After being on a road trip in Malawi I put together a list of things you need to know before travelling around Malawi. This amazing country in Southern Africa is a combination of Lake, Wildlife, Landscape and Culture and what I found is that it’s one of the most amazing travel destinations off the beaten tracks. Here you can find everything that is important to know in advance before travelling to Malawi:
Malawi is called “The Warm Heart of Africa”. In general the people are super friendly, easy to approach, hospitable and welcoming. I can just encourage you to mingle with the locals and make friends with the them to get to know their culture and traditions. Besides that, you might experience that they introduce themselves with funny names. We ran into Chicken Pizza, Happy Coconut, Planet, Eminem and Sweet Pineapple – just to mention a few.
2. How to get there:
Getting to Malawi by plane is a bit time consuming as you need to switch planes quite often. Another time consuming way of travelling to Malawi is by bus. There are busses like Inter Cape, Kobs Bus or mini busses from Zambia, Tanzania and South Africa going to Malawi.
3. Public transportation:
Traveling in Malawi by public transport works pretty well. There are busses (Axa Bus, mini busses) going almost everywhere. The only thing you need is time. To get an idea – it is about $10 to get from Lilongwe to Nkhata Bay (distance: 366 km) and it takes you approximately 7 hours (excluding waiting time). Besides that many lodges or hostels have groups on Whats App and that´s where they share information about rides.
4. What to see:
- Cape Maclear – Malawi’s version of the Cote d ´Azure at the southern end of Lake Malawi
- Liwonde National Park – most famous National Park in Malawi
- Mount Mulanje – for those that are passionate about hiking
- Senga Bay – beach town 1 ½ hours away from the capital Lilongwe
- Kande Beach – one of the best places to chill and you can find one of the most beautiful beaches there
- Nkhata Bay – small bustling fishing village
- Likoma Island – beautiful island in Lake Malawi (from Nkhata Bay there is a ferry called: Ilala Ferry going to Likoma which you can take to get there)
5. Internet and SIM cards:
It´s always a good idea to get a SIM card, data and a bit of airtime. I got a card from Vodafone at the airport in Lilongwe but there are also other network providers like Airtel and TNM. You can find cards and top ups in almost every shop or almost every stand on the street. The quality of reception depends on where you are. I have experienced that there was a better reception in the smaller villages than in the capital Lilongwe.
6. Food/ Street food:
Don´t miss out on trying the Malawians favourite food. The stable food is Nsima, which is sort of porridge made from maize meal or cassava meal. It is a side for the following dishes:
- Nsima and Local Chicken/ Beef
- Nsima and Chambo
- Nsima and Kampango
(a plate in a local restaurant is about MK500 – MK1000 (about USD 1 – USD 2))
- Fried Cassava (sort of a potato)
- Fried Banana
- Bonya (dried fish)
7. Best travel time:
The best time to travel Malawi is May to October as it is the drier season.
There are 16 listed languages in Malawi. Chichewa is the most widely spoken language in Malawi, mostly in the central and southern regions of the country. It can be understood by almost everyone. To communicate in English is not a problem at all as English is spoken by almost everyone.
Here you can find my recommendations for places to stay:
- Cape Maclear: “The Funky Cichlid”
- Liwonde National Park: “Liwonde Safari Camp”
- Senga Bay: “Cool Runnings”
- Kande Beach: “Kande Beach”
- Nkhata Bay: “Mayoka Village”
(average rate for a bed in a dorm chalet $15/ and an average rate for a chalet or private room is: $ 30)
What I can highly recommend is making friends with the locals. We got invited to their places and even stayed with them, which was an amazing experience to get to know their culture, life and traditions.
Out of my experience shampoo is really tough to find especially in the small villages and rural areas. In case you can´t find shampoo just do it the way the locals do it and wash your hair with soap. If you have special toiletries you are using I recommend to bring everything you need because it might be a challenge or actually impossible to find a special product.
I felt super safe in Malawi. Nevertheless, use common sense and remember Malawi is the poorest country in the world. Make sure you don´t display valuables as it might attract people to take chances.
Most nationalities need a visa to travel Malawi. My recommendation: sort out your visa in one of the Malawian embassies or get it straight at the airport in Lilongwe. Especially for the airport make sure you have a credit card with you or U.S. dollar to pay for the visa. I paid about $70 dollar.
Yes, Malaria is an issue. Get yourself precaution, spray yourself and get Malaria medicine to take back home with you to be on the safe side. Also please consult your doctor before embarking on your journey to Malawi.
Blackouts happen quite often but you get used to it. However, most of the lodges or backpackers have generators.
15. Water supply:
You might experience a day where there is no water coming out of the tap but also most lodges or backpackers have water tanks.
16. Tap water:
I wouldn´t recommend drinking tap water. What I did was drinking water from the boreholes, which they use for the fresh water supply in the rural areas. Anyway, you can find cheap bottled water all over the country.
17. Lake Malawi and Bilharzia:
Lake Malawi is the third biggest lake in Africa offering stunningly white, sandy beaches and crystal clear water. While traveling around Malawi, you might want to go for a swim in the Lake but you have one thing you need to consider – Bilharzia. It is a parasitic infection caused by a tiny flatworm. This flatworm appears in parts of Lake Malawi and can cause a severe sickness. Read up on this before you go on your trip to Malawi but please don’t overthink it. You can treat it with pills so please speak to a doctor before or after your trip. The locals usually do all their washing in the lake – especially in the rural areas.
The local currency is Malawian Kwacha (MWK) but USD are accepted almost everywhere.
One of the best advises I can give is to sort out your money once you are in the bigger cities like Lilongwe or Blantyre. Especially at Cape MaClear, Kande Beach and Nkhata Bay we experienced problems with withdrawing money. Either the ATM´s wouldn’t accept Master Card (only visa), didn´t work or there was no ATM at all.
19. The Malawian kids
The Malawian kids loved being photographed and recorded on camera. Don´t miss out on taking pictures of them and selfies with them.
Don´t forget to pin my post:
20. Party vibe
No matter what day it is or what time of the day it is, for the Malawians there is always a reason to party. Don´t miss out on partying in a local night club, to dance to African house music and to taste the local beer “Chipoka” and a “green”.
Here you can find my vlog about: 20 things you need to know before travelling Malawi:
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