Overview

Travellers to Malawi quickly realise why it has earned the reputation for being the “Warm Heart of Africa”. The people welcome tourists with open arms and broad, sincere smiles. The other reason people are drawn to the country is its giant, freshwater lake, Lake Malawi – its lifeblood. People travel from far and wide to enjoy basking on its picturesque golden beaches, as well as a wide range of activities in its warm, pristine water. A glimpse into the underwater world with its multitude of brightly coloured fish led to the creation of a protected national park and its place on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

From beach to the bush, where you get to enjoy a safari with game drives taking you through wildlife-rich national parks or wander through untouched grasslands. Nature-lovers delight in Malawi’s natural scenery. Suspended in the clouds in Malawi’s deep south are the dramatic peaks of Mount Mulanje and the mysterious Zomba Plateau – both a trekker’s dream, with mist-cowled forests and exotic wildlife. And in the north, you can witness the otherworldly beauty of Nyika Plateau with its rolling grasslands.

From a cultural perspective, there are numerous fascinating historic and cultural sites, including Chongoni’s rock art area, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its rich concentration of rock art. The country might be one of the most impoverished countries in the world, but for some, the chance of exploring this natural and authentic African paradise couldn’t be more enticing. Above all, Malawi’s lure is in large part, that it is a place of peace and quiet, without the traffic jams and hassles of city life.

Malawi's Climate

Malawi has a sub-tropical climate and temperatures are largely moderated by altitude, with higher altitudes offering cooler weather for visitors, particularly in the evening. In general, the seasons may be divided into 4 categories: 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 metres (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 dry season runs from May to October and game viewing is best at this time. The rainy season runs from November to March. Around Lake Malawi, in winter, the climate is particularly dry with pleasant cooling breezes.

  • Local Cuisine Trying the local cuisine is a great part of the cultural experience. There’s Nsima, which is Malawi’s staple food made out of processed corn, served with meat or fish, some greens and a local chilli called kambuzi as an accompaniment. And Malawi’s biggest food export, the chambo, which is a tasty tilapia fish, which is rated as "arguably the best fish your palate has ever come across", served with an aromatic local rice called kilombero. And for something completely different: ngumbi which is an African termite, high in lean protein and superbly tasty.
  • Lake Malawi’s fishes Be amazed at the variety and quantity of colourful cichlid fish when you’re out diving or snorkelling in the warm, fresh waters of Lake Malawi. The lake is thought to be about 3 000 000 years old and has between 500 to 1 000 different species of fish – of which the majority are endemic. 90% of these fish belong to the “Cichlid” family and it is thought that all of these different cichlids have developed from the same origin over a period of around 2 000 000 years.
  • Chongoni's rock art area Appreciate the fascinating archaeological sites high up in the plateau of central Malawi, in an area covering 126.4 km2. It’s another designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and valued for its rich concentration of rock art. The work includes a comparatively scarce tradition of farmer rock art, as well as paintings by BaTwa hunter-gatherers who inhabited the area.
  • Lake Malawi National Park This UNESCO World Heritage Site earned its place on the list not only for its exceptional natural beauty, with islands and clear waters set against a background of the Great African Rift Valley escarpment, but also because of its outstanding example of biological evolution and biodiversity conservation.
  • The friendly people are legendary Malawi’s people are its greatest asset and their warmth and friendly natures will leave a great impression on any visitor. Overnight stays in a Malawian village will allow you to best experience these colourful and vibrant people.
  • A hikers dream Hikers will be enchanted by the dramatic Mount Mulanje and the Zomba Plateau, with their mist-cowled forests and exotic wildlife. For mountain climbers, the challenge of Mount Mulanje’s highest peak Sapitwa at 3 002 m awaits.
  • Time for tea Malawi is the second largest tea exporter in Africa after Kenya, and a visit to an estate for tea tastings is definitely worth your while. Tea lovers and all visitors to Thyolo Tea Estate will appreciate the beautiful scenery with its verdant rolling hills and neatly tended rows of tea bushes.
  • Fishing For additional excitement, there is the option of game fishing in Lake Malawi for tiger fish, Ncheni, Lake Salmon and the doughty Mpasa. If you’re after freshwater trout fishing, go to the trout dams and streams of Zomba Plateau, Nyika Plateau and Mulanje Massif.
  • Year-round water fun There’s always a reason to enjoy Lake Malawi with its warm water to entice you throughout the year for swimming, scuba diving, snorkelling, water skiing, sailing, kayaking and parasailing.
  • Capital: Lilongwe

    Language: Chichewa is the official language, and the language of government, industry, and commerce is English, which every schoolchild studies. English is spoken in cities but rarely in rural areas.
  • Currency: The local currency is known as Kwacha (MWK; symbol Mk) and 1Mk is equal to 100 tambala. Notes come in denominations of Mk500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of Mk1 as well as 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 tambala.

    It's best to take some hard currency in either GB Pounds or US Dollar, and South African Rand is also widely exchanged.
  • Airports: For intercontinental flights from Europe to Malawi, there are good options with Kenya Airways (also with KLM), South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines, with routes involving an aircraft change at their respective national hubs (Nairobi, Johannesburg and Addis Ababa). All international flights have the option to land in either the capital Lilongwe (5 – 7 times per week) or Blantyre (2 – 3 days per week). Regional links between Malawi and Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are provided by Malawi Airlines and some of the national airlines of those countries. Such connections can sometimes be used in conjunction with another African or European airline flying from Europe to these countries. Malawi Airlines, through its association with Ethiopian Airlines, can also offer connections around the world.
  • Electricity: Electric power sockets (outlets) in Malawi usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC running at 50Hz. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220 - 240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need. Bear in mind that a travel plug adapter simply changes the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into, but they do not change the voltage, so the electricity coming through the adapter will still be the same 220 - 240 volts the socket is supplying. For example, North American sockets supply electricity at between 110 and 120 volts, far lower than in most of the rest of the world and consequently, their appliances are generally built for these voltages.
  • Area: The total land area of Malawi is 94 280 Km2 (36 402 sq. miles) which is similar in size to Cuba and less than half that of the United Kingdom. Malawi is a landlocked country located in south-eastern Africa. It is bordered in the North and East by Tanzania, on the east, south and southwest by Mozambique, and to the west by Zambia. Malawi lies within the Great African Rift Valley system. Changes in the landscape have occurred over great periods of time because of the slow pushing and pulling apart along this rift which are caused by uprising material in the earth's mantle. Lake Malawi, known locally as Lake Nyasa, was formed because these shifts created an enormous trough and today is considered the third largest and second deepest lake in Africa. It measures between 560 kilometres (350 mi) and 580 kilometres (360 mi) long, and about 75 kilometres (47 mi) wide at its widest point. It is fed by the Ruhuhu River. The lake is the country’s most prominent feature and is like an inland sea with endless palm-fringed beaches enclosed by sheer mountains. It is undeniably the focal point for Malawi's tourists. Malawi has a massive diversity of beautiful landscapes and the topography varies from the high Nyika plateau in the north to the Shire River valley in the south. In the far southeast corner is Mount Mulanje, which is among the highest mountains in Africa. The highest peaks in Malawi touch 3 000 m (10 000 ft) while the lowest point is barely above sea level. This range of altitudes in a small area helps to make the landscape of Malawi one of the most varied in Africa. The largest river in Malawi, the Shire River, flows from Lake Malawi and south through Mozambique.

    Malawi offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities, with over 170 species of mammals, including the Big 5. It also has prolific birdlife, with over 500 species of birds. Most species breed in Malawi, but some migrate from Europe and Asia to spend the rainy season in Malawi. Other species prefer to spend the dry months in other areas of Africa.

    What to wear: Lightweight cotton clothing is recommended year round in the Lake Malawi area, with warmer clothes advised in the mountains, particularly during winter and on chilly evenings elsewhere. Visitors to Nyika and Zomba should note that the nights can be cold. Dark or "natural" coloured clothing should be worn for game viewing. Please bear in mind that the ultra-violet rays are very strong in Malawi and burn times very short, so great care should be taken. This includes packing a good sunscreen, a sun hat and sunglasses.
  • Getting Around: Internal air connections can be made from Lilongwe to Blantyre, Koronga, Mzuzu and Club Makokola on the southern Lakeshore with Air Malawi. Air Malawi (QM) is defunct as of 2013. Domestic flights are served by charter airline Ulendo Airlink, which serves destinations including Lilongwe, Chelinda and Likoma Island. If you are driving, you will need a valid international driving licence or national driving licence. Malawians drive on the left side of the road. The main roads are generally surfaced and most are reasonably well maintained. Many smaller roads, including those within the game reserves, can become impassable in the rainy season. Be aware after dark as some Malawian drivers believe that by not using their headlights they will conserve the life of their car battery, which is dangerous. Hiring a car is an expensive way to get around, but essential if you want to see a lot in a limited amount of time. Ensure that you reserve your vehicle well in advance as they are very much in demand. Chauffeur-driven cars are also available. Taxis are available in the main towns but they are in short supply and cannot be hailed on the street. Taxi drivers typically expect a tip.

    When to go: The best time to visit Malawi is from mid-May to August, as this is the coolest time within the dry season. It should be remembered that at higher altitudes, during this period nights can be cold, with possible frosts. During this period, you avoid the sultry heat and the rainfall of the period from December to April, and also the blistering heat that affects the lowlands from September to November, in addition to cyclones, which are possible from mid-November to mid-May. For those who prefer intense heat over a bit of cold at night, you can choose September and October, or the second half of August, in which the temperature begins to rise. Malawi's summer runs from around November to April. During this period, temperatures often reach 35°C / 90°F. This is also the wettest time of year. In fact, the vast majority of the rain falls during these months. A combination of rain and heat can make the weather feel very humid. It is worth noting that more rain falls on the higher plateaus and that travelling around the country can be made more difficult at this time. For scuba divers, the best time of the year to dive is from August to December. As water temperatures vary from 22°C to 27°C and visibility ranges from 5 to 30 metres. For birding enthusiasts, November to January is the best time to go.
  • Lake Malawi Lake Malawi, known locally as Lake Nyasa, is the country’s most prominent feature and undeniably the focal point for Malawi's tourists. It is like an inland sea with endless palm fringed beaches enclosed by sheer mountains.

    The tropical waters of the lake are teeming with hundreds of fish species, including the colourful cichlids, and as a result snorkelling or scuba diving is very popular. Look out for the base of the lake which has the appearance of a moonscape, with large craters measuring up to 2 metres (6.5 feet) in diameter. These unusual structures are made by the dominant male Malawi cichlids and serve as their rather grand courtship arenas.

    At the southern end of the lake is the Lake Malawi National Park and as the waters and fish are protected here, the lake is a veritable aquarium of tropical fish. The park encompasses the sandy beaches and granite islands of Malawi’s Cape Maclear peninsula. This UNESCO World Heritage Site earned its place on the list not only for its exceptional natural beauty, but also because of its outstanding example of biological evolution and biodiversity conservation.

    Inside the park the scenery is scintillating. Steep hills carpeted with trees tumble down into the deep blue water of the lake, while the shoreline is punctuated by islands, bays and large granite boulders. The clarity of the fresh water and the great abundance of marine life make it ideal for snorkelling and diving, while the absence of currents ensures it is wonderful for swimming, sailing, kayaking and other water sports.

    Lake Malawi's northern shore is much less developed than the southern shore, and as a result is less populated. But the lake is still a gem of a place and quite rightly maintains its top spot on the country's list of most popular attractions. In the north, the water is quite extraordinarily deep at around 700 m (2 300 ft), plunging well below sea level. This reflects the enormity of the natural faulting of the Great Rift Valley, which is the origin of the Lake. This vast inland sea of clear water is perfect for a swim amongst brightly coloured fish, a spot of fishing, a chance to enjoy your favourite water sport or a luxury cruise.
  • Nyika Plateau The magnificent Nyika Plateau is in northern Malawi and lies predominantly at elevations of around 2 100 m (6 900 ft), with its highest point being 2 605 m (8 547 ft) at Nganda Peak. The entire plateau is protected by Malawi's large Nyika National Park and the much smaller Nyika National Park, Zambia. The park is one of the most unusual in Africa, as the plateau is cut by numerous rivers that reach Lake Malawi by way of waterfalls off the eastern edge of the mountains. The plateau’s eastern border forms the wall of the Great Rift Valley. The great domes of hills have gentle slopes, making Nyika perfect for both trekking, mountain-biking as well as 4x4 exploration.

    The area is known for its wildlife and mammals which include Crawshay's zebras, bushbucks, reedbucks, roan antelopes, elands, klipspringers, duikers and warthogs. Also present are carnivores including jackals, hyenas and leopards. The flora of the plateau includes gladioli, delphiniums, lobelia, and "red hot pokers". The plateau is also home to around 200 species of orchids.

    Likoma Island Off the eastern shore of Lake Malawi is the blissful Likoma Island: a little piece of Malawian territory in Mozambican waters. The island is 17 km2 and is home to around 9 000 people. It's a wonderful place to relax and has an abundance of pristine beaches, and baobab trees in places. Besides enjoying time to just be, there are water sports like diving and snorkelling, as well as other activities, both cultural and physical. Look out for the island’s cathedral (the size of Winchester’s) which has stained glass and features carved out of soapstone.

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