A front seat, no bags of fish under my feet, and the music play at a reasonable volume! I couldn’t believe my luck compared to the previous bus trips I had taken on my journeys through Southern Africa. Surely this would prove to be too good to be true.
After sunning ourselves on the beaches of Tofo and Vilanculos, it was now time to head inland towards Malawi to get a taste of lake life. An early morning wake up with low expectations is how I arrived to the bus station. My experiences with African public transport was vast and comfortable wasn’t the first word that came into mind. Even worse was my experience with the pot-holed Mozambique roads that had greeted us at every turn.
We were departing Vilanculos aiming for the town of Chimoio before attempting to cross the border the next day. Our bags were hurled onto the roof as we handed over our tickets. I was the last to board and after a quick inspection there were no spare seats in sight. Expecting to be told to squeeze in somewhere between the petrol cans and chickens, I turned back to look at the ticket inspector who said, “You can ride up front sir”. I had a comfortable seat with mass leg room for what was expected to be an 8 hour drive.
Wide views of greenery surrounded me as I shared jokes and broken English with the Driver and his Co-Pilot (straddling the gearbox). All was going smoothly until we started to slow. With the bus still moving the Driver and his Co-Pilot maneuvered a seat change before we bunny hopped off towards a police check point. Once we had our papers searched we bunny hopped off again until the reverse seat change happened once more and we roared into the distance.
After a few more hours on the road we slowed again while the Driver jumped out of his seat for our second driver change of the day. Sure enough we awkwardly rolled up to the police checkpoint before jumping off again. I had finally worked the system out. Our Driver, who actually knew how to drive a bus, didn’t have a licence whereas our Co Pilot who couldn’t drive a bus was a licensed driver.
6 hours into the trip and we slowed once more. Only problem this time was I couldn’t see a police checkpoint in sight. We came to a complete halt as lots of yelling started. Men came from everywhere to look under the bus and start fiddling around with wires. Something was amiss with the bus so we did the only thing we could do in a time like this – play football. After much more yelling the Driver finally went to the back and grabbed a Jerry Can. We had run out of fuel. A group of men walked off into the distance with not a word said.
The sky grew dark before the heavens opened wide. We sort refuge in the bus as a solid 45 minutes of rain poured down. Just as it cleared we still had no sign of the men with the magical fuel supply. Time was ticking away and our chances of making it to Chimoio before nightfall were slim. A decision was made to hitch-hike our way as we went to grab our bags. Sure enough they were still on the roof soaked through from the rain.
After 20 minutes of sitting by the side of the road with our thumbs out, a truck finally came to a stop. Half of the group jumped into the tray of the truck where the other half jumped into the cab. The driver had no windscreen so we took off again with the wind belting into our faces.
With insects between our teeth and our hair stood high we came into a village just on the outside of Chimoio. This was end of the line until we found another truck heading into town. The back was packed with people as we held babies driving along the bumpy rides. The sun had well and truly set as we finally made our way into town. A sense of relief came upon us as we checked into the Pink Papaya hotel. We had well and truly earned our beer that night (which we enjoyed as we hung all our belongings out to dry). Mozambique transport will always hold a special place in my heart.
If you’re looking for tranquil waters, isolated beaches, and unrivaled diving options, then look no further than Malawi’s Nkhata Bay. Just over an hour outside of Mzuzu, Nkhata Bay is a premier spot for Southern Africa travelers to relax and recuperate before their next adventure.
Bus services link Nkhata Bay with Lilongwe and Blantyre. Head North along the lake and you’ll find Nkhata Bay 90 minutes West of Mzuzu. A unique experience is the Ilala Ferry which ambles it’s way North along the lake arriving to Nkhata Bay on a Sunday and heading off again on the Monday morning.
Where to Stay
No matter your budget, Nkhata Bay has accommodation to suit your needs. Big Blue Backpackers provides dorm rooms, private straw huts, a large bar, and it’s own private beach. Mayoka Village is a backpackers haven etched into the cliffside with it’s famous BBQ’s and pumping nightlife. Nkhukuti Beach Resort is a slightly more upmarket option providing renovated facilities and removed from the Backpacker scene.
What to Eat
Based in the middle of town, a Thai restaurant (that also does Pizza) is not something you expect to stumble upon in rural Malawi but Kaya Papaya is a brilliant setting for Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner. Safari Africa is one of the quality no frills options for those on a budget. Mayoka Village is the most popular spot amongst tourist with themed nights. Look out for Pizza night or the ever-popular buffet BBQ.
What to Do
Diving is a major drawcard with Lake Malawi offering plenty of unique fish. Aqua Africa is a reputable operator offering a range of dive options for people of all experience levels. 40km out of town, Kande Beach offers horse riding among other activities. Local touts will be sure to offer you boat trips or fishing experiences. One of the highlights is watching the Fish Eagle diving from height for fish. Of all the activities to do in Nkhata Bay, relaxing with a Carlsberg in hand while watching the local fisherman takes the case.
There is no better way to explore Southern Africa than on an overland trip. One of the main issues facing first time explorers is the question of what to pack. Here we’ll cover the do’s and don’ts when it comes time to pack.
Victoria Falls (the Wonder) is one of the major highlights of visiting Southern Africa. The common question is which town to base yourself for exploring the Falls – Victoria Falls (Zimbabwe) or Livingstone (Zambia).
Both the Zimbabwean and Zambian sides both offer breathtaking views of Victoria Falls. During high water season (December – March) both sides offer great visibility but the Zambian side will offer the most dramatic views. In the dry season (April – November) Zimbabwe may offer the better views with the Zambian side being merely a trickle.
In terms of the townships, Victoria Falls is just a short stroll away from the Wonder whereas Livingstone is a 10 minute drive.
There is no shortage of accommodation either side of the Zambezi with options to suit any budget. Victoria Falls offers the ever popular Shoestring Backpackers where you can mingle with travelers and locals alike after a hard day of exploring. The Victoria Falls Hotel offers something unique for those with a higher budget offering great views of the Railway Bridge and rooms suitable enough to satisfy the Queen Mother.
Livingstone offers accommodation options along the river as well as budget options such as Jolly Boys and Livingstone Backpackers in the township. Waterfront is the riverside choice for overland tour companies offering camping, shared, and mid-priced options. For those looking for a taste of Colonial Southern Africa and with a larger budget, The Royal Livingstone is a luxurious choice as Zebras cross the lawns while you sip cocktails along the Zambezi.
Both towns have an underrated food scene with options to suit all appetites. Victoria Falls has many African Inspired options with In Da Belly offering a menu of Warthog and Impala while if visiting the Boma for a buffet of African classics you can expect a night of traditional entertainment.
Livingstone offers more Western Cuisine with Olga’s Italian Corner, the Carribean inspired Cafe Zambezi, and Golden Leaf providing headline acts. A unique Livingstone experience is the Elephant Cafe where you can enjoy a high tea amongst elephants. An iconic experience is dinner aboard the Royal Livingstone Express steam train.
There is no shortage of river options on both sides with the bungee jump, rafting, sunset cruises, game drives, and helicopter rides just naming a few. Victoria Falls is quite modern in facility offering family friendly activities along with traditional cultural activities.
Livingstone is the perfect base for exploring one of Africa’s most underrated National Parks in Chobe, Botswana. Just a 40 minute drive away from Livingstone you can sleep amongst the Lions and view Africa’s largest congregation of Elephants.
In summary, there is very little separating the two towns with both offering a multitude of options for all types of travelers. Victoria Falls is the ideal base for an easy stroll over to the Falls whereas Livingstone offers a more unique African twist and still has the remnants of colonialism.
Our suggestion, give time for both!
If you’re sitting there wondering why to make your next travel destination Southern Africa, these 7 reasons are sure to have you packing your bags right away!
Wildlife is the main drawcard for most travelers to Southern Africa and remains the reason seasoned travelers keep coming back. Whether you’re watching Rhinos in Kruger, gazing at Elephants in Chobe, or stalking Lions in Etosha; Southern Africa has hundreds of unique wildlife viewing opportunities at your fingertips.
Table Mountain is the first natural wonder that greets visitors to South Africa and provides a beacon above the buzzing city. Add the Okavango Delta and Kalahari Desert in Botswana, along with Lake Malawi, and you’ve got natural wonders to fill your itinerary. The greatest wonder of all is Victoria Falls where you can feel the powerful spray as you take views from both Zimbabwe and Zambia. Why not swim up to the edge of the falls at Devil’s Pool?
Surrounded by the coastlines of both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, Southern Africa has no shortage of unique and stunning beaches. Cosmopolitan Cape Town offers the restaurant, bar, and sunbaking beach of Camps Bay. Surfing options are also aplenty in South Africa with the world famous Jeffreys Bay headlining the list. Mozambique offers diving havens of Vilanculos and Tofo while the beaches along Lake Malawi offer a point of interest. Better pack your swimming trunks.
Desert, mountains, savannah, wetlands – Southern Africa has it all. Desolation and rough seas hammer Namibia while the Eastern side provides tranquil waters and sandy beaches. Botswana is possibly the best example of contrast with the Kalahari Desert bordering the wetlands of the Okavango Delta.
If viewing a Lion from metres away isn’t enough adventure for you then don’t worry – Southern Africa has so much more. Sandboard, windsurf, and catch sharks in Namibia. Surf, camp amongst predators, and shark cage dive in South Africa. Bungee jump, white water raft, or sit at the edge of Victoria Falls in Zambia. There is no shortage of adventure at your fingertips in Southern Africa
A trip around Southern Africa can be very easy on the wallet if you have time on your side. Travel like a local in buses and experience camping under the African sky with many options to place your tent. Local markets offer the chance to purchase inexpensive food and local restaurants offer a variety of food at a low cost.
The main selling point of Southern Africa is it’s people with a huge variety of cultures, languages, handshakes, and smiles. You’ll feel welcome from the moment you step out of the airport and get that same friendly greeting with every border you cross. Live like a local and experience what Southern Africa really has to offer through it’s people.