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Malawi Travel Tips

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Giraffe in MalawiVisas - immigration

A valid passport, with at least six months to expiry date from intended exit date, is required to enter Malawi. If your passport is likely to expire you should get a new one before arriving. Visas are not obtainable at points of entry must be organised prior to travelling through the nearest Malawian Embassy or High Commission. Visa are required by all but the following passport holders: Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belgium, Botswana, Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, Fiji, Finland, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Grenada, Iceland, Israel, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Lesotho, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Sierra Leone, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, UK, USA, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Malawi has diplomatic representation in Belgium (Brussels), Canada (Ontario) France (Paris) Germany (Bonn), Japan (Tokyo), Kenya (Nairobi), Mozambique (Maputo), Namibia (Windhoek) South Africa (Pretoria), UK (London), USA (Washington), Zambia (Lusaka) and Zimbabwe (Harare). Visitors passes are required by all foreign passport holders and these can be obtained, free of charge, at the point of entry. Visitor's passes are valid for 1 month and can easily be extended, up to a maximum of 90 days, at any of the immigration offices which can be found in most major towns.

It is best to ensure that you have an outward bound ticket or can show sufficient funds to support your stay in the country.

Climate

The variable altitude of Malawi provides wide differences in climate. The lowest point is where the Shire Valley approaches its confluence with the Zambezi River, at about 100 ft above sea level. The vast water surface of Lake Malawi also profoundly affects the climate. The margins of the lake have long hot seasons and high humidity, with mean annual temperatures of 24°C (75°F). The temperature generally decreases and the rainfall increases with altitude.

Malawi is noted for its rapid transitions from low to high rainfall. Trade winds and cool maritime air bring clouds and drizzly rain to the mountains in the east which rise to over 1,830 m (6,000 ft). The tea belt profits from both winter and summer rains, and the high plateau area offers opportunities for afforestation because of heavy rainfall. Winters are cool, with occasional spells of cold weather.

In general, the seasons may be divided into the cool (May to mid-August); the hot (mid August to November); the rainy (November to April), with rains continuing longer in the northern and eastern mountains, and the post-rainy (April-May), with temperatures falling in May. Zomba has extreme temperatures of 35°C and 7°C (95°F and 45°F) and considerable rainfall. Lilongwe, in central Malawi, at an elevation of 1,036 (3,400 ft) has a moderately warm climate with adequate rainfall and extreme temperatures of 36°C and -3.4°C (97°F and 26°F). The ultra-violet rays are very strong in Malawi and burn times very short - great care should be taken.

Best time to Travel

For most people the dry (winter) season is most attractive (i.e. April - May to October - November). However, some of the best bird-watching can be had from November to April and the orchids of Nyika are best seen from December to March - April.

Getting Around

Internal air connections can be made from Lilongwe to Blantyre, Koronga, Mzuzu and Club Makokola on the southern Lakeshore.

Lake Ferry

Two ferries, the MV Ilala and MV Mtendere, travel between Monkey Bay and Chilumba once a week. The ferries are inexpensive but are not up to tourist standards. The Ilala is the better of the two.

Railways - Train Services

Services by rail are slow, overcrowded and erratic, they offer no advantages over road travel and are therefore not used by tourists. The rail connects Lilongwe to Blantyre via Salima and Blantyre to Nsanje near the border where it extends into Mozambique to Biera. It is possible that this route may now be developed in the near future.

Bus

Bus services are available throughout Malawi. There is a luxury bus service three times daily between Blantyre and Lilongwe and three times weekly between Blantyre and Mzuzu by the main bus operator in Malawi, Stagecoach. But they cover practically every road in Malawi and are rarely overcrowded. Traveling by bus is the most cost effective and reliable way to get around.

On many roads in Malawi, especially where there is no public transport, bus services are supplemented by the motola system. Generally they are no cheaper than buses but you will reach your destination quicker. These are not regarded as a safe form of transport with main of the vehicles being in poor order and often driven by drunks.

The Road

Published by ITMB Publishing Ltd Series Africa specialises in areas that are interesting, exotic and off the beaten track.For the English speaking traveller - informative text included with the map, dealin with the history, culture, etc. The maps are light, practical and should be invaluable for the backpacker, traveler or tourist

You will need a valid international driving licence or national driving licence if set out in English. Malawi drives on the left. The main roads is Malawi are generally surfaced and most are reasonably well maintained.

Many smaller roads and roads within the game reserves can become impassable in the rainy season. Be aware, for some reason, Malawian drivers seem to believe that by not using their headlights will conserve the life of their car battery, so driving after dark can be dangerous. Hiring a car is an expensive way to get around but essential if you want to see a lot in a limited time.

Food - Drink

Excellent fish dishes are widely available but especially near Lake Malawi. Most hotels and safari camps serve "western" dishes with, perhaps, game and, occasionally, local foods such as maize meal porridge. Soft drinks are available everywhere but bottle caps should be checked to ensure there has been no re-filling. Beers (Carlsberg is the most common), spirits such as Malawi gin and South African wines are reasonably priced and commonly available.

Currency

The Malawi unit of currency is the kwacha (abbreviated to MK internationally; K locally). The kwacha is divided into 100 tambala. Practically speaking, only the kwacha is used. Banks in the towns are open weekdays from 0800 to 1300. Mobile banks operate along the Lakeshore and in more remote areas (check days/times locally). Travelers Cheques or foreign (hard) currency notes are widely accepted. Avoid black market currency traders. There is no limit to the amount of foreign currency brought into Malawi but it must be declared and accounted for on departure. Only MK200 may be exported.

Time

Malawi shares the same time as all southern Africa, viz. GMT + 2 hours.

Communication

The telephone system is not entirely reliable. Most hotels and offices are readily reached by e-mail. The international telephone code for Malawi is 265. All Malawi landline numbers are now 8 digit, beginning 01. The 0 is dropped if dialing in from abroad. Coverage for mobile phones used to be restricted to the main towns, but is now gradually increasing. The postal system tends to be slow. DHL is the major international courier operating in Malawi.

Public Holidays

Jan 1, 15; March 3; May 1; June 14; July 6; 2nd Monday in October; Dec 25, 26. Also: Good Friday and Easter Sunday. If a holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, then the next Monday becomes a holiday. Muslim festivals may be celebrated especially in the Northern Region and along Lake Malawi.

Dressing Code

Dress is generally informal but some hotel restaurants may require men to wear ties. Swimwear and very skimpy clothing should be confined to the beach resorts. For safaris, "natural " colours should be worn in preference to light - bright colours. In the uplands, especially in the winter months April to September, it can be cool in the evening and sweaters may be needed. It can be very cold on an early morning safari drive.

Dressing for dinner is rarely necessary, though the top Blantyre restaurants may insist upon a tie for men.

Health And Safety

Malawi is considered a safe country and Malawians are rightfully known for their friendliness. However, the usual precautions should be taken as would be advised for any tourist anywhere.

Immunization against polio, tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis is recommended. Yellow fever immunization is required only by visitors entering Malawi from a yellow fever zone. There is a risk of malaria and prophylactics should be taken. Seek up to date advice from your doctor. There is a risk of contracting bilharzia if bathing in Lake Malawi but the risk is negligible near the main beach hotels. The infection is relatively easily treated once diagnosed. Malawi is a high risk area for AIDS

Photography

Film is best brought into the country but care should be taken to keep exposed and, especially, unexposed film cool. Most Malawians will not mind being photographed but it is common courtesy to ask permission first.

Language

English is the official language and will generally be understood.

Tv - Radio

A Malawian TV service was set up for the first time in 1999. In addition, many city centre hotels receive international satellite channels. There are English language radio broadcasts but little of interest to the foreign traveler.

Shopping

The traditional two main supermarket chains, PTC and Kandodo are now being superceded by Shop Rite. These stores will be found in towns and larger villages. European-style shops are almost exclusively found in Blantyre and Lilongwe. Markets and roadside vendors are popular with travelers.

Popular souvenirs are the excellent wood carvings, widely available, and straw goods. The standard of craftwork varies but at its best is quite outstanding. In the markets, bargaining is expected.

Shops and offices open and close earlier in the day than is the custom in Europe or North America

Water

Tap water should generally be avoided for drinking purposes.

Laundry

Laundry is usually possible at hotels or in the bigger safari camps. Dry cleaning is less easy to obtain and standards may vary.

Travel Insurance

If you need medical care whilst in Malawi, it is best to be aware that medical providers may not accept payment through your insurance company. In these circumstances you will have to pay in full after your treatment and file a claim with your insurance company for reimbursement. Therefore you should have access to cash, either from a credit card or by wire transfer. If you need assistance contact the country's local embassy or representative.

To be compensated you must be treated by licensed medical personnel and provide your insurance company with proper documentation and receipts. It is advisable to always ensure you have a comprehensive travel insurance policy which covers you for repatriation to your home country.
 

Feedback From Clients

Lynn Smithson


We had a FANTASTIC time in Botswana. We enjoyed our tour group (especially the crazy Italians), and the guides and staff were uniformly excellent. We particularly liked our head guide, Ronald (whose every story around the campfire late at night ended with the immortal words “….and all they found was his head….”), and the camp chef, Richard, who served us phenomenal gourmet dinners concocted in his primitive bush kitchen. The camping spots were lovely, the accommodations were very nice (2-person dome tents with shower/commode compartments), and our game drives were excellent -- we were able to see a huge variety of animals and birds. All in all, a great experience. Thanks for all of your assistance and we will definite refer any Afric...

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