In this blog – with VLOG included – you will read all about my Journey through Malawi. I’ll tell you about my trip, where I stayed, my best tips and my voluntary work. Lets gooo!
The country Malawi
Malawi lays in the south-eastern part of Africa, close to Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania. Malawi is ranked the 4th poorest country in the world. Things are slowly moving in the right direction for Malawi, but there is a long way to go when it comes to development. During my stay, there were elections which generated political upheaval. I hope soon the country will be calm again and they can move into the right direction developing the country.
The country hosts one of the friendliest inhabitants of the world. There is a strong community feeling and people take care of each other. Unfortunately, there is also a high number of death caused by decease. Mainly HIV and Malaria cause death in many families. The community takes care of the family left after death.
Malawi got affected by cyclone Idai. 900.000 people got affected and many homes were flooded. 56 people were registered dead from the cyclone. The cyclone destroyed multiple towns, many houses and agricultural working areas.
Malawi has multiple sights to see. One of the most popular places to visit in Lake Malawi (National Park). The lake is a big part of the country, has many exotic type of fish and serves the fishing industry. You may also find wildlife in Malawi, as there are several national parks such as Liwonde National Park and Mulanje National Park. The nature is beautiful and pure, as tourism is still very small – sometimes even rare – in this country.
My trip in Malawi
I entered the country of Malawi through the city Mchinji. I arrived in Mchinji by taxi from the border with Zambia (MK 1000,-). Here I took some cash from the ATM (National bank of Malawi) and booked a local bus to travel further to Lilongwe. With a small van I traveled in over three hours to Lilongwe. In Lilongwe I had a little lunch before I changed buses to go to Monkey Bay. With another minivan (trust me, these vans are nothing like comfort) I traveled to the Lake in for hours (MK 7000,-). Monkey Bay is a small city on the lake, where you may find 3 small lodges. It’s very local and nothing touristy. It’s a place to relax and unwind, maybe do some small water activities. And write if you would like to. I stayed here two nights and relaxed, while I ordered all my meals from the lodge I stayed in.
After two days I moved from Monkey Bay to Cape Maclear. Cape Maclear is also in the Lake Malawi National Park, just on the other side. In only one hour you cross the park and you find Cape Maclear. This town is known for it’s best sunsets over the lake and offers about 10 lodges. Alongside the lake you also find a few options for dinner and drinks. In Cape Maclear I stayed three days and unwind a bit more, while also doing canoeing and visiting a project. In Cape Maclear I stayed in a lodge which was part of a development project, called HEEED. Heeed stands for health, education, environment and economic development. I visited the project and was able to see how they create a development project with the profits of the lodge. During my stay in Cape Maclear I canoed with the Scuba Shack organization of the lodge and spend multiple evenings watching the sunset from The Funky Cichlid. A Nice spot with good vibes, friendly people, nice food and possibilities to buy some wifi to do necessary things (such as booking your next hotel).
After three days in Cape Maclear I traveled back to the capital Lilongwe and this time I got a ride from a couple I met at The Funky Cichlid. In Lilongwe I stayed two more nights and visited the project Taste of Malawi and a few markets. The city is vibrant but also a bit chaotic and during my stay there were political protests. I stayed in a hotel in the city, just a little bit off the old town. There aren’t that many options to stay in Lilongwe if you like some comfort such as internet and a private bathroom. Hotels with a bit of luxury are quiet pricy in the city.
From Lilongwe I took a taxi to the airport, which was 40 minutes outside of the city. The airport is extremely modern for Malawian principles and organized.
Service: Personal and local. Things are handled with care but very slow and most of the time there is one option.
What I got: A room with en-suite bathroom in a small house. I had my own entrance and a little balcony to sit on. I had my breakfast included.
Overall stay: A very calm lodge, more like a European B&B. Nice views, beautifully furnished, a lovely private beach, a home-style restaurant with MARVELOUS breakfast and the option to do water activities. I think this is the prettiest lodge in the area. You can tap water for free all day. You can opt to buy WIFI here. The first gb’s are free, then you pay to use some internet. But it works well:)
Perfect for: writing, to unwind, to go offline and to do some light water activities such as canoeing.
Service: a local eco-friendly and Social supporting lodge where about 20 rooms are situated. During my stay it was pretty empty. Their garden is amazing, their views stunning and the project (HEEED) as part of the lodge a big plus.
What I got: A room with private bathroom and porch. Breakfast wasn’t included so I took breakfast in the hotel sometimes, but also went to the Funky Cichlid for breakfast sometimes. Internet is not available (or existing) in this lodge.
Overall stay: The garden is stunning, a true dream. They have sun beds you can use and they offer multiple water activities through Scuba Shack. A very friendly diving instructor will get you comfortable with the water. You can dine in the garden or around the porch of the main house, you just have to inform them about your preference in advance. Very friendly staff who greets you and prepares everything for. PLUS: such a sweet dog:) And it’s a big plus they have their own social development organization that is funded by the lodge. You can visit it everyday for free, its just across the street.
Perfect for: Resting, sunbathing, writing, scuba diving, going offline and reading a book.
Service: A small scale hotel in a house-style building. Everything is on the ground floor. The rooms are huge and the big garden has a swimming pool. Friendly staff and very personal.
What I got: A insane big room (64m2) with private bathroom and breakfast included. For breakfast, you pick your preferences the day before and they serve you in the morning. They offer wifi in the hotel, but during my stay they had trouble to track down the password for almost a day. To give you an idea. Oh and I had a cold shower the first day.
Overall stay: This hotel is perfect for the last nights. It is situated in a neighborhood just outside the vibrant city streets so it’s calm and very safe. They have a guard during the evenings. I had a very spacious and clean room so I loved to pack here. The garden is big and the pool good to relax and get some tan. The breakfast is good and the beds ok. One’s I got the wifi code, the internet was good enough to check the necessary things.
Perfect for: short stay, city days, good nights of sleep, packing, some last hours in the sun.
My best tips for traveling Malawi
In general transport in Malawi is very basic. They usually don’t drive on schedule and things go slow here due to lack of money to develop good roads and public transport system. Public transport is barely there – I took it though – it works but you should be patient and not bother any comfort. Taxi’s are available on request, so it’s good to ask your hotel to arrange something. In Lilongwe tuctucs are available to drive you everywhere. Renting a car is a good option, as you can travel to places public transport doesn’t reach. The roads are ok and people don’t drive that fast in Malawi. Try to book a plane to travel bigger distances as much as you can. If you book it in advance, the options might be doable for every budget and it saves up a lot of time.
Eventhough I checked all my ATM and bank options way in advance, I still had trouble retrieving money. I figured the National bank of Malawi and the Standard bank of Malawi would accept my Meastro cards. I found multiple ATM’s in advance in the border city, Lilongwe and around the lake. The first try at the border took over an hour – as ATM’s are not so common – there are huge lines to get money. If you can retrieve money, the maximum amount is about 85 euros. So it won’t bring you that far. Around the lake, the ATM’s turned out to be empty. And they don’t get restocked frequently. In Lilongwe you have the biggest shot of luck. During my stay here, the National Bank had empty ATM’s as wel but Standard was able to provide me with 85 euros.
I always thought I would be fine as long as I brought my credit card (Mastercard). But credit cards PIN-machines and transactions are an expensive business in Malawi, therefore most lodges, restaurants and hotels won’t accept credit cards either. Keep a keen eye on the places you’d like to book or visit and see what they accept before making a reservation.
My best tip when cash and creditcard are neither an option? Bring DOLLARS. In Malawi it’s always possible to pay with dollars. Use an app (like XE currency) to quickly check the prices you’d need to pay in dollars before accepting any price. Be prepared to pay a little extra for exchange. But dollars were my number one lifesaver while traveling and staying (especially around the lake). I personally brought euros too, but that was a bit more difficult with currency and its rarer so they rate higher.
It may sound logical, but to me it was still a surprise: internet is very rare in Malawi. Even when you stay in a chique hotel in the capital, wifi is uncommon here. So please, be prepared. Check in advance the facilities of your hotel/lodge if you’d need to use the internet. Some restaurants and hotels offer paid wifi – you buy MB through a token. The prices are doable ( MK 1000 for 1mb) but it just is a bit of hassle sometimes. For me, during blogging you had to re-buy a new token. Uploading pictures was a headache and you are limited in posting stories etc. So please, be prepared. That said, if you like to offline and take some rest from IG: Malawi is the best place:)
Normally I am not someone who complaints easily. But I think it should be said: I had the worst mattresses of my life in Malawi. They are so incredibly thin and soft, I could feel the planks with my hips and my but. It’s ok for a night or two, but became a bit uncomfortable after a week. I think it’s common for the country to lay on thin mattresses and I totally get there aren’t many alternatives to buy thicker ones. But if you happen to still be able to pick your place to stay – you can always have a look into the reviews about bedding. Better save than sorry;-)
The options are limited in restaurants but here and there you have something to choose. A good tip is to check availability for restaurants around lunchtime (13h – 14h) and let the restaurant know what you’d like to eat. This way they can prepare upon your wishes. I ate a lot of chicken during my time in Malawi but also many curries and stews. Around Lilongwe you’ll find multiple Indian restaurants and many more bistro style restaurants.
Voluntary work in Malawi
During my time in Malawi I visited the project HEEED at Cape Maclear and I volunteered for a day at Taste of Malawi. You can read about my experiences in the blog or watch my VLOG below. But there are more options to volunteer while you travel or stay in Malawi. Here are the programs I opted for while traveling to Malawi:
Of course there are many more voluntary options throughout the country. If you like to find your perfect voluntary work in a different area, please have a look here.
In this vlog I will bring you along to the Lake Malawi, I show you the incredible sunsets and I visit Lilongwe – the capital of Malawi. During my stay in Lilongwe, I volunteer with Taste of Malawi. Hope you like what you see!