Thatched huts on Nyandirwi
photo by Steve Bennett

Malawi (Chichewa: Malaŵi) is a country in Africa, bordered by Mozambique to the south and east, Tanzania to the north, Zambia to the west. Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa, runs along most of its eastern border. It's described as the "Warm Heart of Africa", referring to the friendliness of the people.


Established in 1891, the British protectorate of Nyasaland became the independent nation of Malawi on 6th July, 1964. After three decades of one-party rule, the country held multiparty elections in 1994 under a provisional constitution, which took full effect the following year. National multiparty elections were held again in 1999 and 2004 electing present president Bingu wa Mutharika.


The hottest region is on the shores of Lake Malawi, but there is mostly a cooling breeze. It is cooler in the highlands. Winters (May till July) are dry. The rainy seasons is from November until March.


  • Northern Malawi

  • Central Malawi

  • Southern Malawi


  • Lilongwe - the political capital of country.

  • Blantyre - the economic capital and largest city of the country.

  • Mzuzu - the largest town in northern, and a staging-post for transport to Tanzania.

  • Karonga - the first and last stop from/to Tanzania - this town is quickly growing and spurned by the recient development of a uranium mine. Though it is tempting to swing through quickly, there can be some charm found here especially by the lakeshore.

  • Mangochi, formerly known as Fort Johnston, is found at the southern end of Lake Malawi where it empties into the Shire River and heads toward Liwonde. A medium-size town, it has all the usual conveniences for travelers (resthouses, restaurants, grocery stores) though none of them are worthy of much praise. By private vehicle, a drive to Mangochi from Blanytre will take about 3 to 4 hours.

  • Monkey Bay, is a popular large village as you head up the Lake Road from Mangochi toward Cape Maclear.

  • Cape Maclear - laid back fishing village on the southern end of the lake with good sandy beaches, a favorite among backpackers, boaters, and sunseekers.

  • Nkhata Bay - a rocky bay towards the north of the lake - check into one of the lodges and you could be here for a while.

Other destinations

  • Likoma and Chisumulu Islands - great sea life and a backdoor to Mozambique.

  • Liwonde National Park - 550 km² of unspoiled forest

  • Ntchisi Forest Reserve - stunning rainforest in rural, untouched area

  • Majete Wildlife Park

  • Mount Mulanje

  • Mua

  • Nkhotakota

  • Nyika National Park - Malawi's biggest national park is on the 1800m high Nyika Plateau

  • Zomba Plateau Kuti community Wildlife Park - 90 km from Lilongwe on Salima Road where you will get closer to zebra than anywhere else in Africa.

See also African National Parks

Getting there

Most visitors from industrialized countries, including the United States, Canada, most European Union countries, Japan and Taiwan do not require a visa for Malawi.

By plane

Malawi's largest international airport is in Lilongwe, although there are also some flights from Blantyre to regional destinations. Most travelers connect via Johannesburg (South Africa) or Nairobi (Kenya). State carrier Air Malawi claims to be "Africa's Friendliest Airline", but its limited network covers only nearby countries plus Middle Eastern hub Dubai.

The previous international departure tax of $30 is now included in the air fare.

By train

There are trains twice a week from Blantyre to Cuamba and Nampula in northern Mozambique, although a 77-kilometer stretch of track between the Mozambique border and Cuamba is out of commission and must be covered by truck.

By boat

A ferry runs twice a week from Likoma Island to Cobuè and Metangula in Mozambique.

By car

The main road (M1) runs from the northern border (Kaporo) through Karonga, Mzuzu, Lilongwe and finally to Mchinji and is in excellent shape. There is an excellent road from Lilongwe to Mchinji on the Zambian border (120 km).

By bus

To get into Malawi from Mozambique, in the south, one can take the bus from Tete (north-west Mozambique) to Zobwe. After crossing, take another bus from the border to Blantyre. This crossing is quite hectic, and it is closed at night, so one should plan on getting there early, and trying to keep it cool with all the border-hawkers. Direct buses run from Lusaka, Zambia to Lilongwe, but are best avoided (or done in stretches) if 18-20 hours on a bus doesn't sound like your idea of a good time. There is also minibus from Mbeya in Tanzania to the border. From the border in Malawi Side, take a taxi to Karonga. The cost is around 400-500 MK depend on negotiation. From Karonga bus station, take a bus or minibus to other destinations in Malawi. Bus is cheaper than minibus. The easiest way take direct bus from Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania to Mzuzu or Lilongwe.

Travelling around

Compared to its neighbors, the main roads in Malawi are in surprisingly good shape and travel times between major destinations should be reasonable. The volume of traffic is low and most people drive reasonably slowly. Road travel after dark is not advisable as road markings are poor to non-existent and not all cars have headlights.

The Malawian police force have check points along many of the major roadways. By and large, they are looking for illegal activities and often wave tourists through. Expect to be stopped on occasion and asked where you are going. You should not have any problems if you are polite and have the correct documentation (passport, driver's licence, permission to use the vehicle, etc.) available if they ask.

By car

Local car rental companies:

Apex Rent-a-Car Malawi , Sedans, 4x4s, even buses.

Unfortunately many car rentals in Southern Africa do not allow you to enter Malawi with their cars. You might have the best chances if you rent a car in Zambia.

Car rentals that allow you to enter Malawi:

  • Livingstone 4x4 , Located in Lusaka, Zambia.

  • Kwenda , +27 44 533 5717, +27 44 533 5717, 17 Samantha Street; Strijdom Park; Randburg, Johannesburg, South Africa

  • Bushtackers, +27 11 465 5700, +27 11 465 5700, P.O. Box 4225, Rivonia, 2128, Johannesburg, South Africa, Allow you to enter Malawi if you ask by email.

By boat

Traveling by boat is surely the most enjoyable mode of getting around in Malawi. The Ilala ferry runs north from Monkey Bay to Chilumba (F 10AM-Su 6:30PM), and back southbound on the same route (departure Chilumba on Monday 2AM, arriving at Monkey Bay on Wednesday at 2PM). Prices are rising with every year, but so is the ferry's reliability: some years back (before its privatization) it was perfectly normal to arrive a day late sometimes. The Ilala thus connects Likoma Island twice a week with the mainland, and the much closer Cobuè in Mozambique, respectively. Prices in January 2006 were about 6000 Malawian Kwacha from Monkey Bay to Likoma, and 1600 from Likoma to Nkatha Bay.

By plane

Air Malawi has a monopoly on domestic flights and charges accordingly. They fly small propeller planes between the three big cities of Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Blantyre.

By bus

"Luxury" buses, medium-sized buses, and minibuses all service the country. They vary in comfort and price. Vehicle condition can be very poor and road accidents are relatively common. Generally, if police are going to hassle travelers, it will be individuals using these types of transportation.

By taxi

Taxis are available in any city, whether they are licensed or not. Be prepared to negotiate as quoted prices to tourists are generally two to three times the actual going rate. Ask a friendly local or expat what the price should be. Rental cars are also available in these towns. Costs vary depending on vehicle type, but expect a compact car to run about $60/day.


English is one of the official languages of Malawi and is widely spoken in urban areas. The other official language is Chichewa (Nyanja), which is understood by almost all Malawians. Tumbuka is the first language for many people in the north of the country. Chiyao is spoken by the Yao people who live mostly in the Mangochi District, as well as areas surrounding Zomba into Machinga District as well.


The local currency is the Malawi kwacha, abbreviated K or MK. The currency is freely convertible (if difficult to get rid of outside the country) and, as of November 2008, trades at around 142.55 kwacha to the US dollar. US dollars will also be accepted by almost everybody, particularly for larger purchases. For the current exchange rate visit i.e. . In Blantyre and Llilongwe try Victoria Forex Bureau . Watch out for kwacha from neighboring Zambia, worth less than 1/20th of the Malawi version! Malawi Kwacha are exchangeable in the Zambian capital Lusaka, and at banks close to the border.

Credit card acceptance is spotty. Visa and MasterCard are accepted by larger hotels, including some ATMs, but you can leave AmEx or anything else at home. ATMs are becoming much more common and can be used at many banks in major cities, though most notably, VISA is the card of choice and many times the only option.

Travellers cheques can be changed in banks, forex bureaus and in some high-end hotels. The number of hotels accepting payment by travellers cheque seems to be shrinking. Don't rely on them unless you have spoken to the hotel. US dollars cash, is your best bet, and it gives a better exchange rate.


Traditional Malawian food revolves around one staple, maize, served in one form, nsima (n'SEE-ma). Nsima is basically a type of thick porridge, rolled into balls with your right hand and dipped into a variety of stews known as relishes. Those who can afford them eat relishes of beef, chicken or fish, but the many who can't make do with beans, tiny dried fish (kapenta), pumpkin leaves (chibwabwa) and other vegetables. At breakfast, nsima can be served watered down into a soup, maybe with a little sugar. Local restaurants will serve nsima and relish for less than 100K (US$1).

Food options in the major cities of Lilongwe and Blantyre are good. Fast food — to include burgers, pizza, and fried chicken — is very popular in Malawi. For sit-down meals, ethnic eateries (thanks to a significant ex-pat population) are popular. Do note that, in many restaurants, pork products are not served to accommodate the Muslim population.

Outside the larger cities, however, you might be a little underwhelmed with food options. Along the major roadways, you will find "tuck shops" featuring packaged cookies or Take Away Meals — meat pies or sausage rolls, for instance — which may or may not satisfy you.

Finally, in terms of hygiene outside the major cities, you are unlikely to find a proper washroom with running water. You will probably be given a bowl of water, a piece of soap, and a (damp) towel. Therefore, some travelers bring small bottles of anti-bacterial hand soap with them.


Tap water in major towns like Lilongwe, Blantyre, Zomba and Mzuzu is generally potable, although it's advisable to boil it first. For those who fancy bottled water, it is widely available in the cities.

Soft drinks

A traditional local drink worth trying is mahewu (also maheu), a somewhat gritty and vaguely yogurty but refreshing beverage made from maize meal. Factory-produced maheu is sweet, comes in plastic bottles and is available in a variety of flavors including banana, chocolate and orange, while homemade versions are usually unflavored and less sweet.

Less traditional, but arguably more tasty, are the fizzy drinks by Southern Bottlers (Sobo). Sobo is also the licensed manufacturer of Coca Cola in Malawi.


Malawi has a significant Muslim population, including the former president, but alcohol is widely available even in Muslim dominated regions. The only beers you will generally find are brewed in Blantyre by Carlsberg, and its products are available in fine establishments and questionable joints everywhere. Malawi Distilleries produces stronger stuff including Smirnoff Vodka (licensed), but also its own products like Mulanje Gold Coffee Liqueur. Perhaps one of the most popular drinks in the country is the MGT (Malawi Gin and Tonic) made with Malawi Gin, an aromatic version of this popular alcohol.


Western-standard hotels can be found in Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu.

There are high-level five-star resort hotels in some rural areas charging western prices.

  • Club Makokola perhaps the most luxurious hotel/resort in the country, on the shore of Lake Malawi north of Mangochi

  • Ku Chawe Inn on the top of Zomba mountain north of Blantyre

There are simple clean but extremely comfortable accommodations at surprisingly low cost available in in some unexpected places:

  • Dedza Pottery and Nkhotakota Pottery , +265 (1) 751743, +265 (1) 751743have nice guesthouses for pottery students and other visitors.

  • Florence Holiday Resort, +265 (8) 870817, +265 (8) 870817is on Lake Malawi next to Club Makokola, be sure to get up early to watch the fishermen bring in their catch.

Kuti community wildlife park - simple A frame chalets set amongst Indigenous trees with antelope grazing in front of you tel: +265 5236672 or +265 9563004.

Mua Mission at KuNgoni Centre of Culture and Art has wonderful inexpensive small rondavels and the best cultural museum in the country.

  • Kande Beach Resort, popular with overland trucks, this resort has camping, dorm rooms, single, twin and doubles. Activites include a great horse riding tour, scuba diving with the experienced team at

  • Ntchisi Forest Lodge , +265 999 971 748, +265 999 971 748, Ntchisi Forest Reserve, 2 hrs north of Lilongwe, Cosy owner-run eco-lodge in an unspoilt part of rural Malawi and with one of southern Africa's last remaining patches of rainforest on its doorstep. Activities include guided rainforest hikes, mapped bush trails, walks with the local traditional healer, and cultural village activities.


Secondary school are largely government run, however many private school have since become available to address the need for education in Malawi. Some private schools:

  • Kamuzu Academy

  • Walani Private School

  • Lilongwe Private School

  • St. Andrews

  • Bishop Mackenzie International School (referred to as Bishop Mac)

Malawi's largest tertiary education structure at present is the University of Malawi which is made up of Chancellor College located in the heart of Zomba, Blantyre Polytechnic in Chichiri and College of Medicine. Bunda College of Agriculture and Kamuzu College of Nursing are located in Lilongwe. There is also Mzuzu University in the Northern part of Malawi.



Malawi is not known as a particularly dangerous travel locale for wester foreigners and expatriates. Muggings and robbery may occur in the larger cities, most especially Lilongwe, as well as in some notorious places along the main tourist routes. It is advisable to avoid walking alone at night. If you go out for the evening, make sure you know how you're going back home. Car-jackings happen occasionally so keep windows shut and doors locked during evening and night journeys. Road safety is the most dangerous thing with the standard of vehicles and drivers usually being relatively poor and drivers, especially in the evening, being intoxicated.

That said, Malawi does deserve its reputation as "the warm heart of Africa".

Stay healthy

As with its neighboring countries malaria can be a problem. The lake is freshwater and is prone to bilharzia, especially in the Cape Maclear area. Symptoms of bilharzia can take months to surface, if you think you've been exposed to it you can get a very cheap pill from the local pharmacists that will kill it before it even shows its face. It's a good idea to take care of it before leaving Malawi as it will be much more expensive back home.

The adult HIV prevalence in the country is at 14% or 1 in 7 adults. Do not have unprotected sex. Do not use injecting drugs.


Malawians follow a strict patriarchal society — men are afforded more respect than women, and older men are respected more than younger men. You might find, however, that a white person is afforded the most respect of all. A holdover from colonial times, this might make a traveler uncomfortable, but this is largely a Malawian's way of being courteous. Accept their hospitality.

Malawians are a curious people. To a Western mindset, this might be interpreted as unnecessarily staring at you or talking about you in front of you. Be prepared to be greeted by kids yelling mzungu, mzungu! and answer lots of questions about yourself. Even relatively mundane items like mechanical pencils can draw a crowd of onlookers.

Malawians love to shake hands, and you should oblige them. However, Malawian men often like to hold hands for the duration of a conversation. This should not be interpreted as anything sexual; they are merely trying to "connect" with you. If you feel uncomfortable, simply pull your hand away.

Culturally, women should not wear shorts or mini-skirts, especially as they travel away from Lilongwe. (Thighs, to Malawian men, are huge turn-ons.) Low-cut tops, however, while discouraged, are not nearly as provocative.

Finally, when meeting a Malawian — even to ask a question — you should always say hello and ask how they are. Properly greeting a Malawian is very important. They are uncomfortable with the Western notion of simply "getting to the point."

Contact & location

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Steve Bennett, alexvas, gabolde, Henry.C.M.James, bozzy1, adkonings, chipo m, Mithrandir2009

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This travel guide also includes text from Wikitravel articles, all available at WikitravelView full credits

eduardo, Peter Fitzgerald, Joe DeRose, Jani Patokallio, Jhon Erickson Ginting, David, Stefan Ertmann, Henry Bromelkamp, lic. iur. HBR Lenel, Philipp Sch., Todd VerBeek,, Stephen Atkins, Ryan Holliday, Colin Jensen, Tim Cowley, Evan Prodromou, Willy Volk and Yann Forget, Wikitravel user(s) Inas, ChubbyWimbus, Cacahuate, Tatatabot, Episteme, Jonboy, Jake73, Trezatium, Suzisuzi, InterLangBot, MattR, Bijee, Nzpcmad and CIAWorldFactbook2002

This travel guide also includes text from Wikipedia articles, all available at WikipediaView full credits

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English (official), Chichewa (official), other languages important regionally - Malawian kwacha (MWK)
Area94,080 km2
Electricity230V/50Hz (UK plug)
GovernmentMultiparty democracy
Population13,013,926 (July 2006 est.)
ReligionProtestant 55%, Roman Catholic 20%, Muslim 20%, indigenous beliefs 3%, other 2%