Dubbed 'The Warm Heart of Africa' due to the legendary welcome extended to all who visit, Malawi is a small country with a big heart and an even bigger range of incredible tourist activities! Lake Malawi’s vast size, its warm freshwater and its gorgeous surrounding beaches make it a mecca for those seeking a year-round location to swim, scuba dive, snorkel, water ski, sail, kayak, parasail or simply potter about in boats. Malawi also boasts plenty of national parks providing a haven for a wide variety of wildlife including crocodiles, lions, elephants, hippos and even leopard. Culture vultures are also well served by numerous fascinating historical and cultural sites as well as visits to traditional Malawian villages to meet some ever-smiling Malawians going about their daily lives. With all of this exceptional culture, natural scenery and friendliness on offer, this unique African country is enchanting enough to captivate even the most jaded traveller.
Banking and Currency
The local currency is known as Kwacha (MWK; symbol Mk) which is equal to 100 tambala. Notes come in denominations of Mk500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of Mk1 as well as 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 tambala.
The import of local currency is unlimited. The export of local currency is limited to K3,000. The export of foreign currency must not exceed the amount imported and must be declared on departure.
Banking hours are from Mon-Fri 0800-1400.
Acceptance of credit and debit cards is very limited, although in Lilongwe and Blantyre and in main hotels, American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa can be used.
Traveller's cheques can be exchanged in banks, hotels and other institutions. In remote areas, the Treasury Office of Local District Commissioner's offices will cash traveller's cheques. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in US Dollars, Euros, British Pounds Sterling or South African Rand.
There are ATMs available in the major cities but it is advisable to check with your bank at home to find out if your card is compatible with Malawian ATMs. ATM services in more rural areas is extremely limited so plan accordingly.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
Air Malawi (QM) is defunct as of 2013. Domestic flights are served by charter airline Ulendo Airlink (www.flyulendo.com) which serves destinations including Lilongwe, Chelinda and Likoma Island.
All major roads are tarmac and most secondary roads are in decent condition. Some roads in the more rural areas may be in bad condition particularly in rainy weather.
Car hire services are becoming increasingly available, with a number of companies offering a wide choice of vehicles. Standards do vary (even with the internationally franchised chains) so it is worth seeking a recommendation. Nonetheless, cars should be reserved well in advance as they are very much in demand. Chauffeur-driven cars are also available. Malawians drive on the left side of the road. Drivers will be required to hold an International Driving Permit. Be aware that, for some reason, Malawian drivers seem to believe that by not using their headlights will conserve the life of their car battery, so driving after dark can be dangerous.
There are bus services in all major cities but bus services in rural areas are limited.
Taxis are available in the main towns but they are in short supply and cannot be hailed on the street. Taxi drivers typically expect a tip.
Central East African Railways (tel: 01 640 844) operates the lines in the country. The main route connects Mchinji, Lilongwe, Salima, Chipoka, Blantyre, Limbe and Nsanje. Trains tend to be slow and crowded and are seldom used by tourists.
Cruises on Lake Malawi are available by local steamer. Food and cabins are available. For details contact a local travel bureaux.
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
All water should be regarded as being potentially contaminated. Water used for drinking, brushing teeth or making ice should have first been boiled or otherwise sterilised. Milk is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised. Avoid dairy products which are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish, preferably served hot. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.
Hotel restaurants and many of those in the cities are of a good standard. They offer a wide choice of dishes including European, Korean and Chinese as well as authentic Malawi dishes and haute cuisine. Poultry and dairy produce are plentiful and tropical fruits are abundant in season.
Typical Malawian specialities include fresh fish from Lake Malawi. Chambo (Tilapia fish) being the main lake delicacy. There is also trout available from streams on the Zomba, Mulanje and Nyika plateaus. White maize is commonly eaten with vegetables and sometimes meat or fish. Nthochi bread (made with banana)is very popular with locals and travellers alike as are Mbatata cookies (made with sweet potato and cinnamon).
The local beer is very good and Malawi gin and tonic is well known and inexpensive, with almost cult status.
Tipping is generally not expected, but some employees who are very poorly paid might appreciate a small tip for good service.
Climate and Weather
Varies from cool in the highlands to warm around Lake Malawi. Winter (May to July) is dry and nights can be chilly, particularly in the highlands. The rainy season runs from November to March. Around Lake Malawi, in winter, the climate is particularly dry with pleasant cooling breezes.
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
Lightweight cotton clothing is recommended year round in the Lake Malawi area, with warmer clothes advised in the mountains, particularly during winter and on chilly evenings elsewhere. Visitors to Nyika and Zomba should note that the nights can be cold. Dark or 'natural' coloured clothing should be worn for game viewing. Sunscreen, a sun hat, sunglasses and good walking shoes are essential.
Internet services are available in business centres in most upmarket hotels, and there are a few internet cafes in the main towns. Internet access in more rural areas is limited.
Electricity and Plug Standards
Electrical sockets (outlets) in Malawi are the "Type G " British BS-1363 type (three rectangular blade plug). If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into.
Electrical sockets (outlets) in Malawi (formerly Nyasaland) usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need.
But travel plug adapters do not change the voltage, so the electricity coming through the adapter will still be the same 220-240 volts the socket is supplying. North American sockets supply electricity at between 110 and 120 volts, far lower than in most of the rest of the world. Consequently, North American appliances are generally built for 110-120 volts.