I recently wrote about flights between African countries being super expensive. I believe this is the main factor that discourages traveling in Africa. However, if you like me are a hardcore explorer, then there is the option of traveling in between African countries by bus. It’s not easy . One of things I learnt is that, you will require tonnes of time, patience and self control but in my books, it’s worth it because it allows you to travel Africa without worrying about expensive flights.
If you are thinking of traveling in Africa on a budget for the first time, I would advise you to start with East and Southern Africa . The regions are easier to navigate and their tourism is well established and structured if we are comparing to other regions.
The first overland travel in this series will be traveling from Malawi to Zambia by bus. Malawi is an amazing country in Southern Africa that is absolutely suitable for backpackers. It was a breeze to cross the Malawi-Zambia border overland.
I’d first like to say in my opinion, Malawi’s public transport is terrible. Not in the bad traffic sense. Traveling from one place to another without hiring a car is an extreme sport. Of course you’ll find matolas aka the public mini buses to anywhere within cities like lilongwe or Blantyre. But moving from lilongwe to the interior places will drain your patience and self control if you don’t hire a car. For example there’s only one bus per day currently that operates from Lilongwe to Mzuzu. Mzuzu is a stopover town for mosts travelers heading to Nkhata bay.
The case is not different when traveling to Southern Malawi in areas like monkey bay or Cape Maclear. If you decide to travel via matolas. Please set aside a whole day of travel. Because you will take the whole day. I’m not kidding. You’re left with a choice. Find a group of travellers to hire a car with, its cheaper or go by public means and take the whole day.
How many borders are there between Malawi and Zambia?
Apparently there are four border crossings from Malawi to Zambia:
Personally, I used the easiest and straight forward border crossing at Mchinji from Malawi Capital Lilongwe. You can choose to rent a car and drive yourself or use matolas. As a solo traveler on a budget, I could only go with public means.
There are three ways to get to Lusaka from Lilongwe by Road.
The first way is to take matolas from lilongwe to Mchinji. It will not cost you more than 10 USD. Mchinji is only 1.5 hours from lilongwe but the way these matolas stop at every single stop , this distance might take you in typical African style four hours. Once you arrive in mchinji,you will be hassled by money changers to sell Malawian Kwacha for the Zambian Kwacha. You can easily choose to ignore them until you confirm the rate from the immigration officers. I always do this when i’m getting stamped to avoid getting scammed. Afterwards, you will get a shared taxi from the border to Chipata town in Zambia. You will have to wait for the shared taxis to fill up before leaving for Chipata which is less than an hour away.Chipata is a lively small town and you can choose to explore it and spend a night before taking the journey to Lusaka the next day. As I was not driving myself,I booked a ticket to Lusaka for the next day, spent the night in Chipata before catching the 5am bus to Lusaka. It’s a six hour bus ride from Chipata to Lusaka.
The second way is to hire a car and drive yourself. Driving yourself from lilongwe to Chipata, Zambia should not take you more than three hours.
The third way is to get a bus straight from Lilongwe to Lusaka. This journey should on average take ten to eleven hours if you factor in border crossings.
What are the requirements when crossing the Malawi-Zambia border?
The requirements include:
- Passport valid for the next six months
- Visa to Zambia (does not apply to Kenyans)
- If you are driving yourself, it’s important to purchase a temporary import permit for the vehicle, third party insurance and if you have carnet de passage, ensure it’s stamped.
- If the car is yours, ensure you have ownership documents and if it’s hired, have a signed letter of permission from the owner to bring the vehicle across the border.
- It goes without saying that your car should have required kits because police officers may ask for them at their many road blocks.
Buses to take
There are a couple of bus companies that travel this route but I will mention the ones I know of.
From Lilongwe straight to Lusaka you can take the Zambia-Malawi bus under KOBS .
From Chipata to Lusaka, I used the jonda bus company. It was so comfortable I pretty much slept all the way to Lusaka.
Next Post? How to Travel overland from Zambia to Zimbabwe.
Always remember to pre-book your bus tickets a day in advance.
After exploring Lusaka you can always head down to Livingstone which is 6 hours away. This principles apply more or less if you are traveling vice versa from Zambia to Malawi.
Interested in driving to Malawi from Nairobi? Read this experience : Driving from Nairobi to Malawi