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Malawi

Welcome to Malawi!!! Often denigrated in comparison to other African countries, Malawi has been marginalized for many years among top safari countries.  The situation changed in 2010 with the program to reintroduce the Lion in Malawi. Together with the wealth of animals, Malawi has an amazing geographic diversity. The third biggest lake in Africa, Malawi Lake is home for African cichlids (which are exposed to direct intense light levels and as such, are comfortable in brightly lit aquariums that feature higher color temperature bulbs.)

If you like diving, snorkelling, kayaking or simply relaxing on its sandy islands, a Malawi Lake excursion is a must. At the very south of the country, Mulanje Mountain (a UNESCO recognized world heritage site) and the mysterious Zomba Plateau are the region’s major tourist attractions. Activities offered include hiking, horse riding, rock-climbing, fishing and mountain-biking. In the north, you will discover the breathtaking beauty of the Nyika Plateau with its undulating prairies which will remind you the Scottish highlands

Key Facts

  • Capital: Lilongwe
  • Languages: English, Chichewa
  • Currency: Malawian kwacha (MK) & USD
  • Electricity: Standard voltage is 230 V. The standard frequency is 50 Hz. The power sockets that are used are standard 3pin plug
  • Time difference: GMT/UTC + 2h Standard Time
  • Visas: no visa is required for commonwealth citizens and most western countries citizens. Your passport will be stamped a 30 days residence permit on arrival. This can be extended very easily in immigration offices of Blantyre and Lilongwe (5000 MK for 30 days extension)

Money

ATM machines: Choose the Standard Bank and the National Bank if you going to withdraw cash. Their ATM accepts Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus and Maestro cards. There are ATM machines in many cities (Lilongwe, Blantyre, Mzuzu, Karonga, Liwonde, Salima, Mangochi, Kasungu, Zomba, Nkhata Bay and Monkey Bay)

Credit cards and traveller’s checks: Only major hotels and high end restaurants will accept visa cards (will charge 5% or 10% additional fees). MasterCard is rarely accepted. Travellers’ checks can be exchanged in most large banks and currency exchange offices but original receipt of purchase must be shown. Most hotels and lodges accept payments with traveller’s checks.

Tips and gratuities: Service charges are automatically added to the hotel and restaurant bill, shops, and taxis. So no further tipping is required

Currency: The unit of currency in Malawi is the Malawian Kwacha (MK).  1 MK (Malawian Kwasha) =100 tambala (t). Available Malawian Kwacha bills are 200 MK, 100 MK, 50 MK, 20 MK, 10 MK and 5 MK. Malawian Kwacha coins are 1 MK, 50 t, 20 t, 10 t, 5 t and 1 t – small tambala coins don’t have any value. Major hotels and restaurants accept USD bills

When To Go And Climate

Best Time To Go:

  • May-July: Dry season. Temperatures go down and the Vegetation is luxuriant.
  • October-November: The end of the dry season. The best time to watch the African wildlife. But the heat can be uncomfortable
  • December- March: The rainy season. The temperatures are still high and flash floods occur frequently

Feasts and festivals: Lake Malawi International Yachting Marathon: This 5 day sailing race on the Malawi Lake is 500km long. From Mangochi (south) to Nkhata Bay (north) this sailing race is the longest freshwater competition in the world.

Mt Mulanje Porters Race: Originally reserved only for Mt Mulanje porters, this 25 km long race across rivers and canyons, which ends at the Chambe Plateau (2500 m high) gather today athletes from around the world. Hikers take 12-13 hours to complete the race, while runners will complete the race within 2-3 hours

Lake of Stars International Music Festival: This music festival is one of the biggest events of the country. In various locations around the lake, artists from UK and other African countries perform during 3 days. Profits are donated to charity. See www.lakeofstars.org

Climate: Malawi climate is tropical and varies from one region to the next. The most humid sectors are the Shire Valley District and the areas around Malawi Lake. Main mountain regions are Nyika, Mulanje and Dedza. It can be very cold at some periods of the year (particularly during the night). The hot and rainy season stretches from November to March

Accommodation

Small budgets: In national parks and around the Malawi Lake, many lodging establishments have large camping sites and independent bungalows. One night will cost you between 3 and 10 dollars depending on the comfort level (squat toilets, shower with bucket vs. hot shower facilities and electrical supply.) There are also fine hostels for backpackers everywhere in the country. You will find them in major cities and tourist areas around the Lake (Cape Maclear and Nkhata Bay). Will cost you between 5 -10 $US for single bed in a dormitory, 10-20 $US per person for double or triple bedroom with shared toilets and showers, and around 30 $US for private room with own toilets and shower.

Average-priced accommodation: Allow for between 20 – 50 $US (taxes included) for double bedroom with air conditioning in lodge or average hotel (with own bathroom and toilets). Breakfast included.

Upmarket accommodation: High standing hotels in big cities and luxury resorts will charge between 50 – 250 $US the night for a double room fully-equipped (air conditioning, traditional and private bath rooms, telephone, television and Internet access). Many offer recreational facilities such as swimming pools, tennis courts, fitness areas, and tourist activities. Taxes and breakfast included

Transportation

How to get to Malawi?

From/to Malawi: Air and road transportation are primary modes to get to Malawi. Travellers are coming from Zambia, Mozambique, and Tanzania by land. There are also boats reaching Mozambique across Malawi Lake. There no direct flight from Canada/Europe to Malawi. To reach Malawi, the best way would be to fly to Kenya, Ethiopia, or South Africa. Ticket reservation and purchase for flights, train and circuits can be done in the website www.lonelyplanet.com

Arriving to Malawi: All visitors must have valid passports (6 months minimum), return tickets and pre-booked accommodation. Tourists get a 30 days visa-free stay at the point of arrival which can be extended

 Airplane: Airports and airlines: Kamuzu International Airport (LLW) 19 KM north Lilongwe welcome majority of international flights. Airplanes coming from South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, and Tanzania land primarily at Chileka international airport (BLZ) at Blantyre. Air Malawi (www.flyairmalawi.com) schedules domestic flights (Lilongwe-Blantyre) and several regional flights. Ulendo Airlink (www.ulendo.net/flyer) schedules flights with their twin turboprop aircrafts to Likoma Island, safaris and parks of animals.

Airline companies serving Malawi Airport:

  • Air Malawi (www.flyairmalawi.com) has a good regional network with flights departing from Blantyre and Lilongwe to Dar Es Salaam, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Lusaka and Harare.
  • South African Airways (www.flysaa.com) schedules 2 connections per week between Blantyre and Johannesburg, and 5 connections per week between Lilongwe and Johannesburg
  • Kenya Airways (www.kenya-airways.com) operates 4 flights per week from/to Nairobi and 6 flights per week from/to Lusaka.
  • Ethiopian Airways (www.flyethiopian.com) offers 4 flights per week at the beginning of Addis-Abeba.

Bus: Buses departing from Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa arrive in Malawi. There are direct connections to Blantyre and Lilongwe from Johannesburg, Dar Es Salaam, Nairobi and Lusaka. At the border, you will have to leave the bus and go through customs to obtain your visa.

Boat: The Ilala ferry, on the Lake Malawi, stops at Metangula (Mozambique). If you want to stop there, you must have obtained a visa and stamped your passport at the Malawian immigration department on Likoma Island or Nkhata Bay.

Must See

You must visit national parks, natural sites, cities, lakes, animals….

Mumbo Island, jewel of the Malawi Lake: Half an hour boat ride from Cape Maclear, lays a desert island surrounded by a dense jungle filled with huge blocks of rocks bordered by turquoise waters. Mumbo Camp is a resort managed in accordance with ecological principles. The staff is very accommodating while giving you enough space to enjoy tranquility and peace. Accommodation stands out due to a pleasant simple plainness. Get immersed and enjoy the magnetic attraction of the island. You will frequently observe nile monitors (1.50 m large) swimming in the cove and sea eagles hunting chambo fish. Waters surrounding the island are perfect for snorkeling and kayaking. Enjoy the view of the crystal clear water with immense colored shoal of cichlids. Before going to the Lake, or hiking in the jungle, enjoy your safari tent with its huge mosquito net and Bedouin style roof. The tent is positioned in such a way that you will have a 180° view and a sensation of wilderness and isolation. You won’t hear throbbing music or glass tinkling….just the sound of the waves as they roll and echo over the sand, and your heartbeat in slow motion.

Majete Wildlife Reserve: Wild mixture of savannahs and hilly miombo forests bordering the Shire west river. Intense poaching during the 80s and the 90s caused devastating consequences in the animal reserve. Fortunately, since 2003, the “African Parks” NGO (www.africanparks-conservation.com ) controls the reserve which is now surrounded by an electric fence and wildlife rangers ensuring the security of the wild animals. Roads and lodging have been extensively renovated.  With the rise of professional journalists of biggest international magazine to cover the program of the Lion reintroduction, and the opening of the prestigious Mkulumadzi Lodge, Majete Wildlife Reserve is soon to be Malawi’s best natural park.

Mont Mulanje: This huge granite block reaching 3000m high, is covered with dense bush land and rivers running down sharp cliffs forming impressive cascades. You can spend a whole day at Mont Mulanje; however you will need 3 days to enjoy the Mont and its splendid landscapes, cleared hiking paths, and easy accessibility.

Liwonde National Park: The Liwonde National Park is home to 645 elephants, 1950 hippos, 550 buffalos, and 1860 crocodiles. This small reserve covers 584km2 of forests, dry savannahs crossed by peaceful waters of the Shire River. You can discover the park on foot, car, or boat. Lions have been reintroduced in 2013. They must represent today a big population of top predators. Hyenas and cheetah are going to be reintroduced as well.

Kaya Mawa Resort (Likoma Island): The resort, set on an amber-colored beach lapped by turquoise water and its cliff side chalets, cleverly molded around the landscape, is the perfect place to relax. Just imagine the beautiful shaped pools, waves lapping at the gentle shore, and a brief apparition of the waiter serving the champagne on your veranda! One can only be enthralled by the sheer beauty of this place. Enjoy a candlelight dinner on the beach served by a discreet and friendly staff. The chef is a disciple of famous British chef Jamie Oliver. The spa also offers massages, acupuncture, reflexology, beauty treatments. In the shop, you can buy sarongs and artisanal jewelry. When leaving the place, you will know you won’t forget this amazing experience.

Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve: On the West side of the main road bordering the Lake Malawi, is located the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve : 1 800 km2 of harsh, inhospitable terrain, miombo forests, evergreen trees, and few passable roads. After having encountered considerable difficulties (increasing poaching due to lack of logistic means, constructions of houses along its borders), the park is now revitalized.

Nyika National Park: After riding on a bumpy road, you will gain access on Nyika National Park which is the oldest  reserve of Malawi. This reserve will offer you a fabulous experience which will stay for long time in your memory. The highlands punctuated erratic blocks of granite, are covered with a dark sienna coloured grass. With an altitude reaching 2500 m, and spanning 3200km2, the Nyika National Park is an enigmatic place : while its rolling prairie grasslands will remind you the northern landscapes of England, antelopes, elephants et leopards will remind you that you are in Africa.

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