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Travel Info


Quick Facts
CapitalLilongwe
Governmentmultiparty democracy
CurrencyMalawian kwacha (MWK)
Areatotal: 118,480 sq km
water: 24,400 sq km
land: 94,080 sq km
Population10,701,824
LanguageEnglish (official), Chichewa (official), other languages important regionally
ReligionProtestant 55%, Roman Catholic 20%, Muslim 20%, indigenous beliefs 3%, other 2%

Malawi is a country in Africa, bordered by Mozambique to the south and east, Tanzania to the north, Zambia to the west. It is marked by Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi), the third largest lake in Africa.

Known as "The Warm Heart of Africa", Malawi is home to some of the friendliest people in the world.

Regions

  • Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi)

Cities

  • Lilongwe - the political capital of country.
  • Tanzania.

Other destinations

  • Cape Maclear
  • Nkhata Bay
  • Likoma Island
  • Mua
  • Zomba Plateau
  • Kasungu National Park
  • Lake Malawi National Park
  • Lengwe National Park
  • Liwonde National Park
  • Nyika National Park
  • Livingstonia
  • Mount Mulanje
  • Shire Valley
  • Lake Chilwa

See also African National Parks

Understand

Established in 1891, the British protectorate of Nyasaland became the independent nation of Malawi in 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.

Visit Malawi (http://www.tourismmalawi.com/) is the official website of the Malawi Government Ministry of Information and Tourism.

Get in

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

By plane

Malawi's largest international airport is in Lilongwe, although there are also some flights from Johannesburg (South Africa) or Nairobi (Kenya). State carrier Air Malawi (http://www.airmalawi.net) claims to be "Africa's Friendliest Airline", but its limited network covers only nearby countries plus Middle Eastern hub Dubai.

There is a $30 departure tax payable when you leave the country by plane. This must be paid in cash in US dollars. While it is usually possible to convert your remaining kwacha to dollars at the airport the exchange rate is poor. It is much better to put aside the money at the beginning of you trip.

By train

There are trains twice a week from 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 Cobu´┐Ż in Mozambique.

By car

There is an excellent road from Lilongwe to Mchinji on the Zambian border (120 km).

By bus

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.

Get 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, drivers licence, permission to use the vehicle, etc) available if they ask.

By plane

Lilongwe, Lilongwe, Chewa (Nyanja), which is understood by almost all Malawians. Tumbuka is the first language for many people in the north of the country.

Buy

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 September 2005, trades at around 125 kwacha to the US dollar. US dollars will also be accepted by almost everybody, particularly for larger purchases. Watch out for kwacha from neighboring Zambia, worth less than 1/20th of the Malawi version!

Credit card acceptance is spotty. Visa and MasterCard are accepted by larger hotels, but you can leave AmEx or anything else at home.

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.

Eat

Traditional Malawian food revolves around one staple, maize, served in one form, nsima (n'SHEE-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 ($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.

Drink

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), including a fine ginger ale. Sobo is also the licensed manufacturer of Coca Cola in Malawi.

Alcohol

Malawi has a significant Muslim population, including the former president, but alcohol is widely available even in muslim dominated regions. The only Carlsberg brewery in Africa is in Blantyre, 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.

Sleep

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Stay safe

Malawi is generally considered to be a safe place to travel. However it's always better to be careful. Avoid traveling alone at night. If you go out for the evening, make sure you know how your going back home. Even in Lilongwe and Blantyre, getting a taxi at night can be difficult and getting a roadworthy one might be impossible. Car-jacking is not unknown so keep windows shut and doors locked during evening and night journeys.

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

Respect

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 greeted by kids yelling mzungu, mzungu! and answer lots of questions about yourself.

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.

Women should not wear shorts or mini-skirts, especially as they travel away from Lusaka. (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."

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