There are some cities which are instantly familiar even if you have never visited them before and they are in far away and exotic locations. If you are Eurocentric or travelled around the Mediterranean basin or the South American coastline, you would immediately feel at home in Maputo.
The Portuguese created a home from home and a flagship city for their colonial empire. Wide sweeping boulevards and gracious civic and domestic architecture abound. Interestingly enough, they kept on developing the city right until they departed in 1975 and consequently there are many examples of the 1950s, 60s and 70s buildings. Mozambique then embarked on a destructive civil war which finally ended with a lasting peace in the mid-1990s.
The city today is a vital, bustling metropolis. The economic boom is pumping money and development into Maputo as never before. Twenty years ago, it could have been mistaken as a copy of Havana with decaying and collapsing buildings everywhere you look. No longer. The gracious buildings remain of course. Gustav Eifel of Tower fame designed the rather beautiful central railway station and a rather peculiar building, an all steel residence built for the governor. Whether Eifel ever visited this tropical city I do not know but I presume he hadn't otherwise he would not have designed a heat trap of monumental proportions. The governor never moved in but the building survives, a monument to man's ingenuity and stupidity.
The central market exists and vibrates in its original colonial structure. The spices, nuts, fish and meat of Africa are on offer mixed in with the pleasant and not so pleasant odours. Groundnuts, especially cashews are extremely cheap and I always grab a kilo or two when I have time. In Portuguese days, the hotel to be seen was the Polana. It remains to this day a grand example of colonial architecture and was visited by every head of state and VIP. It's recent revamp has made it slightly blander, in an international Hilton style, but still well worth the visit even if it's just to enjoy a drink on the terrace.
During the days you can wander the streets and savour the atmosphere. At night, the city comes alive. In the Brazilian tradition, there is an ease with which cultures have fused together and people mix. The cultural mix best expresses itself in a sort of Afro-jazz. If you enjoy this type of music, head to Chez Rangel at the railway station and lose yourself in the moment.
Maputo is a success story. Sure, there is poverty but the legacy of its architectural history and the kindness of its people ensure that this is a city which you will return to.
What to do in Maputo