The warm heart of Africa
Backpacking in Malawi
A backpacking holiday in Malawi is an ideal low budget way to see one of the friendliest countries in Africa. Backpackers will often come in from the neighbouring countries of Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. Transport is inexpensive and frequent, with various methods including the cheapest and slowest ‘big bus’, which makes regular stops, to the ‘Shire Bus Lines’ luxury non-stop service. These are replaced by Matolas (pick-up trucks) and bicycle taxis in more rural areas.
Cheap accommodation in Malawi is widely available and most backpacker’s accommodation in Malawi have camping available all year round, in addition to dorms and private rooms. Most backpacker’s accommodation in Malawi also have self-catering facilities as well as their own restaurants. Shopping for food is cheap and local produce consists of a wide variety of locally grown fruit and vegetables, rice, beans, fish and meat. There are also bakeries and supermarkets selling a wider selection.
Beach in Malawi
Malawi is a landlocked country meaning there is no coast. However, Lake Malawi has some of the most beautiful palm fringed beaches in the world. The lake covers a fifth of the country and stretches away like an inland tropical sea. It is filled with clear, warm water and dotted with rocky islands, where you can relax on the sand, swim, snorkel and scuba in the fresh water or participate in any number of water sports. The weather throughout the dry season (May-October) is beautiful with almost guaranteed sunshine and warm temperatures, making Malawi an ideal destination for an alternative beach holiday. The relaxed and gentle pace of life and the easygoing nature of Malawians is a fantastic atmosphere to get you in the mood for lazy days by the water.
Camping in Malawi
A camping holiday in Malawi is one of the most fun and exciting ways to spend your time in Africa. Campsites in Malawi are found in most destinations and most backpacker’s resorts will have a special camping area. Camping on the sand at the lake, and falling asleep to the lapping of the water, or up in the mountains with a campfire, are both unique and special ways to spend a holiday in this beautiful country.
Fees for camping in Malawi are very reasonable, but facilities vary according to the area. You will need your own transport if you are going to take a lot of equipment, otherwise travel light so you can make use of public transport. There are not many camping shops in Malawi so make sure you are fully kitted out before you leave. Only the major cities will have suitable camping equipment. Many backpackers’ resorts in Malawi will have a kitchen with cooking utensils but some will not so it’s best to check before you book your site.
Culture and Arts in Malawi
The music traditions of Malawi are rich with cultural influences that include those of the Zulu Ngoni people from South Africa, the Islamic Yao people of Tanzania and others.
Most tribes have their own individual songs and dances. Common musical instruments found include drums, the mambilira, (which is similar to the western xylophone) rattles of different types and sizes, shakers that are tied to dancers' legs and arms and are often know as maseche.
Malawi produces various colourful arts and crafts, which are hand worked to a high standard. There are many craft markets spread throughout the country and along the roadsides.
Chief Chairs are a very popular item and can be found throughout the country.
The batiks in particular capture the vibrancy of Malawian culture, depicting the traditional with a modern appeal. Batik cloth prints are created using a traditional wax resist dyeing process.
Traditional dance plays a part in most ceremonies in Malawi. The Gule Wamkulu (performed by the Chewa and Mang’anja), with its heavily carved masks, feathers and skin paint, is an important dance in Malawian culture.
Honeymoon in Malawi
Malawi’s not the first destination that you would think of for your honeymoon, however, the beautiful and secluded palm fringed beaches of Lake Malawi make for an ideal stay, on a honeymoon where you are not too far from some of Africa’s most magnificent wildlife.
Spend your time lazing in a hammock listening to the cries of fish eagles, snorkelling in crystal clear waters among tropical fish or watching magnificent sunsets over the croc-filled Shire River. You can stay in luxury accommodation on the edges of the lake or on the river, watching magnificent sunsets and listening to the grunts of the nearby hippos.
Safari Activity Holiday in Malawi
Malawi is the perfect choice for a Safari holiday. Although not a ‘big 5’ destination, Malawi is unique in it’s geography and diversity of wildlife, from the tropical fish in the depths of lake malai to the hippos, crocodiles and elephant herds of liwonde national park and shire river. You can experience Malawi and its amazing landscapes, wildlife and extraordinary birdlife on various safari tours. The birdlife is extraordinary, fish eagles, kingfishers and heron are abundant. The country's premier wildlife reserve is Liwonde National Park, where you can stay in luxurious tented rooms at Mvuu Wilderness Lodge. There are five National Parks and four Wildlife Reserves, including one Freshwater National Park (at Cape Maclear). All types of safari are available, not only 4x4 driving but also walking, by boat, and horse riding. Most game viewing is in small groups.
Scuba Diving Activity Holiday in Malawi
With its spectacular sunrises, unspoiled scenery and crystal clear waters; Lake Malawi is one of the most famous freshwater scuba diving locations in the world. The third largest lake in Africa, ninth worldwide and with a depth of up to 700 metres.
Lake Malawi boasts of over 1000 species of tropical fish - 350 of which are unique to the lake. Scuba diving in Lake Malawi is like exploring a giant aquarium and being engulfed by a rainbow of fish. Resort courses are available to those who wish to learn to dive. Fully qualified instructors welcome beginners and Lake Malawi, at 474m above sea level is the ideal place to learn to dive.
Night dives go in search of the elusive fresh water otter. The water is clear, calm and warm, with temperatures between 22 and 27°C.
The Lake is shark-free and tide less with numerous islands and rock formations beneath the surface. It's widely recognised as one of the best freshwater diving destinations in the world. With very safe conditions, it's the ideal place to learn to dive. Beginner, advanced and specialty courses, as well as gear hire and casual dives are available and are very reasonably priced.
There are several dive schools along the coast with experienced PADI or NAUI dive masters. For experienced divers this is a great opportunity to notch up a fresh water dive on your dive card. Visibility varies from 5-30 metres and the best time to go is from August to December. There is a risk of catching bilharzia in the lake, but if you stick to swimming in fast moving water away from the villages the risk is minimal.
It may not rival the top salt-water dive spots in the world, but for fresh water diving, Lake Malawi is clearly is in a league of its own.
Family Holiday in Malawi
Malawi is a great place to take an adventurous family on holiday. The lake offers activities of all kinds to be enjoyed by children and parents alike. From swimming and snorkeling to Scuba and water ski-ing. There are many family friendly lodges and hotels to choose from and an unforgetable safari encountering elephants, hippos, and crocodiles in the wild beats Disneyland any day!
Hiking Activity Holiday in Malawi
Malawi is perfect for a hiking holiday. You will find magnificent mountain grassland hiking in Nyika, Zomba and Mulanje. There are plenty of fascinating and beautiful hikes and walks. Walks through all of the national parks and wildlife reserves are popular for game viewing but hiking is generally through the cooler, shady forests on the hills and plateau’s.
The Mulanje Massif offers the greatest choice and has a network of huts for intrepid explorers to stay in. Marked paths offer a variety of routes and guides and/or porters can be hired cheaply.
Nyika Plateau is less rugged but walking is undoubtedly one of the best ways to explore this unique and wildlife-rich wilderness. There are marked trails for those prepared to hike and camp for a few days. They cover the varied peaks and valleys whilst offering chances to encounter the animals in the park close at hand. Guides are available and are advised.
Also in the north are the Viphya Highlands, which are covered in forests and provide fascinating trails, including those off the highlands and down the Rift Valley escarpment to the shores of Lake Malawi.
The serene forests, hills and streams of Zomba Plateau, and the views from it, offer another attraction for walkers.
Finally, a number of forestry reserves around the country provide pleasant walks through shady environments. Ntchisi Forest is easily accessed from Lilongwe and a wonderful tranquil retreat. The hills surrounding Blantyre are also popular for walks
Touring - Driving holiday in Malawi
Driving yourself around Malawi is one of the best ways to travel in this country. It allows you to be flexible, have privacy and explore areas at your own pace. A 4x4 is recommended for getting to those out of the way destinations but beware of potholes and other drivers, road deaths in Malawi are considerably high so always drive with caution, and avoid driving after dark.
Car hire companies are based in Lilongwe and Blantyre, with desks at the airports. Cars can be delivered to and collected from any other location. Standards of vehicles vary and hiring can be expensive.
Most of the main roads are tarred but narrow. Potholes may be expected in any road and speeds should be kept to a sensible level. Driving is on the left of the road. Expect to find people and animals on any road. Driving at night is to be avoided. Breakdowns are usually indicated by placing bush or tree branches at the side of the road behind the vehicle. Petrol is widely available but tanks should be filled when the opportunity occurs as soon as the indicator falls below half. An International Driving Licence is required although national driving licences may be accepted.