The best lodge in northern Malawi

While Malawi has slowly been making its way up as a prime African destination, the northern shores of its homonymous lake remain largely unexplored, partly because of how difficult it is to access them.

Getting there

The easiest way to explore Lake Malawi north of Nkhata Bay is to grab the Ilala Ferry, which runs surprisingly smoothly and follows a very clear schedule. If you’re proactive enough to take it from Nkhata Bay on a Sunday morning at 5am, you’ll disembark on the white shores of Usisya, a heavenly place about 20 km north of Nkhata Bay, at around 9AM, ready to enjoy the day ahead of you. Otherwise, a matola truck leaves the city of Mzuzu everyday in the early mornings, getting to Usisya anything from six to eight hours after. Though the journey is slightly cheaper and doesn’t involve seasickness, accidents are common on the steep hills between Mzuzu and Usisya, which the truck drivers tend to career down at an alarming speed.

Usisya Beach Eco Lodge

Whichever way you get to Usisya, you will definitely need a rest after the journey – and there is no better place for that than Usisya Beach Eco Lodge, where low stonewalls surround the sandy floors of the chalets, topped by bamboo roofs supported by wooden pillars. Soft see-through curtains provide privacy but keep you connected to the beautiful nature around you, while a thick canopy of almost tropical proportions shelters you from the heat. The whole lodge is eco-friendly, built with natural materials and using composting toilets and solar power. The kitchen offers nurturing and tasty vegetarian food from their permaculture garden and farm, with international as well as Malawian dishes, cooked by the most amazing local chef. With only two chalets and a small area for camping and glamping, it’s not uncommon to be almost alone at the lodge, especially off-season. You can indulge in watching mischievous monkeys chasing each other and jumping on the roofs of the chalets, while a monitor lizard lazily sunbathes on the sandy beach and a fish eagle soars high up into the forest that covers Mphande hill, just behind the lodge.

What To Do

Besides lounging on the sand, dipping in the water or reading a book under the bamboo shelter at the bar, Usisya offers a few short hikes around the surrounding countryside. The village sits quietly behind the hill and across the wide plain stretching up to the mountains that eventually lead back to Mzuzu and the rest of the world. A short hike takes you to Sasasa waterfall, where you can freshen up in the cold pools and let the potency of the water reinvigorate your tired muscles. The more intrepid hikers can venture on a five to seven hour hike to nearby Ruarwe, another idyllic spot 20 km further north. You’ll cross sleepy fishing villages, climb up steep hills and enjoy fantastic views of the whole of Lake Malawi from the top of the promontory, before descending again and reaching your final destination at Zulunkhuni River Lodge.

Arianna Meschia

After studying English, French and Spanish in my Italian hometown, I graduated in Film & Creative Writing in London, where I landed a job as production manager. 5 years and a lot of stress later, I decided to leave it all behind to volunteer in the Calais refugee camp in France first, and in rural Malawi after. I’m currently motorbiking across Eastern Africa and Europe, trying to make a living from travel writing, experiencing countries and cultures I never knew I would visit, and taking way too many pictures.