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  • Overview

    Promoted as the 'Warm Heart of Africa', Malawi is a long, thincountry renowned for the unequalled friendliness of its people,unspoilt national parks and wildlife reserves, and the beaches andtropical fish population of Lake Malawi, the third largest lake inAfrica.

    The country's layout is dominated by the vast lake, as well asthe Great Rift Valley. It cuts through Malawi from north to southand is made up of fertile valleys, mountains and verdantplateaus.

    Lake Malawi is an irresistible attraction for travellers withits beaches, resorts, watersports, and aquatic life proving amagnet for divers and snorkelers. The lake is home to a biggervariety of fish species than any other freshwater lake on earth,most of them protected within the Lake Malawi National Park at itssouthern tip.

    Most visitors head for the small, restful village at CapeMaclear which, along with its offshore islands, is part of thepark. Equally popular, Nkhata Bay to the north offers bays,beaches, and various water activities.

    Spread along the length of the lakeshore are numeroustraditional fishing villages, and the fishermen in their dugoutcanoes form a quintessential postcard silhouette against thespectacular golden sunsets.

    Malawi is also blessed with numerous game reserves and nationalparks that are uncrowded, filled with animals and a renownedvariety of birdlife, and offer a unique wilderness experience. Thenorthern Nyika Plateau, at around 7,500 feet (2,300m), is one ofthe world's highest game reserves and is a remote area located inthe most unspoilt and least visited part of the country.

    It has beautiful grasslands and waterfalls, the highestconcentration of leopard in Central Africa, and reputation for itsabundant orchid species. To the south, the best-known reserve isLiwonde National Park, home to thousands of hippos and crocodileson the banks of the Shire River, as well as large numbers ofelephants, zebra, and antelope.

    The southern part of the country is the most developed and themost populated. Although Lilongwe is the capital, the region ishome to Malawi's largest city and main commercial centre, Blantyre,which is a good base for visiting two of the area's attractions:the vast massif of Mount Mulunje, offering some of the finesthiking trails in the country, and Zomba Plateau.

    Malawi has remained largely peaceful for over a century,unaffected by the war and internal strife that has torn many othersouthern African countries apart. Although poor and denselypopulated, the country offers visitors a wealth of scenichighlights, culture, and activities.

    The beautiful landscapes of Malawi are diverse and offer a widevariety of things to see and do. Attractions in Malawi range fromthe highs of the Nyika Plateau to the lows of the majestic RiftValley and Lake Malawi, keeping most travellers out in nature forthe majority of their trip.

    Safaris are a popular activity in Malawi, and the game reservesare teeming with wildlife such as hippos, crocodiles, elephants,zebras, baboons, lions and leopards. Visitors can enjoy theoutdoors in a number of ways, including trekking and mountainbiking. Avid hikers can ascend Mount Mulanje, where steep mountainpaths break into spectacular vistas.

    However, the most popular attraction in the country is far andaway the long and narrow Lake Malawi. Situated in the Rift Valley,the lake (and the national park around it) provides visitors amplegame viewing opportunities near luxury lodges and campsites.

    These lodges offer activities like canoeing, yachting,snorkelling, and other watersports, and are often framed by soft,sandy beaches. Cape Maclear, Salima, and Monkey Bay are some of themore popular sites along the lake.

    Lake Malawi National Park

    Established in 1980, Lake Malawi National Park is listed as aUNESCO World Heritage Site for its importance in the study ofevolution. The lake is said to contain the largest number of fishspecies, nearly all endemic, of any lake in the world.

    4th-century Iron Age sites have been found in the area, whilemammals found in the region include baboons, vervet monkeys,spotted hyenas, leopards, and the occasional elephant. The variedbird life includes black eagles, fish eagles, and many waders.Reptiles include the African python, crocodiles, and abundant watermonitor lizards, especially on Boadzulu Island.

    At Cape Maclear, within Lake Malawi National Park, there are avariety of upmarket operations combining accommodation with lakeactivities. Danforth Yachting has a lakeside lodge and a 38ftcatamaran available to visitors.

    Mumbo Island and Domwe Island camps offer pleasant islandretreats, while Cape Mac Lodge also offers accommodation andactivities out of Chembe village. Pumulani is also considered oneof the lake's finest lodge destinations.

    The National Park is on the scenic northern tip of the NankhumbaPeninsula, which divides the southern end of Lake Malawi, with anumber of sandy bays including a fine beach near Chembe and OtterPoint. There are marked seasonal variations in wind, temperature,and rainfall.

    Lake Malawi Lake Malawi Joachim Huber
    Cape Maclear

    Cape Maclear () is a small fishing village on Lake Malawi. It hasone dirt road leading into town, along which there are a fewhostels, some dive shops, a couple of bars and a few vendorsselling curios and fruit.

    This unassuming tourist hub is the gateway to some of LakeMalawi's most popular upmarket lodges and camps, and therefore avery common entry point for those visiting the region. The town hasan unusual layout, with the majority of the local fishermen livingin the centre of the settlement.

    For travellers, this means that the everyday lives of ruralMalawians are refreshingly on display in Cape Maclear, giving it avery authentic feel. Car rentals and bus services are available toget travellers to and from the town, although some roads are badlypotholed, making 4x4 vehicles the most popular option.

    Otter Point Otter Point Hans Hillewaert
    Salima

    Salima, the most convenient entry point to Lake Malawi, is aone- to two-hour drive from Lilongwe. The town is home to somegreat holiday resorts, such as Sunbird Livingstonia Beach Resort,and boasts some picturesque beaches.

    Senga Beach, in Salima, is a popular weekend getaway forLilongwe locals. Signposted just before Salima is Kuti WildlifePark, which offers travellers campsites, A-frame chalets and asmall restaurant, as well as bar and barbeque facilities.

    Animals found in the park include sable, nyala, zebra,wildebeest, ostrich, giraffe and waterbuck. If you plan to visitduring the rainy season, be sure to take a 4x4 as the roads canbecome tricky, even during the dry season (May to October).

    Salima Salima Marvin Khama Gama
    Mount Mulanje

    Mount Mulanje rises from the plains of southern Malawi withsteep cliffs protecting a vast wilderness of granite peaks, denseforest, grassy meadows, and trickling streams. Hiking is the mostpopular activity here and few people visit for any otherpurpose.

    It's essential for trekkers to hire a guide and porters fromMulanje village, and buy any provisions they may need beforesetting off into this picturesque but challenging wilderness. Thefirst day's hike is gruelling as you climb steep mountainpaths.

    Once you reach the top, you enter an enchanting landscape. Thereare wood huts in which you can sleep and enough trails for days ofwalking. Climbers can scale some of the peaks and the prominentgranite crags also provide a challenge.

    The best time to hike is in the early dry season from May toJuly, when temperatures are moderate. On the plateau, it can stillget reasonably cold at night and travellers should be prepared forrain whenever they visit.

    Mount Mulanje Mount Mulanje David Davies
    Likoma Island

    Likoma Island is an isolated enclave of Malawi, completelysurrounded by Mozambican waters, and was colonised by Anglicanmissionaries in the late 1800s. This island is a popular holidaydestination, with beautiful beaches and iconic African sceneryfeaturing baobab trees and open grasslands.

    One of the main man-made attractions on the island is theAnglican Cathedral, a large structure in the main town of Mbambathat was built out of stone by the missionaries in 1903. Thebeautiful, upmarket Kaya Mawa Hotel dominates the tourist trade onthe island.

    The more budget-friendly Mango Drift Backpackers is also apopular choice, with a couple of guesthouses available. There arevery basic dirt roads spanning Likoma Island, but most places canbe reached on foot. The island's electricity, supplied bygenerators, is usually switched off at about 10pm each night.

    Likoma Island Likoma Island Worldtraveller
    Monkey Bay

    A small port town on the southern end of Lake Malawi, Monkey Bay(Lusumbwe) is probably Malawi's best-known resort area. Despitethis, the facilities are minimal, with only a handful of shops,markets, and banking amenities catering to tourists.

    Popular with tourists headed to Cape Maclear, Monkey Bay offerssandy beaches with some diving opportunities and a few divingschools. Other popular activities in Monkey Bay include kayakingand cruises to Cape Maclear and Liwonde National Park. The resortgets its name from the large monkey population in the area, andspotting them can be great fun.

    Monkey Bay Monkey Bay Stefan Kraft
    Nkhotakota

    A small and basic town on the shores of Lake Malawi, Nkhotakotahas a traditional market and a few hotels and bars, but the mainattractions for travellers are in the surrounding region. TheNkhotakota Wildlife Reserve has hot springs and hippo pools.

    The beaches of Lake Malawi offer activities like kayaking,snorkelling, and cruises, making Nkhotakota a good base fortourists wanting to explore the area. For those wanting to brush upon their handicap, the Kassasa Club in Nkhotakota has a golfcourse.

    Nkhotakota played an important part in Malawi's history as theplace where David Livingstone met with slave traders in an attemptto end the slave trade in Malawi, and knowledgeable guides conductwalking tours of historical points of interest.

    Mwaya Beach Mwaya Beach JackyR
    Nkhata Bay

    Nkhata Bay is a busy fishing village on the shores of LakeMalawi, near Mzuzu. The town is well-placed for tourists to takeadvantage of the beaches at Chikale, where they can kayak, take daycruises, or dive and snorkel.

    The diving schools in Nkhata Bay are famously cheap but qualityvaries so it is best to get recommendations beforehand. Otherattractions in Nkhata Bay include tours of the Kawalazi coffeeplantation and Chombe rubber and tea plantations, or hiking up thecliff faces to watch the fish eagles feeding.

    There are a few craft markets in Nkhata Bay, and some bars andrestaurants serving Malawian pizza and freshly caught fish. NkhataBay is the second busiest resort area on the lake, easilyaccessible by Malawian standards, and well-equipped for travellers,with a variety of accommodation being available.

    Nkhata Bay Nkhata Bay Geoff Gallice

    Phrase Book

    English Pronounciation

    Winter is the best time to visit Malawi, coinciding with the dryseason, and lasting from May to October. The dry season is the besttime for game viewing and hiking, and getting around the country iseasier in the dry season.

    June and July are the coolest months, with average daytimetemperatures of 70ºF (21ºC), and colder nights, especially in thehighlands. November to April is the hot, humid, rainy season, withmore rain falling on the higher plateaus than around the lake, andwith average temperatures reaching up to 90ºF (32ºC). Some roadsmay become impassable during heavy rains.

    Kamuzu International Airport
    Location: The airport is situated 16 miles (25km) fromLilongwe.
    Time: Local time is GMT +2.
    Getting to the city: Minibuses are available to the city. However, those travellingwith luggage may find them too cramped and choose to hire a privatetaxi.
    Car Rental: Major car rental companies are represented at the airport and inthe city nearby.
    Airport Taxis: Taxis are available to the city.
    Fascilities: Facilities are limited, but include currency exchange, arestaurant, a bar, duty-free shopping, a tourist informationcentre, and a VIP lounge.
    Parking Parking is available at the airport.
    Chileka International Airport
    Location: The airport is situated nine miles (16km) fromBlantyre.
    Time: Local time is GMT +2.
    Getting to the city: A bus service is available to the city centre.
    Car Rental: Car rental is available.
    Fascilities: A restaurant and bar are situated in the terminal building.
    Money:

    The official currency is the Malawian Kwacha (MWK), which isdivided into 100 tambalas. Foreign currencies are accepted bybanks, authorised hotels and other institutions in the main towncentres. Bureaux de change are also available. The US Dollar is theeasiest currency to exchange. Credit cards are not widely acceptedand ATMs are scarce and should not be relied upon.

    Language:

    English is the official language and widely spoken andunderstood, but Chichewa is the home language of themajority.

    Electricity:

    Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Three-pin,rectangular blade plugs are standard.

    Entry Requirements:

    US citizens must have a passport that is valid upon theirarrival in Malawi. They can attain a visa on arrival for a maximumstay of 30 days, and can extend this visa for an additional 60days.

    British citizens must have a passport that is valid upon theirarrival in Malawi. They can attain a visa on arrival for a maximumstay of 30 days, and can extend this visa for an additional 60days.

    Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid upon theirarrival in Malawi. They can attain a visa on arrival for a maximumstay of 30 days, and can extend this visa for an additional 60days.

    Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid upontheir arrival in Malawi. They can attain a visa on arrival for amaximum stay of 30 days, and can extend this visa for an additional60 days.

    South African citizens must have a passport that is valid upontheir arrival in Malawi. No visa is required for stays of up to 90days.

    Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid upon theirarrival in Malawi. They can attain a visa on arrival for a maximumstay of 30 days and can extend this visa for an additional 60days.

    US citizens must have a passport that is valid upon theirarrival in Malawi. They can attain a visa on arrival for a maximumstay of 30 days, and can extend this visa for an additional 60days.

    New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid upontheir arrival in Malawi. They can attain a visa on arrival for amaximum stay of 30 days and can extend this visa for an additional60 days.

    Passport/Visa Note:Visa:

    Those passengers who attain a visa on arrival and who want toextend this visa beyond the 60 day extension option must apply fora residence permit. All foreign passengers to Malawi must holdreturn/onward tickets and the necessary travel documentation fortheir next destination, and sufficient funds to cover theirexpenses while in the country. A yellow fever vaccinationcertificate is required to enter Malawi, if arriving within sixdays of leaving or transiting through an infected area. NOTE: It ishighly recommended that your passport has at least six monthsvalidity remaining after your intended date of departure from yourtravel destination. Immigration officials often apply differentrules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

    Travel Health:

    Malaria is a health risk in Malawi throughout the year,especially on the coast. Cases of dengue fever and chikungunyafever have been reported and are also transmitted by mosquitoes.Precautionary measures against being bitten should be taken at alltimes. Vaccinations are recommended for hepatitis A, hepatitis Band typhoid. All travellers coming from a country with yellow feverrequire inoculation against the disease. Tap water should not bedrunk unless it has been boiled or chemically treated. Medicalfacilities are limited and, outside of the capital and other urbanareas, medical care may be difficult to find. Limited medicationsare available but it is advisable to bring along a medical kit forprivate use. Comprehensive medical insurance is advised.

    Tipping:

    Service charges are generally not included in hotel andrestaurant bills, and tipping is at the client's discretion. It iscommon practice to tip guides in the national parks.

    Safety Information:

    Malawi is considered a relatively safe country in which totravel and the vast majority of visits are trouble-free, butsensible precautions should be taken with regards to personalpossessions and security, particularly after dark. There have beenreports of robberies, money scams involving tourists, muggings and4x4 vehicles being hijacked.

    Most crime is petty and opportunistic and much of it occursaround bus stations and in other crowded public areas. A photocopyof your passport and visa should be carried at all times, butoriginal documents should be stashed in a hotel safe when possible.Travellers are advised to avoid street protests and politicalrallies, which can become violent.

    Local Customs:

    It is customarily expected by most Malawians to be greeted witha friendly 'Hello, how are you?' and a handshake. It is courteousto ask permission before taking photographs of people. Homosexualacts are sadly illegal.

    Women may generally dress as they please but should take localcustom and religion into account when travelling outside of themain tourist areas and consider covering legs and shoulders toavoid giving offense.

    Business:

    Business in Malawi is quite formal. Business cards are usuallyexchanged on meeting, accompanied by a firm handshake. Punctualityis important and dress should be formal; lightweight suits with atie are acceptable.

    English is Malawi's official language and almost all business isconducted in English. Malawians tend to be very polite andthoughtful, and expect the same treatment in return. Business hoursusually start fairly early, from about 7.30am to 5pm, Monday toSaturday.

    Communications:

    The international dialling code for Malawi is +265. The outgoingcode is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 forSouth Africa). There are no city/area codes required. The telephonesystem is not very reliable, but internet, email and fax areavailable in most towns and tourist areas, as is 3G coverage. TheGSM 900 cell phone network gives coverage to most of the countryand is compatible with most international operators.

    Duty Free:

    Travellers to Malawi do not have to pay customs duty on 200cigarettes or 250g of tobacco. For travellers over 18 years of age1 litre of spirits, and 1 litre of alcohol like beer or wine, canbe brought into the country without incurring duty fees.

    Useful Contacts:

    Official Tourism Website of Malawi: www.visitmalawi.mw

    Malawi Embassies:

    Malawi Embassy, Washington DC (also responsible for Canada): +1202 721 0270

    Malawi High Commission, London: +44 20 7421 6010

    Malawi Embassy, Washington DC: +1 202 721 0270

    Malawi High Commission, Johannesburg: +27 11 234 6424

    Malawi Consulate, Melbourne: +613 9988 7766

    Foreign Embassies in Malawi :

    United States Embassy, Lilongwe: +265 1 773 166

    British High Commission, Lilongwe: +265 1 772 400

    Canadian High Commission, Maputo, Mozambique (also responsiblefor Malawi): +11258 2149 2623

    South African High Commission, Lilongwe: +265 1 77 3722

    Australian Embassy, Harare (also responsible for Malawi): +263 48532 3555

    Embassy of Ireland, Lilongwe: +265 1 77 6408

    Malawi Emergency Numbers : 997 (Police); 998 (Ambulance); 999 (Fire)
    Malawi