Max & Tamara write:
We did a 4-week backpacking trip to southern Malawi and northern Mozambique.
We had both your guides for these countries with us and would like to share some remarks and comments with you.
This was our route : Lilongwe – Monkey Bay – Ilha Mozambique (route via Chiponde – Cuamba – Nampula) – Ibo – Pemba – Liwonde (route via Nampula – Cuamba – Interlagos) – Zomba – Mulanje – Majete – Blantyre,
We travelled from 1st to 28st August 2018,
To go from Malawi to Mozambique we used the Chiponde-Mandimba border post.
To go from Chiponde to Mandimba, you need a bike-taxi as it is a stretch between both cities. After bargaining hard we got offered 3500 K. However, once at the Mozambician border post (about half of the 7km no-mans land), the drivers told us that this price was only up to there and we had to bargain again so they would take us to Mandimba. Travellers should make sure the agreed fare is all the way to Mandimba.
Chapa Mandimba-Cuamba : on p 352 you write that this is a 3 hour trip ; this is impossible. We and other people we met all took 5 hours, almost without stops. We have to stress that this ride was the most unpleasant we ever had in all our travels : tightest, most crowded and most uncomfortable chappa we would have, and the road is terrible. We later met a couple finishing a one year trip around the world trip who also said this was the worst journey they experienced. Cost : 350 MET.
If you enter Malawi through Chiponde, it is possible to get a visa there.
To go back to Malawi, we learnd that the Lilongwe-Cuamba train was running again ! We therefore entered via the Interlagos-Naguchy border.
In both directions, the train runs twice a week and connects with the Cuamba-Nampula train, thus enabling you to make Lilongwe-Nampula (in either direction) in 2 days.
Ticket price Cuamba-Interlagos : 150 MET for executive class ; about 2,5 hours.
The train leaves Cuamba at 8,00 and arrives at about 10.30. The train in Naguchy leaves at 14.00. As we got through immigration in about 45 minutes, you’re in for a bit of a wait. There is no public transport leaving Naguchy, but we managed to get in (one of the few) cars that were leaving the station to get away quicker. To Nsanama : 1500 KW ; 1,5 hour,
We did not have our visa yet to re-enter Malawi, and learned that the post in Naguchy does not issue visas. We thus got a 7-days entry permit and were requested to go to immigration office in Zomba within that period to get a visa. The officer told us that usually people get sent to Chiponde, but as Zomba was on our route he made us a kind favour. In Zomba we got our visa very easily within less than an hour,
Ilha do Mocambique
When we arrived by train in Nampula we took a taxi to Ilha Mozambique : 3500 MET ; 2,5 hours,
We stayed at Kero hotel mentioned in the guide. Double en-suite room for 700 MET ; it is decent value.
One good day excursion is a trip to Goa Island. We hired a boat for the day to do so for 1.3000 MET for the whole day (no motor – which can make the trip long when there is no wind ; with motor count about 2.500 MET), They also organized lunch on the island for an additional 250 MET pp.
We wanted to get from Ilha Mozambique to Ibo in a day. We read that this is possible by public transport, yet tricky. Here’s a post from a traveller who explains how : https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g293818-i9167-k7919507-Need_help_on_local_transport_for_Ilha_Moz_and_Ibo-Mozambique.html
It is thus possible, but we doubt that it is a sure shot,…
To book a private taxi, count about 15.000 MET.
If you miss the 1 public boat a day when you arrive there, a private one can be hired for 2.500 MET. Unlike the public boats, the private ones can go by low tide.
To go back, public boats leave with the first high tide of the day, which is anywhere between 5.30 and 11.30. When you arrive in Tandahangue, a chappa should be waiting. Going this way is a little quicker then coming from Ibo as the chappa does spend less time searching for additional customers (4,5 hours back for us). The ride is actually ok and less dramatic then described in the guide (p. 337).
We stayed at Karibune, mentioned in the guide : double room 500 MET, chalet 600 MET. Chalet are newer and seem brighter. No running water in the facilities,
Important notice to travellers, as many come here for diving : this is close to impossible if you are note staying at Ibo Lodge ! The lodge is the only diving centre but only has 2 dive masters. The lodge gives a priority to its guests for diving trips and only gives confirmation to non-residents the day before at 5 PM. We have met people who spent several days on the Island going back every day at 5,00 and being told there is no possibility for the next day,… Many therefore go to Pemba afterwards to go diving (see below).
Among popular activities : dhow safari of 1 ; 2 or 3 days. We did it in 1 day with Baobibo and it was tremendous. The tour takes you to corals for snorkelling , then snorkelling with dolphins, then to a sunken boat (amazing snorkelling spot!) ; on a sandbank until it disappears with the tide, to Matemo Island for lunch then back to Ibo,
Other popular activities also include walking tours to Quirimba Island,
We had dinner once at Benjamin (mentioned in the guide). For 350 MET we had an amazing set buffet with crab, prawns, matipa, fried maniok… Highly recommended ! His wife (the chef) also gives cooking classes (via Baobibo) ; and he also serves as a tour guide for Baobibo,
Baobibo is a very useful place for any information about the island, activities, places to eat.
There is now an ATM (BCI), but we were warned that it sometimes is empty and recharging takes days.
Like other travellers, we went here mainly for a dive. Beside CI mentioned in the guide, there is a second dive centre located right next to Avani Lodge (although we think the centre is independent). The centre is managed by the very friendly and easy-going Brazilian Carlos (m= 84606 7776). It is also cheaper then CI : 50 $ for a dive ; 90 $ discovery dive ; 30 $ snorkelling,
We stayed at Russels place (400 MET pp camping), very nice place,
We stayed twice in Cuamba for a night between our trains.
Once we slept at Pensao Cariaco. Our room was 600 MET for a double with shared facilities. It was not one of our best hotels. Half of the rooms have no outside window, just one giving on the hallway, some just opposite the bathroom, which lacked cleanliness. The second time, we slept at a hotel not mentionned in the guide : Pensao Zambezia, located about 10 minutes froms the train station on 1 de Maio. Rooms are basic but clean, facilities without running water but ok. Double en suite room 500 MET. Very very friendly housekeeper.
We arrived in the late afternoon and thought about staying in town for the night before going to the reserve. We went to see Villa Liwonde, but the dam was under constructions so the whole area was not very inviting for a chill evening,
We thus went directly to the reserve at Safari Camp. It should be mentioned that even if the camp (like Bushmanns Baobab) are situated within the reserve fence, you do not need to pay the park fee to stay at the camp, but only when doing activities.
Safari camp is a great experience, with a lot of wildlife to see from the viewing spots. During dry season, elephants come to the place every evening.
p.179 : you write that a lift up the plateau costs about 20$. This is way to much, The first prices we were offered were about 10,000 KW ; and we ended up going up for 6.000 KW without much bargaining; same to go back down.
We were told that Monford Cottage (p, 180) might not exist any more. We can’t confirm this, but both numbers referenced in the guide don’t exist any more.
We went to Trout farm. Your description and prices are still perfectly accurate. As it turns out, the place is very popular for weekend family day trips among asian expats living in Blantyre, and it has to be said that the place is rather beautiful. However, they seem not really to care about their accommodations,… You have the choice between the guest house (looks run down indeed) ant 2 large wooden bungalow that actually look pretty nice. However :
There are lights installed inside, but there is no electricity anywhere on the site ;
The cooking facility looks handy at first, until you are told that there is no gaz connection for it (fire place outside, wood for sale) ;
The candles were finished, and they didn’t have new ones to replace them ;
A window was broken, so it got pretty cold by night ;
Some brown mud comes out on the sink.
It could be stressed that there is nowhere (at least that we found), to buy water on the plateau, except the ridiculously expensive bar at the Forest Lodge, so buy ahead !
For hiking on the plateau, we have to say that it looked tricky for us to do it independently as maps we were given were unclear and there are close to no indications along the way.
We hired a guide from Zomba Guide Association, who are also very active for the preservation of the plateau’s forest. The association is run by Jonas (m:0994733305). A day hike cost us 10.000 KW.
In town we camped at Pakachere. Very nice place. Bike rental for 4.000 KW/day.
The map of the city p.172 probably needs some corrections. It is unclear as to where to located African Heritage Cafe (listing p. 174 says on C4 ; p. 175 says C2) ; and we could not find Always Tasty and Tasty Bites following the map (still exist?).
We checked the Kara O’Mula Lodge for camping (15 $ pp). It is not very inviting : the « campground » is basically a very hard and grassless parking ground. Instead we went to the golf club (10 $ pp), that is very welcoming to campers. Very good kitchen also (mains 3000 KW), with a surprisingly delicious vegetarian lasagne. Offers laundry service.
We did 2 day hikes. The first with a guide around the « crater mouth ». For the second we went on our own, following a route found in a booklet accessible online : Mulanje Hiking Guide : https://mcm438.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/hiking-guide-to-mount-mulanje.pdf, All the routes work with the « View Ranger » app where you can find their gps coordinates and route descriptions. We managed easily to find our way on our own and this is an option for small routes.
The route we made went to Mbyia Pools. From Mulanje you first have to take a car a chappa (500 KW) direction Mozambique for about 10 km until the unpaved road that leads to Ljublieri Tea Estate. The official start of the hike is Ndoanetsa Village, about 12 km from the tarmac road. At the junction, we were offered bicycle taxis. This ended up taking more then 2 hours and us walking every time the road went up… However, passing through the villages – with kids running towards us from everywhere – that surely don’t see a lot of tourists – plus the gorgeous scenery – was an amazing experience. From Ndaonetsa it is just a gentle 45 minutes hike to the pools that are quite stunning and offer the possibility for a very, very refreshing swim.
In town almost next to the people’s supermarket opened a new place called « Arts and Crafts ». Beside a very well furnished shop, they make great pizzas (3.800 – 5.000 KW).
To get to the national reserve, we took a chappe to Chikwawa, From there we managed to get a ride for 10.000 KW. The reserve itself offers also rides for 15 $ pp.
We camped at Ngona Lodge (15 $ pp). The place is nice, but be aware that it is open to day visitors and it can get crowded on weekends, so there goes the quietness… We self catered most of the time, but ate once at the restaurant. We both took a Mexican salad and unfortunately must say it was shockingly terrible (and cost 10 $…).
During high season, travellers should be warned that game drives in the parc in the early morning or late afternoon should be booked ahead. We also had the distinct impression that Thawala Camp has a system that guarantees its residents priority on those drives…(on both drives we did at these times, we were « called in » last minute after someone else cancelled, and both times the jeep was filled with Twawala residents…).
We had dinner at the Indian restaurant Veggi Delight (mains 2500-4500 KW) : we can only stress how great the food is there !