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Nkhata Bay

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Northern Malawi : Nkhata Bay
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Nkhata Bay is a small, bustling fishing village about 50 kilometers from Mzuzu. Straddling the steep, verdant mountains of Malawi's rift valley, Nkhata Bay overlooks the lake like a lord overlooks his manor.

The town is home to the Tonga people who are famed for their love of fine dressing — it's common to see older men dressed in full suits with Homburg hats, spats and canes!


Get in[edit]

You can reach Nkhata Bay from the South via the Lakeshore road or west from Mzuzu, by minibus. The winding, scenic, hour and a half trip from Mzuzu costs about $4 on a minibus or $20 by taxi. There are regular buses from Blantyre and Lilongwe. There is no road access to the North.

The Ilala ferry arrives in Nkhata bay from the south of the lake on Sunday nights, docking until Monday mornings so you can sleep on the deck and save a night's accomodation.

There are flights from Lilongwe to Mzuzu once or twice a week.

Get around[edit]

Nkhata Bay is fairly small and walkable. Alternatively, you can hire a water taxi to take you from one end of the village to the other; this is also a neat way to see the coastline. Most of the hostels and hotels also have vehicles and you can usually hitch a ride when they head into town for supplies.

See[edit][add listing]

  • The Lake is what Nkhata Bay is all about. There is only one beach at Chikale which is a gentle 20 minute walk from the town.
  • One of the must sees of Nkhata Bay is the feeding of the fish eagle which lives high up on the cliff face south of Njaya Lodge. Trips can be organised by any of the lodges.
  • If you have a vehicle at your disposal, you should visit the huge Kawalazi coffee plantation located roughly half-way between Mzuzu and Nkhata Bay (as you travel towards Nkhata Bay, there's a small sign on your right). The manager is very friendly, and he's happy to take you around and show you how the plantation runs. The countryside around the plantation is also worth exploring if you want a break from the lake.
  • The rubber and tea plantation at Chombe and research farms dot the land between Nkhata Bay and Mzuzu; hiring a bike is the best way to explore these.

Do[edit][add listing]

  • Aqua Africa, +265 (0)1 352 284, [1] is a PADI certified dive shop on the north side of the bay. They offer cheap single dives and courses up to Divemaster, a good way to experience fresh-water diving in the lake. Single dives from $45, open water course $375.
  • Most of the lodges can arrange other day trips to points around the lake, and rent out fins, masks, kayaks and more.
  • The mouth-breeding cichlid fishes are fascinating and represent the most diverse vertebrate radiation in the history of the earth.

Buy[edit][add listing]

  • MAMA MALAWI is a so called non-profit-shop, means all profit goes to women groups who produce everything you can buy there. check out the handbags, clothes and many other things or just enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and a nice chat with the ladies. It´s a great opportunity for travelers to volunteer, for more information contact Dani at Kaya Papaya. Homepage: Noda-net.org

There is a "Bureau de Change" in town, and an ATM on the road out towards Mzuzu.

There are also several "Rastas" posing as curio vendors. Aside from accommodation, food, and drink, these guys offer among the only options for taking your money.

Alternatively there are two Craft Markets, one at the police check point a few kilometres outside of the town (towards Mzuzu) and the other in the second bay as you head towards Mayoka (ART Homepage: [2].

Eat[edit][add listing]

Aside from the lodges, which all have restaurants, there are several independent restaurants in town, which change regularly. If you have a dollar, you can find a burger, Malawian pizza, or a great Chambo (fish) dinner.

For a particularly good local restaurant, find the large tree in the middle of the market; here you will find reasonably priced, good food to enjoy on benches beneath the branches.

  • Kaya Papaya, +265995636585 or +265993881188. A new restaurant in town offers Thai food, pizzas, cakes, shakes, juices and very tasty cocktails for reasonable prices. It´s easy to hang out all day on its atmospheric topdeck overlooking the football ground and town centre, enjoying a good meal and fine music.  edit
  • Safari Africa. Does very good cheap meals, much larger than the back packers. It is located next to the water, on the way up towards Aqua Africa. It is a bit no frills particularly in its seating arrangements, but at about half the price of the back packers dishes, very good value.  edit
  • Take Away Palace, shamillah81@ovi.com (next to farmers world), +265999477676/+265888390090. 7am-9pm. A small restaurant that offers good,tasty and enjoyable meals. International foods and spicy Indian dishes.  edit
  • Mayoka Village, +265 0926 8595. Also a lodge, Mayoka does incredible food at reasonable prices. You can choose off the menu or sign up for the special of the night - pizza night is always a favourite, but also try Italian pasta night or buffet night.  edit


Drink[edit][add listing]

There are a number of local bars in Nkhata Bay. Additionally, small tourist-friendly bars spring up regularly.

  • Club 672 A "club" where the young local youth hangs out. A pooltable and a dancefloor fill the small club, where posters promoting safe sex cover the walls. The music played is loud, but very enjoyable and a beer can be bought at the bar for 120 kwacha (about US$.75).
  • Rebel Heart (Golden Dawg), Box 235, Nkhata-Bay,Malawi (Opposite Police Station), +265999373753,+265999688614. Bar with a pool table and DSTV. Watch all your favorite games (Cricket,Rugby,Football) while you chill and Drink  edit
  • The Dive Deck, Aqua Africa (Behind the ferry dock), 0999921418, [3]. 8:00-8:00. The Dive Deck commands some of the most spectacular views across the bay. You can prop up the bar and enjoy an ice cold “Green” or relax on our comfortable sofas choosing which fillings to have in your homemade wrap. It’s also a great place to compare notes with other customers after you come back from your dive.  edit

Sleep[edit][add listing]

There are several places to sleep in Nkhata Bay and representatives from these will meet the ferry when it arrives.

Big Blue Backpackers, located on the same site as the old bigbluestar but under new ownership, currently under major renovations but open for business. The new owners seem to be banishing the problems that have haunted this place the last few years, always a friendly welcome and they cannot do enough to help. Ideally situated in town but you wouldn't know it as its lake side location is peaceful. Free high speed wi fi for guests, a fully stocked bar and freshly cooked food. www.bigbluebackpackers.com Rooms are value for money and its location means you will not be hassled by every beach boy and vendor like the other lodges outside of town

  • Njaya Lodge, Chikale Beach, +265997409805, [4]. complete with its own guard-goose, is among the most popular, especially with backpackers, despite being about a mile or two outside town. In 1993 an English couple Paul and Claire Norrish bought some property on the Lake and built a budget lodge. Since then word of mouth has led Nkhata Bay to become popular with independent travelers. The lodge is based on sustainable tourism principles and the staff who work at the lodge have all been working their since it opened and many of them actually helped to build the lodge. Situated high atop a mountain overlooking the lake, Njaya offers a variety of accommodation -- from en suite cottages ($15/night) to spartan, reed chalets ($4/night). Camping is also available for $3/night.  edit
  • Mayoka Village, +265 0926 8595, [5]. Mayoka is a very popular lodge well known in the area for its scenic location, vibrant bar and very friendly atmosphere, including an outstanding weekly barbecue made from locally sourced food. Great place to meet up with and chill out with other travelers. Located on the far side of the bay, either walk around or phone ahead for a boat pickup from the dive shop. Make reservations a couple of days ahead of time as they can get booked up. Tell them when you plan to leave as they have been known to kick people out ahead of time, leaving one little time to pack and find another place to stay. En suite rooms $25, Chalets from $8, traditional mud huts $5, Dorms for $4 or campsites for $3.50.  edit
  • Butterfly lodge, PO box 211 Nkhata Bay Malawi, +265 (0)999156335, [6]. checkout: whenever as long as no bookings. offering private chalets as well as a small, but pretty bar, right on the water. The lodge has a private beach, internet/information centre and snorkeling equipment available. There are a number of community projects that butterfly are involved in, including the local nursery school, youth club on site, playgounds building, and computer lessons through the non-profit internet centre. Get involved and enjoy the homely atmosphere chalets $10 per person, dorm rooms $5 per person, camping $ 3 per person.  edit
  • Nkhukuti Beach Resort. offers en suite chalets, on the water, for about $40/night. This Resort is about 1 mile from town and offers some of the best accomodation and facilities in town with well constructed conference facilities, fine bars and restaurant.  edit
  • Kande Beach, Kande, 40kms from Nkhata Bay on the Nkhotakota road, [7].  edit

There is a government rest house in town, but most travelers find municipal accommodation run down and depressing.


  • Rebel Heart, Opposite Police Station, +265999373753. This a nice place under new Management, With Pool Table and DSTv, Its a place to chill away from the noise and you can watch all your favourite sports The cheapest place so far with friendly service  edit
  • Kande Beach Resort, about 40 km south of Nkhata Bay, [8]. Popular with overland trucks, this resort has camping, dorm rooms, single, twin and doubles. Activites include a great horse riding tour, scuba diving with the experienced team at "Aquanuts", there are katamarans and canoes for hire, and you can get great food at the "soft sand cafe" (-11.9515,34.1223) edit

Contact[edit]

There are two Internet cafe in town, on one of the side roads off the main road. The speed is very slow, although better than some other places in Malawi. It costs 400 Kwacha/hour. A new one has opened up at Butterfly Lodge. There is one at Aqua Africa but there are only two computers and it cost 600 Kwacha/hour. Fastest in town is at Big Blue Backpackers, free to guests, and 500 kwacha per hour for the first two hours and then free for non guests

Get out[edit]

The Ilala ferry visits Nkhata Bay twice a week — once going north and once going south.

The ferry arrives in Nkhata Bay late on Sunday night but docks there until Monday morning and then heads up to Usisya, Ruaware and ultimately to Chilumba. A lovely round trip involves taking the ferry north and then return when the ferry heads south to Cape Maclear via Likoma Island or east to Mbamba Bay, in Tanzania. This is the beginning of the so-called Mtwara Corridor, a project which aims to develop the road infra-structure from Mbabama Bay to Mtwara on the Indian Ocean. The ferry departs Nkhata Bay journeying south on Tuesday night at 8pm.

The ferry is a popular, albeit slow, way for travelers to see the lake and journey to other parts of the region. You can either sleep on the deck (great in nice weather, this is known as first class) or, for those wanting a bit more luxury, try the ensuite cabin. Also available is economy class which costs next to nothing but it's incredibly cramped and smells like petrol the entire journey.

There is also a local ferry that travels between Nkhata Bay and Likoma Island - it's schedule fluctuates so check when you get there. If you're travelling south it's a good way to get to Likoma Island and then you can catch the Ilala to travel onwards - this avoids having to stay on Likoma for an entire week or having to backtrack back to Nkhata Bay.

Those travelling to Mzuzu will find frequent minibuses leaving throughout the day from the town centre. There is a daily 6.30 am commuter bus run by AXA which travels down the lake shore, passing through Nkhotakota and Salima before arriving in Lilongwe.

Stay safe[edit]

As with most places be careful walking at night and do not carry all your cash with you, especially walking between the town and the lodges to the south. A frequent problem is Rastas trying to sell marijuana who are working with police to shake down tourists for bribes.

Note that while guesthouses may claim that Nkhata Bay is Bilharzia-free there is evidence that this claim may not be entirely accurate. Since treatment is simple and inexpensive travelers are recommended to not take chances and take the single-dose medication within a month of contacting the water. Delaying treatment until symptoms appear can cause irreversible problems since Bilharzia is a parasite the makes your organs bleed. It cannot be medically detected until 6 weeks after exposure. Anyone going into the water is advised to take the medication as it costs roughly $2 in most African countries.



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