Backpacking Malawi – Journey to the warm Heart of Africa 2020

Malawi, a landlocked country in southeastern Africa, is defined by its topography of highlands split by the Great Rift Valley and enormous Lake Malawi. The lake’s southern end falls within Lake Malawi National Park – sheltering diverse wildlife from colorful fish to baboons – and its clear waters are popular for diving and boating. Peninsular Cape Maclear is known for its beach resorts. its national capital city is called Lilongwe and Chichewa language plus English a the common spoken languages throught the country.

National flag

Malawi is bordered by Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. It lies in Africa’s Great Rift Valley (a 6,000-mile crack in the earth’s crust), which gives the country a diverse terrain.

The journey to the warm heart of Africa started from Dodoma bus station where had to catch a bus(Arusha express bus) from there to mbeya another town in Tanzania from there i get another bus to the border of Malawi-Tanzania hence entering direct into this beautiful warm heart nation.

Frankly to say what was running in my heart was will they give me the visa,will the border be rough like other African borders i have experienced while traveling,or how much money of unneccesary bribes if asked should i arrange and put on a side, but all in all, i was ready to go no matter what would happen to me its part of travel experience.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa and, as is often the case, this seems to bring a sincerity and generosity out of it inhabitants so it’s tough not to fall in love with the place. Naturally, through its poverty, Malawi is a cheap place to travel and because of this you can end up staying much, much longer than you anticipate!

I’m going to just give a quick run-down on the basics for travelling in Malawi, from a budget perspective:

Budget: Can easily get by on $20 a day (lay off the Carlsberg Elephants though)

Transport: Varied, uncomfortable, entertaining, cheap and eventful! You’ll spend time in overcrowded buses (for sure), on the back of pick-ups, on the back of cargo on the back of pick-ups, on push-bike taxis, kayaks, steam boats and dhows etc..

my friend”s bike from Malawi

TYPICAL COSTS

ACCOMMODATION

Malawi is not as cheap as you might think and the more touristy or western places to stay are more expensive than off the beaten path accommodation. Most hotels or guesthouses will start at the equivalent of US$30/40 per night but that being said, you can find a US$7 a backpackers in Lilongwe,karonga,mzunzu,Blanyre or maybe camp on the shores of Lake Malawi for the same price. Mayoka Village in Nkhata Bay is upward of $20 a night for a bungalow and rooms in Karonga Beach are approximately $40 but though if u really enjoy living like a local in the same way i lived,then you can get a room at 3$ pernight

TRANSPORT

Taxis are also expensive so the best way to travel is on a local minibus which is rarely more than $1 unless you are travelling out of town. Although if you do end up in a taxi from say a Lilongwe backpackers into the town centre it will usually be around $5.

FOOD AND SHOPPING

Food is either expensive or cheap depending on whether you eat in the western restaurant chains or the local joints. And for everything else? Shop in the markets or local supermarkets as opposed to the western shopping chain called Shoprite. Me? I always eat in local restaurants or pick up Chips Mayai (Chip omelette) whenever I see it. Camping or staying in hostels is the best way to keep costs down and so too is avoiding KFC.

LANGUAGE IN MALAWI

Frankly the most spoken language in Malawi is called chichewa which is spoken widely throught the all country.

Atleast these a some common words you may need to try to master that can get you around the country hence lol help you ask for food, which are;

in General

A: Muli bwanji? (How are you?)
B: Ndili bwino, kaya inu? (I’m fine, what about you?)
A: Ndili bwino, zikomo (I’m fine, thanks)
B: Zikomo (Thanks)

in the morning

A:Mwadzuka bwanji? (Have you woken up well?)
B:Ndadzuka bwino, kaya inu? (I have woken up well, and you?)
A:Ndadzuka bwino, zikomo.(I have woken up well, thank you)
B:Zikomo.(Thank you)

at a subsequent meeting in the day time

A:Mwaswera bwanji? (How have you spent the day?)
B:Ndaswera bwino, kaya inu? (I have spent the day well, and you?)
A:Ndaswera bwino, zikomo.(I have spent the day well, thank you)
B:Zikomo (Thank you)

you can add to these greetings the following words:

Abambo (Sir)
Amayi (Madam)
(Muli bwanji abambo? etc.)

The word ‘zikomo’ you can use very often, in brief greetings, when you want to say sorry in passing, when you want to thank someone.

Singular

ine (I)
iwe (you)
iye (he/she)

Things to do and attractions to visit in malawi.

Personally throught my overlanding trip aroud Africa , when ever i enter a country ,the first thing is to beheive like a local,in that way its easy to connect up with one then we head for a free village walk. but being we of diffrent desire , these a things that i highly recommend to do when visitng Malawi.

HEAT THE LOCALS ON A VILLAGE WALK

In any or at least most of these places you are invited to take a day tour to the village on which you can learn about the local way of life, meet a witch doctor, or maybe check out a school/orphanage. Given their reputation for being so friendly, taking a village walk really is one of the best things to do in Malawi and gives you an opportunity to discover something new about an entirely different culture.

VISIT THE LOCAL FLEA MARKETS

Get right in there, second hand clothes, headphones and vegetables – the market is overflowing with products and produce while it is also a really great way to meet some Malawians and support some small local business.

TAKE SOME WOODCARVING LESSONS

Have you heard of “Malawi chairs”? Did you know that Malawi is the cheapest and best place to buy souvenirs and wood carvings of any kind? Well in my opinion this is definitely true and most of the shop keepers encourage you to come back and spend time learning how they ply their trade.

LEARN TO COOK LIKE A LOCAL

Nsima is a porridge like substance made of maize which is common throughout Africa and what more of a cultural experience can you expect than learning to cook this staple food. Rice and beans is a standard meal here but if you learn how to make Nsima and a nice sauce with a local, it goes very well with some fried chicken.

CLIMB TO THE SUMMIT OF MOUNT MULANJE

Take a porter, take a dip in cool waters at altitude, take a few days to visit and then climb the impressive Mount Mulanje. The views across the plateau are nothing short of breath-taking and although this is a rather difficult climb, it’s a rewarding hike in a beautiful part of Malawi.

Northern Malawi

Chintheche

Off the Salime-Mzuzu Road, Chintheche sits pretty along Lake Malawi’s northern shore. Considered one of Malawi’s best beaches, Chintheche boasts fine white sand and lush, tropical surroundings that may fool you into believing that you’re on a Caribbean island. The Chintheche area is a popular weekend getaway for locals as well as tourists. A walk along Chintheche Beach will reveal crystal clear water and various clustered rock formations. The Chintheche area has fantastic accommodations for couples and families alike, as well as cultural and leisure activities. Farther south, Kande Beach is another beautiful stretch of lakeshore with lodging, camping and water sports.

Malawi has three main seasons: the cool-dry season (May through August), the dry season (September to mid-November) and the rainy season (late-November through April).

Bandawe Mission

Located just short drive south from Chintheche is the Bandawe Mission, one of the earliest Christian missions in Malawi. Bandawe Mission was the second attempt by Dr. Robert Laws, a follower of David Livingstone, to establish a Livingstonia Mission. As with his first location at Cape Maclear, malaria took its toll on the missionaries and forced the survivors to relocate farther north on the Khondowe Plateau. Remnants of the old Bandawe Mission include the church and missionary graves. Although free to visit the church, leaving a small donation to the congregation is customary.

Kande Horse Stables

For an unforgettable day riding horses and exploring Malawi’s countryside, make time to visit the stables at Kande Horse. Family owned and operated, Kande Horse provides guided horseback rides as well as luxurious lodging in the guesthouse. Kande Horse is a working farm amidst tranquil, verdant surroundings. Take a ride through the lush Brachystegia forest, take a dip in the lake while riding bareback and stay for dinner if you so choose. For a longer stay, beautifully furnished guestrooms are available. Whether you’re looking for a day trip adventure or a B&B experience, Kande Horse offers an array of packages to suit your needs. Prices range from $30 for a one-hour ride to $240 for an overnight stay that includes breakfast, lunch and dinner with five hours of riding time. Advance booking for overnight stays is required.

Livingstonia

Livingstonia Mission Church, Overtoun Institution, Church of Central Africa.

Livingstonia is a site of particular historic and cultural interest. Located on the Khondowe Plateau, near Nyika National Park, Livingstonia is an early Christian mission. Established in 1894, Livingstonia was Dr. Robert Laws’ third and final attempt to establish a Presbyterian settlement in Malawi. The Laws’ family home is now a lodge and museum. The area boasts panoramic vistas of Chitimba Bay and the Livingstone Mountains across the lake in Tanzania. For visitors who want to spend the night walking distance from Livingstonia, The Mushroom Farm Eco Lodge is a good choice. The lodge was carefully designed to blend in with the natural forest surroundings. Each guestroom features a private balcony and open-air shower (with hot water). Lodge amenities include picnic tables, barbecue grills, and free Wi-Fi and cell phone/computer charging station. 

Karonga

Karonga is the first major lakeside town along the main road running north from Tanzania. Although not known to be a resort town, Karonga does attract a considerable amount of visitors. In addition to being an infamous slave-trading hub during the 19th century, Karonga has a museum that holds the skeleton of a prehistoric Malawisaurus dinosaur. Albeit basic, there are a few lodges and campsites here. Karonga is approximately 226 kilometers north of Mzuzu.

Mzuzu

this sign post got my eye when entering mzunzi

As the industrial capital of Northern Malawi, Mzuzu has experienced rapid growth in recent years. Mzuzu is famous for its light aromatic Arabica coffee, which is sold in supermarkets and served in restaurants throughout Malawi. Mzuzu offers very little in terms of accommodations and tourist attractions, and is more of a stopover for those traveling by car to Nyika National Park. If stopping in Mzuzu for a bite to eat, the A-1 Restaurant behind the main commercial strip of a grocery store and banks serves Indian and Chinese fare.

Nkhata Bay

Nkhata Bay is a natural harbor and hub for the local fishing industry. Located about 40 kilometers southeast of Mzuzu, it is also home to a bustling crafts market. Here, the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of the local artisans is proudly on display. Browse the several tents along the roadside until something catches your eye. Decorative bowls, masks, nativity sets, personalized key chains and necklaces are just a few of the items available. Chief chairs, one of the country’s most iconic products, come in all shapes and sizes. Nature (Baobab trees, cichlid fish) and village scenes (farming, gathering wood) are common themes found throughout the artwork. Common woods used include pine, ebony and ironwood. The Nkhata Bay crafts market is simple and modest, but holds fascinating treasures, large and small.

Nyika National Park

Nyika National Park sits high on the Khondowe Plateau in the district of Rumphi. With an area of 3,200 square kilometers, it is the largest of Malawi’s national parks. Its distinct grassland terrain is home to hundreds of animals including leopards, zebra, roan antelope, eland and the spotted hyena. Nyika is also a sanctuary for 425 bird species. In recent years, there has been an increase in Lichtenstein’s Hartebeest, elephant and lion sightings.

Nyika is a magical place where rolling hills, pine forest, rock clusters and dense patches of bush extend across a vast area. The low vegetation makes it easy to spot grazing herds during the day, while nightfall draws out those at the top of the food chain. Due to its elevation, Nyika experiences cool temperatures throughout the year. Rainy season brings carpets of blooming orchids and wildflowers. A Nyika safari is a must for anyone visiting Malawi.

Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve

About 70 kilometers northwest of Mzuzu, near the Zambian border, one will find Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve. A regular stop for avid bird watchers, this 400-square kilometer area has a distinct terrain of both dense forest and sodden marshland. In the dry season large game like elephants, buffalo and hippos can be found gathered around Lake Kazuni. Nearly 300 species of bird also live here, including storks and herons. The Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve is not one of Malawi’s popular parks, but it may be well worth the trip for the fervent bird enthusiast.

Central Malawi

Dedza

Dedza is a historical town about 84 kilometers southeast of Lilongwe. At 1,600 meters above sea level, it is the most elevated town in Malawi. Mature trees and views of Dedza Mountain form part of the beautiful landscape. Main attractions in Dedza include the Chongoni Rock Art Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The rock paintings discovered here date back to the late Stone Age. Thousands of years later, artistic traditions are still being kept alive at the nearby Dedza Pottery Lodge. Craftsmen transform the local clay into an array of ceramic products including pots, vases, dinnerware, jars and tiles, all of which are for sale. Their bright and colorful works form part of Malawi’s long-standing artistic heritage. Dedza Pottery Lodge also has a convenient on-site restaurant for visitors.

A short drive east along a country road will take you to Mua Mission. Established in 1902 by Catholic missionaries, Mua Mission has few surviving original buildings except for the church and mission house, both of which were renovated in the 1990s. Within Mua Mission is the Kungoni Center dedicated to culture and art. Founded in 1976, the Kungoni Center has become a community of local carvers, painters and performers. In addition to its carving workshop, the Kungoni Center has a botanical garden and campsite. Its award-winning Chamare Museum teaches visitors about the local Chewa, Ngoni and Yao cultures. The museum holds a prized collection of Malawian masks that is unparalleled.

Kasungu National Park

This 2,100-square kilometer park is located in the western central region of the country near the Zambian border, about 160 kilometers from Lilongwe. Kasungu National Park attracts birdwatchers and nature lovers alike with its array of flora and fauna. Contrary to popular belief, there are thriving populations of elephants here. In the past, poaching was a problem, but many animals like the leopard, zebra and jackal have made a comeback here.Hippos are a dime a dozen at the park’s Lifupa Lake, and the dense bush is home to a variety of small mammals like the civet cat and genet. The best game viewing is at the end of the dry season from August to November, when the animals cluster around the watering holes. For overnight stays, there is the affordable and eco-friendly Lifupa Conservation Lodge.

Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi is the brightest jewel in Malawi’s crown. With an area of approximately 29,600 square kilometers and a depth of nearly 300 meters, it’s the third largest lake in Africa and one of the deepest lakes in the world. It was previously known as Lake Nyasa — a name given by missionary explorer David Livingstone.

Activities in and around Lake Malawi are varied — swimming, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, kayaking, camping, hiking, bird watching, fishing and sailing, just to name a few. A visit to the lake, especially Lake Malawi National Park, is essential for anyone visiting Malawi.

Lilongwe

Since 1975, Lilongwe has served as Malawi’s capital city. Like Blantyre in the south, Lilongwe is an economic center that has seen substantial growth in infrastructure in recent years. The city itself is not a major tourist attraction, but is a regular stopover for travelers flying into Kamuzu International Airport. Lilongwe is divided into the Old Town (south) and New Town (north), which can make getting around challenging since the there is a considerable distance between the two. Taxis are available at almost every hotel.

Crafts Market

lilongwe craft market

Vendors gather with their woodcarvings and trinkets at the Lilongwe crafts market. Although not as good as other markets throughout the country, you can still find souvenirs of all kinds, including personalized key chains and small figurines. The market is located outside the Old Town post office.

Lilongwe Wildlife Trust

The Lilongwe Wildlife Trust (LWT) is Malawi’s only wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center. The LWT provides refuge to orphaned and injured animals, as well as teaches the local community about conservation.

Through their efforts, the LWT manages to save many, but not all, of Malawi’s victims of poaching, deforestation and illegal animal trading. In addition to operating a comprehensive primate release program, the LWT conducts wildlife tours during which visitors can get acquainted with some of the permanent residents including Bella the lion and Kambuku the leopard. Locals and tourists alike are welcome to experience the center for themselves, to learn about the plight of the animals, learn ways to help and come away with a better understanding of Malawi’s precious wildlife.

Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve

brigde nkhotakota wildlife reserve

The Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve is 1,800 square kilometers of rugged woodland terrain cut by numerous rivers. Though rich in wildlife such as lion, elephant and buffalo, Nkhotakota’s dense vegetation makes sightings more difficult than in other places. Walking safaris, bird watching and canoe rides down the Bua River are the park’s main activities. What Nkhotakota lacks in visible animal herds, it more than makes up for in unadulterated peace and tranquility. The flow of the river and the symphony of nocturnal insects make Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve a retreat for mind and body.

Ntchisi Forest Reserve

Ntchisi Forest Reserve – samango monkey by symaanavy

This lush patch of forest covers about 75 square kilometers and is located in the Ntchisi Mountains — a remote area dotted with rural villages. Not amongst Malawi’s most prevalent tourist destinations, the Ntchisi Forest Reserve is quiet, and for the most part uneventful unless you are a bird watching or hiking enthusiast. Orchids, wild mushrooms, exotic fruit trees and strangling figs are just some of the specimens endemic to the reserve. Towering trees and villagers’ small coffee plantations thrive on the wet weather of the rainforest. The Ntchisi Forest Reserve is a two-hour drive from Lilongwe.

Salima and Senga Bay

busy day for fisher men at senga bay by symaanavy

Salima is Malawi’s eighth-largest town and serves as an important trading center for the central region. About five miles east of Salima, along the lakeshore, is Senga Bay. Well known as for its resorts, Senga Bay offers accommodations for all budgets. The area mainly attracts local weekenders and business people. Activities include fishing village tours, a fish farm tour and water sports.

Southern Malawi

Blantyre

Serving as Malawi’s commercial hub is the pulsating city of Blantyre. With a population of more than 700,000, it is a bustling center of industry. With hotels, restaurants and a major airport, Blantyre feels more like a cohesive city than the capital Lilongwe. Blantyre first began as a missionary settlement in 1876, making it the oldest municipality in Malawi. It was named after the Scottish town where missionary David Livingstone was born.

Blantyre was a major trading center for ivory, but now has several factories and industrial sites, all of which contribute significantly to the city’s economic stability. There are Western-style shops, many of which are located in the Chichiri Shopping Center. Here, the Central Bookshop store is stocked with stationery, novels, travel guides and coffee table books of Malawi. For crafts, head to the downtown crafts market in downtown. Here, vendors display their works, which include figurines, masks, decorative bowls and furniture. Good roads, an influx of university students and a sizeable community of expats make Blantyre a popular stopover for travelers headed to other parts of Southern Malawi. Things to see include historical buildings such as the St. Michael and All Angels Church and the Mandala House. Tobacco is an important cash crop for the country. Experiencing a live tobacco auction is a fascinating cultural experience. Head to the public gallery overlooking the tobacco auction floors at the Auction Holdings warehouse in Limbe to catch the action.

Carlsberg Brewery

Carlsberg, a Danish beer brand, began producing and distributing its popular brew in Malawi in 1968. It was the company’s first brewery outside of Denmark. Since then, it has become the national beer of the country. Carlsberg Malawi Brewery Limited plays a key role in the country’s economy by enforcing ethical treatment of employees and contributing significantly to the GDP. Available brews include Carlsberg Green, Carlsberg Light, Carlsberg Classic, Carlsberg Elephant, Carlsberg Special Brew, Carlsberg Stout and Kuche Kuche. Visitors are welcome to visit the brewery.

Liwonde National Park

Regarded as Malawi’s premiere game park, Liwonde National Park has a varied terrain spread over 548 square kilometers. Marshland, woodland and grassland comprise its landscape, which allows several animal species to thrive here, mainly hippos, elephants and crocodiles. And with healthy populations of more than 300 avian species such as Fish Eagle Pel’s Fishing Owl and Lillian’s Lovebird, Liwonde has outstanding bird watching.

The central feature of the park is the imposing Shire River that flows along its western boarder. The river is Lake Malawi’s only outlet, flowing from north to south, emptying into the Zambezi River in Mozambique. Apart from supplying the park with sustenance, the Shire River is teeming with life. Colossal crocodiles, hippo pods and roaming herds of elephant rely on the mighty Shire for their survival. A mid-afternoon boat safari, when the sun is hottest and the animals come to the river to cool off, will reveal Liwonde’s diverse fauna.

Other residents include warthogs, baboons, leopards, sable and bushbuck. Thanks to local conservation efforts, the black rhino has been reintroduced. Nourished by the river and honored by Malawians, Liwonde National Park is a magical place that should not be missed!

Majete Wildlife Reserve

Like Liwonde National Park, the Majete Wildlife Reserve has made significant strides toward conservation and sustainability. Since 2003, many species such as the elephant, black rhino and leopard have been reintroduced to help make Majete a “Big Five” reserve. Thus far, the park’s animal populations have thrived under the protection of the African Parks and the Malawi Department of National Parks and Wildlife (DNPW.)

The Majete Wildlife Reserve is located in the lower Shire Valley. It has an area of 700 square kilometers and a diverse landscape of miombo woodland, dry savannah and marshes. Game viewing is excellent almost all year round thanks to a network of new roads and constant vigilance by park officials. Visitors can drive through the park in their own cars, with or without the assistance of a scout.

Zomba Plateau

The lush Zomba Plateau has an area of 130 square kilometers. Just two hours away from Blantyre is this scenic stretch of rolling hills and dense forest. At the foot of the plateau is the city of Zomba, which was first established at the end of the 19th century as the seat of the British Administration of Nyasaland. The area surrounding it is mainly agricultural, with Zomba serving as a trading center.

FRANKLY this country as all of the activites you need to make your time there worthy and enjoyable and by the way ,you can also volunteer with differect sectors including teaching with peace corps,helping in health sector,helping in agriculture sector or any that atleast can add a brick to the welfare of these beautiful people.

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