The Ilala ferry (01-587311; firstname.lastname@example.org) chugs passengers and cargo up and down Lake Malawi, once per week in each direction. Travelling between Monkey Bay in the south and Chilumba in the north, it makes 13 stops at lakeside villages and towns in between. (You can get to the Mozambique mainland via the Ilala.)
The whole trip, from one end of the line to the other, takes about three days.
There are three options for bus travel in Malawi. Top of the range is Coachline, operated by Shire Bus Lines (01-756226). This luxury nonstop service travels three times a day between Blantyre and Lilongwe. There’s also a daily express service operated between Lilongwe and Mzuzu by Sacremento Bus. Other buses, also operated by Shire Bus Lines, fall under the category of express – fast buses between the main towns with limited stops and no standing passengers allowed – and ordinary, which cover long-distance routes but stop everywhere, so are very slow.
In rural areas, the frequency of buses and minibuses drops dramatically – sometimes to nothing. In cases like this, the ‘bus’ is often a truck or pick-up, with people just piled in the back. In Malawi this is called a matola.
You can buy a ticket in advance for Coachline services and are allocated a reserved seat.
The majority of main routes are mostly good-quality sealed roads, but in recent years several stretches of road have not been repaired and potholes are opening up. Rural routes are not so good, and after heavy rain they are often impassable, sometimes for weeks. Rental companies in Malawi include:
You need a full driver’s licence (international diving licence is not necessary) and companies normally require a minimum age of 23 and one year’s driving experience.
Trains run every Wednesday between Blantyre and Balaka (US$1.50), but passengers rarely use them since road transport on this route is both quicker and cheaper. The service of most use to travellers is the continuation of this line from Liwonde to the Malawi–Mozambique border crossing at Nayuchi (US$2).
Air Malawi (01-772123, 01-753181, 01-788415; www.airmalawi.com) Has daily flights between Lilongwe and Blantyre, and four flights a week between Lilongwe and Mzuzu, both for US$77 one way. You can also fly from Lilongwe or Blantyre to Lake Malawi’s Club Makokola for US$75 (you don’t have to be a guest), from where you can reach other points on the lake. Domestic flights can be paid for in kwacha and there’s a departure tax of US$2.
Ulendo Air Services (01-754717; email@example.com) Has charter and seat-only flights to major destinations around the country.