Malawi travel advice
As Malawi is a relatively small country, visitors have the option of exploring either by light aircraft or by road in a private vehicle with a Malawian guide.
Traveling by road
While flights offer spectacular views, many choose to explore the country by road to have the option of stopping off at points of interest. These roads range from smooth tarmac to rutted dirt roads so a transfer can be an adventure, and fun with a good guide.
Depending on the length of stay you might focus on the highlights of either the south or the north, or a combination of both.
The official language of Malawi is English. The indigenous languages of Malawi all belong to the Bantu group. The most widely spoken of these, especially in the southern and central regions, is Chichewa. In the north the most widely spoken language is Chitumbuka. There are many other linguistic groups, some of the more important being Yo, Ngoni and Nyanja.
Food and drink
Traditional Malawian food revolves around one staple, maize, served in one form, nsima (n'SHEE-ma). Nsima is basically a type of thick porridge, rolled into balls with your right hand and dipped into a variety of stews known as relishes. Those who can afford them eat relishes of beef, chicken or fish, but the many who can't make do with beans, tiny dried fish (kapenta), pumpkin leaves (chibwabwa) and other vegetables. At breakfast, nsima can be served watered down into a soup, maybe with a little sugar. Local restaurants will serve nsima and relish for less than 100K ($1).
Food options in the major cities of Lilongwe and Blantyre are good. Fast food is very popular in Malawi as well as ethnic eateries (thanks to a significant ex-pat population). Do note that, in many restaurants, pork products are not served to accommodate the Muslim population.
Camps, hotels and lodges that cater to overseas visitors will serve a very international fare, and while Malawi is still catching up with it's more developed neighbors in the quality of it's cuisine, the food is generally of a good level.
Tipping is not compulsory but always enthusiastically received if you are happy with the service and would like to tip. We recommend that you tip your specialist guides approximately U$5 per guest per day. This is normally given direct to your guide at the end of your stay. It is also a nice gesture to tip the general camp/lodge staff. Here we recommend about U$3 per guest per day. This should be placed in the communal tipping box. To tip Porters we recommend about U$1.
The currency of Malawi is the Kwacha. We recommend that you check the exchange rate close to the time of your travel. You can buy Kwacha in Malawi and it is useful for buying items from local shops. Lodges accept and prefer payment in US dollars. Credit cards are not widely accepted in Malawi, even at many of the lodges, and there are few ATM machines. We would therefore recommend you take plenty of US dollars cash with you in order to pay locally for drinks and extra activities at your lodge.
Conservative casual wear is generally acceptable everywhere, but revealing clothes should be avoided if you are traveling away from the major cities or from your beach lodge. There is a fairly large muslim population in Malawi and so women may feel more comfortable if they keep shoulders and knees covered when walking around.
Malawians are a curious and generally very friendly people. To a Western mindset, this might be interpreted as unnecessarily staring at you or talking about you in front of you. Be prepared to be greeted by kids yelling "mzungu, mzungu!" (white man!) and answer lots of questions about yourself. Malawians love to shake hands, and you should oblige them. Sometimes you will see Malawian men hold hands for the duration of a conversation.
When meeting a Malawian, even to ask a question to a person in a shop for example, you should always say hello and ask how they are as properly greeting a Malawian is very important. They are uncomfortable with the Western notion of simply "getting to the point" at the start of a conversation.
Do not take pictures of people without asking permission. Photography within airports and of military installations is not permitted.
Our certified country specialists can advise on any safety concerns you may have. For current information, please refer to the State Department website.
When to go to Malawi
You'll find temperature and rainfall information, together with a month-by-month guide on visiting, on our guide for when to go to Malawi.
18 hours 45 (New York to Lilongwe)