Overland Marathon: Mozambique to Tanzania

We’ve taken some crazy routes to get from point A to B (like our time hitching down Lesotho’s Sani Pass or our Malawi border run) but compared to our trip from Mozambique to Tanzania, they all seem like a seat in first class. When we consulted the all-knowing Google Maps for directions from Ibo Island to Zanzibar we couldn’t believe it was telling us to go due west across the entire country of Mozambique around Lake Malawi then drive back out to the coast of Tanzania (for a total journey of 1,618 miles). We were already on the water and Zanzibar was just 479 miles up the shore…it couldn’t be that hard, right? “Ehh, what does Google know anyway…” Those were the famous last words of what would become a four-day, 14-leg overland journey…the most epic and absurd in HoneyTrek history.

Mozambique to Tanzania

Mozambique border crossings

Just as we were starting to get cold feet about this journey into the unknown and contemplating an easy flight alternative, we met a gentleman on Ibo who had recently done the due-north overland route to Tanzania. With much trepidation and forewarning about the rough to non-existent roads, he wrote down every single transfer and the local’s rate we should haggle for. Without this piece of paper, we would have literally been lost.

Ibo dhow boats

Leg #1: Once the tide came in, we caught the first dhow boat to the mainland. Weighed down by ten too many people, our boat dragged its rudder along the ocean floor and mangrove roots for the better part of the journey to Tandonhague town.

travel to Ibo Island

Leg #2: The dhow can only get so close to shore without a dock so our options were to wade across with our luggage over our heads or get pulled ashore on the raft of this very entrepreneurial ten-year old.


Mozambique pickup truck transport

Leg # 3-4: From here all mzungu tourists were headed south in a van to the resort town of Pemba, except us (another sign that overland to Tanzania was not the wisest choice!). This converted pickup truck–souped up with two benches, a bamboo roof, and tarp walls–was our northern-bound chariot. We arrived to our second stop still brimming with energy and stuck our thumb out to hitchhike to the town of ADPP. Four hours later, after visits from the town drunk, a crazy man dancing with a broom, and a guy with the a neck goiter the size of a cantaloupe, the Catholic University of Mozambique utility truck gave us a ride.

Sleeping in Mud Homes mozambique

Using my best understanding of Spanish to piece together their Portuguese, the Catholic University employees said they weren’t going to make it as far as ADPP but that we could spend the night with them and they could take us in the morning. Being dark and with zero alternate options in sight, we gladly accepted. We pulled up to their friend’s mud-walled hut and sat outside in the rain as they decided where to put us. Next thing you know, the guest bed made of woven rattan and a thin mat on top was placed in their “foyer” for us. This room was under construction so it had a 6’x6′ pile of dirt in it and was partially open to the sky. We sat by the light of our kerosene lantern until we deemed it late enough to go to bed (8:30pm) then fell asleep to the sounds a mouse running along the perimeter of the roof and the dirt falling on us whenever he came our way. The whole thing was so absurd, at this point we had to laugh.

Riding Mozambique buses

Leg # 5-6: Already a day behind schedule, we were antsy to get started on our next leg to Mosimboa de Praia. According to our trusty sheet of paper, the next mode of transit was said to be the nicest and most official vehicle of the journey. We caught the fancy bus alright, but it broke down one hour into the four. Refunds aren’t really a thing in Africa so pleaded with the driver until he scored us standing room on his friend’s bus that was vaguely headed in our direction.

Hitchhiking in Mozambique via truck

Leg # 7: Our goal was to make it the Mozambique-Tanzania border by nightfall and it was already late afternoon with multiple hours ahead of us. An eighteen-wheeler full of bananas, rice, and people rolls by and instinctively we hop up and flag it down (who have we become?). Drivers in Africa almost always charges something for a hitchhike but impressed with our moxie, this one let us ride free.

Mozambique border crossing to Tanzania

Leg #8: Mosimboa de Praia is somewhat of a beach destination but mostly it is the last town before no-man’s-land Mozambique. Being two mzungus hanging out in the back of a banana big rig, we were quickly spotted as potential passengers for the crossing. A pickup starts to follow us shouting, “Frontera, frontera! Border, border! Come, come!” This would normally be shady (okay, it was still shady) but it seemed the best option as the sun was starting to go down. We hopped in thankful for a speedy transfer to the border, only to lap the town for another hour picking up more passengers, bags of rice, and crates of Rhino Gin…losing about three inches of leg room with every addition. The guys, above photo, were responsible for “overseeing” the gin shipment and testing for quality control with random sampling. With our bodies in a pretzel and face getting whipped with wind, the idea of hitting the bottle crossed our minds as well.

border crossing by boat to Tanzania

Leg #9-10: Four hours down a dirt road through Mozambique’s northernmost fringes, we arrived at the river separating the two countries. (With no bridge, we then realized why Google Maps doesn’t give driving directions.) The officials were just shutting down for the day and told us we better hurry if we wanted to catch the last boat to Tanzania. Leaky rowboats were the only way to cross the hippo-infested water but I was ready to pay top dollar to be on one. Mike on the other hand haggled until the the moment the captain was pushing off to settle on a price. Though I wanted to kill him at the time, I’m proud we got the local’s rate.

We made it to Tanzanian soil! But not so fast, their immigration office was totally dark and there was an angry-looking official waiting for us at the gate. He couldn’t just leave us here in limbo, could he? He lectured us in Portuguese then brought us in to process our papers. We were out of Mozambican meticais and we didn’t have any Tanzanian shillings, but U.S. Dollars always work for visa payments…if they were issued after the year 2000. Our weather-beaten 1996 bill was not going to cut it. Trying to come up with a solution, our quirky border guard kindly said he would go wrangle up a loan from our fellow passengers (was he serious?) while we waited in this office. We were waiting for an incredibly long time with nothing to do but flip through the immigration book he left on the table. Probably not approved, but we enjoyed browsing the list of fellow survivors of the Mozambique/Tanzania border.

Tanzanian Chapatis

Leg #11-12: Our loan-lender friend was also heading from Mtwapa, Tanzania to Dar es Salem so together we bought bus tickets for the following morning and found a cheap hotel for a few hours sleep. We set our alarm for 4am but woke up to a pounding knock on our door. Our friend noticed we weren’t up and the bus was leaving in 15 minutes. Apparently there is an hour time change between the two countries so if it wasn’t for him we would have missed the only bus of the day. Obrigado, amigo! Made it the ten hours to Dar and celebrated our arrival with a wonderful Swahili meal of pumpkin curry and chapati at the local restaurant, above.

Zanzibar from ferry

Leg 13-14: With one last mode of transit left on our four-day journey, we took a cab to the hour-long Zanzibar ferry. Our eyes nearly welled up with tears at the sight of such a milestone. It was a no easy task getting here, as this lengthy blog will attest, but we wouldn’t have traded the experience for a thing. A test of endurance and boundaries of our comfort zone, this journey showed us that anything is possible. We met an amazing cast of characters, saw scenery most people would never get to see, and most importantly we proved Google doesn’t know everything.

Do you think we are crazy, brave, or stupid for doing this? We’re still not sure.

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  1. Leah Messina on Facebook says:

    wow, amazing story guys! A little crazy, but totally incredible you did this – and got to your destination!!

  2. Rashaad Jorden says:

    I’ve used Google Maps before, but only for travel in the U.S. (I get the impression they don’t work very well for certain locales). But anyway… you two had some crazy but memorable experiences.

    I have a couple of questions…(a) how much did the 10-year old charge you for?
    (b) How was the bus ride from Mtwapa, Tanzania to Dar es Salem? Hopefully, it was comfortable.

    1. We have definitely been putting google maps to the test with the places we go but to get an overall sense of route and distance it has still been a pretty good tool. That little boy could buy lollipops for months with the 20 cents a head he was charging. As for the hot crowded bus ride up the unpaved road to Dar es Salem, I would take the banana truck any day.

  3. Kenneth Webster says:

    Brave! What a saga!

    ‘Love the parts about ‘Sleep’ in the itinerary.

  4. Brava!! Brava!! We are in NY braving the hurricane. Wish is was in Africa….

  5. David Carillet says:

    An enjoyable read, and an even better (and very memorable) experience I’m sure.

  6. Wow! If you survived that journey without killing each other, I think marriage will be a breeze 🙂 I’m on RTW trip #2 and I would have definitely opted for the easy flight! Would you have attempted what you did flying solo? Can’t wait to see how you liked Zanzibar. I have fond memories of Nungwi.

    1. Yes, this journey was definitely a good test of marriage. Lol. It sounds like you are a vet traveler (second RTW, that is awesome!) so you could probably handle this trip solo but normally I would not recommend it. It is way off the grid and relies on the help is strangers which is not always a good combo. With a buddy, as you said, the two of will be linked for life!

    2. Debbie, pretty much this entire trip has been the most amazing experience as a couple. Constantly learning to compromise, work together to accomplish things, set short and long term goals that accomplish both people’s dreams. We can’t recommend a trip like this (or anything over 2 months) to all new couples 🙂

      I don’t think we would attempt half of what we do flying solo. Being a team makes everything more fun.


  7. Amazing story and you survived to tell it! 🙂 I didn’t realize Portuguese was widely spoken there. Is French also spoken in those areas?

    1. We didn’t encounter any French only a few other coastal Swahili dialects. The Portuguese is definitely ingrained from the colonial days. Before it took the name Mozambique it was even called Portuguese East Africa!

  8. benjamin ojeda says:

    Hi guys, I found your post by chance looking for some other info. I’m the “Gentleman” who helped you with the “piece of paper”. I was the manager at Cinco Portas, in Ibo and for the info -including my living place in Bagamoyo and some other details…- . I’m glad you enjoyed the trip and arrived safe, I’ve done again last week joining to my new job running a lodge in Mocimboa da Praia -www.natalielodge.com-. Well… welcome again to Moçambique. Happy to know my info was helpful. Best regards,

  9. Benjamin, I’m so glad you chimed in! I’m not sure how we could have pulled off this journey (or if we would have even attempted it) without your incredible step-by-step guide. Is it always this crazy when you take this journey or was it just us ; ) ? I hope all is well with you and your new job in Mocimboa, take care!

  10. Great post guys, and what an awesome experience. Traveling overland is such a great way to experience the “real” Africa. I miss living there.

    1. Thanks, Brad! Overland travel in Africa–even though tough at times–was one of our favorite parts about our stay there. The people you meet, the stuff you see on the side of the road, the landscapes and just the slower pace makes you really soak it all in. So glad you got do the same while you were there!!

  11. Sounds awesome! we will be trying to do the same trip in reserve in a few weeks.. do you think it’s possible that way round too?!

    1. We like your gung-ho attitude! It was awesome but as you can tell, very slow and rough going. It should be possible to go in reverse. Where are you headed? The legs getting from Ibo Island to the main road to the TZ/MZ border was the hardest part but if you skip the islands and go direct between Mosimboa de Praia and Pemba that should be way easier. Another idea to make it more manageable would be spend a day or two in Mosimboa de Praia since it’s pleasant beach town and good half way mark. Or if you really want to save yourself time there is a plane once a week between Dar es Salem and Pemba, MZ for around $150. Best of luck and let us know how it all works out!!!

      1. We are actually headed to Ibo… and possibly Matemo – nothing firm booked yet! Unfortunately Cinco Portas is closed at the moment so looking for an alternative!
        Plane sounds v easy but your journey does sound fun (!); stop-over in Mosimboa de Praia is a great idea – thanks a lot for the advice, will let you know if we make it..

        1. can’t wait to hear your stories guys….you are going to have an awesome time! there will be alternatives, just get out there, there are ALWAYS homestays 🙂

      2. Mike, I am sorry that you travelled in such poor conditions but I do not want other tourist to imagine they all have to go through what you have gone through. If a backpacker leaves Ibo well documented and properly advised on the best way to go up north on a shoestring, the trip can be awesome and soooo much more simpler than what you have done. If you had asked anyone with a bit of experience of Ibo, you would probably have choosen a complete different route.

        My recommendation is going from Ibo to Pangane with a rented local dhow or using irregular chappa boats and do island hopping (Matemo, Rolas) with highly recommended overnight stay in Dade’s campsite. In Pangane, overnight in Suki’s place with nice cheap lobster dinner. On any following day, early departure to Mocimboa da Praia by public transport. Camp at Natalie’s, take a bath in the river mouth and enjoy a nice dinner. Early morning the following day (or the next), take a chappa to Mtwara (Tanzania).

        No night travel, no sleeping in improvised place, no problem at boarder crossing (or less). Alternatively, if the wind is from the North (october are changing winds), you can take the daily public boat from Ibo to the coastal towns of Ulumbua or Quirimisi (same boat), stay there overnight in a local pensao and continue the following day by road to Mocimboa da Praia.

        And I am tempted to add that it is common sense to carry out cash with you when you travel. Mocimboa da Praia has cash machine and it is common knowledge in east africa that bills prior to 2003 are not easily (or not at all) accepted.

        Hope this can help some less adventurous travellers.

        Lucie / Ibo

  12. Steven Adam Mecinski says:

    Hope this chat is still active!!?? I would like to know is it possible to drive with a 4×4 from Palma Mozamabique to Mtwara Tanzania??? Instead of going around to Unity bridge. Any info would be of great help. many thanks

    1. Steven Adam Mecinski says:

      We are traveling from Cape Town to Tanzania and back through central and then west coast. So any and as much info is greatly appreciated. Especially border crossing (procedures) and best tryed and tested routes?!!

      1. For border crossings, we almost got turned away at Mtwara because we didn’t have a new US crisp $100 bill to pay for our visa. Make sure whatever you pay with is in new and in good condition. Best of luck!

    2. I like this adventure you are on, well done! When we went in 2012 the road from Palma deadended at a river and to cross to Mtwara you take rowboat…so no bridge and no cars crossing. When we google maps it, it seemed really strange that they were sending us way west into Tanzania when it looked like a straight shot up the coast but when we got there we realized the road ends so for cars it was not possible.

  13. Oh a very nice article,I have become nostalgic,long back I used to cross Rovuma to enter Tanzania to buy best coffee Africa Coffee and then return,of course without papers,as I had lot of ‘cunhas’ or contacts.

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