How to get from Maputo – Tofo : My take on Fatimah’s Shuttle Bus
Tofo beach is popular in Mozambique for diving. It is almost natural for travellers to travel from Maputo (the capital of Mozambique) to Tofo as part of their itinerary for exploring Mozambique. However, Tofo is not a stone’s throw away from Maputo. It is situated 450kms north of Maputo and takes around 8-10 hours by bus.
There are a few ways to get to Tofo.
The closest main city to Tofo is the city of Inhambane, about 20kms from Tofo. There is an international airport in Inhambane and there are daily flights from Johannesburg and Maputo to Inhambane.
Alternatively, one can fly to Vilankulos which is a 4 hours drive from Tofo.
However, this option is pretty costly as compared to buses.
There are 2 main ways of getting from Maputo to Tofo beach by road other than driving there. On average, the whole trip should cost less than 900 Metz (15 USD). It can be as cheap as 8 USD if you do it right.
By Public Transport
Maputo to Inhambane
There are local buses from Maputo to Inhambane operate daily. This to me, is the best option to travel from Maputo to Tofo.
Here are the steps.
- From Maputo, you have to make your way to the local Junta (main bus station) which is around 7km off Maputo in the early morning by 6am. Take a taxi there, it should not cost more than 250 Metz in the morning. Pre-booking or calling the taxi in the morning is the safest. You could call Marcelo Cab.
- Hop onto the local bus to Inhambane.
- Wait for it to fill up
- The journey will start when it is full, like totally full usually it leaves at 7-8am.
- It takes around 7-8 hours from Maputo to Inhambane, assuming nothing happens (no breakdowns, police stops etc)
- Get a Chappa/Tuk Tuk from Inhambane to Tofo. It takes around 45 minutes.
There are a variety of local public transport types to get there. As it is a long journey to Inhambane, most of the buses leave in the morning. There is a very low chance of you hopping on a bus to Inhambane in the afternoon! So make sure to get to the Juta before 7 am. 6 am would be a good timing and 5 am is just to get good seats.
A normal Chappa or minibus should cost around 300-400 Metz to get to Inhambane. There are no fixed prices because of how the transport system works there. It depends on the vehicles and the driver/conductor running it.
* Tip: The best seats in a minibus are behind the driver (if you are a couple) or beside the driver! This is so that you wouldn’t be bothered by people entering in and out and won’t be squeezed by others! If you are a solo traveller, hop into the seat beside the driver.
One of the more popular and newer big buses is called Etrago. Ignore the word VIP, they are stapled on almost every bus service in Africa, but this Etrago does certainly look better than others.
The Etrago bus apparently leaves at 5 am and 10 am every day from Etrago office near the Junta. I have never taken it so I can’t confirm that. Don’t worry if you miss that, there are other buses in the Junta (bus terminal) in Maputo. It cost 800 METZ (~13 USD) to get to Inhambane.
From Inhambane to Tofo
A Chappa cost around 30-45 Metz (0.50 USD) to Tofo, depending on which Chappa. A tuk-tuk is more expensive as it is private, around 300-400 Metz (~5USD). Sometimes, there might be the big bus to Tofo but I think it only goes once a day and in the morning most of the time.
By Shuttle Bus
The word ‘shuttle bus’ here is just a concept of an ‘organized transfer’. There are varying amount of prices and types of vehicles used by the different companies. For a direct hire, some of the accommodation or diving companies in tofo charge around 200-300 USD/Euros. That is extremely crazy. Please do not do that unless you have a lot of money. If you choose to do that, donate to me instead. You could pay a lot less by first going to a petrol station, finding a nice vehicle and paying the guy to bring you to Tofo. Alternatively is ask any taxi driver. They would be more than willing to earn 100 USD for a trip to Tofo and back.
There is a bus tour operator called Tours2Moz who do regular journeys between South Africa and Mozambique. They ply the route every Thursday from South Africa side, Pretoria/Johannesburg all the way to Tofo and a return trip on Tuesday. Although they are a lot more costly, they are very direct and comfortable. For example, a trip from Maputo to Tofo on Thursdays is 800 Rand (67 USD). It is slightly cheaper than hiring your own transport.
The vehicle quality is extremely good, with airconditioning that it cannot be called in the same vein as a shuttle bus like Fatimah’s shuttle. We used Tours2Moz for the trip from Tofo to Nelspruit.
Fatimah’s shuttle bus is one of the most common ways. You will read and hear about it all over the internet. This is because of the very few accommodation options in Maputo. Most of the backpackers like to stay there and they also have another backpackers in Tofo. This link-up makes it easy for backpackers to cover both Maputo and Tofo together. I did not stay in Fatimah’s as I had a couchsurfer and I am not particularly interested in the party lifestyle that seemed to be advocated or emphasised in the Fatimah’s. Make your own informed decision whether to stay there, but I would say try to couchsurf if possible it will be better.
The more important thing about Fatimah’s is their “shuttle service”. They offer a “shuttle service”, which means a direct transport from their backpacker’s hostel in Maputo to their hostel in Tofo. This makes it easy for travellers as one does not need to change in Inhambane and worry about the cost, negotiation or how to get around.
However, their shuttle is essentially the same as taking a Chappa from the Junta with the exception of them providing a service from Inhambane to Tofo. Fatimah’s shuttle does not use their own buses.
To quote them :
“Between our 2 places we do work with local buses, please note that they are not our buses, they belong to the Mozambique Public Transport Association, please do check in attach for some info on them.
Leaves everyday from our doors Maputo at 05.00am – most be at our door at 04.45am – trip can take 8 – 12 hours, depending if it’s full from our doors or has to go back to main bus station & traffic
Tofo at 04.00am – most be at our door 03.45am – trip it’s faster, can take 8 – 10 hours, depending on traffic
Price at the moment is 900,00Meticais, person one-way, and to confirm you just have to pay day before departure at Fatima’s reception. Price can change without prior notice.”
Therefore, the only value they have is the journey from Inhambane to Tofo.
Based on my experience and how I analyze the transport system in Mozambique, I would advise NOT to take the Fatimah Shuttle unless you have booked accommodation with them in both Maputo and Tofo or are too lazy to bother.
My experience with Fatimah’s shuttle
I had decided to go with taking Fatimah’s shuttle instead of finding my way there at the Junta even though it almost the same because I was lazy to transfer twice. I thought I could just sit on the bus the whole day.
When I was doing my research, I had read up on a few complaints about Fatimah’s shuttle.
These were some of the main complaints.
- The wait at the Junta(Bus Station) for 2-3 hours while it fills up.
- The bus was too cramped, with everyone squeezing and sometimes with livestock like chickens etc
- They use illegal drivers.
- They did not send people all the way to Tofo, but stopped at Inhambane and left them there.
I wasn’t fazed by this. Waiting was fine and bus being cramped sounds like some spoilt brat problem. I feel that many Westerners face more of this issues and are more alarmed by it because their transport systems are better developed and more comfortable. However, just look at South-East Asia transport or India and it is not so uncommon. The illegal/legal driver thing seems pretty common in developing countries anyway so I was not surprised that it happens in Africa. What were the chances of them sending people only to Inhambane when they do this shuttle service everyday?
All in all, I expected points 1 and 2, but not points 3 or 4 to affect me.
Well, things have a way of biting you when you think about it.
We took an early morning taxi to Fatimah’s backpackers. It was pretty much empty, with around 5 other backpackers getting into the same bus. It was pretty much on time we had waited for around another 2 hours as expected for the bus to fill up By 7. I thought, alright, we are finally leaving, we would reach Tofo on time in the afternoon. Maybe I might be able to do an afternoon dive in Tofo to save time.
The engine revved up and we rolled a few metres before stopping. There was something wrong with the tire. What a start to our journey.
Another half an hour passes before we finally get to move amidst all the shouting, noise and bustle of the bus station. It was quite chaotic and I was quite glad to be stuck in my seat.
I try to close my eyes for a nap. It was going to be a long journey.
It was a very short nap, unfortunately. I woke up half an hour later because the bus had stopped for some time.
Everybody on the bus was waiting patiently. It looked like a typical police inspection as the driver got out of the vehicle again. Nothing much, just needed to show some documents and we are off to go.
That was what I assumed.
The driver came back, switched off the engine and went out again.
We waited, and waited.
The driver still wasn’t bad, the bus still ain’t moving. 10 am, 11 am. Time passed like the perspiration trickling down my body. It was getting really hot on the bus as it reached noon. We are still in Maputo despite having been on the bus since 5 am.
I got out of the bus, what the hell is happening?
A long line of buses was stopped too. Apparently, our drivers were not properly “licensed”. It wasn’t just our bus, there were quite a few vehicles stopped too. After some discussions with the locals on the bus, I surmised that the police were either stopping vehicles based on route or stopping random vehicles. The driver/conductor of our transport mentioned that because of a serious accident recently, a big-shot is here today and demanding strict inspections.
I thought initially it was something as simple as the police stopping vehicles because they wanted “coffee money”. Just pay them and we can get moving. Moreover, we were not really a tourist bus. Most of the people on our bus were locals, as well as the other buses. Were they trying to rip their locals off too?
At this point, I was ready to hitch-hike or switch to another bus on the way to Inhambane. However, our bags were on the bus and the bus keys were with the police.
The people from the other vehicles started to stream out too. As we all waited under the scorching sun, people started to get really angry. Heat definitely contributes to impatience. They were shouting and gathering outside the station. I got a taste of how mobs and riots start. You just need a spark. One angry guy who riles up the other passive people and suddenly it turns into an angry mob. It went from zero to a hundred really quickly.
A huge wave of anger threatened to swallow the police station. I stood a distance away, wondering if I should capture this. Was this going to turn bloody in Mozambique? One of the officers actually came out with a gun and threatened to fight. The other police officers noticed us (foreigners) and told him to calm down. I wondered if our presence made it less hostile because they were afraid of creating a negative image or them being recorded on camera. We were that close to a riot.
Maybe it did because the crowd calmed down and people dispersed. There were still no answers. Apparently, it was the bus that was not properly registered. Another person said that it was the driver that was illegal. I would say that it was just the police trying to create problems. Either way, another bus had to come from Maputo.
The police chief actually came over to talk to us. We all had to gather and he was talking in an extremely agitated loud voice, almost shouting as he eyed us (the foreigners). He commented on the driver’s footwear, who at that time was wearing slippers. I obviously had no idea what he was talking about but seeing his actions, I guessed it was about how unprofessional the driver was.
I had a quick glance at another local and we both smirked and laughed when I caught her rolling her eyes.
It definitely felt like he was just asserting his power and ego.
After a while, he seemed to have cooled down having expanded most of his saliva. He seemed to suggest he was going to let us go and give us chance. We re-boarded the bus and everybody cheered. We were ready to go.
We waited once again. This time, I was incredulous. What was happening now?
We had to alight and get onto another bus. Oh no our seats, we scrambled on board trying to ensure we got the good seats again. The police chief came over once more to receive another set of self-praise. I actually had no idea. He was talking again, and everyone had to agree and clap for him.
This time, we were finally ready to go. The driver got out to confirm his set of documents. What were another 10 minutes of waiting after waiting for 7 hours?
We finally started moving at around noon. It has been 7 hours since we got on the bus and we were finally getting out of Maputo.
By the time we reached Imbahane, it was 7 pm and dark. We had to change one more time into another vehicle to get into Tofo.
My ass started to hurt from sitting for too long. We haven’t eaten anything for the whole day. As hunger and fatigue from simply being on the road engulfed me, we finally reached Tofo Fatimah’s backpackers, at a record time of 8 pm.
I got a beer. I deserve it. That concludes my “excellent experience” with Fatimah’s shuttle.
If I could turn back time, would I take Fatimah’s Shuttle again? No, I wouldn’t.
The reason isn’t that of my “bad experience”. This bad experience could happen even if I took the Etrago. Vehicle breakdowns and police stops are pretty much expected to be part of your travelling journey in Mozambique, or in Africa by extension.
The real reason why I discourage anyone to take Fatimah’s shuttle is that the value simply isn’t there. I had assumed the vehicle would be a better condition and the drivers more prepared because they should be used to dealing with tourists.
That was however untrue as it was the same as going to the Junta to get a minibus to Tofo.
In fact, I could have woken up later and gone to the Junta myself and boarded the same Fatimah’s Shuttle.
Therefore, the option with the most value would be to get to the Junta yourself and take any public transport to Inhambane. Please choose a big bus and check the condition of the vehicle. If you wish for more comfort, choose Etrago.
After which, take a chappa from Inhambane to Tofo. It would be a lot cheaper and faster most of the time, barring standard African delays.
Here are some useful sites for Maputo and Tofo