Mozambique, Swaziland and Kruger Park – 3 week road trip itinerary

You might not have heard of Mozambique as a holiday destination, but that is not because it’s not worth going! With a coastline of more than 2000 km, Mozambique has plenty of pristine beaches where you can unwind at wonderful eco lodges and dive with the big stuff. The interior is still very undeveloped, but if you’re looking for remote wilderness, the game reserve of Limpopo is all you could wish for. And it’s worth noting that Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, is closer to Swaziland and South Africa’s Kruger Park than even Johannesburg, so it’s very easy to combine a beach holiday here with an amazing safari in either or both countries.

Mozambique itinerary highlights

  • Wildlife and wilderness in Limpopo National Park
  • Winding down at Dunes de Dovela
  • Diving and whale watching in Tofo
  • Hopping over into Swaziland and the Kruger Park

For centuries Mozambique was a Portuguese colony. After gaining independence in 1975, the country descended into a long and bitter civil war, that finally ended in the early 90s. It is now a relatively safe destination, although occasionally old conflicts still flare up, so always check before going. As an outsider, you won’t notice much of these tensions, although of course Mozambique is a very poor country in part because of this history. There is some small crime, especially in Maputo, but to us it felt like a very friendly and safe country.

The main language is Portuguese, but people are very kind and you can manage with a mix of broken Portuguese, Spanish and English. Many hotels and restaurants are owned and/or operated by foreigners, although the best ones of course try to involve locals as well. Mozambique caters mostly to South African tourists, so try to avoid their school holidays. May to October is probably the best time to visit Mozambique, when the weather is mild and dry. August to October are best for game viewing, while between June/July and November humpback whales migrate from their winter feeding grounds in the Antarctic to mate and calve right in front of the shores of Mozambique, an incredible sight.

day 1: arrival in Maputo

Fly to Maputo. Pick up your rental car at the airport, you’ll need a 4×4 that you are allowed to take across the border. Negotiating is key here! We had contacted the local Avis branch directly and managed to get a jeep for 20 days for 2.400 dollar, the original quote was much higher. Pay attention to the exchange rate used!

We arrived late in the afternoon so we decided to spend one night in Maputo, at Mozaika Guesthouse, a quirky but pleasant place. For dinner, we had great Portuguese tapas at A Nossa Tasca on Maputo’s trendy Avenida Julius Nyerere.

If you plan on visiting only Mozambique, you can drive straight to Limpopo National Park from Maputo, and start with day 8 of this itinerary: Machampane Wilderness Camp. In that case, I would recommend you spend at least two nights at the camp: it’s quite a drive to get there, and the place is amazing! Another possibility is to skip Swaziland but to drive directly to the Kruger Park in South Africa, in that case follow this itinerary from day 5.

Day 2-4: safari, hiking, biking and zip lining in Swaziland

Early the next morning we left Maputo for Swaziland. The Namaacha border post is only a 1,5 hour drive, roads are good and crossing is easy. Once you’re in Swaziland, the fantastic Hlane Royal National Park is only a short drive away.

Tiny Swaziland offers a great introduction to African wildlife and nature. Its lodges are cheaper than South Africa’s, and although its nature reserves are smaller, they still are a good place to spot everything from rhinos to lions. The scenic highland landscapes of the north are very different and offer great opportunities to be active.

From self-drive safaris, game drives, bike-rides and hiking, to a great canopy tour, there is plenty to keep you busy in Swaziland for a few days. Check out my itinerary for 4 days in Swaziland for more details.

Day 5-7: South Africa’s Kruger National Park

We drove up from Swaziland, crossing the border at Jeppes Reef, but you can also easily reach the Kruger Park directly from Maputo (about 2,5 Hours). Although geographically it is very similar to the interior of Mozambique, a long history of conservation and tourism make wildlife in SA much more abundant and accessible. A safari in the Kruger is an absolute must for any animal lover. For a day-to-day guide and plenty more amazing wildlife photos, check out  my itinerary for 4 days Kruger Park safari.

Day 8: Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park

From South Africa’s Kruger you can cross into Mozambique at the Giriyondo border post. You are now in Limpopo National Park, the Mozambican part of the nature reserve. The goal is ultimately to link it up with natural reserves in Zimbabwe as well to form the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park. Animals are unfortunately not as abundant here due to hunting (and general neglect) during the civil war. But thanks to renewed conservation efforts they are starting to come back. Thankfully, humans are also less abundant this side of the border. We literally didn’t cross a single car while here, you feel you are truly in the wilderness (a 4×4 is an absolute necessity here).

Tourism is not very developed yet in Limpopo, but there is a great rest camp, Machampane Wilderness Camp, where we spent a night. The camp has a handful of very beautiful and comfortable tents, right on the Machampane river (low at the time of the year we were there) teeming with crocodiles. The camp has no fences, so animals can walk right through. This really is a luxurious take on camping in the wild!

Food is served at a communal table and is very tasty, especially considering the isolated location. We had a very knowledgeable South African camp manager/guide, and you could tell things are done with a lot of respect for nature here. Safaris happen on foot, which is very exciting. The wildlife is shy, but we still encountered elephants, antelope, birds, and a very dead baboon…. most likely killed by a leopard, whose tracks we found all around.

Day 9: to the coast, Naara Eco Lodge

Early the next morning we woke up to a huge splash. Right across the river was a pack of wild dogs (of which there are only about 150 in the Kruger, so imagine our luck!), pursuing an impala. Desperate, the animal had leaped into the crocodile-infested water right in front of our tent. Luckily for our impala, he made it out alive, and managed to lose the wild dogs!

After all that bush, we were ready for some beach time. The road out of Limpopo is rather bumpy and we didn’t see much more wildlife. We ended up giving a lift to two park rangers as they had no transport of their own… a lot of money and effort is still needed to bring Limpopo up to the level of the Kruger Park! But as things are it makes for a more authentic and adventurous experience, and I would recommend it to anyone.

The interior of Mozambique has no tourist infrastructure at all. There are some towns and villages where you can get drinks and snacks, but there is nothing noteworthy to see and no place to stay. So after dropping off the park rangers in Chokwe we drove all the way to Chidenguele, where we spent the night at Naara Eco Lodge. The last few kilometers to the lodge are sand road, and despite the fact we had a 4×4 we only just made it, but on arrival we were rewarded with beautiful views over Nhambavale lake.

Maybe it was because we just came out of the wilderness, but Naara felt a bit too perfect. It has a beautiful setting in the dunes overlooking the lake, with lovely and intimate rooms (or rather, luxurious tents), but it tries a little too hard to be fancy. However, we only spent one night here and it might actually be worth staying longer to fully appreciate the surrounding nature.

Day 10-12: Dunes de Dovela, Inharrime

After a morning exploring lake Nhambavale, we took the atmospheric road 1 further north, to Inharrime. Make sure to buy a bag of delicious roasted cashew nuts from one of the vendors along the road!

We had booked a 3-night stay at a wonderful eco lodge near Inharrime, Dunes de Dovela. The lodge is built and managed by a French couple, who work closely together with the local community. It has tasteful guesthouses in a gorgeous setting, and a restaurant with sweeping views over the dunes. We had a miles long beach all to ourselves for most of our stay. The dunes themselves are also very beautiful, with lots of birdlife and even vervet monkeys. Dunes de Dovela offers complimentary nature walks in the surroundings with knowledgeable guides recruited from the local village who can tell you all about this special ecosystem. It is also a great spot for whale watching.

A stay here is all-inclusive (there is nothing in the immediate neighborhood even if you would want to go elsewhere). I’m normally not crazy about this, but the food at Dunes de Dovela was fantastic, both delicious and imaginative. You get spoiled with lots of little luxuries, like homemade coconut-oil moisturizer in your bathroom, sunset drinks in the dunes, and a shady set-up waiting for you as you get down to the beach… I cannot imagine a better place to unwind!

Day 13-18: Tofo diving and whale watching

After a few days of relaxing at Dunas de Dovela we were ready for some action again, so we decided to head to Tofo, a hub for diving and surfing. Tofo consists of a handful of restaurants, bars and (guest)houses with a bohemian vibe right by a stunning windswept beach. It’s a beautiful spot but staying for more than a couple of days is only really recommended it if you either dive or surf because there is not much else to do.

After spending one night at Baia Sonambula, which has a lovely common area but very disappointing rooms, we changed for a little guesthouse at the far end of Tofo’s beach, Corasiida. The ground floor room facing the sea is spacious and clean with a great bathroom, and most importantly right on the beach with a fantastic view: we could literally see whales breaching while enjoying a beer on our veranda!

There are several dive centers in Tofo. We opted for Peri-Peri Divers, whom I can highly recommend. The dive shop right next to Corasiida guest house, Tofo Scuba (which we only discovered on our second day), also seemed a very professional place and maybe somewhat fancier. We decided to do a PADI Advanced Diver course. Tofo is a great spot for this, with good deep dives and drift dives. You’re not here for colorful corals, you’re here for the big stuff: manta, eagle ray, sharks, whale sharks and whales, although you have to be very lucky to see a whale while diving (which is kind of odd considering there’s so many of them around and they’re so huge!). However, we saw plenty of them from the boat, going to and from dive sites. If you don’t dive I would definitely recommend organizing a boat trip to go whale watching and snorkeling with whale sharks.

The beach just south of Tofo, Tofinho (literally little Tofo) is apparently a great place for surfing. It also makes for a nice walk through the dunes and along the beach. Restaurant wise it’s best to inform when you’re there, it’s tiny and you will soon find out what the newest place-to-be is. Tofo Tofo and Casa de Comer were among our favorites, but new places keep popping up!

There are a few fun half-day trips from Tofo, to spend some afternoons out of the water. Half an hour away is the sleepy but pretty town of Inhambane, with crumbling colonial architecture and nice views over dhow-dotted Inhambane Bay. You can have a bayside meal at popular Bistro O Pescador. Don’t miss the colorful market!

Another nice place to check out is Barra beach, the family-oriented alternative to Tofo. Here we had one of the best meals of our trip at The Green Turtle. This French-owned restaurant also has a good selection of crafts and souvenirs.

Day 19: Xai Xai

Time to start heading back. To break up the drive, we stopped for the night at the Reef Resort near Xai Xai beach. It’s very comfortable, but otherwise it’s not very interesting. It caters mostly to South African families looking for a beach holiday.

Day 20: Maputo

Today we drove the rest of the way to Maputo, where we spent a final night at the Southern Sun, probably Maputo’s fanciest hotel located right on the sea.

There are not many must-see sights in Maputo, but it’s not an unpleasant city to walk around. Gustave Eiffel’s incongruous Casa de Ferro merits a quick visit, as do the nearby Catedral de Maputo, the central market and the Maputo Railway Station. Have a leisurely lunch at Dhow Mozambique, which serves delicious food in a lovely setting. It also has a great selection of beautiful souvenirs and homeware (in contrast, FEIMA, the Feira de artesanato, flores e gastronomia, was very disappointing). Finish the day at Zambi, a fancy restaurant popular with the local upper classes. Try to get a table outside.

Mozambique is a wonderful holiday destination which deserves a lot more attention from travelers. It will be interesting to see how the country develops as tourism expands. I for one will definitely be going back to see more of the country and discover the North, too!

Are you going to Mozambique or have you been? Feel free to leave a comment below to let me know your thoughts!

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