Known as the Warm Heart of Africa, Malawi shows its smiling faces to all – when enjoying the tranquil shores, during village excursions, while kayaking on a river boat safari or whilst wildlife viewing.
Culturally, Malawians are extremely welcoming and respectful of their visitors, ensuring they portray their country in the best possible light and are always interested to stop and chat and hear your story.
Geographically, it is a land of diverse landscapes; with rolling green hills, high plateaus, forests and farmlands, game parks and spectacular mountain ranges.
Malawi’s biggest attraction, however, is Lake Malawi, which takes up a full fifth of the country. This inviting lake stretches away like an inland tropical sea filled with clear, warm water and dotted with rocky islands.
A river boat safari is one of the best ways to appreciate the wildlife and beauty of Malawi’s national parks. While tourism is slowly picking up along the lakeshore, visitors can still relax or go kayaking or diving without stepping on others’ toes! Of course, the appeal of this small hidden gem of Africa extends beyond the lake, all the way to the peaks of Mulanie Mountain, the highest peak in Central Africa.
If you are staying in the cities of Blantyreor Lilongwe, you have plenty of options for day trips away from urban hustle and bustle. Many people choose to head straight to the lakeshore or Luangwa National Park, but there is another option: village visits. Visits can include an afternoon playing with the children in a small orphan care centre, visiting a community project or watching traditional dancing and sampling some local delicacies. A village excursion is also a fantastic way to ensure your visit to Malawi benefits local people.
If you are looking for a truly unique gift, check out the handful of stalls situated at the base of Mount Mulanie. Another highlight of shopping in Malawi is a visit to the fruit and vegetable markets.
English / Chichewa
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Drives on the
When to go
For most people and activities the dry (winter) season is most attractive (i.e. April/May to October/November). The chance of rain is slim, daytime temperatures are generally pleasant (in the 20s Celsius) and the low vegetation and limited availability of water mean that game viewing is at its best.
Malawi’s best weather is in August, but as this is the month for school holidays, national parks and lodges on Lake Malawi become very crowded. However, some of the best birdwatching can be had from November to April and the orchids of Nyika are best seen from December to March/April.
In the hottest month (usually November) maximum temperatures will be around 30°C. In the coldest month (July) maximum temperatures will be in the low 20’s.
On the uplands (e.g. Zomba, Nyika and Viphya) it can be quite cold at night. The hottest area, all year, is that at the lowest altitude – the Lower Shire Valley.
Rainfall is extremely rare in the dry season and even in the so-called wet season, the rains are usually short-lived storms, as is typical of the tropics, and at no time does the climate seriously inhibit the traveller.
Major attractions in Malawi
Africa Street Market
Great buys and original artworks
A small fishing village and a leading tourist destination
Kuti Wildlife Park
Highlighting the importance of conservation.
The third largest and second deepest lake in Africa.
Lake Malawi National Park
The first freshwater national park in the world, an area of exceptional natural beauty
Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary and Wildlife Center
A wildlife rescue, conservation and education centre
A remarkable natural resource with a stunning forest reserve which is home to a rich and diverse endemic plant and animal species.
Offering visitors a beautiful beach, campsites, hotel and some of the best curios in Malawi.
Malawi’s oldest forest reserve, with waterfalls and walking trails amidst the forests
Events & Festivals
Lake of Stars International Music Festival
A three day music festival on the beaches of Malawi.
Lake Malawi International Yachting Marathon
A small boat sailing race, since 1984.
The Bwato Race
An annual canoeing race.
The Mount Mulanje Porters Race
Runners can run a rocky and rough route up the mountain for a distance of about 25 km.
Preparing to visit
A full valid passport is required for entry into Malawi. For tourist visits, visas are NOT required by citizens of most Commonwealth countries such as South Africa, also the USA, Japan, most European Union countries and certain other countries.
Please nearest Malawi diplomatic mission, from which visas for any nationality can be obtained.
International travellers over the age of 18 may import, duty free: 200 cigarettes or 225g of tobacco; 1 litre of spirits; 1 litre of beer; 1 litre of wine; plus a “reasonable” quantity of consumable goods to meet the traveller’s immediate need while in Malawi.
Outside the main tourist areas, women should cover legs and shoulders so as not to offend local sensitivities. Swimwear and very skimpy clothing should be confined to the beach resorts.
Homosexual acts are illegal in Malawi.
Money and Cash
The currency of Malawi is the kwacha that replaced the Malawian pound in 1971. The kwacha is divided into 100 tambala and in June 2010 one SouthAfrican rand was equal to 19,4475 kwacha.
The kwacha divides into 100 tambala. Practically speaking, only the kwacha is used. Banks in the towns are open weekdays from 08:00 to 13:00. Mobile banks operate along the lakeshore and in more remote areas (check days/times locally). Travellers cheques or foreign currency notes are widely accepted. If using dollars to pay for your tours and accommodation, try to avoid taking $1 or $5 dollar notes as these may not be accepted as most Malawi banks will not exchange such low denominations.
There is no limit to the amount of foreign currency imported but it must be declared and accounted for on departure. Only MK3000 of local currency may be exported. There are 24-hour ATMs in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu. Only local currency is dispensed and that is limited to approximately the equivalent (depending on exchange rates) of £85, Euro110; US$140 in any period of twenty-four hours.
Avoid black market currency traders.
Health and safety
Malawi is considered a safe country for tourists and Malawians are rightfully known for their friendliness.
Drug taking and smuggling are offences. This includes the purchase and use of cannabis, for which punishment can be severe. Buying uncut precious stones is also illegal.
Immunisation against polio, tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A is recommended.
Yellow fever immunisation may be required only by visitors entering from a yellow fever zone.
There is a risk of malaria and prophylactics should be taken. Seek up to date advice from your doctor.
There is a risk of contracting bilharzia if bathing in some parts ofLake Malawibut the risk is negligible near the main beach hotels. The infection is relatively easily treated once diagnosed.
Malawi is a high risk area for AIDS.
Since late November 2009, there has been a series of earthquakes in northern Malawi around Karonga. Some of these have been quite severe, registering up to 6.2 on the Richter scale, and have caused some deaths and damage to buildings.
Bottled water should be used in preference to tap water if used for drinking.
Getting In & Around
Travel in Africa can be challenging, however transportation in Malawi is good; the country has a good road network and many air connections with the outside world. Boat services on Lake Malawi are reliable; they also connect Malawi to Mozambique and Tanzania in the east.
Railroads inMalawi are weak, and its services are limited. Tourist do not in general make use of this mode of transport.
Most international visitors travelling by air will arrive into Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe.
The M1, which runs the length of Malawi from Tanzania in the north to Mozambique in the south, offers spectacular views while passing through the Viphya Mountain Range, the Dedza Mountains and the Chikwawa Escarpment in the south. This beautiful route provides travellers insight into Malawian culture and traditional lifestyles; villages built from mud and straw appear throughout the countryside, and traditional crafts are presented and sold along what used to the Malawi’s ancient trading routes.
Air and road travel are the most convenient and easiest modes to get around Malawi. Boating, however, is the most delightful.
Matolas (local minibuses) operate along the majority of local roads in Malawi and are the most common public means of getting around cities and between towns along the country’s major routes and highways. These are usually the cheapest and easiest means of travel and provide the chance to experience local African life by interacting with locals and fellow travellers. Be aware, though, that you may find yourself travelling with a variety of animals, furniture, farm produce or seasonal goods en route to market.
Though they are becoming less widely used, a more ‘rustic’ means of transport in rural areas are open-backed pick-up trucks; travellers must be aware of the dangers associated with standards of driving and sobriety.
For those searching for a more comfortable and safer way of travel, buses are a good option. Recent additions of good quality, air-conditioned buses have been placed on roads inMalawi’s main cities and towns. To travel in between cities, there is a variety of luxury, express and regular routes to choose from.
Taxis are available in most cities; however, it is difficult to hire a car outside of Lilongwe and Blantyre.
One of the most common means of transport in Malawi for locals are boda-bods, pedal bikes with cushion seats attached to the rear. They are generally found peddling back and forth between trading centres and small towns and villages. For a couple of dollars travellers can hop on the back of a bike and travel between small trading posts or often into rural villages on motorised boda-bodas.
When travelling on any public transport in Malawi, it is vital to keep your luggage in sight at all times. Malawi is generally safe and friendly; however, temptation and opportunity are easy catalysts.
Always check bus and matola fares with a local before travelling, as drivers sometimes take advantage of visitors with a hiked mzunguprice. Patience is necessary when travelling in Africa, as timetables are rarely followed and breakdowns and delays are normal. Relax, soak up the experience, and enjoy the ride; it’s part of local culture in Malawi.