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Ilala ferry malawi

Authentic adventures on Lake Malawi:
the Mythical Ilala Ferry and the new and frightening Chambo MV
Everything you need to know to travel around Malawi by boat

Prices, schedules, cabins, classes, and route around Lake Malawi

The MV Ilala is the only passenger ship connecting the whole Lake Malawi, transporting goods and people from the south to the north of the country, including the islands. Of course, it is famous for being often late due to maintenance, sometimes even a few days, and it seems not to be the safest ship in the world, but what Ilala is able to offer is an unparalleled perspective on the life, the reality, the enchanting landscapes and lights of Malawi.

The arrival of the Ilala is always an event for the inhabitants of the “harbor” villages… Only three stops are equipped with a real pier, for all the other places the ship stops near the coast, the distance depends on the water depth, usually a few hundred meters. Landing and boarding are entrusted to the boats of local fishermen and to the two small boats of the Ilala in a poetically daring manner.

A continuous coming and going of boats and canoes that reach the Ilala to accompany passengers and transport the precious freight goods to shore, while young eclectics devise creative ways only to get on the bridge and take a selfie, and maybe a Chibuku at the bar.

We sailed on the Ilala from Monkey Bay to the island of Likoma (about 27 hours) and it felt great, we didn’t have mechanical problems and we left and arrived on time.

🚢 The Ilala is like a blood cell, bringing the human life stream, across the lake, day by day, night by night, since 1951. (read more…)


Planning Malawi? absolutely check our

Backpacking Malawi – The best travel guide about Malawi on the web

History and path of the Ilala

The MV Ilala crosses Lake Malawi from north to south and vice versa since 1951. Every week it leaves from Monkey Bay, in the south of the lake, and reaches Chilumba, near the border with Tanzania, to then trace the same route back.

It carries passengers and goods stopping by the main towns on the west coast of Lake Malawi – plus one on the east coast a few kilometers from the border with Mozambique – as well as on the two islands of Likoma and Chizumulu, in Mozambican waters but belonging to Malawi.

Yarrow Shipbuilder, built the Ilala for Nyasaland Railways in 1949 in Scotland, the boat was named after the Ilala region of Zambia, where David Livingstone was first buried.

Once built, the ship was dismantled and transported to pieces in Malawi, first by ship to Beira, Mozambique, then by rail and road to Chipoka, in the south of Lake Malawi. The Ilala thus began to sail the waters of the lake in 1951 and since then has continued to operate uninterruptedly, except for maintenance periods.

The British historian, traveler and writer Oliver Ransford describes life on board the MV Ilala in his book “Malawi, Livingstone’s Lake“:

Every day onboard, amid the exciting bell that rings, cries of sirens and shouts that seem inseparable from all maritime arrivals and departures, the laughing crowds of the Malawians line up on the Ilala bridge to disembark, cluttered with baggage that includes bicycles, cages full of birds, sewing machines and even tied goats. They are transported to the ground to return after about an hour later crammed with another group of passengers who quickly settle in the narrow spaces to sing and sleep and prepare meals in small pots. (from Wikipedia)


Read our full article about Monkey Bay and Cape Maclear

🏊 Most of the places where the Ilala stops indeed have no jetty. Folks and stuff is moved pretty acrobatically from the ferry to smaller boats… Even boats themselves are moved from the big boat on to smaller but yet bigger boats – if that does make sense 😅 – and then hens, goats, bicycles, baskets of dry fish/fruit/vegetables, and crates up crates of beer.

Detailed itinerary of the Lake Malawi Ferry – MV Ilala in 2019

At the time of writing (October 2019) these are the Ilala stops on Lake Malawi. In the past the ship arrived in Karonga and then in Tanzania but now this route is suppressed. It is not certain that it will not be restored in the future. Check the official website for updates, even if the real-time update is not absolutely guaranteed.

malawi ferry ilala route map

  • Monkey Bay, Malawi
  • Makanjila
  • Senga Bay, Malawi
  • Nkhotakota, Malawi
  • Likoma Island, Malawi
  • Chizumulu Island, Malawi
  • Nkhata Bay, Malawi
  • Usisya, Malawi
  • Ruarwe, Malawi
  • Ncharo, Malawi
  • Mlowe, Malawi
  • Chilumba, Malawi

 

 
Ilala Ferry Lago Malawi

🍺 In its one week round trip, this kind of mythical boat brings people and goods in the most remote corners of this huge lake. It’s arrival is always a sensation, all the village is excited and busy, many come on board sailing towards it with any means available, even broken surfboards and wooden planks, just to have a drink on the upper deck of this ferry full of symbolic value. (read more…)

Timetables of the MV Ilala on Lake Malawi

Monkey Bay – Chilumba (from South to North)

PORTOGIORNOARRIVOPARTENZA
Monkey BayVenerdì08.00
MakanjilaVenerdì11.0012.00
Senga BayVenerdì13.3014.30
Nkhota KotaVenerdì21.30
Nkhota KotaSabato04.00
LikomaSabato10.3017.00
ChizumuluSabato18.3020.30
Nkhata BaySabato23.55
Nkhata BayDomenica05.00
UsisyaDomenica08.0009.00
RuarweDomenica10.0010.30
TcharoDomenica11.3012.30
MloweDomenica14.0014.30
ChilumbaDomenica17.30

Chilumba – Monkey Bay (from North to South)

PORTOGIORNOARRIVOPARTENZA
ChilumbaLunedì02.30
MloweLunedì05.3006.00
TcharoLunedì07.3008.00
RuarweLunedì09.0009.30
UsisyaLunedì10.3011.30
Nkhata BayLunedì14.30
Nkhata BayMartedì01.30
ChizumuluMartedì05.3007.30
LikomaMartedì09.0015.00
Nkhota KotaMartedì22.00
Nkhota KotaMercoledì05.00
Senga BayMercoledì12.0013.30
MakanjiraMercoledì15.0017.00
Monkey BayMercoledì20.00Riparte il Venerdì alle 08.00

Cabins and Upper Deck Passage on the Ilala Boat

On the Ilala there are two possibilities for sleeping, there are double cabins, clean and equipped with a fan, one of them, the “owner’s cabin” has a sink inside. Showers with hot water and bathrooms are shared but only for those with higher class tickets (cabin or deck).

If you do not want the cabin, you can take the upper deck ticket, deck crossing, where you can sleep by placing your tent or simply with a mattress and sleeping bag. The cheapest place is the one with no solution for sleeping but you will be forced to stay under the bridge, only those who have the upper deck ticket can go there (a little Titanic style).


Prices

In the tables below you will find the ticket prices depending on the route and the chosen solution. Prices are in Kwacha, which is also the only currency with which you can pay for a ticket. You cannot pay by credit card. If you do not have enough cash and the ATM does not work (event not at all rare) there are always people available to change dollars near the ticket offices.

Rates Ilala – Economy Class (without bed or deck passage)

 MONKEY BAYMAKANJIRACHIPOKASENGA BAYNKHOTA KOTALIKOMACHIZUMULUNKHATA BAYUSISYARUARWETCHAROMLOWECHILUMBA
MONKEY BAY200025002500520073507600815083008500860086508700
MAKANJIRA20001500410058006100685073007600775080008250
CHIPOKA1700480063006900730079008150825087508550
SENGA BAY300050005500580065006800700073007800
NKHOTA KOTA41504760515058006150640066007250
LIKOMA950350039504050420060006500
CHIZUMULU300036503450390055006150
NKHATA BAY17502300285039004800
USISYA750160020503200
RUARWE75018502600
TCHARO11002100
MLOWE1500
CHILUMBA

Ilala Rates – Second Class (without bed or deck passage)

 MONKEY BAYMAKANJIRACHIPOKASENGA BAYNKHOTA KOTALIKOMACHIZUMULUNKHATA BAYUSISYARUARWETCHAROMLOWECHILUMBA
MONKEY BAY3.2503.8003.8007.15010.70011.15011.90012.05012.45012.89013.00013.400
MAKANJIRA3.2502.0005.6506.5007.0507.6009.0009.5009.80010.30011.000
CHIPOKA2.3006.3308.7509.35010.40011.05011.50010.10010.50010.900
SENGA BAY3.6006.5007.0008.0008.5009.0009.20010.00010.700
NKHOTA KOTA5.7006.6007.2008.2008.8009.1009.85010.600
LIKOMA1.3504.1005.4005.6005.8008.5009.350
CHIZUMULU3..3504.5004.7005.3007.8508.800
NKHATA BAY2.5503.1003.8504.6006.650
USISYA1.2501.8002.7504.400
RUARWE1.2502.4503.500
TCHARO1.4502.850
MLOWE1.750
CHILUMBA
PRICES VALID FROM 11 NOVEMBER 2014

Ilala Prices – Upper Deck Passage (possibility of camping with your own tent)

 MONKEY BAYMAKANJIRACHIPOKASENGA BAYNKHOTA KOTALIKOMACHIZUMULUNKHATA BAYUSISYARUARWETCHAROMLOWECHILUMBA
MONKEY BAY4.8005.2505.25012.65016.55017.60020.45021.15021.90022.50023.60024.900
MAKANJIRA4.8004.2008.85012.00012.85013.75014.10017.30017.85019.05020.450
CHIPOKA4.00010.30014.05015.10018.10018.85019.70020.20021.40022.700
SENGA BAY7.50012.50013.00016.00016.80017.50018.00019.00020.500
NKHOTA KOTA8.95010.25012.50012.75013.65014.20015.50017.000
LIKOMA2.8507.65010.80011.10011.40013.15014.700
CHIZUMULU5.1008.9509.55010.65012.30013.750
NKHATA BAY4.5005.3006.4008.15011.300
USISYA2.5003.8005.5008.000
RUARWE2.5005.0506.650
TCHARO3.1505.650
MLOWE3.650
CHILUMBA

Ilala rates – Standard cùCabin

 MONKEY BAYMAKANJIRACHIPOKASENGA BAYNKHOTA KOTALIKOMACHIZUMULUNKHATA BAYUSISYARUARWETCHAROMLOWECHILUMBA
MONKEY BAY8.0008.4008.40020.35029.25030.70034.45035.20036.30036.90037.95039.200
MAKANJIRA8.0005.50014.55021.90023.60025.15029.05030.40031.15032.70034.450
CHIPOKA7.00016.70025.50027.15031.45032.35033.60034.25035.55037.050
SENGA BAY13.00020.00021.50024.00028.00029.00030.00031.50033.000
NKHOTA KOTA14.65016.60019.85022.05023.60024.55026.50028.750
LIKOMA4.65011.00015.95016.35017.00022.85025.200
CHIZUMULU9.90012.90014.10015.70021.05023.700
NKHATA BAY7.5509.90012.10013.90016.700
USISYA3.6506.50010.75013.550
RUARWE3.6509.90012.000
TCHARO5.20010.100
MLOWE6.300
CHILUMBA

There is also the possibility of booking the first class cabin at a price not much higher than the standard cabin. The prices shown in the table are per person, children up to 12 years pay 50%.

 

Services on the MV Ilala

On the ship, there is a bar with fresh beer and other drinks and a restaurant with simple and acceptable food. The service, on the other hand, is of other times, recalling how this ship must have been in the fifties, when it was served by waiters with white gloves and the cabins were luxury.


MV Chambo Boat: Mozambique – Likoma – Chizumulu – Nkhata Bay

The MV Chambo is a new ship, 32 meters long and 7 meters wide, which connects the coast of Mozambique to the islands of Likoma and Chizumulo and arrives at Nkhata Bay. Sail 3 times a week, much more frequently than the Ilala and for the inhabitants of these islands it is a nice progress.

We took the Chambo from Likoma and we have to say though, that although it is certainly newer than the Ilala, it did not give us a feeling of security. Lake Malawi is more like a sea, we encountered rough water and the ship, too small for this type of crossing, swayed terribly. Furthermore, the maximum capacity would be 100 people and 10 tons of load, but we would transport at least twice as much.

If you are sure that the waters of the lake are calm, it is certainly a faster way to reach the islands, around 4 or 5 hours. On the internet there is news about a connection between Mozambique and Tanzania but it is not active at the moment, moreover on the Chambo Wikipedia page it is reported that it is possible to transport vehicles on the ship but this is absolutely not true, the only vehicles that can be transported are bicycles and maybe a couple of scooters.


Conclusions and advice

Before buying tickets you have to keep in mind a couple of things, first: the delays can be even counted in days (even if this rarely happens), therefore, you should have at least 3 days of margin if, for example, you have a flight to take .

This should be taken into consideration even more if you plan on going to the island of Likoma, if the Ilala gets stuck there you may have to wait days without many other options to leave.

Also, check the weather conditions, especially the wind that could cause rough water and a journey that is not too pleasant. Apart from this, the Ilala is a great way to explore Lake Malawi and especially the lives of the people who live on its shores.

🚣 The Ilala is a window through which gaze around the whole of Lake Malawi, at sunset we see dozens and dozens of fishing boats rolling away towards the horizon, with their loads of human emotions ready to face yet another night in the vast solitude of the lake. (read more…)


Planning Malawi? absolutely check our

Backpacking Malawi – The best travel guide about Malawi on the web

Have a look also at

Diving with Lake Malawi Cichlids, the mystery of the Malawian fish and How to get a PADI in Cape Maclear

A Travel Guide to Cape Maclear and Monkey Bay

Interested in the culture and traditions of Malawi?

Gule Wamkulu – Sacred Dances and the Secret Society of Malawi


Ilala Ferry Photo Gallery

Read it later – Save it on Pinterest!

Ilala Ferry Malawi

 

 

 

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