Malawi – Minivans, Mayhem and Malaria


On 28 December 2010 we crossed the border from Tanzania into Malawi.

Border Crossing – Tanzania to Malawi
Guys on motorbikes will take you from Tanzania to the Malawi border. After getting stamped into Malawi, waiting taxis will take you to Karonga about 40 minutes away, maybe longer depending on how many roadblocks you encounter. There was 7 passengers plus driver crammed into our taxi.

The Malawi border taxi dropped us at the bus station in Karonga. It was chaos with minivan hassling us to go in their vans to Mzuzu. We decided to take the bus to Mzuzu.

The bus dropped us at the bus station in the centre of town. We stayed at the CCAP William Koyi Guest House which is quiet, cheap and centrally located. We stayed a couple of days while we got cashed up before going to Nkhata Bay as the guide book said there was nowhere to get money (but there is).

Nkhata Bay
We caught a minivan to Nkhata Bay. We stayed in the new air conditioned rondavels at the Chikale Beach Resort which has a reasonably priced restaurant. We also had a couple of meals at the restaurant at the Njaya Lodge up the hill. While the guide books tend to rave about Njaya Lodge accommodation, it is basic at best. Chikale Beach is about a 40 minute walk to Nkhata Bay. Best to take a taxi when arriving and departing with luggage. The water at Chikale Beach is warm, clear and clean with a nice sandy beach with no small snails like we encountered at Cape Maclear. There is an ATM at Nkhata Bay.

Senga Bay
Why Senga Bay is referred to as a beach resort area is beyond us. Nhkata Bay and Cape Maclear are so much better. We stayed 1 night at Wamwai Beach Lodge in a hot room (shared facilities) with a clunky fan. It is right beside the fishing village and the area is very busy with a beach that is dirty with lots of rubbish. The accommodation is very spread out over several kilometres and there is only local bicycle taxis. If we had known what it would be like, we would have stayed on the bus. The bus depot is at Salima and from there you have to take a single cab utility (about 30 minutes) to the Senga Bay area.

We ended up spending a night in Liwonde twice. Both times by accident and not by design, thanks to the minivan drivers. There is nothing here apart from a transport hub and the Liwonde National Park. As we had been to the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania this was of no interest to us.

We caught a minivan from Liwonde with a sign to Monkey Bay. Surprise! It was only going as far as Mangochi. The driver told us to change and said the single cab utility would take us to Monkey Bay and it was only a 5klm drive. We climbed into the back of the packed utility. Just after leaving town I noticed a road sign displaying it was 60klms to Monkey Bay! We had to stand in the hot sun all the way and the woman next to us had a hessian bag of wet fish which was oozing smelly gunk onto the floor.

Monkey Bay
All transport terminates here. It is a small dusty town of no interest. From here you catch a single cab utility to Cape Maclear which takes about 30 minutes over a bumpy road.

Cape Maclear
We spent a few relaxing days at Mgoza Lodge which has a few ensuite cabins facing the beach and is peaceful. The owners are very nice and the food they serve is good too. Despite taking our malaria medication Gavin unfortunately caught malaria. The owner sent Gavin to the local clinic which is staffed with European doctors who gave him specific antibiotics which cleared up the malaria within 3 days. We noticed the shoreline was covered with thousands of tiny snails which were constantly being washed ashore and decided not to go into the water.

Border Crossing – Malawi to Mozambique
Despite signs saying the minivans goes from Liwonde to the Mozambique border they will only take you to Mwanza. From there you have to take a 2nd minivan to Zobue on the border. In Zobue guys with cars will take you to the Mozambique border post for a small fee (they wait while you get stamped out of Malawi). The distance between the 2 border posts is about 8klms. Just before you reach the Mozambique border post, the car will pick up a money changer. The guy gave us a good rate as Gavin had checked the internet for the current exchange rate.

To avoid the hassles we had with minivan drivers, take the bus whenever you can (sometimes this is not possible). You may have to wait around but believe me it is far better as it will actually take you to where you want to go!

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