Travelling Malawi, the warm heart of Africa

Despite a majestic lake stretching through its eastern border that gives way to beautiful beaches, Malawi is the African country less-traveled. But it’s the place to be if you want to enjoy a natural paradise without everybody else. Though it hasn’t become a booming destination such as Tanzania, Kenya or South Africa, Malawi has numerous attractions. Malawi isn’t just Madonna’s adoption but has more to offer. Many parts of Africa felt the hot breath of British colonialism, and Malawi was no different. Victorian missionary/explorer David Livingstone was poking about its landscape in the 1850s. A British protectorate was established in 1889. By 1907, it had taken on the formal name “Nyasaland” – a title which endured until 1964, when the protectorate was dissolved and Malawi became an independent country (becoming a republic two years later). Got that? Lovely. OK. History lesson over – for now, anyway.

It’s a landlocked country: Some African countries enjoy enormous swathes of coastline. Malawi is not one of them. It is hemmed in on all sides by other, bigger neighbors – by Mozambique to the east, south and south-east; by Zambia to the west; by Tanzania to the east and north-east. By quirk of 19th century bureaucracy, the precise route of the border with the latter is a source of ongoing controversy. The Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty of 1890, drafted between Britain and Germany in the carve-up of Africa, is unhelpfully vague on where, exactly, the frontier runs – and, 127 years later, the two countries are still at odds as to who owns what, and where (

Mainly, the dispute is about whether the border runs firmly up the middle of Lake Malawi, or ebbs along its edge. Officially, it does the latter, but the discovery of oil reserves under the surface of the lake has thrown several cats into a large box of pigeons. The treaty was concluded before either country existed in its modern state, and the small print has never been expanded. That said, the lake is so big that it amounts to about a third of Malawian territory. There are 11,400 square miles of it altogether – some 9,424 of them Malawian.

Lilongwe: Lilongwe is not a place which will detain travelers for too long, although the giant tower of the King’s African Rifles War Memorial is a reminder that the two world conflicts claimed their share of Malawian lives. Lilongwe was officially founded as a trading post in 1906 – and only recognized as a town in 1947. It became the Malawian capital even later, in 1975 – when kingpin status was taken away from Zomba, which had stood as the administrative hub in the colonial era. As the capital of Malawi, Lilongwe woodland trails weave through the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre. This sanctuary shelters rescued and injured animals, including lions, monkeys and crocodiles. Shops, bars and restaurants dot the Old Town district. The Capital City district, also called City Centre, is home to the 21st-century, Chinese-built Parliament building.

People: The people are super friendly everywhere. Malawi is called “The Warm Heart of Africa”. The people are super easy to approach, hospitable and extremely welcoming.  Malawians exude friendliness. It’s common for strangers to wave and greet visitors as if they know them.  And it’s easy to make them smile with a “moni” (pronounced mo-nee, not money), which means hello in Chichewa, the local language, and “Zikomo” (thank you). Although overt friendliness often arouses suspicion in the nomadic traveler, especially when someone’s trying to sell you tchotckes, there’s hardly any hawking or selling of tacky souvenirs in Malawi — the people are genuinely friendly.

Malawi Food: Malawi Food – Food/ Street Food: Malawian cuisine includes the foods and culinary practices of Malawi. Tea and fish are popular features of Malawian cuisine. Sugar, coffee, corn, potatoes, sorghum, cattle and goats are also important components of the cuisine and economy. Lake Malawi is a source of fish including chambo usipa, mpasa. Don´t miss out on trying the Malawians favorite 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:

  • Local Chicken/ Beef and Nsima
  • Chambo and Nsima
  • Kampango and Nsima
  • Fried Cassava (sort of a potato)
  • Fried Banana
  • Bonya (dried fish)

Malawi Travel – Best Travel Time: The best time to travel Malawi is from May to October as it is the drier season. The temperatures are lower, it is not humid at all and mosquitoes are rare. However check with your local weather channel, to make sure you have the right weather information.

Languages in Malawi: Malawi is a highly diverse country found in the continent of Africa; its diversity is evident from the many languages spoken in the country. There are 16 listed languages in Malawi. English is the official language of Malawi while Chichewa is the national language. There are other numerous languages also spoken in the country. However, English which is more often a second language and remains an important language in the country due to the country’s history as a British colony. On the other hand, Chichewa is a native language almost spoken by about half of Malawi’s population. Other common languages include Yao; Tumbuka; Tonga; Sena; Lomwe; Ngonde; Lambya.

It’s not crowded:  You can enjoy the pristine views of massive Lake Malawi — known in Malawi as Lake Nyasa; it’s the ninth largest lake in the world — without having your perfect day wrecked by a bunch of vacationers blasting horrible music. Instead, you’ll hear restaurants jamming 1990s pop music such as the Backstreet Boys — can’t win them all. Another perk: you won’t have to jostle for reservations at hotels, restaurants or game parks. Most of the travelers you’ll likely encounter in Malawi are tobacco businessmen or NGO workers — nary a tourist in sight.

Malawi VISA: Travelers visiting Malawi need to be in possession of a passport valid for at least 6 months beyond the date of intended departure. There are currently 34 countrues that are VISA exempt in Malawi. Details can be found at the link here:
According to a document published by the Department of Immigration, nationals of all countries that are not visa exempt may obtain a visa on arrival. This is not applicable to nationals of 53 countries who are placed as Category 1. Categories 1 are COUNTRIES AND REGIONS THAT REQUIRE A VISA WELL IN ADVANCE, OR PRIOR AUTHORIZATION. About 27 countries from Africa are on Category 1. Category 2 is for COUNTRIES AND REGIONS THAT CAN OBTAIN A VISA ON ARRIVAL WITH OR WITHOUT PRIOR AUTHORIZATION. But make sure you check with the department of Immigration on all documents you will need for your VISA to be processed before landing in Malawi. Lists may change from time to time.
Visas are the responsibility of the traveller. It is best to consult with the high commission of the country being travelled to in the country being travelled from as requirements vary and change constantly.
Costs are as follows but again, check with the local consular, embassy or with the department of Immigration of Malawi to get the latest costs of a VISA. Visa on arrival: Transit visa: US$50; single-entry visa: US$75; six-month multiple-entry visa: US$150; one-year multiple-entry visa: US$250.

Do I Need Vaccines for Malawi? Yes, some vaccines are recommended or required for Malawi. The CDC and WHO recommend the following vaccinations for Malawi: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, cholera, yellow fever, rabies, meningitis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), chickenpox, shingles, pneumonia and influenza. Visit for the full list of vaccines.

Malawi Currency – Money/ ATM´s: 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, Mzuzu or Blantyre. There is a possibility that ATMS might reject your card and or experience problems with withdrawing money. Either the ATM´s will not accept your Master Card, the ATM runs out of money or there is no ATM at all especially as you leave the urban areas. Also, don´t rely on the card machines in the hotels. They might not always work. In short, have plenty of cash with you in cases of emergencies.

Power cuts and Blackouts: Blackouts happen quite often but you get used to it. However, most of the lodges or backpackers have generators.

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. I wouldn´t recommend drinking tap water. Your best bet is bottled water. Anyway, you can find cheap bottled water all over the country. Can we also be environmental conscious when buying bottled water.

N.B: Please note information about countries changes everyday hence its best to consult the embassy of the respective nation for precise information. Keep following African Nomad blog for the second leg of Malawi….

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