A Malawi Travel Guide and Why You Shouldn't Skip this Amazing Country
As it is not one of the most popular countries in Africa, we decided to detail Malawi travel experiences. Below you'll find details about the country, such as entry requirements, what to visit, when to travel, and more.
Malawi is a landlocked country in Southeast Africa, mostly known for Lake Malawi, which covers about a fifth of the total surface. The main activities of the locals are based on agriculture, namely tea and tobacco crops.
Formerly known as Nyassland, Malawi is also named The Warm Heart of Africa thanks to the friendliness of the locals.
Malawi has a lot to offer in terms of tourism, from national parks, to beautiful landscapes, coffee farms and, of course, the lake. Known also as The Calendar Lake because it measures 365 miles in length, Lake Malawi is probably the most popular destination in the country. There are plenty of activities to do at the lake, from fishing, to snorkeling, boat trips, or cliff-jumping for the adrenaline junkies.
Malawian cuisine is based on starchy foods like rice, potatoes, cassava and sorghum. In terms of protein, fish and goat meat are the most popular, which usually take the form of curries and stews.
Language: No official language; English is the official language in the tourism industry.
Currency: Malawian Kwacha
Population: approximately 19 Million
Friendliness level: 4/5
Our route in Malawi
Entry Point: Zobue / Mwanza (Mozambique). We spent about 3 hours at the border in total. The exit was very smooth and took about 15 minutes. On the Malawian side things went pretty smooth until we wanted to exit to buy the third-party insurance. The police didn't want to let us pass without the insurance even though the places where you buy it are outside the border gates. They wanted to confiscate one of our passports or the car until we obtained the third-party insurance. I decided to remain in the car at the border, while Chris went to buy it. There, he was scammed and paid 60 USD for it (the official price is around 20 USD), but unfortunately he had no other option. It was a bittersweet border crossing.
Exit Point: Songwe / Kasumulu (Tanzania).
Route: Blantyre - Cape Maclear - Nkhata Bay (via Salima and Mzuzu as the roads were better than the lake route) - Mzuzu - Karonga - Songwe.
Useful information for Malawi Travel
You will need a valid passport for at least 6 months from the date of entry in Malawi. Most travelers will need a visa in order to enter Malawi. The state encourages you to apply for the e-visa prior to arriving in the country, although many had problems with the payment. We managed to pay on the third try with our Revolut card.
The requirements for the visa include two passport photos, a covering letter, accommodation confirmation, a written confirmation from the host and the itinerary. They may also require bank statements, but we didn't have to include them in the application. The cost of the visa is 50 USD, and they say it takes 5 working days to receive it. However, we only got it on the 6th day by sending a number of follow-up emails. Therefore, we would recommend you to apply at least two weeks in advance. Once you receive the visa, make sure you print the confirmation and that you have it handy once at the border.
All travelers must show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19. Otherwise, they will either take the vaccine in the country or quarantine for 10 days. They never actually verified our vaccination certificate at the border, although we had it.
In addition, you must have a negative RT-PCR test taken less than 72 hours. Another PCR test result must be provided upon exiting Malawi and the test should be validated through PanaBIOS system.
Things to know if you travel by car
If you plan to travel by car, you should know that most border posts open at 07:00 and close at 18:00. You will need the car registration papers in original, a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) or a Carnet de Passage en Douane. If you don't have the Carnet for the car, you will pay for the TIP at the border. The TIP should cost around 12.5 USD.
Next, you will need to pay the road toll, which is 20 USD. Finally, you need to get the third-party insurance for the car. We couldn't manage to buy it before getting to the border. However, if you have this option, is best to do it prior to arrival. The price mentioned on Malawi Tourism website is approximately 26 USD. Unfortunately we had to pay 60 USD because insurance 'companies' at the border don't have any official pricing lists.
Where we found accommodation:Booking.com, Airbnb, the Malawi groups on Facebook, Google Maps and directly at the place.
Blantyre - Top Lodge Blantyre (4 nights). This was a nice place with spacious rooms and very friendly and helpful staff. The Wi-Fi was around 3 Mbps, but we managed to make calls on it, the breakfast was pretty varied. Not the best road to take to the Lodge, but worth it. They also had a generator that was handy during the power cuts. This was especially useful because we arrived right after a cyclone, so most of the country didn't have power.
Cape Maclear - Thumbi View (6 nights). This was by far the best view we had in Malawi. The food made by Joyce was delicious, and she was very nice to us. They also had solar power, so we managed to work even during power cuts from our room. The pool was perfect during the day when the weather was pretty hot. They don't have Wi-Fi, but we had TNM data from mobile and the signal was LTE.
Nkhata Bay - Mayoka Village (1 night). This experience was slightly disappointing for us, we arrived in the evening and there was no power at all. Moreover, there were hundreds of steps, and we had no idea where the reception/restaurant was. The new owners are very nice and friendly, and we hope they'll work to improve the experience, because the place is unique. The main reason we cut our trip short was that there was no power. We arrived at 18:30 in the evening and by 11:00 the next day there was still no power. As we had to work the next day, we couldn't risk having power cuts for such long periods. They don't have Wi-Fi, but the TNM signal is fine.
Mzuzu - Coffee Suites Mzuzu (2 nights). The coffee farmcould be much better in terms of service, but we had what we needed for the two days we spent there. They also have Wi-Fi, but it was pretty weak.
Karonga - Manguzi Executive Suites (1 night). This was the funniest accommodation we've ever had. Why? Because the bathroom and bedroom were one room, and you could watch TV from the toilet or bathtub. However, for one night it was fine for us, and we even managed to work during the day.
Things not to miss in Malawi
As mentioned before, Lake Malawi is one of the most popular spots. For us, Cape Maclear offered the best views. We took a boat ride on the lake, jumped from a cliff, snorkeled and had some braai. However, we wouldn't recommend paying for the food part, because we stayed there for 2 hours while they cooked. We had nothing to do as it was a beach with no view or anything to do.
There are some beautiful islands on the lake, such as Domwe or Mumbo. You can also find some resorts on the islands where you can enjoy the full lake experience.
Malawi is also home to a number of national parks, most notable being Liwonde, Majembe and Nkotakhota.
Another experience you can definitely try and enjoy in Malawi is visiting a coffee or tea farm.
Most roads were pretty good if we are comparing them to Mozambique. The most difficult were the 5 km close to Cape Maclear.
The police stopped us quite a few times along the way, but they were always nice and never tried anything fishy.
On the way to Nkhata Bay, we chose the 610 km road instead of the 470 km one by the lake. Everyone advised us against using the Lake Route as it seems that is full of potholes.
Google Maps was pretty accurate in terms of journey time, when it managed to make the route. We got lost in Blantyre because Google kept sending us on a one way road in the opposite direction.
Some tips for your travels to Malawi
You should get a TNM or Airtel SIM if you need data. We had both, but only used TNM in the end. After the manager registered it for us at the first lodge, we topped it up on doctorsim.com and got data bundles. The bundles are pretty expensive though (more than South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania).
Make sure you have cash because most places don't accept card payments, or add an extra 4 - 5% comission. Many gas stations around Salima did not accept card payments.
Conclusions on Malawi Travel
What we enjoyed most during our time in Malawi were the people and the view in Cape Maclear. People are very nice and friendly even more when comparing to Mozambique (because it was our previous experience). We believe Malawi is a country not to be missed when you're traveling through Africa.
Do you have any other questions regarding Malawi travel? You can also check out our review on Mozambique.