Planning our trip to Vilanculos for New Year’s Eve, I realized that there was not much up-to-date information around about getting there by public transport – so here is a detailed description of our bus trip from Beira to Vilanculos and back (travel dates December 2015/January 2016).
Vilanculos is a coastal town in the province of Inhambane and is located approximately halfway between Beira and Maputo. It is not directly located on the N1 – the main national road that connects the capital with the Zambezi valley in the North – , and buses going to Maputo will usually drop passengers for Vilanculos at Pambarra, where you can catch a Chapa to Vilanculos.
Many companies are serving the route Beira – Maputo. Usually, the easiest way to get information about departure times and ticket purchase would be to go to their local office in Beira in person. However, it was Christmas period, so I needed to find a way to arrange everything online – and LTM (Linhas Terrestres de Moçambique, the national bus company) offers such an option. However, you can only purchase tickets for the entire journey (Beira – Maputo) and tell the bus driver to drop you off in Pambarra. A single ticket cost about 30 Euros – there are certainly cheaper options, but given the comfort and the efficient organisation provided by LTM, I would say it is more than worth the price for a 500 km bus trip.
The bus departs at 3:55AM from the Petromoz petrol station on the Major Serpa Rua in Beira, but you have to be there one hour in advance. As safe as Beira is during the day, it’s out of question walking around in the middle of night, no matter how close you live. Make sure to arrange a taxi or Choupela to pick you up in front of your house. (The Choupela drivers usually know exactly where the LTM-buses depart and will drop you off without further explanation.)
Boarding started on time. I hadn’t been able to print the tickets, but the PDF on my mobile phone was absolutely fine. Upon check-in, I simply told the guy that was in charge of checking the tickets, that we would like to get off in Pambarra, he told us it was no problem and simply put a note about our drop-off destination on the passenger list.
The ride was very pleasant. Working air condition and toilets on board, and there was even a small breakfast package provided, including 500 ml of water.
The bus takes the standard route to the South – via Dondo to Inchope on the EN6, and then down on the N1. At the boarder between the provinces Sofala and Inhambane, there was a passport control where they also insisted on seeing my residence and work permit (DIRE), so make sure you have all your travel documents with you.
We arrived Pambarra, around 11:00AM – after 7 hours, less than expected. Finding the Chapa to Vilanculos isn’t a big deal – getting off the bus you should already see one or two of them waiting about 50 metres away. The ride is about 20 km, takes 45 minutes and costs us 40 Meticais per person. Be prepared for a real, authentic Chapa ride and don’t expect too much comfort or privacy in a mini-van packed with 25 people, but hey, that’s part of the game called travelling in Africa!
The Chapa stops in the center of Vilanculos, opposite the Barcley’s bank which seems to be a popular milestone / meeting point in town. From there, you can easily get around town by foot or Choupela (50 Meticais per ride).
To get back from Vilanculos to Beira, I booked again online on the LTM-site (and once again for the entire route Maputo – Beira) and called their Maputo office up front to let the agent know that we would be boarding in Pambarra. She told us to be there by 11:00, which seemed early, knowing that the bus would leave from Maputo at 3:55AM and the entire trip is said to take 17 hours. However, we did as she said, arrived in Pambarra and decided to simply have a breakfast beer at one of the bancas to keep an eye on the road. Pambarra is very easy-going, we actually enjoyed sitting there, just watching people and their daily routines.
Around 11:30, I received a phone call from the bus, telling us that they would be there in 15 minutes and we should get ready to be picked up – which was probably the most positive surprise of the day. No stressful observation of the road in order not to miss the bus, no worrying if the agent in Maputo had passed on the information correctly – thumbs up, LTM!
We got back to Beira around 19:15 – again almost 2 hours ahead of schedule, which means that the travel times are calculated generously and always leave a comfortable buffer.
All in all: Travelling with LTM – great experience, excellent and reliable organisation, would definitely do it again and can only recommend it. As mentionned above, there are cheaper options for sure, which might be slightly more adventurous at the same time – I may test them out in the future, or simply prefer the lazy, comfortable luxury of LTM.
P.S.: If you’re interested in our stay in Vilanculos, check out my post Water, Air, Wind and Fire.