Nkhata Bay

Nkhata Bay is a small, bustling fishing village of about 15,000 inhabitants, located about 50 kilometers from Mzuzu. Straddling the steep, verdant mountains of Malawi's rift valley, Nkhata Bay overlooks the lake like a lord overlooks his manor.

The town is home to the Tonga people who are famed for their love of fine dressing it's common to see older men dressed in full suits with Homburg hats, spats and canes!


 Climate Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°C) 29 29 29 29 27 26 26 26 29 30 30 29
Nightly lows (°C) 21 21 21 20 18 16 15 16 18 20 21 21
Precipitation (mm) 221 198 310 273 140 31 33 5 3 17 113 254


As with most other destinations in the tropics, the seasons are defined by the rain rather than by the temperature. December to April is the rainy season while considerably less rain falls in May-November.

Get in

By plane

The nearest airports with scheduled flights, as of January 2015, are in Lilongwe and Blantyre. The new national carrier Malawian Airlines might start flights to Mzuzu, just 50 km from Nkhata Bay.

By bus

The   bus station is in the middle of the town, next to the market. You can reach Nkhata Bay from the south via the Lakeshore road or west from Mzuzu, by minibus. The winding, scenic, hour and a half trip from Mzuzu costs about $4 on a minibus or $20 by taxi. There are regular buses from Blantyre and Lilongwe, the latter which are operated by the bus company AXA. There is no road access to the north.

By boat

By car

Take Highway M5 from Mzuzu or along the western shore of Lake Malawi. Nkhata Bay is 4 km off the road. The highway itself is paved and in a fairly good state, but in some places a bit narrow. From Mzuzu the distance is 45 km, from Salima 300 km. If driving from Lilongwe, the distance is about 370 km both via Salima (M14 and M5) and Mzuzu (M1 and M5).

If you need to fill up in Nkhata Bay, there's a Puma petrol station opposite to the People's cash'n carry supermarket.

Get around

Nkhata Bay is fairly small and walkable. Alternatively, you can hire a water taxi to take you from one end of the village to the other; this is also a neat way to see the coastline. Most of the hostels and hotels also have vehicles and you can usually hitch a ride when they head into town for supplies.


A jetty on Lake Malawi in Nkhata Bay


Activities the town has to offer take place on or under water. Most of the lodges can arrange other day trips to points around the lake, and rent out fins, masks, kayaks and more. They can also organise longer 2 or 3 day trips either north to Usisya and Ruware, south to Kande beach or over to Likoma Island and Chisumulu Island.

When diving in Lake Malawi, you can see mouth-breeding cichlid fishes that are fascinating and represent the most diverse vertebrate radiation in the history of the earth.


View of Nkhata Bay

Getting money

There is a "Bureau de Change" and an ATM in town, another plus ATM on the road out towards Mzuzu. there are 4 banks in Nkhata Bay NBS, FNB, Malawi savings bank, Opportunity bank. the National Bank of Malawi and Standard Bank has a master card ATM in Mzuzu.



Aside from the lodges, which all have restaurants, there are several independent restaurants in town, which change regularly. If you have a dollar, you can find a burger, Malawian pizza, or a great Chambo (fish) dinner.

For a particularly good local restaurant, find the large tree in the middle of the market; here you will find reasonably priced, good food to enjoy on benches beneath the branches.


There are a number of local bars in Nkhata Bay. Additionally, small tourist-friendly bars spring up regularly.



There are two Internet cafés in town, on one of the side roads off the main road. The speed is very slow, although better than some other places in Malawi. It costs 400 MWK/hour. A new one has opened up at Butterfly Lodge. The fastest one is at Aqua Africa but there are only two computers and it cost 600 MWK/hour.

Stay safe

As with most places be careful walking at night and do not carry all your cash with you, especially walking between the town and the lodges to the south. A frequent problem is Rastas trying to sell marijuana who are working with police to shake down tourists for bribes.

Note that while guesthouses may claim that Nkhata Bay is Bilharzia-free there is evidence that this claim may not be entirely accurate. Since treatment is simple and inexpensive travelers are recommended to not take chances and take the single-dose medication within a month of contacting the water. Delaying treatment until symptoms appear can cause irreversible problems since Bilharzia is a parasite the makes your organs bleed. It cannot be medically detected until 6 weeks after exposure. Anyone going into the water is advised to take the medication as it costs roughly $2 in most African countries.

Go next

MV Ilala leaving Nkhata Bay

Suitable destinations for excursions of 2-3 days in length include:

Those travelling to Mzuzu will find frequent minibuses leaving throughout the day from the town centre. There is a daily 6:30AM commuter bus run by AXA which travels down the lake shore, passing through Nkhotakota and Salima before arriving in Lilongwe.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, September 13, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.