Malawi Travel Guide

This Malawi travel guide covers an overview of the top destinations, how to get around, best time to visit, safety, scams and more, to help you plan your adventure.

Although Malawi is probably not the first destination that comes to mind when you think of Africa, it has some great attractions, like its massive ocean-like white sand lake, Lake Malawi and wonderful trekking. It’s also known as the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’, with some of the friendliest and most engaging people that you’ll ever meet.

You can also spot the Big Five here, as Malawi is working to restore its parks and become a safari destination.

Malawi Lake at Kande Beach in the Travel Guide

Note: The information in this travel guide and the post on Malawi is updated as of July 2022.

The top destination is Lake Malawi, a lake so big it has ocean-like wide sandy beaches and a tide with waves. At over 11,000 miles² (28,000 km²) it’s almost the size of Belgium! Making it even more unique, exploring the clear water for its colorful little fish called Mbuna Cichlids, common in freshwater aquariums, is a top thing to do.

Especially in its UNESCO Lake Malawi National Park, which has global importance for biodiversity conservation. The area around lake Malawi is the perfect place to arrange a village visit to learn more about these warm, engaging people.

There are also several mountains to hike, like Zomba Plateau and Mulanje, with stunning vistas from their summits and interesting sites along the way.

Zomba Plateau |John Patrick

And although it’s not a wildlife destination, you can take a safari to spot the Big Five in Majete Wildlife Reserve. Liwonde National Park is also known for its river cruises to spot the abundant elephant and hippo along its banks.

Liwonde Park | Marco Derksen

Best Time To Visit Malawi

Lake Malawi: It’s best to visit in the drier months, May to October. November to April is the rainy season and best avoided.

Game Viewing: The dry season, July to October, is best for spotting game as it congregates around water to drink, making it easier to see.

Note that temperatures start to increase in September and can be very hot in October.

Languages In Malawi

Although English is the official language, it’s only spoken fluently by a small percentage. There are many other languages, with Chichewa the one spoken by more than half the population. That said, in the tourist areas we visited, we were always able to find someone that spoke English.

Malawi Travel Guide: Money Matters

Currency: The currency in Malawi is the Malawian Kwacha. Conversation rates as of January 2, 2023 are:

  • USD (1) = 1688 MWK
  • Euro (1) = 1860 MWK
  • CNY (1) = 236 MWK

Credit Cards & ATMs: Credit Cards are accepted in larger cities (although fees may be charged). Visa acceptance is more prevalent than MasterCard. ATMs are available in larger cities. However, it’s best to carry cash anyway, as power cuts can occur and neither may be available. Bring extra cards as a backup. If prompted, choose the local currency over your home currency for a better rate.

Tipping: Tipping is voluntary, but appreciated for good service. 10% for restaurant service is the norm. It’s best to give tips directly to the recipient in cash, otherwise, it may go to the establishment.

Malawi Travel Guide: Safety

Malawi is relatively safe, but muggings and robberies do occur, especially in larger cities and touristy areas. It’s best not to draw too much attention to yourself, dress in flashy clothes, or walk around after dark.

Take precautions and always be aware of your surroundings. Trust your instincts. If things don’t feel right, look for alternatives.

Armed carjacking is a risk, especially in fancy 4 x 4 vehicles. Keep doors locked, windows rolled up, and don’t pick up strangers.

Also be cautious if another vehicle signals you over. Kidnappings of foreign nationals have occurred (2021).

I realize these last two sound horrible. I’m only adding as there have been reports. Don’t let this scare you away from Malawi. I felt very safe in my trip here. I think it’s really important not to try to attract attention in high-end vehicles.

Local villagers near Malawi Lake in the Malawi Travel Guide

Malawi Travel Guide: Scams

Although Malawi is generally safe, there are some things to watch out for.

Overly Friendly Strangers

This one is tough as Malawians are really friendly, but beware of someone approaching you and being overly friendly. They may be trying to pickpocket you. Please be alert.

Don’t Accept Drinks From Strangers

If a stranger offers you a drink, don’t accept. It’s possible it was spiked. Try to only consume drinks where you see it opened yourself and can keep an eye on it.

ATM Safety

Try to only use ATMs in bank lobbies or shopping malls and check machines to see if they look tampered with. Search the machine to make sure nothing has been added to the slot where you insert your card and there are no hidden cameras on, or around, the machine to see you enter your pin. Never accept help from a stranger.

Malawi Travel Guide: Getting Around

Overland Tour: An overland tour is a great way to see the country. Most combine Malawi with visits to nearby countries. Great overland companies include Intrepid and G Adventures.

Self-Drive: Major roads are in good condition and self-driving is relatively safe. A 4 x 4 is a good idea, especially if driving backroads. Although distances are not far, delays are common and travel is slow. Avoid driving at night. An International Drivers Permit is required in addition to your regular license. See safety above for carjacking risks and never drink and drive here as it can result in jail time.

Ferry: The Ilala ferry is popular method of transportation with locals with weekly crossing from Monkey Bay to Chilumba, with key stops along the way. However, there are concerns about its standards and safety, and it’s rarely on time.

Note that minibuses between towns are not recommended for safety reasons.

Visa Information For Malawi

US and most European citizens can get an eVisa in advance, visa on arrival, or apply for one through a Malawian Embassy. The later, however, is generally more expense. You can get a single entry, multiple entry, or transit visa, which is good for seven days.

Citizens from China must apply for a visa in advance.

Note that you need to provide proof of a return flight or onward travel to enter Malawi.

More Details On Malawi

Click on the icon or copy below to read more detail on the top places to visit in Malawi.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

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