Traveling through Malawi on a budget. Nkhotakota and Karonga (Tanzania border)

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

These two places in Malawi are just a break on the long way, because we had time and didn´t want to stay too many hours inside a crowded public van.
Nkhotakota and Karonga are two big commercial towns,  with crowded markets. Good places to see the life of Malawi´s towns.
Here we share some information about transport and cheap accommodation (easy to find cheap and good local lodges).

Note: there are direct buses from Lilongwe via Mzuzu to Tanzania (Mbeya-Iringa-Dar Es Salaam). In total it´s 1.500 km.... a very long ride!


Just a stop to break the long way from Senga/Salima to Nkhata Bay (320 km). With bus+van+van it took us more than 8 h adn cost 4.000 K (8€).

Nkhotakota is 100 km north of Salima.

Public Transport in Nkhotakota:

Bus AXA (old) from Salima to Nkhotakota
Price: 1.000 K, 2h30, a few stops. Coming from Lilongwe. Passing Salima around 12:30.

If not, many vans, departure when full (a bit more expensive).

Vans :
- From Nkhotakota to Nkhata Bay: not too many direct ones (also very few do Salima to Nkhata). So you will have to take different vans and transfer.
- From Nkhotakota to Dwangwa. 1.000 K, 2 h.
- From Dwanga to Nkhata. 2.000 K, 3 h. 
Departure when full, too many stops! In total, around 6 h (waiting time fro transfer was long) from Nkhotakota to Nkhata!
There´sno bus station in Nkhotakota, vans and buses stop on the main road.

Port in Nkhotakota:
It´s an important port on Malawi Lake. 4 km from the center.
Boats to Likoma. Not a fixed schedule as not aways same boats working.
You will need a taxi or bicycle taxi if you dont want to walk.

Cheap accommodation in Nkhotakota:

As the town is very commercial and on the main road, there are a few local lodges, around a yard. Correct, most of them around the main road, just a few minutes walk.

We stayed at Thokozire Lodge (just north, on the right, passing the market, near Pick´n Pay II).
Price: 4.000 K (8€)/double room (3.000 single) with wc. Very cheap but quite noisy, as many workers leave the cars in the yard, wake up early and turn on the engines for a while.
Note: this is what you pay for a dorm in a tourist camp in Malawi... Local lodges are really cheap!

Food&drinks in Nkhotakota:
Just a basic supermarket (crossroads) and small shops and crowded market (quite well supplied).
Not too many restautants outside the local lodges. 
We ate at our lodge. Dishes from 1.000 K. Cheap, big and good. Nice staff.
Note: here you realize how expensive is the food in the tourist lodges in Malawi, charging more than double...

Services in Nkhotakota:
2 Banks with ATM, but not always working with international cards. Bring enough cash!


Just 45 km south of Songwe border (Tanzania-Malawi) and around 150 km from Mbeya (Tanzania) and 230 km north of Mzuzu (3rd town in Malawi).
A bit more organised than other Malawi towns, here there are streets, a real market and a bus station.

Public Transport in Karonga:

Van from Mzuzu to Karonga, 4 h, 2.500 K. Departure when full. Many stops.
The vans continue to Tanzania border.
Also a few buses a day (AXA) from Mzuzu.

Van from Karonga to Songwe-Tanzania border : 1 h, 500 K. Departure when full.

Cheap accommodation in Karonga:

A few local lodges in town and the surrounds.

We stayed at Karonga District Council: Price: 3.000 K (6€)/double room with wc. 
Basic but correct. Just a few minutes walking south of the bus station (follow the street going to the museum and then turn in the small gravel street with Pacific Lodge sign).

You find banks, also for international cards (Standart Bank).
To exchange money, you have many street changers on the street in front of the banks.

Very few local restaurants, most of them at the bus station. Correct, it´s where we eat.
Shops, supermarkets and a big market. 


Here some information, but we didn´t stay in Muzu and didn´t stop on the way to Karonga.

Mzuzu: the 3rd town of Malawi, but it just looks like a big rural town. Nothing to stop you there. Accommodation, shops, banks.

Rhumpi- Nyika NP: access from Rhumpi (main road, 65 km north of Mzuzu), then head 120 km north (remote, difficult by public transport). Fee 10$.

Popular place between foreigners.
You have to stop in Chitimba (main road, 130 km north of Mzuzu and 90 km south of Karonga). 
There are many Livingstonia in Malawi but this one, 18 km up in the mountains over the lake, is a tourist spot. With a couple of lodges and the views. Very little transport up there (and they will try to charge you quite a lot), many people walk up (5 hours at least following a road!). 
At the crossroad, there are just a few shops and accommodation at African Teacher, a simple lodge just on the main road. Yyou can always try to let your big bag there if walking up.
A couple of km north of the crossroad, heading 1 km more to the lake shore, you can find Akuna Matata and Chitimba Lodge/Campsite. Long sandy beach.  No village, small population in this dry area.
Up in the mountains, you find 2 lodges, Mushroom Farm and Lukwe Camp, but not in Livingstonia village itself, a few km before. And also a few local cheap places in Livingstonia (there´s a university there).
We saw the views and the mountains from the main road, when going down north of Mzuzu. The landscape is OK, but we didn´t find the views so magical. And we didn´t feel like walking so many hours and of staying in the middle of nowhere… So we head north to Karonga.