Malawi is famous for, well nothing in particular, but it is still a pleasant place to visit, and most visitors come away with a positive feel for the place. National parks, some excellent trekking conditions and activities around Lake Malawi are the main attraction, it’s a pity it makes the news for poverty, a high HIV infection rate and a former leader who became one of Africa’s longest, and unfortunately most ineffectual, leaders. It’s redeeming factor is it’s famously friendly locals.
Malawi has the full range of accommodation options, but it’s fair to say that you won’t be spoilt for choice in the five-star luxury category. You will however find plenty of quaint and cute places, especially in areas close to Lake Malawi, but you’ll also find that some of the better places were even better 20 years ago. If you’re packing a tent, there are lots of good campsites dotted around. Food wise, think tasty meals rather than gourmet ones and you shouldn’t be too disappointed.
When to Go
The weather in Malawi varies; around Lake Malawi, it is generally warm while the highlands are cooler. May to August is a good time to visit, with dry and pleasant weather, but evenings can be on the cool side. September and October experience classical African hot, humid and uncomfortable conditions. December to March is the wet season, with plenty of rainfall.
Getting There & Away
The two main airports in Malawi are Lilongwe International Airport and Chileka International Airport (in Blantyre). The vast majority of flights offered are to destinations within Africa, with South Africa and Kenya being the most frequently served. There are road links with Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, and a coach service from Johannesburg in South Africa. Malawian roads are generally of a good standard and major roads are tarmac. There is a train service, with two words most aptly characterizing it: slow and crowded. You’d be better off on an elephant quite frankly.
Health & Safety
Aside from malaria, bilharzias, typhoid, rabies, various types of hepatitis, HIV, contaminated water and heat stroke, you’ll find no health risks in Malawi. All these things can be prevented though; visit your doctor before you travel, take anti-malarial tablets and listen to health advice and you shouldn’t have your holiday spoiled. Use common sense when in towns and cities, don’t stroll around alone at night and keep your belongings close in busy areas. Don’t forget lions and leopards and the like may look just like your pet kitty back home, but they tend to be a little more boisterous, so stay in your vehicles.
Two to three days in Liwonde and other national parks
Two days in Lilongwe
Three to four days enjoying what Lake Malawi has to offer
Three days trekking in the Mulanje region
Two days in the lakeside town of Nkhata Bay
Liwonde National Park: the most popular of Malawi’s national parks has plenty of animals to see, with hippo, elephants, crocodiles and all ‘the big five’ going about their daily business.
Lake Malawi: this vast lake has plenty to offer visitors; with sandy shores and still waters, and more species of fish than any other lake in the world. Water sports are available, but pure relaxation is the choice of many.
Mulanje: the Mulanje Mountains offer some great hiking and rock climbing, and with some of the large tea estates offering accommodation, it’s a good place to relax and drink lots of the locally-grown produce.
Lilongwe: in truth, much of the capital is something of an urban sprawl, but the Old Town with its interesting architecture, markets (live chickens available) and relaxed feel is worth a fleeting visit.
Nkhata Bay: is the most popular and attractive lakeside town, with a lively market, lots of budget accommodation and a good atmosphere.
Safari: Malawi doesn’t have the same quality of national parks as you’ll find in East Africa, but you won’t worry about that as you view elephants, lions and all their pals from the comfort of a four-wheel drive vehicle.
Water sports: Lake Malawi, with its range of tropical fish, provides perfect conditions for scuba-diving, snorkeling, waterskiing and kayaking as well as relaxing swimming. It all happens around the lovely Lake Malawi.
Trekking: Malawi has some excellent areas for trekking, with the Mulanje area being especially popular; it’s recommended you go in the cooler season.
Cultural dancing: dance is integral to many events in Malawi and the Gule Wamkulu dance is especially good to watch, but perhaps not to join in.