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Mozambique has recently opened up its country to tourism and is beginning to grow in popularity, however slowly, as a destination. The country stretches in southeast Africa along the Indian Ocean over a long but narrow strip. Its strategic location along the east African coast, supported by excellent natural ports and inland railroads make it the go-to nation for landlocked nations in Africa looking to export their products to the world.

Mozambique is shaped like an elongated “Y”. Cutting through its heart is the Zambezi River, which provides a sea route into central Africa and connects with Lake Malawi.

The country is divided into three regions: the sandy lowlands, the interior and northern plateaus, and the urban south. The sandy lowlands extend inland along the fertile banks of the Zembezi, Limpopo, and other rivers, which are planted with flourishing coconut palms and Cashew trees. The marshes are used to grow rice and other food crops. The interior region, on the other hand, consists of low-level plateaus that average elevations between 500 and 2,000 feet high. Farther inland are higher mountain ranges and a tea-growing area near the Malawi border. The north, between the Indian Ocean coast and Lake Malawi, consists of rocky plateaus that yield coal mines. Cotton is grown in this area. The south region is centered around the capital of Maputo, which is the country’s largest city. Most of the population of Mozambique is concentrated in this urban region.

Natural beauty is Mozambique’s main draw. This country has dozens of lovely beaches and lagoons where tourists can enjoy sunbathing, good fishing, and excellent scuba diving and snorkeling. The best beaches are Beira, Ponta do Ouro, Xai-Xai, Chonguene, Sao Martino do Bilene, Vilankulo, Inhaca Island near Mputo, Malugane in the south, and Inhambane, which is about 250 miles north of Maputo and home to the beach resort, Tofo. These beaches are washed by the warm Indian Ocean and have excellent resort facilities. The waters are clear and enclosed by colorful coral reefs, especially in Zavora. For those who like to fish, the ocean teems with marlin, swordfish, barracuda and sailfish.

Another great tourist resort area is the Bazaruto Archipelago, which is further north of Maputo about 485 miles away. The archipelago consists of four islands and innumerably more islets and reefs. The sandy beaches make it great for water sports and the rich waters teem with numerous game fishes.

Visitors should definitely take the time to visit Gorongosa National Park, which opens from May to October and must be booked in advance. The park is reached by airplane, which lands at Chitengo. Hired guides and rental cars are available at the park. Unique vegetations and geological formations provide a habitat for thousands of one-of-a-kind flora and species, including birds and safari wildlife. You’ll find lions, elephants, leopards, hyenas, wild dogs, reedbucks, waterbucks, grey duikers, warthogs, nyalas, bushbucks, impalas, civets, servals, and genets. The park is also reintroducing rhinos, buffalos, and zebras, which were hunted out of existence during the civil war period.

The Ilha de Moçambique (or Mozambique Island) in the north near Nampula could be considered a “must”. It is UNESCO World Heritage designated and features 17th and 18th century Portuguese colonial buildings, including interesting mosques from the same period.

The climate in Mozambique is both warm and cool. Between October and March, the weather is warm and rainy. April to September is considered the dry season, and the temperatures cool down. Rainfall is heaviest in the north and central where the country is dominated by rivers and streams. The south, however, is extremely dry.

Visitors should be careful, as the country may be littered with leftover landmines planted during the civil war of the 1980s and 90s.

Most of the people in Mozambique are descended from the Bantu Africans, but there is also a minority of European and Asian settlers, as well as people of mixed race. Most of the people in Mozambique are Roman Catholics and Protestants, but the north has Muslim pockets. The people lead two kinds of lives; in the coastal and interior big cities, modern houses, parks, gardens, and squares dominate the scene. In the small villages and countryside, traditional African life prevails. Villagers reside in thatched-roof houses made of straw and mud and families grow food crops such as corn and cassava. Along the lakes, rivers, and coast, people fish.

Mozambique was originally inhabited by Bantu tribes who were hunter, gatherers, and farmers along the Zambezi. The Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama, was the first European to arrive in 1498. He found many Arab settlements established along the Indian Ocean coast. The Arabs had controlled the ivory and spice trade there for centuries. The Portuguese began setting up posts and forts along the rivers to serve excursions to India. Soon, the coastal towns were used for the ivory and slave trade.

By the 18th century, Portugal lost its holdings to the British and Dutch. At around this time, trade in Mozambique’s coastal ports began a 200-year decline. When the Berlin Conference in 1884 carved Africa among the European powers, giving Portugal Mozambique.

Under Portuguese rule, Mozambique was made an overseas province. The Portuguese attempted to assimilate the African population, but failed. The Africans launched a liberation movement and armed rebellion in 1964, which eventually led to the country’s independence in 1975.

After achieving independence, Mozambique aligned itself with the Soviet Union and Cuba and became a one-party Socialist state. This move posed a threat to neighboring countries and triggered a civil war. Fighting the FRELIMO socialist party government, the conservative RENAMO party led an anti-communist rebel group known as the Mozambique National Resistance Movement, which was aided by the United States and the white governments of Zimbabwe and apartheid South Africa. The war lasted until 1992. The peace agreement called for democratic elections in 1994, which FRELIMO won over RENAMO.

While Mozambique has enjoyed political stability ever since and millions of refugee displaced by the war have returned, the country still suffers from political corruption and economic problems. Hope now rests with increasing foreign investment from South Africa and East Asia nations.