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Friday, 29 January 2010

Malawi - Overview

Most visitors to Malawi arrive in Lilongwe, which is conveniently centrally located. From here, it’s possible to embark on a circuit to the North or a circuit to the South. Both north and south of Lilongwe itineraries will sample the variety of Landscape, Wildlife, Lake and Cultural attractions that the country offers; and can be covered in 7 days; though 10 days would not be excessive.

Whole-country itineraries are also easily put together, either combining selected highlights of both north and south (possible in 10 days); or covering the majority of what both areas have to offer (14 days). Fortunately, distances are never that great, and with Malawi’s constantly changing scenery, the journeys are part of the attraction. It’s also now much easier to arrange air charter between the main places of interest - and at costs which are comparable to those for ground transfers.

Heading North

Heading north from Lilongwe, Ntchisi and the Viphya Plateau offers an immediate escape to tranquil highland forests. Further on, into North Malawi, is the country’s third most important town, Mzuzu, which leads, via Rumphi, to the wonderland of the Nyika Plateau National Park and to the Vwaza Wildlife Reserve. Both are excellent game-viewing locations and the Nyika Plateau is Malawi at its most scenic. Heading east, the famous Livingstonia Mission and the historic town of Karonga bring you to Lake Malawi. Places to stay at its shore on the return to Lilongwe include the delightful Sangilo peninsula, the bustling Nkhata Bay and the beautiful beaches of Chintheche . Across the lake to the east there is the magical island of Likoma and the enchanting Mozambique shore. Once back into Central Malawi, the historic Nkhotakota and charming Senga Bay bring you within a short drive of Lilongwe.
Ntchisi Forest Reserve: beautiful unspoilt forested hills with accommodation now being transformed at Ntchisi Forest Lodge.

Viphya Highlands: a scenic forested plateau. Good mid-market accommodation at Luwawa Forest Lodge with an emphasis on activities - also suitable for a relaxed forest escape.

Nyika National Park: unique scenic beauty of the rolling plateau; plus wildlife safaris. Other activities include mountain biking, trekking and fishing. High quality accommodation is offered at Chelinda Camp and, from mid-2010, Chelinda Lodge.

Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve: complementary lowland wildlife area. Game viewing by 4x4 and on foot. Currently can be stayed in only as part of a mobile safari run by a tour company.

Lakeshore & Islands: plenty of lake-based activities, or simply relaxing on a beautiful beach. A choice of accommodation is provided at Chintheche by Chintheche Inn, Makuzi Beach Lodge or The Beach House. Nkhata Bay has good mid-market accommodation: Njaya Lodge and Safari Cottage. Further north is Sangilo Sanctuary, a real gem. Across the lake on Likoma Island is luxurious Kaya Mawa and on the Mozambique shore are Nkwichi Lodge in the unspoilt Manda Wilderness and Mbuna Bay Retreat, slightly further south. Returning south on the western shore, Ngala Beach Lodge, just north of Dwangwa, has recently been upgraded under new owners, and the Nkhotakota Safari Lodge is on the beach but also gives access to the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. Back closer to Lilongwe, Senga Bay has the choice of the traditional colonial Sunbird Livingstonia Beach or the Safari Beach Lodge, set in a forest reserve and with some unique wildlife viewing opportunities.

Heading South

Heading south from Lilongwe, highlands are soon encountered at Dedza, which has the added attractions of its famous pottery and nearby Chongoni Rock Art, a World Heritage Site. Continuing into South Malawi, Blantyre is the country’s largest town, with historical monuments and a variety of attractions close by. South of Blantyre, the Lower Shire Valley is home to no less that three national parks and wildlife reserves, all now being returned to former glories. East of Blantrye, is the magnificent Mount Mulanje and the beautiful Thyolo tea estates it overlooks. Beginning the return north, the old capital town of Zomba and the famous views from Zomba Plateau are a short drive away. A little further on is Liwonde National Park, Malawi’s most popular and best established game park. Lake Malawi is reached initially at a strip known as the ‘southern lakeshore’ where you’ll be spoilt for choice of accommodation. From there it’s a short drive to Cape Maclear/Lake Malawi National Park and its range of attractions. Back in Central Malawi, Senga Bay is reached via the interesting Mua Mission, and then it’s a short return to Lilongwe.
Dedza Area: the famous Dedza Pottery, is the largest handcrafted pottery in southern Africa, is a major attraction but its setting, as the base of Dedza mountain is also a draw. Nearby, the Chongoni Rock Art area is now a World Heritage Site. Accommodation is provided at the Dedza Pottery Lodge.

Around Blantyre: the Satemwa Tea Estates at Thyolo are beautiful, with stunning views across to Mulanje and the Lower Shire Valley. There’s also the added attraction of staying on a working tea estate in charming colonial managers’ bungalows. Newly established Game Haven is an impressive private game reserve. For climbers/trekkers, Mount Mulanje is a must, but accommodation is basic and trips are best arranged with a local tour company or InfoMulanje.

Lower Shire Valley: south of Blantyre, this previously neglected area is now becoming much more accessible. There are no less than three protected areas, all of which are now being re-developed. Accommodation is available at Fisherman’s Rest at the edge of the Thyolo Escarpment, overlooking the Lower Shire Valley just south of Blantyre. In Majete Wildlife Reserve, the new Thawale Camp and Community Campsite provide a luxury en suite bush tents and camping sites respectively. Nyala Lodge has been welcoming international guests to Lengwe National Park for a few years now. Further south Chibembere Camp provides dormitory accommodation just outside Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve, whilst Migudu Campsite offeres tent pitches inside the Reserve.

Zomba Plateau: fabulous views and forest activities including walking, trekking and mountain biking. The Sunbird Ku Chawe sits right on the edge of the Plateau, offering upmarket accommodation and breath-taking views.

Liwonde National Park: Malawi’s best park for game, with safaris on offer by boat, 4x4 or on foot. Mvuu Lodge & Camp offer up- and mid-market accommodation beside the River Shire.

Lakeshore: on the southern/Mangochi Lakeshore lie Club Makokola and Sunbird Nkopola Lodge. At Cape Maclear/Lake Malawi National Park, there’s a choice of Mumbo and Domwe Island camps, Danforth Yachting’s guest house & catamaran; the new French-influenced Cape Mac Lodge or the new upmarket Pumulani, Robin Pope Safaris. Slightly further north at Senga Bay is the choice of the traditional colonial Sunbird Livingstonia Beach or the Safari Beach Lodge, set in a forest reserve and with some unique wildlife viewing opportunities.
Each of Malawi’s regions, and the country as a whole, can offer itineraries at upmarket and mid-market levels. They can be relaxed, or packed with a variety of activities. There are also plenty of specialist niche activities/tours which can be catered for, including: cycling; diving; eco-tourism; trekking; birdwatching; weddings & honeymoons; and many more. It's also now quite straightforward to combine sections of Malawi with its neighbours. Malawi & Zambia is a long-standing combination, particularly utilising Lilongwe's proximity to South Luangwa. Malawi & Tanzania and Malawi & Mozambique are now also possible, using air charters.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Malawi - Travel Guide

Flights to Malawi

For intercontinental 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.

Entering Malawi by Road

There are road 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 travelling.

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.

Health & Safety

Immunisation against polio, tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A is recommended. Yellow fever immunisation may be required only by visitors entering from a yellow fever zone. There is a risk of malaria and prophylactics should be taken. Seek up to date advice from your doctor. There is a risk of contracting bilharzia if bathing in some parts of Lake Malawi but the risk is negligible near the main beach hotels. The infection is relatively easily treated once diagnosed. Malawi is a high risk area for AIDS.

Malawi is considered a safe country for tourists and Malawians are rightfully known for their friendliness. However, the usual precautions should be taken as would be advised for tourists anywhere.

Food & Drink

Excellent fish dishes are widely available but especially near Lake Malawi. Most hotels and safari camps serve "western" dishes with, perhaps, game and occasionally local foods such as maize meal porridge. Soft drinks are available everywhere. Beers (Carlsberg is the most common), spirits such as Malawi gin and South African wines are reasonably priced and commonly available. For drinking, bottled water should be used in preference to tap water.


Dress is generally informal. Swimwear and very skimpy clothing should be confined to the beach resorts. For safaris, "natural " colours should be worn in preference to light/bright colours. In the uplands, especially in the winter (April-September), it can be cold in the evening and sweaters may be needed. It can be very cold on morning or night safari drives.


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.

For further advice please call 01227 753180 or email: info@puresafari.co.uk