Nkhata Bay, Malawi: What makes it a place to be?
June 24, 2019
Yet another one of the ‘poorest’ countries in the world that’s made my life richer. Kindest people, mesmerising landscape, delicious food and authentic, laid back energy. I’ve always been favouring this continent over the others and it instantly felt like home. And it actually became my home. Well, one of them.
The warm heart of Africa
Firstly, I would like to say a few words about Malawi or as they call it – the warm heart of Africa. This nickname certainly does justice because the people are so astonishingly kind and friendly it makes travelling even more enjoyable. Especially for the first-timers travelling alone to Africa, this country makes it very easy to move around. I wanted to have an authentic experience and was using public transport, eating only local food at the local restaurants, sleeping on the low budget and of course interact with people a lot.
There is simply no way you could get lost in Malawi. There is always someone helping you out, never with an ulterior motive but with pure joy. I love how people respect each other and truly care about their families and the community. They stick together, help out when someone is in need and maintain a positive attitude.
Food is very delicious and completely natural. Traditional dish nsima (a type of cornmeal porridge) served with side dishes of meat or fish, beans and vegetables. Malawians usually eat it every day for lunch and dinner. Rice and potatoes are also an option but mostly not on a daily basis.
Malawi’s landscape is very diverse – from forests, highlands, plains, rocky mountains, savanna and woodland ecosystems in the southern parks, to beautiful sandy beaches and huge, glittering lake Malawi which presents one-fifth of the country. In general, Malawi is a very green and lush country.
Nkhata Bay is a very popular, small fishing town with a bit of Caribbean feel to it. The vibe is very laid back and relaxed yet there’s a lot this town has to offer. People who live there are Tonga which is an ethnic group from the North of the country. In the past, they were primarily fishermen with cassava as their staple food. The most common surname is Chirwa which means island. Malawians are experts in wood crafting, they are extremely precise. There is a very nice carving market, definitely worth a look. Considering that this country is not overly touristy, Nkhata Bay attracts a lot of people. It also has a port which is a focus for the Lake’s fishing industry and also a gateway to the Islands.
The most common transport via lake is Ilala ferry. It can be an interesting experience – so many travellers describe it as a highlight of the country. Well, it sure is interesting to see how it gets loaded and unloaded at each stop, there are some pretty amazing views and it is very stable. But honestly, for me, 2 days travel from Monkey Bay to Nkhata Bay was a bit much. The ferry is divided into three classes. First class – which is very recommended for travellers – is on the deck, second and economy are at the entire lower deck. There it gets very crowded, not just with people but there can also be animals and literally everything people choose to transport. When the lake is wavy the water can easily go inside and there are also some engine fumes permeating from below.
If you choose to experience a real local way of transport then minibuses are a must. Again, you should not be in a hurry because to fill up the whole minibus can take from few minutes to few hours. And by the way there they do not use the same definition of the word ‘full’. Minibus for 13 people can take at least 18 people. Well, there was one time there was 32 of us squeezed like sardines. Plus, a mother of two put one of her children on my lap. Honestly, minibuses are so much fun.
If you feel comfortable with the thickness of your wallet you can always hire a taxi or opt for a shared one.
Hire a car
There is always an option for car hire though it may be quite pricey.
Things to experience in Nkhata Bay
There is a variety of activities you can experience in this city.
It can be an amazing experience because Lake Malawi is quite famous for its biggest variety of freshwater fish in the world. Many fish we have in aquariums are actually from this lake. How cool is that?
There is a PADI Scuba Diving Resort called Aqua Africa located right on the beach of the Northern District of Nkhata Bay. If you are a fan of diving the experience in this crystal-clear water is said to be amazing.
Boat trip with fish-eagle feeding
There are many boat trips offers and most of the day trips include going to Lusukwe beach, jumping off the cliffs and feeding the fish-eagle.
Renting a kayak
There are plenty of kayaks you could borrow from lodges.
You can take a walk with a local guide to visit a local village into the hills. Villages are very unique places to find a true local experience.
Where to stay in Nkhata Bay
There are plenty of lodges down the famous, sandy Chikale beach. From popular backpacker lodge Mayoka, and eco lodge Butterfly on one side to Mawala Dream house complex with its own private beach and bar for guests only (nice for families and group of friends) and Njaya lodge on the other. If you fancy staying nearer to the city centre, there are also nice options there.
Best time to go
There is a hot summer rainfall season which starts at the end of November and lasts until April, so the best time for a visit would be from early May till the end of October (mango season!). The coldest month is June and it can actually get chilly in some places such as Nyika Plateau but on the shores of Lake Malawi weather is warm, sunny weather and mostly dry.