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silversea africa indian ocean cruises train station maputo mozambique Tour description

Maputo, Mozambique

For centuries Mozambique, with one of the longest and most beautiful coastlines in Africa (1,562 mi/2,514 km), has been a magnet for foreign travelers. Maputo, formerly Lourenço Marques, is the laid-back capital, an incongruous mix of outdoor restaurants and cafés, palm-lined streets, an elegant promenade with ritzy villas, and once-grand colonial buildings, which often sit side-by-side with shanties and hideous concrete Soviet-style buildings dating back to the 1950s, when Russia and Cuba had a finger in the political pie here. The daring Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama came here on his way to India in the early 1500s, followed by Arab and Indian traders dealing in gold, slaves, and ivory. The Portuguese were the first colonizers in the 1600s, remaining in power until Mozambique gained independence in 1975 following a fierce and bloody liberation struggle. A bitter civil war followed, but since 1992 this multiparty democracy has been stable, and its economy continues to grow as foreign investment pours in. The country played a small role in the Second Boer War in the early 1900s; when Winston Churchill was captured by the Boers, he made a daring escape to Lourenço Marques from South Africa by slipping past his guards.

Cruise Sights

Maputo. Look out for the improbable Casa de Ferro (the Iron House), designed by M. Eiffel and donated by the French to Mozambique. Only with the advent of air-conditioning did it become habitable. An iron house might have looked good on paper, but not very practical in extreme heat of a Mozambique summer.

Maputo Railway Station. This station is an unexpected delight. Designed by Monsieur Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame), its vaulted roofs, hand-carved doors, broad, curving platforms, antique light fittings and spacious proportions make it one of the most beautiful railway stations in sub-Saharan Africa. Many evenings, especially on weekends, there's live jazz, Buena Vista-style, in the historic old bar on Maputo Station platform.

Fortaleza da Nossa Senhora da Conceição. The historic 18th-century fort, with its stout stone walls and cannons reminiscent of Cape Town's castle, is worth a visit. at the bottom of Av. Samora Machel, near the sea.

Mercado Central. The safe and lively covered market, which was built in 1901, has everything from fresh fish and shellfish, to vegetables and fruit, and is choc-a-bloc with photo opportunities. Load up on packets of fresh cashew nuts (Mozambique's number-two export)-plain, roasted, salted, or peri-peri (hot and spicy). It's also a great place to buy wood carvings, batiks, and all kinds of curios. av. 25 de Setembro.

National Art Museum. The museum has a small but good collection of paintings and sculptures by some of Mozambique's most famous artists, including several large canvases by the world-renowned Malangatana. av. Ho Chi Minh, 1 block north of Av. Karl Marx.

Polana Hotel. The recently refurbished, oh-so-elegant hotel is one of the world's Grand Old Ladies-with the style and ambience of Raffles in Singapore, the Mount Nelson in Cape Town, or The Taj in Mumbai. Enjoy some decadent colonial luxury as you eat bite-sized sandwiches on the spacious terrace overlooking the Bay of Maputo, or try some mega-sized prawns, washed down with a glass of viñho verde or champagne. Take your swimsuit so you can wallow in the grand pool-once one of the biggest in Africa. av. Julius Nyerere 1380.

Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Fatima. In Independence Square, alongside the beautiful gleaming white Art Deco cathedral look out for the sculptures made of old AK-47s. Praça da Independência.

Tunduru Botanical Gardens. The garden has some interesting plants and large shady trees, but don't venture in alone. Outside the gates there's an imposing statue of the first President of Mozambique, the charismatic Samora Machel, who died in a mysterious plane crash. Nelson Mandela married his widow, Graça Machel, some years later. .

Swaziland. Covering just over 6,570 square miles, Swaziland is one of the smallest African countries. Surrounded by the giants of South Africa and Mozambique, this pretty, tiny, landlocked kingdom of mountains, valleys, waterfalls and verdant plains, has somehow retained its ancient Swazi culture. It became independent of Britain in 1967 and is ruled over by British-educated King Mswati II (now into the second dozen of his wives).

Lobamba, 15 km (9 mi) from Mbabane, is the seat of government, where you'll find the House of Parliament; the National Museum, with its exhibits of Swazi arts, crafts, and culture; and the palace of the Royal family, the Ludzidzini Royal Residence. Adjacent to the National Museum is the King Sobhuza II Memorial Park & Royal Museum, where you can see royal regalia, King Sobhuza's statue and photo gallery (at one stage King Sobhuza was the world's longest-reigning monarch until his death in 1982), and three old, immaculately preserved royal cars, including a Chevrolet.

Believed to be the world's oldest mine, Lion Cavern is situated at Ngwenya Mountain, on the western border of Swaziland. As long ago as 41,000 BC, haematite and specularite were mined for cosmetic and ritual uses. This ancient mine is located next to the modern open cast-iron ore mine, where production ceased in 1978.

Kruger National Park. The world-famous Kruger National Park in South Africa's northeastern Lowveld, cuts a swath 50 miles wide and 200 miles long from Zimbabwe and the Limpopo River in the north, to the Crocodile River in the south. Along the way, it crosses 14 different eco-zones, each supporting a great variety of plants, birds, and animals. Game of all kinds, including the Big Five, abounds, and from an open-air game vehicle you are likely to encounter plenty. The road leading from Crocodile Bridge Camp to Lower Sabie Camp is well known for its sightings of general game as well as buffalo, rhino, cheetah, and lion. Lower Sabie Camp has tremendous views over a broad sweep of the Sabie River and sits in one of the best game-viewing areas of the park. The area around the camp has white rhino, lion, and cheetah, and elephant and buffalo frequently come down to the hippo-inhabited river to drink. But watching game in the bush is very different from sitting in front of your TV set, although your knowledgeable ranger will make it much easier. Ask questions-however dumb they may sound-and find out as much as possible about what you see. Although you will certainly see lots of game, it's important to remember that this is a wilderness area-no animal sighting can ever be guaranteed.

Cruise Shopping

In Maputo, African wax prints and woven fabrics can be found in the fabric shops along the Avenida de Guerra Popular, as well as the Central Market. There are wood carvings galore; look out for boxes, picture frames, and salad bowls and servers from curio vendors, and in the market you'll find exquisite little hand-carved wooden jewelry boxes, with lots of tiny individual drawers. Batik cloth, ranging from a multitude of crude animal designs to harder-to-find gloriously colored works of art, is also widely available.

In Swaziland, you can buy gaily printed cloths, wood carvings, baskets woven from banana leaves, dolls dressed in traditional Swazi garb, malachite bracelets, and Swazi drums in the Mbabane Craft Market. The Ngwenya Glass Factory, just outside Mbabane, uses recycled glass to create beautiful miniature African animals as well as tableware and glasses. At the Swazi Candle Factory stock up on colorful handmade candles which make great souvenirs and gifts. There are unique arts-and-crafts routes near Mbabane in the Ezulwini and Malkerns valleys, where you'll be welcomed into many workshops to see master craftspeople at work.

The camp shop at Lower Sabie camp in Kruger Park, is full of food and drink, interesting curios, bush clothes, and kids' stuff. Buy a bottle of Mampoer (the local moonshine) to keep you warm on those chilly nights on board.

Cruise Activities

Mozambique is famed for its water activities-some of the best in the world-but with only a day on shore, it's impractical, alas, to head out of Maputo to any of the more northern beach resorts that offer deep-sea diving, snorkeling, or game fishing.

You can go horseback riding in Swaziland-there are numerous riding schools near and around Mbabane, or trail riding in the mountains, but time will always be a serious constraint.

There is an international standard 18-hole championship golf course at The Royal Swazi Spa, just outside Mbabane in Swaziland.

Port Photo: Jenvan W/flickr