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Introduction to Malawi

The tourist brochures bill Malawi as 'the warm heart of Africa', and for once the hype is true. Malawi's scenery is gorgeous and varied and Malawians tend to be extremely friendly toward travellers. Nature lovers will adore the national parks and game reserves, mountain hiking and plateau trekking.

The massive Lake Malawi is great for diving, boating or lazing about. The country's reliable transport and compact size make getting about a snap. A broad range of accommodation and activities makes it possible to have a great time whether you're pinching pennies or blowing the bank.

Full country name: Republic of Malawi

Area: 118,500 sq km

Population: 11.6 million

Capital City: Lilongwe

People: Chewa, Nyanja, Tumbuko, Yao, Lomwe, Sena, Tonga, Ngoni, Ngonde, Asian, European

Language: English

Religion: Protestant (55%), Roman Catholic (20%), Muslim (20%), traditional indigenous beliefs

Government: multi-party democracy

GDP: US$8.9 billion

GDP per capita: US$940

Annual Growth: 3.2%

Inflation: 83.4%

Major Industries: Tea, tobacco, sugar, sawmill products, cement, consumer goods, tobacco, sugarcane, cotton, tea, corn, potatoes, cassava (tapioca), sorghum, pulses, cattle, goats

Major Trading Partners: US, South Africa, Germany, Japan, Zimbabwe, UK

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Visas are not needed by citizens of Commonwealth countries, the USA and most European nations (except Switzerland). Visas are limited to 30 days, though extensions are easy to get.

Health risks: heat stroke, hypothermia, Giardiasis, hepatitis, typhoid, meningococcal meningitis, cholera, malaria, rabies, diphtheria, tetanus, HIV/AIDS (HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) develops into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which is a fatal disease. Any exposure to blood, blood products or body fluids may put the individual at risk. The disease is often transmitted through sexual contact or dirty needles - body piercing, acupuncture, tattooing and vaccinations can be potentially as dangerous as intravenous drug use. HIV and AIDS can also be spread via infected blood transfusions, but blood supplies in most reputable hospitals are now screened, so the risk from transfusions is low. If you do need an injection, ask to see the syringe unwrapped in front of you, or take a needle and syringe pack with you. Fear of HIV infection should not preclude treatment for any serious medical conditions. Most countries have organizations and services for HIV-positive folks and people with AIDS. For a list of organizations divided by country, plus descriptions of their services, see

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +2

Dialling Code: 265

Electricity: 230V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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Public Holidays

1 January - New Year's Day

16 January - John Chilembwe Day

3 March - Martyrs' Day

Easter Holidays - Good Friday, Easter Monday

1 May - Labour Day

14 June - Freedom Day

6 July - Republic Day

Second Monday in October - Mother's Day

Second Monday in December - National Tree Planting Day

25 December - Christmas

26 December - Boxing Day

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Best time to Visit

The best time to visit Malawi overall is in the dry season, which lasts from late April to October or November. If you're coming to see game, the best time is late in the dry season, when animals converge at water holes and the heat can be unpleasant, especially in the lowlands. The landscape is much more attractive and conditions less oppressive from May to July, but there are fewer animals about. The early dry season is the best time for birdwatching; it's also exceedingly hot, exceptionally wet or both.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Kwacha


Budget: US$1-5

Mid-range: US$5-8

High: US$8-15

Deluxe: US$15+


Budget: US$1-30

Mid-range: US$30-60

High: US$60-100

Deluxe: US$100+

You can travel rather comfortably in Malawi, staying at the top-end lodges and eating at the best restaurants, for US$200 to $350 a day or more, depending on whether you criss-cross the country in chartered planes and refurnish your dining room with handcarved chief's chairs. Moderate travel will run closer to US$10 to $25 a day, though you can get by for less if you pick your accommodation with care and do a little self-catering. Budget travellers can squeak by for well under US$5 a day if they stick to cheap resthouses and restaurants.

US dollars are widely accepted. It's a good idea to have some travellers cheques on hand, although cash will bring better exchange rates. Credit cards are near useless outside the capital and a few major cities. You should be able to get cash advances on credit cards at major banks, although the system has been known to break down and getting cash can take a day or so even when it's working. As banks are free to offer current market rates, there's no black market to speak of, and changing money on the street is likely to be an invitation to a rip-off.

All middle and top-end hotels and restaurants include a 10% service charge on your bill and add a whopping 20% tax. The 10% service charge should mean that a tip isn't required, but bear in mind that 6% comes off the top and goes straight to the Ministry of Tourism, so the staff are only getting 4% of the surcharge. The other thing to remember is that in local, low-end bars and restaurants tipping isn't expected. At self-catering camps and forest reserve resthouses, the staff are very lowly-paid civil servants, and a small tip (about US$1) for good service wouldn't be amiss. Bargaining is common and expected.

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Lilongwe become the country's new capital in 1975 and is a sprawling place, but of limited interest for travellers. The awfully modern New City or City Centre has the ministries, embassies, airline offices, travel agents and a collection of office buildings and mini-malls.

Far more inspiring is Old Town, where you'll find the market, several restaurants and cafes, the bus station and a good range of accommodation. The market is jammed with pots and pans, car and bike parts, vegetables, live chickens and dried fish. Worth poking around even if you don't buy anything.

Liwonde National Park

Liwonde is the best national park in the country, well-managed with a good stock of game and beautiful scenery. Lying south of Lake Malawi, it includes part of Lake Malombe and the Shire River. Thousands of hippos and crocodiles live in the Shire, and hundreds of elephants can be found in the park.

Several species of antelope, two reintroduced rhinos and great birdlife reside at the park. Most of the game can be seen in the northern part of the park. Much of the park closes in the wet season (November to April), though the main lodge and camp stay open (you'll have to get there by boat).

Mount Mulanje

Stunning scenery, easy access, clear paths and well-maintained huts make Mt Mulanje a fine hiking and trekking area. The mountain rises steeply and suddenly from the undulating plain to the highlands, surrounded by near-vertical cliffs of bare rock, many over 1000m (3280ft) high.

Mulanje's peaks, including the highest in the country, Sapitwa, at just over 3000m (9840ft), often jut above the mist that frequently surrounds the upper slopes, giving the mountain one of its local names, 'Island in the Sky'. You can reach most of the peaks without resorting to technical climbing.

Nkhata Bay

This is Malawi's most scenic lakeside town, though it doesn't quite rate the 'Caribbeanesque' tag some travellers have given it. It's gotten to be something of a budget destination, though it's kept its Malawian feel despite the influx of foreigners.

There's a bustling market and good diving opportunities in Lake Malawi just outside of town. Nkhata Bay spreads around a large lake inlet, about 50km (30mi) east of Mzuzu and 270km (170mi) north of Lilongwe. It's a regular stop on the Lake Malawi steamer, and buses run between the town and Mzuzu.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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