I Took A Bus From South Africa To Malawi And This Is What Happened

Taking the bus is probably not the first transport option that comes to mind when travelling out of the country but if, like me, you are a budget traveller always looking for new experiences keep reading. Just A couple of months before the world was plunged into the Covid-19 pandemic, I learned that the now-closed Greyhound bus service had a new route from Johannesburg to Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu, in Malawi. Since I’ve always wanted to see Malawi and visit a friend at the same time, this got me excited. I’m no stranger to bus travel but this was my first time crossing a border using the bus. I was a little apprehensive at first because I couldn’t find enough information on bus travel across borders. This is what I know now. Since the pandemic, I haven’t travelled across borders by bus.

TRAVEL DOCUMENTS REQUIRED

South Africans do not need a visa to travel to Malawi but make sure you have your passport and you have more than six months before expiry. You will be expected to produce a passport each time you get to a border. You will travel through three borders on the journey from South Africa to Malawi. If you have travelled to a yellow fever region in the past, you will also be expected to produce your yellow fever vaccination certificate. The Zimbabwe/Mozambique border officials will expect this from you and you will be fined should you not have it. Yes, you will go through Mozambique as well. Keep reading.

South Africans do not need a visa to travel to Malawi

VACCINATIONS

There are no compulsory vaccines required before you travel to Malawi, but it is strongly advised that you take Malaria prophylaxis. It is also recommended that you are vaccinated for Typhoid fever, Hepatitis A, B and Polio. Malawi is a high-risk area for Malaria and it’s advisable that you bring a mosquito repellent and a mosquito net. Mosquito nets are easily accessible in Malawi and it might be better to buy one upon arrival. With all that protection, you should be safe. Just remember to use your repellent, especially after sunset. Make sure your arms and legs are covered when you are outdoors. And should you contract Malaria, Malawi hospitals are well-equipped to treat it. Since we now live in Covid times, you will need to have a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of your departure.

WHAT TO BRING ON THE BUS

Comfortable Shoes. Make sure you have comfortable shoes, just like you would if you were going on a long flight. You will be on the bus for close to 36 hours and it’s better to be as comfortable as possible. There is plenty of space if you want to stand or walk around for stretching and blood circulation.

Food. The bus only stops twice for refreshments, so you should make sure you have enough food and snacks for your trip. It is advisable to bring dry snacks because it gets pretty warm on the bus and other food might rot easily.

Hand sanitiser/ wipes. You might not get an opportunity to wash your hands as regularly as you need to and hand sanitiser will come in handy. And now that Covid-19 is part of our lives, you better be safe.

Travel Pillow. As you can imagine, your neck will strain a lot while you try to sleep comfortably on the bus. Bring your travel pillow and a small blanket in case the air-conditioner is too cold for you.

Charger/USB Cable. The bus has USB charging ports to make sure that you’re always connected. Also, bring a power bank and make sure it’s fully charged. This is a long trip and it helps to have contingency plans. I used the Greyhound Citiliner but I know for a fact that Intercape also has the same facilities.

Music/Book. You will need to keep yourself entertained on this trip therefore bringing along a book or your favourite playlist will curb boredom.

Change of clothes. The climate changes significantly as you travel through Mozambique and it would be a great idea to bring a change of clothes so that you will feel and smell fresher.

THE BORDERS

If you haven’t looked at the map in a while, you might not know that to get to Malawi from South Africa, you might have to drive through Zimbabwe and Mozambique because Malawi doesn’t share a border with South Africa. Of course, there are other routes. Malawi is landlocked by Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique. Fortunately, South Africans do not need a visa to travel to any of these countries.

The borders are hassle-free, as long as your documents are up to date. Your first border is Beitbridge. If your bus leaves Johannesburg on time, you will reach Beitbridge just after sunset. Depending on the time of the year you travel, you might find long queues but as soon as you reach the immigration officers everything goes pretty quickly. Just remember to always be with the passengers from your coach and make sure you can locate your bus at any given moment. If you have any questions, the bus drivers are always available to assist.

Your next border is between Zimbabwe and Mozambique. There are no official rules at this border but other travellers will tell you that it’s easy to be fined. You can be fined for littering, chewing, but most importantly you will be fined for touching the flagpole. Do not touch the flagpole at the Mozambique border! Do not touch the flagpole!! Also, remember not to take any photos as this is strictly prohibited. This goes for all the borders but the Mozambique border is particularly strict on this.

Your last border is Mwanza. This is the border between Mozambique and Malawi. This is where you will spend the most time. Just like the other borders, at Mwanza, you have to disembark with your passport and travel documents and get your passport stamped by the officials. But over and above that, at Mwanza, you have to go through customs. As soon as your passport has been stamped, you have to complete a declaration form, if you have something to declare. If you’re a tourist you probably won’t need to declare anything, but a lot of Malawians travel to South Africa to buy goods to resell in Malawi. These are the people that immigration officers are more interested in. This process takes about three hours, depending on the number of goods to be checked. As soon as every parcel has been checked, the journey to Blantyre continues. Blantyre is only an hour’s drive from the border.

COST OF THE TRIP

The bus ticket, before Covid, was R1400, from Johannesburg to Blantyre, I imagine if you travel to Lilongwe or Mzuzu you will fork out more. The total cost is below R2000. Make sure you have some cash on you to buy water and refreshments along the way.

THE JOURNEY

The journey itself is magnificent. If you book a window seat you are in for a treat as the bus glides through the perfect landscapes of Southern Africa. The bus starts in Johannesburg and travels through Tzaneen, Musina and other smaller towns in Limpopo. I travelled during the rainy season and the land was a beautiful luscious green with rivers flowing in abundance. Perhaps the most surreal moment for me was driving over the mighty Zambezi River for the first time after only reading about it from primary school history books. I was completely astounded by its magnitude.

I didn’t get to see most of southern Zimbabwe because the bus travels through the night, but in the morning we got to drive through Harare. It was a quick drive but I was able to see some important landmarks. I made a mental note to add travelling to Zimbabwe to my bucket list.

The drive through Mozambique is mostly through the rural part of the country. The land is equally beautiful and green as the rolling hills form a picturesque backdrop to give you Wakanda longing.

Malawi is a beautiful destination. Its people are as wonderful as the country itself. It didn’t take too long for me to understand why this country is fondly known as the “Warm Heart of Africa”. The people always greet you with a smile and are eager to help with directions and anything else you might need. Malawi has an endless list of exciting activities to do. Lake Malawi is a paradise and nothing prepares you for its sheer enormity. The waters are incredibly clear calm and safe for swimming. Lazy days on the lake while sampling freshwater fish and sipping on cocktails are a must for your to-do list. You can also enjoy some majestic wildlife and take a drive on some of the scenic routes.

The truth is, you can fly from Johannesburg to Lilongwe or Blantyre in just over two hours but driving will give you a front-row seat to some of the best views that Africa has to offer.

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10 thoughts on “I Took A Bus From South Africa To Malawi And This Is What Happened

  1. Lovely chommie! I also experienced some excitement when I read the part you finally getting to see the Zambezi river, things geography lessons are made of 🙂 Indeed not
    all who wander are lost

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An absolute beautiful read . You literally took me through the journey I had back in 2019 coming from Tanzania- Johannesburg by BUS via Malawi. I remember all the boarder and the experience itself is unmatched . Something EVERYONE deserve to experience in life . Those 36hrs crossing the boarder of AFRICA is a beautiful experience and thank you for noting it all done .

    Can’t wait for your next writes .

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Touching a flagpole?? Wow!
    On my last bus trip, in the early 2000s, we were ‘treated’ to a 3 part Nigerian film. Yes, it lasted all the way from Zobue border in Moz to South Africa. Watched all three parts again on the way back 😦

    Liked by 1 person

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