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.
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!
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
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!
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.
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!).
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).
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