We entered Malawi on 2nd August, 2018 through Kasumulu border.
2nd – 12th August, 2028 (DAY 31 – 41)
We are not the only ones who use this phrase “Malawi the warm heart of Africa”, many people do and there may be a book titled that too as well. The people of Malawi are very kind, welcoming and loving to everyone. The make the country earn this title.
Our last night in Tanzania was spent in Kasumulu (you can read all about our last night in Tanzania here) This was border no 5. Getting through immigration and getting passports stamped for both exit and entry has basically been the same process everywhere. What has varied so far is clearing the bikes at the customs.
What you need to know about the border crossing in Malawi.
All borders will demand to see your insurance. COMESA insurance is the easiest to have as it covers several countries down south to South Africa. It is best to purchase it before departure as this will save you a lot of time at the border. However, not all countries are covered and you need to check that when clearing your bike at the borders and purchase insurance for the country not covered at the border. It is illegal to drive without an insurance.
Malawi is covered by COMESA insurance but you have to pay “road access fee” of $20 per bike. This amount is only payable in dollars and you have to deposit it in the bank and present the deposit slip with the paperwork at the customs. The good thing is, the bank is in the same hall. There can be a long wait as everyone crossing the border with a vehicle has to go through the process. The bank is semi-automated and therefore each transaction takes a bit longer as most of the transaction involves quite some paperwork. There is a forex bureau right next to the building so if you don’t have dollars you can change some money there. And that means you have to have some cash on you as there is no ATM at the border. Same rules about dollar notes applies here, only dollar notes from 2006 will be accepted. We found a very helpful customs official who came to our rescue when our 50 dollar note was rejected as it was a 2004.
Another thing you need to know is, there is a bit of paper work at the Malawian border at the customs. Whether you have a carnet or not, you will be required to fill up some paper work. In essence, plan your time very well for early arrival and to allow for the paperwork and custom process.
RIDING THROUGH MALAWI
This is very important for everyone who plans to overland through Malawi. Riding or driving, please take time to read through this blog.
Malawi is very very beautiful no doubt about that. Lake Malawi is the main tourist attraction and therefore almost everyone will be using the M1, M5, M14 and M12 roads. We entered Malawi through the Kasumulu border coming from Tanzania.
FUEL AND CASH ACCESS.
From the border, the next town with a petrol station or ATM is Karonga and it is 45 kilometers from the border. Make sure you top up fuel in Kasumulu and get some cash as well. If you miss topping up fuel and cash at Kasumulu, you can top up in Karonga but it would be a risk for cash as ATM’s are down sometimes or won’t accept foreign bank cards.
From Karonga, the next town that you can find a petrol station and an ATM is Mzuzu which is 218 kms from Karonga. We did not have this information and we left Karonga without topping up fuel thinking there would be a petrol stations along the way and we could get more ullage in the tanks to take up more fuel. We also did not have enough cash on us and we had no idea what the costs are like. Our first two nights were going to be in Chitimba 160 kilometers before Mzuzu. We stayed at a really nice backpackers called Hakuna Matata, where we took up two beds in a dormitory. Fortunately or unfortunately, we were the only ones in the dormitory and so it was just like we had our own room. There were other travelers though in the rooms and we ended up making great friends and traveling together for some time. The owner Mr. Willies was really helpful and he helped us get some fuel from a local vendor that was very clean. No problems at all. There is always a way out ;).
After two nights at Hakuna Matata, we left heading for Nkatha Bay via Mzuzu. We had ran out of money too. We actually even owed the camp some money. We needed to get cash. Here is our other new experience. All Malawian banks will only dispense a maximum of 80,000 Kwacha (Kshs 10,600/-). Our daily budget so far is at Kshs 6,000/- (we are hoping to bring it down to Kshs 5,000). One maximum withdrawal only takes care of one day as we need fuel, accommodation and food. The other surprise was that most of the banks don’t accept foreign cards for withdrawal, only Malawi National Bank accepted all cards. The bright side of this is ATM withdrawals at Malawian National Bank cost ZERO. The ATM’s down time is also high and most of the time we would find ourselves waiting for a long time, or walking from one ATM to another hoping it’s working. Our first experience was in Mzuzu and we were stuck in the town for sometime but we eventually were able to get some money. Mzuzu is 50 kilometers from Nkhata Bay and therefore easy to ride to the ATM.
This remained the experience throughout Malawi and it is very very important to plan and budget well otherwise you ran out of cash and fuel with no access.
We also noted that most places do not accept credit/debit card payments. We were not able to pay for fuel using the cards at all and the only place we used the card was in Shoprite supermarket at Mzuzu and Lilongwe.
- Fill up your tanks and if possible carry reserve fuel depending on your route, distances and tank capacity.
- Carry enough cash at all time. Only cash payments in Malawi. Foreign currency (Dollars and Euros) are accepted in most camps but not in shops and fuel stations.
- Malawi National Bank is your best bet for ATM withdrawal but you may be lucky with others depending on your bank and type of card.
- All main roads are good tarmac other than a section after the border where the roads are being repaired. This should be done in a couple of months. Towards Mzuzu there is also a section with many potholes but doable.
- Most of the roads to the campsites are sandy with sections of deep sand. For bikers, you need the right tyres although we made it with street tyres. 4X4 vehicles are perfect for these roads.
BACK PACKING IN MALAWI.
There are some hotels along lake Malawi but we do not have the data at all. We never checked for hotels while planning our stay in Malawi. Reason being, they are beyond our budget. However, there are many lovely backpackers along Lake Malawi all the way from the North to South Malawi. Very affordable, awesome community and just the traveler heaven.
We have used dormitories, rooms with shared bathrooms as well as rooms with private showers. You can never compare the prices to those of hotels whatever choice you make. Backpackers are way cheaper and are just the perfect community, amazing family set up and the best way to meet people, make friends, exchange information about travel and have an absolutely good time.
We have made friends and continued to travel together. Some for a couple of places and others a couple of countries.
If you would like to follow our route, below is where we stayed.
CHITIMBA – HAKUNA MATATA CAMP
Hakuna Matata is a small camp site. What we loved about this place.
- The bathrooms are really nice and the designer put some good attention to details. The showers comes with a drying area which is well designed for all your items (a bench you can place your toilet bag and hooks for clothes and towel) The water is hot throughout the day. The sinks are well placed with mirrors and enough space as a shared bathroom.
- Cleanliness – the camp is very clean, rooms and compound alike. We stayed in the dorm. The dorm sleeps five and has single beds and no deckers.
- Warm and homely set up – Willies the owner of the camp hangs out with the guests and is very knowledgeable about the Malawi history as well as the rest of Africa. He will seat with guests over breakfast and dinner and gladly share information about Malawi and entire Africa. Just ask him anything and he knows something very helpful.
- Food – They have a small kitchen where you order food. They serve breakfast and dinner but if around for lunch, there is always someone to fix a light meal. Their food is freshly prepared and very delicious. Make sure to try the butter fish while there.
- Accessibility – The camp is about 1 kilometer from the main road. The road is a mix of shallow and deep sand. Our bikes have street tires and this was not easy, however, if you ride slowly you will make it in and out. We did, but the right tyres are better.
- Activities – Enjoy the view of the Malawi “table mountains” from the beach, the sunrise and sun set is really beautiful as well. Take a trip up the Livingstonia mountains to the Mushroom camp, museum and more.
BUTTERFLY SPACE – NKHATA BAY
Butterfly Space is build on a hill or can we call it a cliff ? It extends down to the lake. You have rooms and bathrooms on the cliff and down at the lake there is a nice bar with the most amazing music. Not forgetting the reception right in the middle and the kitchen with very delicious breakfast.
The pub is managed by young guys with an incredible collection of good music from all around the world. We actually borrowed some and they gladly shared. You also get to play a game of pool and Bao with them. Your nights will be spent listening to the sound of the waters of Lake Malawi hitting the stones as if to sing a lullaby for everyone.
The bathrooms and toilets are all compost since you can not build septic tanks on the cliff and they are eco friendly as they are keen on maintaining a clean lake and environment.
We traveled down with our friends from Hakuna Matata and made new friends at Butterfly space. We had some really fun nights at this camp till we extended our stay.
Access to Butterfly space is all tarmac. The only one we saw that was tarmac all the way.
We spent one night at Kande beach. We were unfortunate to be there when there were no other guests. Its really popular for over-landing trucks. A relatively modern camp. The road to the camp from the main road is mostly deep sand. If riding, please make sure you have the right tires. Otherwise, you will make it, we did.
COOL RUNNINGS – SALIMA (SENGA BAY)
Just like the name, this place is purely cool.
We spent two nights at Cool Runnings and met Samantha who runs this amazing cozy and very homely lodge. There are en-suit rooms, dormitories and camping available (both own tent and their tent). Talk of attention to details everywhere, this place has every bit of it well thought for your comfort. Very very beautiful we must say.
Samantha runs a number of community projects and has volunteers coming in from all over the world. The most amazing bit is that if you are staying there and would like to volunteer for a day or more, that is possible and very welcome. We decided to take a day and just volunteer. We ended up having such a great time with everyone and learning so much. We made more friends and loved this place a lot.
Accessibility – about 800 mtrs from the main road. Partly sandy road.
MABUYA CAMP – LILONGWE
Our stay in Malawi was sadly coming to an end. We were a bit behind schedule and we decided not to go down to Cape Maclear and Monkey Bay. Lilongwe was going to be our last town and stay in Malawi. We were here for two nights and stayed in a en-suit room. When we called to book, we were given the price of 30 USD per night but we got charged USD 45 a night which we were not happy about. The backpackers is conveniently located walking distance to town. We were able to walk to the shopping mall and do our shopping. It’s tarmac road all the way to the camp. There is a swimming pool, self catering, restaurant and a bar. Although located in town, you have everything within the backpackers and will not need to think of a night out in town not unless that’s really what you would like to do.
OUR FAMILY GREW IN MALAWI
We made the most friends in Malawi and have continued traveling together. Malawi is beautiful, incredible, indeed the warm heart of Africa and the connection country.
We loved Malawi, we left filled with so much love from everyone we met and we now have a big loving fun family.
WHAT TO DO IN LAKE MALAWI
- Snorkel and scuba
- Water sports
- Explore the villages
- Drink Malawi gin
- Soak in malawian warmth
- Eat lots of fish
- Try out the mice delicacy
We are looking forward to answering many questions because we know yo are already planning your trip to Malawi.