How to get to Tofo from Maputo on Public Transport
…and my crazy adventure during the trip
Our bus’s engine shut off when the police pulled us over for the billionth time. It was the first hour and a half of the drive towards Inhambane (where I would transfer for the last short drive to Tofo Beach). The woman sitting next to me sighed. “Welcome to Mozambique” she said to me in English as she rolled her eyes. This is just all part of how to get to Tofo from Maputo on public transport.
I tend to babble a lot so if you want you can read the summary for how to get to Tofo from Maputo at the bottom of this post!
We filed off the bus into a hot, shadeless middle-of-nowhere and waited for the replacement bus. “5 minutes, maybe 30 minutes!” The driver was hitting the floor of the bus with a broom. Maybe this would make the engine turn back on. The police sped off as soon as they heard the engine stop.
“Most chapa [minibus] drivers don’t pay for the special license they need to drive many people, thats why the police stop them and they pay their fines, or bribes, however you want to call it.” -Mozambican dude who eventually gave me a ride
Where to find the bus to get to Tofo from Maputo
The bus to get to Tofo from Maputo leaves from the Junta bus station which is something like 7km outside of the center of Maputo.
I failed miserably and arrived at around 7am since my friends could drop me off then, and I was in no mood to haggle taxi fares or figure out the local chapa system at 5am.
Check out my other posts and tips about Mozambique here!
Someone found me almost immediately since apparently most white girls in the bus station want to go to Tofo. He took me to the bus. Note that in some bus stations in the region these guys will ask for a tip but this guy didn’t.
I arrived, to my horror, to a nearly empty bus. Sure I can get a “good seat” (hint: they’re all bad), but we definitely waited until NOON to fill up and leave. To repeat: we waited 5 hours to fill up the damn bus.
Then it broke down in the first hour an a half of travel.
What I should have done instead…
Essentially, I should have probably arrived at 5 am to get on the early bus.
That’s why you have to wake up at 4am if you book your bus to get to Tofo from Maputo through Fatima’s hostel. They advertise everywhere that they have a shuttle to Tofo Beach and people often think it is a private shuttle. It’s not. It is just a bus that takes you from the hostel to the Junta bus station 7km outside of town. Then you’re on the same bus as everyone else.
To get to Tofo from Maputo, the ride takes around 8 hours NOT counting the wait to fill up the bus. My trip total took 16 hours HAHA. It was the worst travel segment of my whole trip in Southern Africa, but also some aspects of it were awesome. It’s all part of the adventure.
Back to the broken bus…
After I finished the last of my water and started feeling uncomfortably thirsty standing on the side of the road, I sighed and flapped my hand out to hitchhike (probably best not to do a thumbs up sign…you never know what it means locally).
The replacement bus was probably going to take forever and as time went on I was surely going to break my rule of not being out and about alone after sunset. It seemed like all the luxury trucks were working for a construction site nearby so none of them stopped. No (often quite nice) cars with South African plates would dare stop, but turns out dangerous folks like to target cars with foreign plates. So I forgive you, SA folks, for not picking my dusty, pink, sweaty self up.
A nice, not creepy guy in a clean car eventually stopped. I felt a little guilty leaving my bus comrades behind but I was racing the sun. Suddenly I was in air conditioning and I could extend my legs all the way. Absolute luxury.
As we started rolling I noticed my “Welcome to Mozambique” seat buddy waving her arms and rushing towards us. We had previously bonded earlier when I saved her cell phone from falling out of a hole in the bottom of the bus.
We stopped for her and waited as she dragged a huge sack of onions and a huge sack of potatoes to the car (which I would later carry all over for her). “Welcome to Mozambique” was the limit of her English, but Sonia was a welcomed travel buddy and the driver was able to translate her life story to me.
She was in her late 30s or early 40s. Mother of three. Worked as a secretary and was in Maputo for a conference. Wonderfully sweet.
I downed a liter of water at the next rest stop and was happy to be moving. He took us to Xai Xai, which was still hours from Tofo. I was happy to find a hotel there for the night since the sun set right as we arrived, but turns out Sonia had an exam early the next morning for some classes she was taking. So we had our objective: Inhambane before 8 am.
Stuck in Xai Xai
Why do all cars go super slow on the national highway? Because the speed limit is actually super slow, and the popo are just waiting to get you. The Speed limit seemed to be around 80km/h (around 50 mph) for a lot of the way, and it goes through tons of villages that you need to slow down for as well. That’s why it takes forever to get to Tofo from Maputo.
We ended up at a BP Gas station in Xai Xai. It was well lit and the workers even brought a bench over for us, but the wind was freezing. Our previous driver reappeared with a car filled with Chinese businessmen. He was going to Xai Xai to pick them up and drive them back to Maputo. He pretended he didn’t recognize Sonia and myself. The businessmen made him pull over near us on their way out of the station to ask me if I would like to go “have a special time” in Maputo with them. The driver looked embarrassed.
We sat and sat at that BP station. Some other people from the bus who hitchhiked appeared and joined us. I sat in my sleeping bag on the bench to warm up. Turns out Sonia’s sister lives in Xai Xai. She’s a judge. “Do you swear truth nothing but truth!”she giggled. She brought us warm butter tubs filled with rice and a meat stew. Her husband arrived in a car and we slept in it.
Second try with the bus
They couldn’t drive us to Inhambane, but turns out we were all just waiting for the replacement bus. They were wonderful, though, and I enjoyed my time with them.
When the bus to get to Tofo from Maputo finally arrived, it was well after dark and all the younger men in the back of the bus were piss drunk. Of course the only seat open was with them. It was quite annoying. “Let me help you with your bag [oops I touched your boob]”. Grrr.
The creepy arrival in Inhambane
We arrived in Inhambane at around 4 am. It was the weekend so the streets were filled with drunk men. Aside from the bars everything was closed, and having nowhere to go I asked Sonia if I could go with her.
In hindsight, one thing I learned about traveling in the region is that you often can sleep in the bus until sunrise if you find yourself in a pickle. There were more than a few people doing that.
But I wanted to get very far away from that horrid bus. Sonia’s husband drove us through the labyrinth of homes just outside of town. I took bucket shower in their outside bathroom and pitched my tent in their yard. I woke hours later to the sound of sweeping and the giggles of Sonia’s daughters standing just outside of my tent. So the trip wasn’t so horrible after all.
The last segment: the chapa to Tofo
The chapa to Tofo leaves frequently from the bus station where the bus from Maputo will arrive. The drive is filled with thatched homes and electric- blue birds darting among the palms. The beach is completely empty in the morning and you can have it all to yourself.
Summary for how to get to Tofo from Maputo on Public Transport:
Cost: 650 Meticales+ 50 for a bag from the JUNTA station just OUTSIDE of town.
Get there SUPER early! At 5 am! 7 am is too late.
I gave the driver I hitched with (after the bus broke) for a few hours something like 200 Meticales. Apparently this was more than enough.
The buses break. The buses are dangerous. They are uncomfortable. You will not be able to extend your legs and cockroaches will crawl all over you. LITERALLY.
Bring lots of water but don’t drink it all because unless your bus breaks it will not stop for toilets. It’s for when your bus breaks and you’re stranded in the sun.
Transfer to the smaller Chapa to Tofo at the place where the bus stops in Inhambane. You may have to pay a little more for your bag. The location of the chapa is very straightforward. You can top up your phone in the central bus area.
I never got ripped off during this trip.
On hitchhiking from Tofo BACK to Maputo
So the bus ride was so terrible that I decided it would be, if you can believe it, safer to hitchhike back to Maputo from Tofo. I was right. I recruited a travel companion and we got on a semi-truck about 5 minutes after arriving on the Estrada Nacional (National Highway). Air conditioning, leg room, great views and great company…we were in heaven!
Note that if you are trying to hitchhike from Maputo to Tofo you should take a chapa to a village outside of Maputo first. It would be difficult to hitchhike out of the Maputo sprawl.
You just need to take a Chapa from Inhambane to any village along the National Highway and from there you can easily catch trucks that are going right to Maputo or at least to somewhere near Maputo where you can get a local chapa to your destination. If you have a lot of time you could technically just piece the trip together on local chapas and explore the little villages more. Have fun.
P.S. The truck drivers technically don’t pay for their own gas but they do appreciate tips.