Malawi is a country of great scenic splendor, situated partly in the Great Rift Valley. Roughly 900km long and 150km wide, most of its eastern border is taken up by the lovely Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa and the country’s greatest tourist destination.
The Republic of Malawi is a landlocked country in southeast Africa that was formerly known as Nyasaland. It is bordered by Zambia to the northwest, Tanzania to the northeast, and Mozambique on the east, south and west. The country is separated from Tanzania and Mozambique by Lake Malawi.
Its size is over 118,000 km2 (45,560 sq mi) with an estimated population of more than 13,900,000. Its capital is Lilongwe, the largest city is Blantyre and the second largest city is Mzuzu. The name Malawi comes from the Maravi, an old name of the Nyanja people that inhabit the area. The country is also nicknamed, “The Warm Heart of Africa”. The capital of Malawi is known as Lilongwe.
Access: For international flights from Europe, Kenya Airways (also with KLM), South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines offer good options to Malawi, with routes involving an aircraft change at their respective national hubs (Nairobi, Johannesburg and Addis Ababa). Regional links between Malawi and Kenya, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe are provided by Air Malawi and the various national airlines of those countries.
Such connections can sometimes be used in conjunction with a European airline flying from Europe to these countries. Malawi-based air charter companies, such as Nyassa Air Taxi, also link Malawi to its neighbours. By road, there are routes into Malawi from Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique. Assume that border posts will be closed from about 18.00hrs and reopen at 07.00hrs. Visitors requiring a visa may find this difficult to obtain at border posts and are advised to obtain the documentation in advance. Requirements for vehicle documentation should be checked before traveling..
Currency: Malawi’s unit of currency is the kwacha (abbreviated to MK internationally; K locally). The kwacha divides into 100 tambala. Practically speaking, only the kwacha is used. Banks in the towns are open weekdays from 0800 to 1300. Mobile banks operate along the lakeshore and in more remote areas (check days/times locally). Travellers Cheques or foreign (hard) currency notes are widely accepted. Avoid black market currency traders. There is no limit to the amount of foreign currency imported but it must be declared and accounted for on departure. Only MK3000 of local currency may be exported. There are 24-hour ATMs in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu. Only local currency is dispensed and that is limited to approximately the equivalent (depending on exchange rates) of GB£85, Euro110; US$140 in any period of twenty-four hours.
Passports & Visas: A full valid passport is required for entry into Malawi. For tourist visits, visas are NOT required by citizens of most Commonwealth countries, the USA, Japan, most European Union countries and certain other countries.
Best Time to Travel/Climate: For most people the dry (winter) season is most attractive (i.e. April/May to October/November). The chance of rain is slim, daytime temperatures are generally pleasant (in the 20s Celsius) and the low vegetation and limited availability of water mean that game viewing is at its best. However, some of the best birdwatching can be had from November to April and the orchids of Nyika are best seen from December to March/April. Malawi’s temperatures are moderated by altitude. In the hottest month (usually November) maximum temperatures will be around 30°C. In the coldest month (probably July) maximum temperatures will be in the low 20’s. On the uplands (e.g. Zomba, Nyika and Viphya) it can be quite cold at night. The hottest area, all year, is that at the lowest altitude – the Lower Shire Valley. Rainfall is extremely rare in the dry season and even in the so-called wet season, the rains are usually short-lived storms, as is typical of the tropics, and at no time does the climate seriously inhibit the traveller. Around the country, rainfall varies, with the highlands causing the highest figures.
Wildlife: Malawi is blessed with a rich diversity of flora and fauna and has no less than nine national parks and wildlife reserves. Whilst it may not have quite the sheer numbers of large mammals (particularly predators) as some of its better known neighbours, it makes up for this in other ways. Malawi provides intensive and exclusive wildlife viewing in unspoilt areas of authentic wilderness.
Landscape: Malawi has a massive diversity of beautiful landscapes. The highest peaks in Malawi touch 10 000ft (3 000m) while the lowest point is barely above sea level. This range of altitudes in a small area help to make the landscape of Malawi one of the moist varied in all Africa. It is generally a green, lush country, with plateaus, highlands, forests, mountains, plains, escarpments and dramatic river valleys. The variety of scenery is a major attraction to visitors and many of the highland areas and forest reserves have good accommodation options, and plenty of outdoor activities available.
Culture: The local people are so friendly and welcoming, their hospitality encourages visitors to spend more time in Malawi and also encourages return visits. There are also a number of places of particular cultural and historical interest.
Lake Malawi: The greatest tourist attraction is Lake Malawi, “discovered” by the missionary-explorer Dr David Livingstone just over 150 years ago. Although totally landlocked, Malawi is not denied its “inland sea”. This vast body of freshwater fringed by beaches of golden sand is not only a scenic wonderland but is a haven for lovers of water sports/activities.