution, you can still choose delicious pregos, chicken and incredible chicken liver dishes, as well as lots of calamari. Hake should also be okay as Southern African sources are green-listed. For more, check out the SASSI list. There are also delicious baked goods galore. You’ll have more of a problem finding meal options if you’re vegetarian or are allergic to seafood.
When Saturday came around, we had glorious clear skies, and warm sunny weather again, so basically everyone was in the pool or at the beach for most of the day. Paint a picture in your mind of us constantly leisuring while also constantly eating. We did charter a fishing boat in the afternoon but it was a bit of a stuff-up, for all kinds of reasons, and none of them the company’s fault. We got only one single bite, and caught nothing. It did feel a little disappointing but such is life sometimes. The most important discovery we made during this excursion was that you do not go and park somewhere and sit fishing all day. In fact, the boat is constantly moving and trawling lines behind it. It is definitely not recommended for those prone to sea-sickness. This is apparently part of the conservation rules for the region, as only sports fishing is allowed. In other words, the idea we had in mind of chilling at some spot on the water, with a fishing rod in hand, drinking beer all day while soaking up the sun, was not realised. For the most part, we clung on to the boat with all our might, as we breached waves and bounced along the sea for three hours. I’ve had better fishing experiences.
By Saturday, there were bigger crowds on the beach. This also meant there were loads of vendors, trying to sell all kinds of things: hats, sunglasses, Thai wraps and shirts, coconuts, bracelets, massages, and hand-carved bowls. We much preferred the Thursday, when there was almost no other soul on the beach, and certainly no vendors. The queue of vendors is an endless one, and you can just have said no to the 5th guy hawking sunglasses, when the 9th guy hawking hats arrives behind him. So I would recommend trying to go off-season or during the week, if such a reality is available to you.
Sunday morning, those not driving had a quick farewell R&R, while everyone had a delicious last cheap-avocado-fuelled breakfast. We stopped off at our favourite fresh produce vendor’s stall to get more avos for the road and take a photo of the lovely Christina. We found people in Ponta do Ouro and Ponta Malongane to be exceptionally friendly and helpful. Though service in most places can be sketchy, it’s not for lack of trying or for lack of smiles. An incredible experience, a journey well worth having. Try to immerse yourself just that extra bit beyond the superficial tourist level of interaction. Chat to people you interact with, and at the market. People are open and relaxed, and it’s nice when you approach them in a similar fashion. Even a “spring break” type of weekend away, filled with beer and too much eating, can be meaningful and special.
The lovely Christina with the R5 avos
Don’t leave Ponta without …
There is a list of things that you absolutely must try to tick off while visiting Ponta, provided the weather and all the elements are in your favour:
- Eat a giant avo for R5!
- Go scuba diving, snorkelling or fishing with Gozo Azul
- Have yourself an R&R (Rum & Raspberry) but be sure you’re not driving anywhere, or even walking anytime soon
- Drink the local beers, whether 2M, Laurentina (the Preta especially) and Manica but buy retail (R10 a beer!)
- Walk! Most things in Ponta do Ouro are within walking distance and you really don’t need a car once you’ve gotten to town
- Have a coconut on the beach
- Eat at the Drunken Clam (in Ponta Malongane), where you’ll find the best seafood (possibly) in the world
- Aim for a Hole In One golf shot at Jack’s Bare Foot Bar (en route to Ponta Malongane) and get your name on the wall
- Buy fresh bread or baked goods from the blue and white bakery a few steps down from the main town intersection.
The incredible bakery, just off the main town intersection
Tips and Tricks
- Book your accommodation directly via the Ponta establishments. There are a lot of South African “agents” that are charging you a lot more for accommodation.
- Join DriveMoz on Facebook to learn all about road issues, border requirements and everything in between to help make your journey a drama-free one.
- If someone in your group has a proper 4×4, you’re winning and it allows you to easily visit neighbouring Ponta Malongane.
- Not every restaurant is good, and not every restaurant has the same exchange rate. Ask the locals before sitting down, and ask about the exchange rate being used. Sometimes it also benefits you to rather pay by card at the real exchange rate than paying in Rand (cash) using the establishment’s exchange rate.
- DO NOT GO FOR MEALS WHEN YOU ARE ALREADY STARVING. Make peace with the fact that food is made from absolute scratch, and at a snail’s pace, and will take an hour to reach you (even longer if the restaurant is busy). Console yourself with beer. The wait will usually be well worth it.
- Leave your sedan or non-4×4 vehicle at the border. There is a parking lot that is safe and secure and charges a decent rate. The entrance is unmarked but you can ask anyone to point it out. It’s about 500 metres before the border post on the SA side. Don’t be put off by the name – Skelms (Afrikaans word meaning “criminals”).
- When walking around, greet passing people who make eye contact with a friendly “Bom dia” (Good day). People in Ponta are extremely friendly and a genial passing greeting is the norm, and considered the right thing to do.
- Ponta is extremely geared toward South Africans so almost everyone speaks English to some degree, and most people will take Rand. Groceries are cheap except when imported from Europe or South Africa e.g. a bottle of Nescafe instant coffee will be absurdly expensive but a local beer is R10.
- Drink only bottled water. At R5 for 500ml and R15 for 1.5 litres (retail prices), you’re not going to break the bank. Stay away from tap water. Walk to the market and buy what you need for coffee and tea, as well as staying hydrated.
- If you’re not keen on walking, ask the accommodation employees to purchase for you (they will) but be sure to give a small tip as thanks. However, you really can walk most places and buy groceries close to most accommodation spots.
- If you can’t let go of social media or remaining connected, it’s well worth going to one of the little shops and organising a local sim card as airtime and data in Moz is pretty damn cheap. It is by far the better option when considering the cost of roaming. The story that floats around about being able to run on SA providers because Ponta is so close to the border is bollocks.
- Power failures are a regular occurrence in Mozambique. Some establishments (accommodation spots, for example) will have a generator but also won’t run it for the full day, so expect some periods where you can’t do or buy all you’d like.
- If you’re worried, you can take malaria meds. We did, to be on the safe side, but most people seem to think it’s not required, as the Ponta area is said to be low risk.
- Make sure your passport has a minimum of 2 blank pages and is valid for 6 months. We saw some people at the border having a bit of trouble getting in for not having enough blank pages. No need to make life hard for yourself. Double check those kind of details a month or so before heading through.
- VERY IMPORTANT: Ensure you have both stamps when entering Moz – from the SA side as well as the Moz side. The “forgetting to stamp you in” trick (Moz side) is still a little bit of a problem. Make sure your stamp is clear and the date is legible.