Bus from Lusaka, Zambia to Lilongwe, Malawi

My neck is very comfortable

I find it very helpful to read other’s accounts of how they got from point A to B in strange places, and so I thought I’d return the favour. I’ll try to do this as often as I can during this trip – click on the tag “bus travel” to find more of the same.

Summary

Travel time: 12 hours
Cost: 170,000 ZMK (Zambian Kwacha) or 34 USD
Bus company: Kobs Bus Services

I travelled with Kobs Bus Services, and caught them at the Lusaka Intercity Bus Terminus. I was recommended to go with Kobs by a few locals I’d met during my time in the city who I paid a few bucks to do some travel research. They said it was the most comfortable, the fastest, and the most reliable. I was told that they even provide a snack and a cold drink along the way. That was good enough for me!

Pre-departure

I went to the bus station to buy a ticket ahead of time as I wanted to be absolutely sure I would make it on to the bus. The ticket cost me 170,000 Zambian kwatcha, which is about US$34. I know that I didn’t overpay as this is what was listed on a sign as I approached the ticket office, and someone else in the bus confirmed having paid the same thing. Since I have troublesome knees, I asked for a seat at the front. The fellow at the ticket office (Masuzio) was very nice and met me the following morning to make sure I had a comfortable seat. I tipped him 5000 kwacha (US$1) for this as I really appreciated it.

Departure and Baggage
Zambian countryside at sunrise
Zambian countryside at sunrise

The bus boarded at 4:30am, and was scheduled for departure at 5:00am. It left on time. I decided to put my large backpack into the hold down below. The baggage handled tried to pull a fast one on me, by saying that there was a charge for bags stowed under the bus. I just ignored him and he didn’t do anything. But a scary thing did happen on route. About an hour and a half into our trip, along a dusty highway through the countryside, the bus went over a bump and the hold opened up and several bags fell out on to the highway. The bus stopped, and passengers ran back along the highway searching for their bag and clothes that had fallen out of those that had burst open. Thankfully mine was safe as it was in one of the other holds. Still, quite disconcerting!

Our bus stopped at Chipata

Stops

During the trip, we stopped about half a dozen times. This was not a surprise, as I had been told that the bus was an express but that several stops were planned. However, consistently the bus driver said we’d only stop for 10-15 minutes, and we always stayed at least double that. So this dragged out the length of the ride quite a bit. One of those was the town of Chipata, where we stopped for about an hour. Some passengers alighted here and took taxis to the Malawian border, and caught another bus on the other side. One local suggested to me that he wished he had done so himself, as he would have saved himself up to an hour.

Bathrooms

There are no bathrooms on the bus. In some places you’ll find private restrooms which charge a small fee for use, and others you’ll have to hunt around for a spot to go. This is obviously much easier for guys than girls. In the countryside, folks will step off into the bush. As a rule, I always bring a roll of toilet paper with me, and this is often useful on bus trips. I also find popping an immodium a couple of hours prior to the trip can avoid an uncomfortable (or embarrassing situation!).

Border Crossing
A group of nuns sitting outside the border office

The border crossing was uneventful. Leaving Zambia is easy, you simply fill out an exit card and they stamp your passport. Entering Malawi is about as easy. You fill out a visitor register, carry a log number with you to the agent, and fill out an immigration card, and he stamps your passport. There is no fee for entering Malawi (as there was for Zambia and Mozambique). I doubt the reverse is true for Malawians entering Canada! And there are always moneychangers around willing to take your money for a fee (or for free!). Good idea to check rates ahead of time if you’re worried about getting fleeced.

Arrival in Lilongwe

Depending on who I had asked, I had had quotes of anywhere from 8 hours to 14 hours for the ride. In the end, we arrived in Lilongwe in 12 hours, which was about what I had hoped. The bus was usually traveling at a pretty good clip and often overtook other vehicles on the road.

On your arrival in downtown Lilongwe, there will be plenty of local taxis (motorcycles and vehicles) available to take you to your destination. If you don’t have a place to stay and your budget is flexible, I would highly recommend the Kiboko Hotel where I stayed myself for long enough to have a very informed opinion. If you need something more affordable, I have heard good things about Mufasa Backpackers’ Hostel, although I have never stayed there myself. For either hotel, it should not cost you more than 3-4 USD from the bus station using a regular taxi (much less for a motorcycle taxi).

Bottom line:

I would travel with Kobs again but if you can, bring your backpack on to the bus with you. And of course, be aware that bus travel is not the safest form of travel in many countries with poorly enforced road laws. News article: Zambian bus accident kills 33

Is there something else you wish I’d commented on or want to know about? Leave a note below.

22 thoughts on “Bus from Lusaka, Zambia to Lilongwe, Malawi”

  1. We are trying to connect with the bus in Chipata, but cannot find info on the arrival time from Lusaka!

    What time did you get in? We are flying in from Lusaka and arriving about 9:45 AM.

  2. Hi Nancy,

    I’m not surprised you can’t find that information! :)

    The bus left Lusaka at about 4:30/5am. Unfortunately I don’t recall the time I arrived in Chipata but since it was a 12 hour bus ride and Lilongwe is an hour and a half from the border, I would venture that was between 1 and 2pm. That seems right based on the sunlight in the photo and from what I remember.

    If you are flying from Lusaka to Chipata and then want to catch a bus to Lilongwe, you should have no problems. You may have to catch a bus from Chipata to the border and then change buses on the other side. From what I understand, there is plenty of competition on these short routes.

    Good luck! :)

    Ryan

  3. Hi Ryan,

    Just to say thak you for sharing the info. I am planning to travel from Malawi to the Victoria falls by land and this post has been really useful.

    Cheers,

    Lourdes

  4. Hi Lourdes,

    Thanks! I am very happy to hear that. :)

    I am not sure if you were able to find Lusaka to Livingstone (Victoria Falls) bus information online, but as of June 2012, there was a bus that departs at 16h00 and one at 20h00. Apparently it takes six hours. The bus company is Mazhandu Family Bus Services. This information was given to me by the folks at Fawlty Towers Lodge in Livingstone.

    Cheers!
    Ryan

  5. Great post, especially the immodium tip ! :)

    We have taken the bus from Lusaka Chipata on two other trips to get to South Luangwa but later this year we will fly into Lilongwe on our way back to Chipata for another go at SLNP.

    We will have four rolling camping duffels plus two carryon bags . Noticed on your handy link to Kobs that they have a ‘business’ daily run to Chipata. I wonder if this will help us avoid having to carry our own luggage across the border on foot? Any ideas ?

  6. Hi Robert and Laura!

    Thanks for the comment. Yup, I always carry Immodium and other essentials in my carry-on. Especially since having my luggage lost by Ethiopian airlines!

    I have never gone in the other direction so can’t speak to that… If your final destination is Chipata, then Kobs should take your luggage all the way there. I don’t recall having to take my bags across the border myself. If you must, then you could always hire a local guy to give you a hand. 500 kwacha should be more than enough.

    Hope that helps and enjoy South Luangwa, I have just returned from a trip to Liwonde National Park. It’s worth the trip! I will share photos and a story soon. :)

    Safe travels,
    Ryan

  7. Thanks for a useful report. I am planning to travel the same route during May. Could you give me any indication of baggage limits? In addition to my suitcase I am looking at transporting two boxes not extremely large but rather heavy. (About 50cmx50cmx40cm but about 30kg each)

  8. Hi Marius,

    I am sure you will have no problem. They may charge you a bit extra but I have no doubt they will accommodate you somehow. :) I recommend going the day before to Kobs Bus Company office just to let them know.

    Safe travels,
    Ryan

  9. Iam planing to travel by coach to Lilongwe from Lusaka thanks fo rur info especially about fare i had no idea travelled by car last time with my family kids din’t like it too long.Malawians are kind and nice people compared to Zambians they can be rough especially the luggage handler.We slept at one “Motel” in Sinda as we were dog tired that was around 03am and had to leave 06am boy the receptionist was really nastyhave never seen aright madam wanted us to pay double for sharing a room with our kids so be careful where u spend nites.

  10. Can’t find the price of your buses from Lusaka to Lilongwe. Can I book on line here in South Africa.

  11. I don’t think it’s possible to book online. Maybe a travel agent in South Africa?? Anyway, you’re probably better off buying it in person at the bus station in Lusaka.

    The price is mentioned in the blog post: 170,000 Zambian kwacha, or about US$34 (at the time).

    Have fun!

  12. Hello Sir, Hope you are doing all right. I don’t know do you have time to reply or not, u look like a busy man from your profile. Just wanted to ask few questions, Before I start I want to tell you few things. I am Canadian from Vancouver Going Africa for 6 months backpacking. Starting from Vancouver-Johannesburg-Swaziland-Mozambique-Zimbabwe-Zambia-Malawi-Tanzania-Burundi-Rwanda-Uganda-Kenya-Ethiopia-Sudan-Egypt-Vancouver.
    I know Canadians need visa for Sudan. But my main question is, Can I get Visa of all these countries by travelling road on their respective land border posts without getting into lengthy paper work?

  13. Hi Abhay, sorry for the late reply. Have you started your trip yet? It sounds amazing. I wish you happy and safe travels! I have not been to most of those countries – (Swazi, Zim, TZ, Burundi, Sudan, Egypt). Paperwork can be lengthy, I would usggest you consult other travelers on LonelyPlanet’s ThornTree forum for people who have experience traveling through the land borders of those countries and they could advise. you. For Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Uganda and Kenya I think you will be fine. I would advise you to get the Ethiopia visa in advance as they can be very strict with their requirements. I hope that helps!

  14. I am wanting to visit Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. Do you have a routing of what to do and see that you could recommend for a general traveler who wants to see and experience these countries. My daughter lives in Rwanda and I’d fly to the area with Rwanda Air. I have gravel a lot – sometimes on our own and sometimes with a tour, but this time I prefer to go without a tour company and do it on the low cost but see what is worthwhile, including some hiking,birding and boating. Is the Lonely Planet on these countries the best book for a guide on what to do and where to go etc.?

  15. Hie Ryan
    am a Malawian and was just brousing and came across ur blog, I just want to thank u for the good picture u have been painting about Malawi in general which many Malawians don’t see, once again thank u
    Ghabriel, Malawian

  16. Hello Ryan
    Your blog is excellent and I have learned much from it.
    Thank you !
    I’m leaving Vancouver on March 24th,2017 to visit 7 African countries south of Malawi. Did you visit Maputo Mozambique
    and if so, how was the border crossing ? I understand that the
    one entry tourist visa is $ 550 now ? To pay that much for a 2 day visit is too much for my budget. Any suggestions ?
    Sincerely, Eric

  17. Hi Eric!

    Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you like my blog.

    The trip from Lilongwe to Maputo was very long. I took a bus from Lilongwe and crossed the border near Dedza and continued on to Tête in Mozambique then I flew one-way to Maputo from there. The part that I traveled by bus was quite a fun adventure! However if you are short on time as I was, plan it carefully. :)

    As for the visa, I am not aware of the latest regulations! That is quite expensive indeed and probably not worth it! Is that what the consulate or embassy of Mozambique in Vancouver is quoting you? You may wish to inquire or research the cost of the visa if you cross by land and obtain the visa there. You may find it a bit cheaper. It was five years ago for me but I believe I paid US$100 for my single-entry tourist visa. Try posting a message in the relevant travel forum on Lonely Planet and see if any fellow travelers know the current situation!

    Hope that helps! Happy travels! :)
    Ryan

  18. PS the border crossing at Dedza was fine. I took a taxi from the town, walked to the immigration office, walked across the borde, and then took a bus on the other side to my next destination in Mozambique. If I have time I will try to post some photos. :)

  19. thanks for the very informative narrative.i am planning to travel with my daughter from lusaka to dar es salaam by road. any idea how to travel and how long it will take? will appreciate up to date info.

  20. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your posts as
    long as I provide credit and sources back to your website?

    My website is in the very same niche as yours and my visitors would certainly benefit from some
    of the information you present here. Please let me know if this okay
    with you. Thanks a lot!

  21. Hi Lelio, for sure, thank you very much! Grateful if you can please send me link(s) to the page(s) where you will quote my posts!
    Cheers
    Ryan

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