Often billed as ‘the warm heart of Africa’, Malawi offers something for all visitors.
One of the most beautiful and laid-back countries in Africa, Malawi is renowned for being a destination for those seeking adventure, leisure, or eco-tourism attractions.
Malawi’s scenery is gorgeous and varied and Malawians tend to be extremely friendly toward travelers. Nature lovers will adore the national parks and game reserves, mountain biking, and plateau trekking.
Top tips for Malawi Travel
Travel in Malawi
Malawi’s road network is reasonably well established, with most major routes tarred. Bus transport is a viable option, with express and luxury coach options available and boat trips are a fond favorite.
For those seeking a more comprehensive African adventure, there are several overland tour operators running trips that span various countries, allowing travelers an opportunity to experience the spirit of Africa and enjoy a variety of experiences.
With a large and diverse range of tribal backgrounds among the people of Malawi, it’s understandable that many travelers are concerned about matters of accepted behavior and convention. Fortunately for visitors to this African paradise, Malawian society is well integrated and visitors need not worry too much about social differences.
Malawians are “hand-shake people”. They generally place some importance on the shaking of hands when meeting and greeting. Among some parts of society, men practice a special handshake, involving the grasping of the thumb and placing the left hand on the forearm – foreigners should probably not be trying to do this, but if you’re there and you see it, you’ll know what it’s about. Also, women and children might curtsey as a greeting or as a sign of gratitude.
Generally, Malawians tend to the side of the conventional in their dress. It’s advisable to dress modestly but of course, in such a relaxed society there are no hard and fast rules and it’s probably better just to dress appropriately for your intended activity; a day at the beach calls for beachwear and a safari trip requires long sleeves and trousers.
Climate and weather
Winter, the dry season, is the best time to visit and lasts from May to October. June and July are the coldest months with a very comfortable average daytime temperatures 21ºC. The dry season also offers excellent game viewing and hiking opportunities.
The warm, humid rainy season, from November to April, brings hotter temperatures around the mid-30 ºC range. Rainfall is concentrated on the higher plateaus and some roads become impassable after very heavy rains.
The Malawi Kwacha is the locally used currency. It is freely convertible at a rate of around 137 Kwacha to the US dollar. US dollars are also readily accepted, particularly for larger purchases.
It’s also worth noting that neighboring Zambia’s currency, also called Kwacha, is worth a fraction of the Malawi Kwacha, so travelers need to watch out.
Credit cards are accepted to some extent, but then only the major brands like Visa and MasterCard and then only by the larger hotels or businesses geared specifically towards tourists. In general, it’s safer to assume that your card will not be readily accepted.
Traveler’s cheques too are not always easily exchanged. Some of the banks, Forex Bureaus and in top-end hotels may do so, but US currency in cash is probably a better option.
Malawi is a Malaria-risk area. To minimize the risk of mosquito bites, wear light, long-sleeved clothing and use an effective insect repellent (those containing Diethyltoluamide DEET work well) on exposed skin.
Sleep under treated mosquito netting or ensure that the doors and windows of your accommodation are screened against mosquitoes. Having a fan or air-conditioner on at night will also curb mosquito activity to some extent.
Currently, the three most effective anti-malaria medications are Mefloquine (Lariam or Mefliam), Doxycycline, and Malarone (Malani). Certain medications may cause side-effects and need to be taken some time before you are exposed to the risk, so consult your doctor or travel health center well before you intend to depart.
Must-see sights of Malawi
Lilongwe – This, the Malawian capital, is renowned for the Old Town, home to market stalls, quaint cafés and restaurants, and the New City, which houses embassy offices and shops.
Blantyre – Blantyre, located in the southern part of Malawi, is considered the center of commerce and industry in the country. Of interest for beer lovers, it is home to the Carlsberg brewery and has a range of restaurants accommodation options.
Lake Malawi – probably the most famous of Malawi’s tourist attractions, Lake Malawi is also known as Lake Nyassa and ‘Livingstone’s Lake’ (after famous explorer David Livingstone). It is the most southerly lake in the Great African Rift Valley.
The lake, about 560 km long and with a total area of nearly 30 000km², is bordered by Mozambique, Malawi, and Tanzania and is a source of the territorial dispute between Malawi and Tanzania.
Lake Malawi is home to a greater variety of indigenous species of fish than any other lake in the world, making it very popular among scuba divers and snorkellers.
Its peaceful blue waters and stunning golden beaches make for great retreats for those seeking a bit of relaxation. Water sports like kayaking; canoeing, wind sailing, and water skiing are available for those seeking a more active source of fun.