Malawi for independent travellers. Nkhata Bay

We went to Malawi in February 2015, during a complete trip,
8 months, through Southern and Eastern Africa.

NKHATA BAY is a hilly corner of the lake, with small creeks (don´t expect beaches).
It´s a very popular place for foreign travellers, calm, a good place to relax, with lodges-camps with lake views (where they stay). 
Local life in the village (market), but a little bit dirty.

Sorry, but we didn´t like so much the place... the lanscape is not so special (too much erosion) and the shores of the lake are just OK. Not too much to do, just swiming if the water is clear.

   Public Transport in Nkhata Bay  

Many vans Nkhata to Mzuzu (1.000K, 1h30), the 45 km long road is full of potholes.
Also shared taxis, a bit more expensive.
Bus Lilongwe - Nkhata Bay
It´s shorter taking the Mzuzu road, upper road, than travelling around the lake. 
AXA buses or minibuses from Mzuzu to Lilongwe (6-7 h, 350 km).

For northern transport, you need to go to Mzuzu. 
Van Mzuzu - Karonga: 4 h, 2.500 K.
Van Mzuzu - Border: 5 h-6h (via Karonga), 3.000 K.

Travelling south close to the lake, thera are few buses, many vans going mostly from Nkhata to Dwanga (2.000 K, 4 h). And just a few continue to Nkhtakota and Salima. So expect transfers and long travel time (for exemple, Nkhata to Senga will be around 9 hours!). Ask around.

Port at Nkhata Bay:

No fixed schedule as not always the same boats are working. But usually there´s always a boat heading to Likoma island (around 4-5 h and 3.000 K), at least a few times a week.
January 2015, Ilhala ferry is under repair. Kamenja boat, small wooden boat is working.
You will have to get to the port and ask for the exact information. To have an idea in advance, you can always try to contact the camps in Nkhata or Likoma.

   Cheap accommodation at Nkhata Bay  

There are a few camps, around different creeks, most of them a couple of km south of the center. Similar camps, quite basic and rustic, backpacker´s style, on steep slopes facing the lake. More or less reggae or retreat- yoga atmosphere. Prices tend to get higher year by year...
All say “free wifi” but internet doesn´t work in Nkhata!

One (Big Blue) is just up the center (you can always check it first and it´s the cheapest and not the worst). Then Mayoka and Butterfly are  2 km south (steep access), very popular cause restaurant, activities, but getting no so cheap and the rooms are not direct in the lake like in Big Blue.

Big Blue Backpackers:
It´s where we stayed. Camping:  2.000 K /pp
Dorm bed:  2.500 - 3.000 K/ pp
Room from: 6.000 K/room , shared WC.
It´s the cheapest camp, closer to the center but really calm.
As it was low season, we negotiated a room for 5.000 K (double), a simple bamboo bungalow on the lake.

Very basic, clean enough. 
Free wifi but not working! You could pay with bank card but it was not working! 
The place was calm (at least in January), not many tourits and nice enough, central and cheap! And you get a free kayak!
Very central, it´s just a few minutes walking north of the center and bus stop (you can ask to be drop off there when going down to Nkhata). 

Other camps, a little bit far from the center (2 km south):

Mayoka Village.
Camping:  2.300 K/ pp or 5 $/pp
Dorm bed:  4.600 K/ pp or 10$ and 5.520 K or 12 $ K/pp 
Twin chalet: 6.900 K/ pp or 17 $/pp
+ 1% levy!!!
We found the prices quite expensive! More compared with Big Blue.
Many people stay here, very popular. Good place if you want to meet travellers. 2 km south, free transport from the center- bus stop, steep road to get there. 
Nice terrace and access to the lake (swim), the rooms are quite wet in the "jungle".
Butterfly Space (just next door to Mayoka).
Cheaper than Mayoka, less maintened (wet, jungle).
Camping:  1.500 K/ pp
Dorm bed:  2.500 K/pp
Room from: 5.000 K/pp 

   Food & drinks in Nkhata Bay  

No options if you don´t want to eat at the tourist restaurants.
Just a basic supermarket, a few small shops, simple market and stalls. Some snacks. Not too much fish (Nkhata is not a fishermen place).
Local restaurants are limited, very dark and drinking places around the center.
Food at the backpackers lodges is quite expensive (dishes around 3.000 K-6 €) and also at a few tourist restaurants around.

   Services at Nkhata Bay  

There are 3 ATMs but only one accepts Visa cards and not always working well with international cards. Bring enough cash… if not you will have to go to Mzuzu (50 km away) or try to change some money in the street or lodges.

  • Take a kayak (for free in Big Blue Backpackers, we don´t know in other lodges) and go to the different bays. Nice plan, the water is clear, no bilharzia problem (but ask in case).
  • Walk around the bays. Hilly creeks, not to much sand around, but different bays (around 4 km spread out). The “beach” is south, at the end of the road (4 km south from the center).

  • See the local life at the center of the village. Bus stop and market lay at the first northern bay, so this bay is not the best to swim (dirty and there´s also a muddy river). 
  •  Handicraft shops. On the road going to Mayoka-Butterfly there are more and more small shops. Souvenirs.
  • Relax! In fact, not too much to do in Nkhata. 


If you are looking for sandy beaches in this norther part of Malawi, don´t expect them in Nhkata (here it´s rocky) but Chinteche is the right place, with Kande Beach.
It´s 40 km south of Nhkata Bay, on the main road (public vans).
There are a few camps spread out on several km on the shores of the lake (a few km off the main road).

You find shops, market in Chinteche.


Small islands of Malawi but on the Mozambique side of the lake. They say very nice sandy and rocky beaches.
If planning to go to Mozambique there´s a border here, crossing the lake to Cobue or Metangula (boats).
Boats from Nkhata Bay or Nkhotakota.
Cheap accommodation: Mango Drift and Ulisa Bay Lodge (Likoma), Wakwenda Retreat (Chizimulu).

Note: it was our plan going there and then Mozambique but the floodings and bad roads conditions made us change our mind... and move quicker to Tanzania and enjoy Zanzibar without rain. 
So we didn´t finally go!


Kasungu, Ntchisi and Viphya. Limited public transport there, specially to get to camps.