My personal travel guide to Malawi

Lots of practical and subjective recommendations for Malawi

Tourist information (updated January 2020 / pdf to download is from 2019!)

We are happy to give recommendations and book the next lodge for you!

Information in this guide is subjective, 100% biased as it is based on our own experiences. We only recommend places that we know and like; we do not get any commission or other benefits from recommending certain places.

 

Malawi is known as Africa for Beginners and the Warm Heart of Africa. We think it is one of the nicest countries in the world with friendly people, hardly any crime, no terror threat, and a diverse environment with stunning landscapes. Malawi has beaches, mountains, wildlife, and welcoming people who might be poor but happy to share what they have and they always have time for a little chat. Everybody greets each other (Muli bwanji? Ndiri bwino! – How are you? I am fine!), people are extremely helpful and only rarely do they try to rip you off. There is much to see and to do, and travelling around the country is fairly easy. Also for women alone. The only places where you have to be a bit careful at night is in the big cities Lilongwe and Blantyre, and in Zomba we recommend not to walk on the golf course in the dark.

 

Zomba is a lovely city at the foot of the massive Zomba Plateau. It used to be the capital, so the town has everything a traveller needs; banks with ATMs/cashpoints, an immigration office to extend your visa, a post office, supermarkets, 2nd hand clothes shops and one of the biggest markets in Malawi. From Zomba you travel to Mount Mulanje in just over an hour, Liwonde national park is 1 hour drive away and the great beaches with thousands of colourful fish (chiclids) in the water and stunning sunsets in Cape Maclear is a 3-hours drive. Only 1,5 hours from Blantyre’s Chileka Airport, Zomba is a great place for your first or final nights in the country.

 

Pakachere can organise a transfer from the airport to our lodge. We will pick you up from Blantyre’s Chileka Airport and drive you to Zomba. If you book our landing package, we will welcome you at ‘Paka’ with a nice Malawi coffee or tea, or cold drink; a beer (a ‘green’), soft drink or the famous Malawi Gin & Tonic (MGT), and give you all information about the town and the country that you require. If you want, we can explain about dos and don’ts, money and ATMs, (public) transport, visa extensions, communication (we’ll have a local SIM card for you) and share details of our personal favourite places in the country. You can add a trip to the plateau or a walk around town if you want. Takulandirani; you are most welcome!

  

Also check my Tour of the North

and recommendations for

Southern Malawi on

www.pakachere.com/activities


Packages

Pakachere can help organising your holiday in Malawi for you. We can offer a low budget backpackers’ trip to Blantyre, Cape Maclear, Senga Bay, Lilongwe, Nkhata Bay and Livingstonia; a safari trip to Liwonde, Nkhotakota, Nyika and/or Vwaza, and Kasungu; stay at lodges with Dutch speaking owners/managers; a trip to lodges with culinary treats and brilliant food; and much more!

 

Guidebooks

The Bradt guide is the best guidebook for Malawi. Lonely Planet (LP) has some chapters on Malawi; you can buy LP downloads of separate chapters online (PDF) for €3,50 per chapter.

 

Visa & Yellow fever

At the airport they might ask you to show your yellow book with your vaccinations. Yellow fever is mandatory if you come from countries that have yellow fever; which are all our neighbouring countries. There is no yellow fever in Malawi. We recommend to get the stamp anyway and nowadays it is valid for life!

 

You will need a visa for Malawi if your country also requires a visa for Malawians to enter your home country. Entry for 30 days can be bought at the airport for $50. You can apply for a e-visa online via this link. If you buy a visa at the embassy in your own country, you pay much more. Don’t believe them when they say you have to buy it in advance; it is perfectly fine to buy it on arrival! Your passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months after your return date. You are not allowed to work on a tourist visa, not even as a volunteer, so make sure you fill in you come on holiday. Under ’Reasons in full for proposed visit’ always write that you come for holidays. As place to stay you can fill in Pakachere Backpackers, PO Box 1389 (off Kufa Road) in Zomba. You can write down that you have a bankcard and credit card to ‘Means at applicant’s disposal’ Please have 50 dollars ready in crisp notes (that look like new), printed after 2009 (don’t ask why). Your visa is valid for 30 days and can easily be extended with 30 days for 5,000 kwacha (approx. 7 dollars) to a maximum of 90 days. After 90 days you either leave the country to renew your tourist visa or you buy a Temporary Resident Permit (TRP) for $100 – please check as they are discussing a price change for all visa and it is not clear what the correct current price is.

Don’t overstay your visa; it is easy and cheap to extend (in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Monkey Bay, Mzuzu, Nkhata Bay or Zomba) and you will get in trouble if you want to exit the country after your visa has expired. You pay $125 per day if you overstay.

 


Malaria and bilharzia

Don’t be scared but be prepared! Malawi is a very safe place, but we do have mosquitos that carry the malaria virus and in the lake there are Bilharzia parasites. It is something the people living in Malawi are used to and it is not something to panic about, but it is good to be cautious. If you are on holiday in an area with malaria for less than 2 months, it is best to take a prophylaxis like Lariam, Malerone or Doxycycline.

 

We recommend you spray with at least 40% deet every evening around 5-6PM (we use Peaceful sleep, for sale for 3,000 MWK in big supermarkets and most pharmacies) and to sleep under a net (most lodges provide nets, but they might have some holes). If you feel flu-ish (pain in your side & lower back, headache, fever and/or other flu-like symptoms), please visit a clinic for a malaria test. The incubation time is 10 to 14 days, so you cannot get malaria within the first week of arrival.

 

The clinics are generally safe and have a lot of knowledge about malaria. Needles are clean and the staff are good. They will draw a drop of blood from your fingertip and within a couple of minutes you have the results. If you test positive for malaria, you will get medication for 3 days. We always take some multivitamin pills, drink at least 2 litre of water with ORS per day, sleep a lot and keep checking our temperature. After 3 days you might be left with a bad headache and it is best not to drink alcohol for 14 days. If you test negative but the symptoms remain, please test again after a day. When in doubt, it is better to take the malaria medication than to walk around with malaria. Please do not wait until you are home, because doctors here know what they are doing! The quicker you are treated, the better! You can buy self-tests (same as they use in the clinics) and medication (Lonart) at all pharmacies for a couple of dollars. We always carry our test and Lonart with us! Malaria should be treated as quickly as possible; we had it a couple of times and it is nothing to be scared about, as long as you take medication as soon as (you think) you have it.

 

Lake Malawi has Bilharzia due to over-fishing. They are small parasites that can be found in areas with (a lot of) green weeds and snails in the water. Most people who live in Malawi and swim in the lake regularly, take Bilharzia medication 3 or 4 times per year as precaution. For a holiday, you should take your medication 8 weeks after your last swim in the lake. The pills are cheap and for sale in most pharmacies. Make sure you buy the medication in Malawi before flying home. You buy 1 pill for every 15kg of your body weight (so if you weigh 75 kilo, you need 5 pills). You take all pills at once, preferably after dinner before going to bed. If you have blood in your urine, a skin rash and/or feel unwell after your holiday, ask your doctor to test you for Bilharzia. When you get sick (even after many years), please always inform your doctor that you visited a place with Bilharzia.

 

Other illnesses

A lot of people feel a bit sick when they just arrived. Very often it is because they do not drink enough water. If you have a headache and feel unwell within a few days after your arrival, make sure you drink enough and try some ORS (salt & sugar solution). Diarrhoea is also possible, because you have to get used to new food and bacteria in this country. Again, drinking a lot of water and taking ORS (if you don’t have that, try Coca Cola with salt) might help you feeling better. It should be gone after a couple of days. Take medication (loperamide or charcoal based pills) only after 3 days.

 

Our advice? Don’t get scared but be prepared.

Malaria                                                    Bilharzia

Spray with deet at dusk                           Buy your pills (1 per 15kg) in Malawi

Sleep under a net                                      Take them all at once

Carry a self-test and Lonart, just in case     8 weeks after your last swim

See a doctor if you feel flu-ish!                  If you have blood in urine and/or a

Don’t wait (incubation 10-14 days)               rash, tell your doctor about

if you feel sick with fever.                         Bilharzia

                                                              

 

Transport

There are many ways to get around. You can hike, hitchhike, take a minibus, executive coach or private taxis. If someone offers you a lift, it is customary to share the costs for petrol. When you hitchhike, you are expected to pay; usually the same price as a minibus.

 

Minibuses can be fun, but sometimes they are overloaded or the driver drives too fast. Check that your driver hasn’t been drinking. Progress can be slow on the minibus; first you have to wait until the minibus is full, then you might stop many times, and if you are unlucky, you might have to change a couple of times. Good thing about the minibus is that everybody is very helpful, you will meet local people, you will always get where you need to be, it is cheap, and it is a local experience. Tourists are rarely overcharged (just ask your fellow travellers how much it is) and expect people wanting to have a chat with you. Along the way you will be able to buy cold drinks, bottled water, crisps, biscuits, lollipops, boiled eggs, chips/fries and sometimes fruit.

 

There are some big ‘AXA’ buses (and other companies like Kwezy and Sososo) that have big buses direct from Blantyre via Lilongwe to Mzuzu. They also have a slower Lakeshore bus via Salima and Nkhata Bay to Mzuzu and direct buses from Nkhata Bay to Lilongwe (via Salima). There are direct buses between Zomba and Lilongwe; the SMART is one of them. These are a little more luxurious and faster than normal minibuses. Pakachere’s staff can give you more details. The SMART departs Zomba 3x per day. Express at 2AM, pick up from home and in Lilongwe before 7AM; 6:30AM from the bus station; 8AM from the Engen fuel station next to the banks. Return is a bit less reliable unfortunately.

 

If you drive your own vehicle or rental car, just observe the speed limits and greet the people at the roadblocks in a friendly manner. There are speed cameras in the country and they check, especially in villages. Speed limits are 80km/hr and 50km/hr in villages. We recommend you stick to the speed limits, not (just) because of the fines, but because of roaming goats, running children, cyclists and chickens on the road.

 

Make sure that the insurance and COF of your (rental) car and your driver’s licence is valid. You can drive 3 months on a European licence in Malawi. You should have water to clean the windows, a spare tyre and 2 triangles in the car. When you drive in someone else’s car, you should carry a letter in which the owner states that you are allowed to drive their car. In a rental car you should have the correct papers. We also have a fluorescent vest for our safety, but that is not mandatory. We recommend carrying your passport or a copy & pictures on your phone of your passport and visa.

 

Don’t let them bully you in paying for anything on the roadside or paying bribes; we never had any trouble and they never asked for anything except for a Fanta which we politely declined, but we heard other people were less lucky.

At petrol stations you have to pay cash in kwachas. At the moment of writing, petrol is 930 per litre; prices are the same everywhere. Don’t wait until your tank is almost empty, because only big towns have fuel stations and sometimes they have no petrol. This hardly ever happens though, but better be safe than sorry. You can buy petrol from local people on the side of the road at places where you see a (mostly yellow) jerrycan next to the road. This might be a bit dirty, so best to avoid that. It is nice to know that you will never get stuck though, as there are always people who are happy to help.

 

Most petrol stations have a (reasonably clean) toilet (but take your own toilet tissue and perhaps a hand sanitiser. You can buy coke (if in a glass bottle, they would like the bottle back), water, crisps, samosas and cakes at most petrol stations.

 

If you break down, don’t worry. Within minutes people will stop to help you!

 

It can be cheaper to get a driver to take you places than it is to rent a car. See below for reliable taxi drivers. We heard stories that people had to pay at every roadblock, and we suspect their taxi driver was involved in a scam. One taxi driver even drove without a COF (Certificate of Fitness, in Dutch APK and in UK it’s called MOT) and made his passengers pay for the papers. If you want to travel with a taxi driver for multiple or long journeys, just check his 2 stickers on the window: insurance and COF. Ask if price of petrol is included. They will always find their own place to sleep, so you don’t have to worry about that. It is nice to buy them a drink or snack along the way, but try to avoid being tempted to sponsor education for their children or other (financial) requests. Don’t worry though, the majority of taxi drivers are great; friendly, honest, reliable and safe!

 

We know reliable taxi drivers in many places. The best option is to ask at the bar/reception of your lodge or other travellers.

Lilongwe, Stanley +265 (0)99 920 6713 or Rasheed +265(0)99 950 8573

Nkhata Bay, Nobba +265 (0)99 526 0191

Zomba, Austin +265 (0)88 440 2166

To/from Ntchisi Forest Lodge, Noel +265 (0)99 423 2771

 

 

 

Zomba to

    Liwonde

55

km

Blantyre

74

km

Dedza

85

km

Mulanje

125

km

Monkey Bay

190

km

Cape Maclear

200

km

Salima

270

km

Lilongwe

290

km

Ntchisi

276

km

Nkhata Bay

550

km

 

The Ilala

We love the Ilala, or as the Malawians call it, the ‘sitima’ (steamer’). Every week it departs Monkey Bay on Friday morning to make its way up north passed Likoma and Chizimulu Islands, Nkhata Bay, Usisya, and Ruarwe to Chilumba. On Monday it comes back south and is back in Monkey Bay on Wednesday. You can travel in a cabin with bed & electricity, 1st class (upper deck), 2nd class (benches with tables) or 3rd class (economy). Food and drinks on board are affordable and simple but nice. Again, we recommend to bring toilet tissue, even when you book the luxury ‘Owner’s Cabin’ with your private bathroom.

The current timetable can be found online. Always inform locally about the estimated arrival time. For Ruarwe you can call or text Blessings – see below). We can also inform you about the prices for a cabin and 1st or 2nd class tickets. For a cabin we recommend to book in advance; other tickets you buy on board (near 2nd class at the front of the ship on the deck you get on). Call or mail Mary Zulu on +265 (0)1 587 411 mary.zulu@msc.mw

 

 

If you want a special trip to places rarely visited by tourists by Ilala or local boats, why not get off at Usisya to visit Dani’s Beach Lodge or visit Zulunkhuni River Lodge in Ruarwe. Two truly magical unspoiled places to relax, swim or snorkel and hike. You can hike from Ruarwe to Usisya in 6 hours. You can also use the Ilala to go to Mushroom Farm or Lukwe Gardens in Livingstonia, some of the nicest lodges in the north. You get off at Mlowe where you take a taxi to the Livingstonia turn-off from where you will go up on foot or by local truck.

 

There are also local boats from Nkhata Bay to Likoma Island (eastbound on Thursday), and to Usisya (daily) and Ruarwe (twice per week).

 

Bookings:

Ilala, Mary: +265 1 587 411

Usisya Beach Lodge: Dani +265(0)995636585

Zulunkhuni River Lodge in Ruarwe: Blessings +265(0)999 071914

Lukwe Gardens (peaceful eco-lodge with stunning huts): +265(0)434985

Mushroom Farm (backpacker vibe with great food: +265(0)999 652485

 

 

 

Money

Please be aware that there are not many places where you can pay with credit card. Most places only accept cash (kwachas or U$ dollars). Almost all hotels and lodges accept American dollars (crisp notes $10 and up, printed after 2009). At petrol stations you have to pay cash (Malawian kwachas).

 

ATM/PIN/Cash Points

There are touristy places without ATMs, for example Cape Maclear and Nkhata Bay do not have a cash point that works with Maestro. Best bet to get money are National Bank (NB) or Standard Bank. Before you travel to Cape Maclear or Nkhata Bay, make sure you have enough cash. Zomba has all major banks and the cash points of NB and Standard are only 5 minutes walk from Pakachere. At NB in Zomba you can get K 120,000 per transaction and at Standard Bank K 80,000 (SB with extra charge).

 

Cash points from National Bank and Standard Bank are in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mangochi, Liwonde, Nkhotakota, Mzuzu, Salima, and Zomba.

 

Weather

There is one rainy season in Malawi. It is not too bad, as the sun will still shine and usually it doesn’t rain all day. Both wet and dry season are nice, but we think the best time to visit Malawi is between May and October. Rain can start in November, when it is very hot. December is also hot and should be wet. The country turns from a dry brown yellow-ish land almost overnight into a lush green place.

 

Winter

In May the country is still green and it might rain every now and then. In July is will be a bit chilly at night (10 degrees or less); in Lilongwe, Zomba and Mzuzu you will need warm clothes (a hoodie, socks and shoes). On the lake you might need a hoodie in the evening but a long-sleeved t-shirt might be enough.

 

Summer

It warms up again in August (still a shirt with long sleeves needed sometimes in the evenings) and September is lovely. It gets hotter in October until it gets really hot in November and December, and the rain starts again.

December till April is wet, but mostly sunny during the day.

 

 

 

Information on where to go and where to stay in the North and the South, check my personal recommendations (with links) on www.pakachere.com/activities

 

 

 

Electricity

Plugs are British-style 3 square pins and 220-240V.

 

You will find lodges that do not have electricity, like Zulunkhuni River Lodge in Ruarwe and Usisya Beach Lodge. Other places like Ntchisi Forest Lodge run entirely on solar power. In reality you probably have to deal with power cuts. ESCOM’s load shedding is a fact of life in Malawi; now you have power, now you don’t… Electricity comes from a dam, so when the water is low, so is power. Expect restrictions on charging equipment in certain places, and take your chance to charge your things when there is power, because it might be gone the next day. Sometimes a power cut lasts a couple of hours, often up to 8 hours and if you are unlucky, 1 or more days.

 

Reservations

In Malawi a lot of things are based on trust, including the booking systems at most lodges. You mail, call or send a WhatsApp, you receive a confirmation and the day of your arrival the lodge will prepare your room and make sure there is food & drinks. Some lodges have to prepare and it can take up to 3 days to get shopping in.

 

As a lodge owner, we politely ask you not to book via sites like Booking.com, Expedia or Hostelworld. If you book via these websites; we have to pay 15% to them. You can rely on the lodge owners that we deal with your reservation in a professional manner. If you confirm a booking with us, we expect you! It is always nice to receive a confirmation a day or couple of days before you are scheduled to arrive; at Pakachere we aim to always send a confirmation a couple of days in advance. It is also appreciated if you let us know your estimated arrival time and give us a contact number.

 

Cancelations

Please always contact a lodge if you cannot make it; it happens sometimes that you like the place you are at so much that you don’t want to leave for the next place yet, that your plans change, that someone offers you a lift or a place to stay, or that you choose another lodge because you heard good stories about that one. It doesn’t matter, but please cancel your booking! We put a lot of effort in making you feel welcome, and it is a shame if we have to turn down requests or send away potential guests because we think we are fully booked. It would really help us a lot if you keep us updated and to inform us if you cannot make it. Zikomo! Thank you!

 

 

 

Telephone & Wifi

Easiest is to buy a SIM card when you are in Malawi for 300 – 1,000 MWK. You have to register your phone at an Airtel/TNM shop; bring your ID and it is done in a couple of minutes.

 

Internet on your phone via 3G (and some places 2G or 4G) is not expensive, so you can use WhatsApp; the favourite way for Malawians to communicate and many lodges will accept reservations via WhatsApp. A lot of people use Airtel (09---); the other provider is TNM (08---) – it is expensive to call from an 09-number to an 08-number. The country code for Malawi is 265, so to call Pakachere from abroad or send a WhatsApp you use is +26588 or +26599

 

Airtel: upload credit *136*pincodefromvoucher#, to check your balance *137#

To buy an internet bundle (Panet volume for internet; Panet social bundles if you want to buy special Facebook or WhatsApp bundles) *301# then follow the menu. To check your active bundles *304#

TNM: upload credit *111*pincodefromvoucher#. To buy an internet voucher dial *202#.

 

Wifi is available at many places, usually you have to buy a scratch card from Airtel, Globe or Skyband (Skyband very often gives free access to Facebook up to 50Mb per day) or pay a small fee to use the wifi. At Mabuya Camp in Lilongwe you choose the amount of Mbs you want and they will give you a code. Some places like Pakachere in Zomba, Joy’s in Mzuzu and Mayoka Village in Nkhata Bay offer free wifi. Sometimes restricted, like at Pakachere you get free internet with a password and at Joy’s you have free wifi after 6PM.

 

Water

It is important that you drink a lot of water when you are in Malawi. In some places it is not safe to drink the water. It is fine in Zomba and Nkhata Bay, and some people drink from the tap in Lilongwe and Mzuzu. Especially if you just arrived, we recommend drinking water that has been filtered, treated with Waterguard (for sale in most supermarkets and pharmacies) or buy bottled water.

 

Malawi has problems with water; especially in the dry season there is a big shortage and the Waterboard regularly switches off the water supply, meaning there is no water from the tap and toilets can’t be flushed. Most lodges will provide buckets of water if that happens. Please try not to waste water. By the way, you can flush toilet tissue in Malawi – no need to throw toilet tissue in the bin. Of course, like anywhere else – do not flush anything but toilet tissue!

 

Dress code

In most tourist places and lodges, you can wear as much or as little as you want. When you go into town or visit rural areas, we recommend for women to dress conservatively and to cover your knees and shoulders.

 

Lodges & Restaurants (all based on our personal experiences!) Where to stay and what to do

When we are in Lilongwe, we stay at Mabuya Camp. It is a nice lodge with similar prices to Pakachere, a lively bar, nice food, lovely staff with lots of local knowledge, and Mabuya is not far from the centre of town. Closer to the airport in area 10 you find Thumbi View Lilongwe – the sister lodge of Thumbi View in Cape Maclear.

In Senga Bay you can stay with Sam at Cool Runnings, renowned for her community programmes. Safari Beach Lodge has recently been refurbished and is now fully solar! If you can afford it, we recommend staying a couple of nights at Blue Zebra.

In Cape Maclear there are many nice places to stay. Mgoza Lodge has beautiful rooms, the food is very good and drinks are cheap. Thumbi View is also very nice to stay; Noleen and Chris are lovely hosts. If you want to go as cheap as possible, Malambe (next door to Mgoza Lodge) is the place to go. For party people, we recommend Funky Cichlid – great place for meeting people but it can be noisy at night. Matt & Holly are very sweet and good fun! For a nice 3-course meal with ice cream, we recommend Cape Mac Lodge. We slept on Domwe Island for a night and regretted not booking 2 nights. We booked the food package and we were happy we did. The food was nice and plenty! Hiccups is a good place for a drink and to meet the locals. More and more Malawians open restaurants in Cape Maclear; good food and a nice atmosphere can be found at Thomas’s, Mungo, Mataka, and Banapaya.

In Monkey Bay you can stay at Mufasa Eco Lodge (budget) - easy if you want to get the Ilala on Friday morning because it is just opposite, Monkey Bay Beach Lodge if you want peace and quiet (nothing but positive reviews) and Nanchengwa is nice when you are with a group with a great pool.

Other places to visit in the south are

- Mulanje Mountain. Fantastic hiking for 1 or more days. Sleep in the nice forest cabins and enjoy the views. We usually stay in Likhubula Hiker's Nest before we go up. Bring ALL your own food (incl. pots & pans, oil & salt, etc.), a warm sleeping bag and be prepared for a long walk down (7hrs) which U found more difficult than going up. Please get a guide at the forestry office and if you have a heavy bag, get a porter as well. More info on the website of the Malawi Mountain Club

- Tea Estates. Visit Huntingdon House for a high tea (book in advance!!) or lunch, and walk around the tea plantations. They also have accommodation.

- Game Haven Lodge. They do amazing food and you can see lots of wildlife like giraffe and impala.

- Majete National Park. We only visitied for a day and loved it. We have to go back soom :) Accommodation is quite pricy but you can camp at the community camp ground. The road from Blantyre to Chikwawa is gorgeous with great views. It gets very hot in Chikwawa!!

Do you want a taste of local life? In Cape Maclear you can stay and eat with a local family. It started in 2017 and all households selected have good mattresses, sheets, mosquito nets, at least one family member who speaks English and sanitary facilities of sufficient standard. The project is run by local people and the money you pay goes 100% to the family where you stay. You can book online on the Cape Maclear website or AirBnB; for questions you can ask Alan at Mgoza Lodge.

In Nkhata Bay you can stay at Mayoka Village which has a great vibe, free taxi up the hill and nice rooms. Butterfly next door irecently got refurnished. It is cheaper and their bar is amazing with happy hour. If you stay at Mayoka, we recommend visiting Butterfly’s bar for sundowners. The community outreach programme of Butterfly is very good, and we usually stay at Butterfly to support their work and like the vibe there.

Mushroom Farm and Lukwe Gardens in the north in Livingstonia are both lovely lodges on top of a mountain with stunning views and great food. Lukwe is quieter with well-maintained accommodation, where Mushroom Farm has a real backpacker’s feel.

Even more remote are Zulunkhuni River Lodge in Ruarwe and Usisya Beach Lodge, just north of Nkhata Bay. You get there by boat (Ilala or local boat) or you drive to Usisya and walk to Ruarwe (6 hours).

Foodies can go to Kachere Kastle south of Nkhata Bay, Makuzi Beach, Ntchisi Forest Lodge or Zomba Forest Lodge. All a bit more costly than a backpackers, but it is worth it because the food is amazing! Kachere Kastle is a special place; a castle on the beach of Lake Malawi with a swim-up bar and a squash court in one of the towers. We love Kate & Russ!!! The bay and beach at Makuzi is like paradise, and in Ntchisi you find the only rain (cloud) forest with well-marked trails for hiking. If you are on a budget: you can pitch a tent at all three places.

In central Malawi you can find Nkhotakota National Park - famous for its relocation of elephants. In the park you find Bua River Lodge, upmarket (as in not cheap). A new safari lodge opened, Rafiki Camp where you can camp. The other accommodation in the park is quite pricy, so Rafiki is probably worth a try!

Kuti Wildlife Reserve (Salima) or Sitima Inn (Nkhotakota) might be nice for a night stopver if you go from south to north or the other way around. Admire the zebra and sable antelope in Kuti hile walking or cycling. At Sitima Inn you can observe the hustle and bustle of the Ilala (off) loading on Fridays and Wednesdays, or visit some historical places linked to the slave trade.

If you pass Balaka, don't forget to stop at the Arthouse for amazing Italian food in a beautiful garden (closed on Tuesdays). Really the best place for lunch in the country. AThey have an upmarket B&B with 4 rooms. Andrea and Tamara are lovely and very active in their community.

For fantastic food in Zomba, we recommend Zomba Forest Lodge but you have to make a reservation 2 days in advance and places are limited! Casa Rosa is nice if you like Italian dishes (pasta, no pizza) and African Heritage is great for coffee and lunch. Casa Rossa is great, a bit pricy (drinks are very expensive) but the best restaurant in town. They have homemade icecream and really nice views so we recommend to go before the sun sets! Mark & Silvia are also in involved in tree planting and protecting Zomba mountian against fires.

On Wednesdays and Fridays we all meet each other MaiPai Treats - Maipai is a cake shop close to the university that does simple lunch dishes every Wednesday & Friday at 12:30PM. They can make a vegan, gluten-free or lactose-free cake if you want! Zomba has its own chocolate factory, The Chocolate Factory! TCF has a café with nice lunch and Laura sometimes organises (arts) events. Pakachere does a nice steak with pepper sauce as well as vegan dishes, fresh fruit juices, and check our website for specials like Indian curries.

 

Things to do in Zomba

- horse riding on the plateau at the Plateau Stables

- hike the mountain & camp at Trout Farm for the night

- stop at Casa Rossa on your way up or down the mountain to enjoy amazing views, great homemade icecream and homemade pastas (closed on Mondays)

- hire an Africycle bike and cycle up the mountain (either take the bike up by motorbike or cycle up)

- play golf; not the best course but very cheap

- play squash or tennis at the Gymkhana Club (with lunch or an ice coffee afterwards at African Heritage)

- walk around the botanical gardens (K300 pp) and admire the old buildings from the late 1800's

- visit the market

- attend a play, concert, debate, spoken word or other event at the university

- go clubbing at Vibe or Havanna at night in Matawale

- ask Isaac to take you to Lake Chilwa or Chikala Pillar

- stroll around uni and get lunch at Maipai on Wednesdays & Fridays

- Do a painting or dance workshop at Paka

- have lunch or buy Afrochoc at The Chocolate Facetory

 

Please ask Jonathan or Linda to book any of these lodges for you. If you have a booking but your plans change or you cannot make it, please let us know so we can cancel (for free, so at no extra cost).

 

Linda +265 (0)88 285 8089 or +265 (0)99 957 6593 (WhatsApp on 09-number)

Jonathan +265(0)994 685 934

info@pakachere.com

 

Volunteering

There are many places to volunteer in Malawi. Some via organisations in Europe or the USA, but you can also try to find something while you are here.In Zomba an organisation called DoinGoood is working with 3 community programmes. Be aware that the accommodation is very basic. You will live like poor Malawians do, in a small local house with a longdrop toilet and bucket shower. If you are the only volunteer, you will be living alone but there are people you can contact 24/7 and in the weekends you can relax at Pakachere or travel with other volunteers in the area. Most volunteers meet every Tuesday at Pakachere where plans are made for weekend trips.

In Cape Maclear you can work for Sustainable Cape Maclear, a great community prohect. Butterfly Space in Nkhata Bay has a fantastic volunteer programme where you work either at the lodge, in permaculture or at the school built by one of the owners of Butterfly. They want you to stay at least 1 month and you pay $470 for your accommodation and a daily food allowance. In Ruarwe Punzhira welcomes volunteers who want to work at the locally run community centre and nurses who want to work at the local clinic.

 

Contacts for volunteering

Butterfly Space, Nkhata Bay (Josie or Alice) josie.redmonds@gmail.com (media or permaculture) or Alice blondieleap@hotmail.com (school)

Punzhira, Zulunkhuni River Lodge, Ruarwe (Philippa for nurses or Rosa for the community centre) philippa@phunzira.org

or rosa@phunzira.org

For Dutch volunteers who want the full volunteer package and 24 hours care, we recommend Doing Goood, check www.vrijwilligerswerk-afrika.nl

 

Souvenirs

Buying souvenirs is good for the local economy and great for gifts and memories of Malawi. Be careful not to buy hardwood – it is against the law. Officially you have to pay to take wood out of the country, but that rarely happens.

 

Prices for souvenirs vary; in touristy places like Cape Maclear prices are higher. Prices also go up because it can be difficult to get the supplies or for transport costs. It is good to haggle! The price is good when both you and the seller are happy. Popular items are clothing or aprons made from chitenje (fabric) (could cost anything between 2,000 and 10,000 MWK, depending on material and design), wooden key rings or bottle openers with animals and your name engraved (price 1,000-2,000 MWK), and other woodwork. Most wood is melina made dark with shoe polish. Just ask, to avoid buying forbidden wood; better to buy wood with shoe polish than endangered wood.

 

Mua Mission is the best place to buy woodwork. The museum is interesting and the shop has beautiful artwork, all made on site and reasonably priced. All items have price tags, so need to haggle and you will get a good deal. Another great place to buy souvenirs is Dedza Pottery, also a nice place to stop for lunch. You can buy plates, mugs and all kind of pottery made in Dedza. They ship things to Europe and the States, and you can have things customised with your name. This will take a while (weeks, sometimes months), but it is affordable and very nice.

 

What we take home from Malawi is Mzuzu or Satemwa coffee, Chombe tea, Mzuzu honey, hot sauce (Nali or Marie), Afrochoc (Belgian chocolate made in Zomba), and Malawi Gin. At Zulunkhuni River Lodge in Ruarwe you can buy coffee straight from the mountain, roasted and grinded on the same day on site. No chemical processes and fresh as can be!

 

In Cape Maclear you can make your own beads & jewelry from recycled materials. At the Recycling Centre they sell nice bath mats made from 3d hand clothes (from rags), jewelry and all kinds of other things made from recycled materials like bottle caps and empty coke or tonic cans. Look out for the massive Xmas Coca Cola truck! More information about workshops beads & jewelry and paper making can be found at Mgoza Lodge.

 

Conservation

Malawi has national parks and almost 70 forest reserves, like Mount Mulanje, Zomba Plateau, Dzalanyama near Lilongwe, Luwawa on the Viphya Plateau, Ntchisi in central Malawi, and Chintheche on the northern shore, not far from Kachere Kastle and Kande Beach.

 

One of the main problems Malawi is facing is deforestation. People cut trees for wood to cook their nsima (the staple food, maize porridge) every day and use wood for building. With a growing population, more trees need to be cut to feed the people. The combination of overpopulation and deforestation does the country no good. The lack of trees affects the rain, resulting in draught and flooding. Pakachere supports the work of Zomba Forest Lodge to protect the trees on Zomba Plateau. We stimulate the use of sustainable cooking methods, like using briquettes made of paper, leaves and other waste, and using alternative cook stoves like the change-changu moto.

 

Responsible tourism

An ever-increasing growing human population puts great demands on Malawi’s natural resources. It is generally agreed that these resources need to be conserved.

  • Save precious natural resources. Try not to waste water, switch off lights and fans when you go out;
  • Avoid buying souvenirs made from local wildlife or hardwood;
  • Don’t give money, sweets, balls, pens etc. to children. It encourages begging and demeans the child. A donation to a recognised project is more constructive. We are happy to help you distributing any items you want to leave behind in a sustainable and honest way;
  • Respect local etiquette; try to be patient, friendly and sensitive. In Malawi tight fitting wear, shorts or skirts above the knee for women are insensitive to local feelings. Public displays of affection are seen as culturally inappropriate.

You are of course free to give, wear and do what you want; the guidelines above are especially for travellers who wish to minimise negative impact.

 

Tipping

Malawi is a poor country and most people do not earn a lot of money. Tipping is not mandatory and not always expected; you give a tip when you are satisfied with the service. The official minimum wage is 45,000 MWK per month; that is a bit more than 1,700 kwacha per day (as much as beer and approx 2 euros). People working in hospitality can earn anything between 35,000 and 350,000, but on average between 45,000 and 70,000 kwacha per month. Please keep this in mind when tipping or giving money for a performance; usually a tip between 500-1,000 kwacha for 1 person is enough, depending where you stay and whom you are dealing with of course. If a lodge has a tip box, we recommend at least K2,000-4,000 because it will be shared amongst (night) guards, gardeners, housekeeping, chefs, reception and waiters.

 

Our kind request to you is to please not give money to children or people who are asking you for money without offering a service or product. We think it is better to buy a service or product and to avoid giving hand-outs. If you want to tip at a hotel or restaurant, it is best to ask if there is a tip box so the money can be shared amongst all staff; also the staff members who work hard behind the scenes and you don’t get to meet.

 

At Pakachere we would appreciate it if you do not give sweets, drinks, money or clothes to people on or near our premises nor to any of our individual staff members. If you want to donate money or goods, we recommend donating to a registered charity, church or school, or ask at the bar/reception of your hotel if they can help you distributing your donation.

 

We don’t want to tell you what and what not to do: all gifts and donations are most welcome, and of course you are free to do and give what you want! We just try to avoid children turning into beggars or people thinking that all foreigners give away things for free. It creates expectations, greediness, jealousy and a craving for more, and in our opinion that is not the best way to create a society with independent people who work to earn a living. People in Malawi are known as the friendliest people in the world and it would be nice if we can keep that reputation.

 

 

Safaris

We have yet to explore some areas, but we visited Liwonde, Kasungu, Lengwe, Majete and Vwaza. On our wish list is Nyika. Liwonde is close to Zomba (only 1 hour drive) and you can stay in cheap accommodation just outside the park or expensive but gorgeous accommodation in the park. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can do a 2-hour boat trip in Liwonde ($25 per person + $20 per person park fees) along the way from Zomba to Cape Maclear. You are guaranteed to see hippos and lots of beautiful birds, and possibly crocodiles, elephants, and antelope, and maybe even (very rarely) a cheetah or rhino. The boat leaves at 10AM and 2PM, and we recommend you book in advance. If you have time to stay overnight, Mvuu Camp is expensive but amazing. For a smaller budget you can stay at Kutchire Lodge (cheapest, nice accommodation with tree huts and a fantastic swimming pool), Liwonde Safari Camp (great food and good tours) or Bushman's Baobab (small pool and great viewing deck). All 3 are good places to stay.

Linda at Pakachere can organise your boat trip, accommodation and transfer for you.

 

We really enjoyed Vwaza. It is very basic; just 5 huts with 2 beds and a bathroom, a kitchen where the local staff can prepare your food (that you bring), and a summer hut to stare over the lake with lots of hippos and if you are lucky also crocodiles, birds, elephants, warthogs, antelope and monkeys. There is no bar, no restaurant and there are tsetse flies. You bring your own food - including cooking oil, salt, spices & herbs – and just enjoy the peace & quiet, and the elephants. We sat in the summer hut all day with our Malawi Gin & Tonic, packed lunch and a bag of crisps and enjoyed looking at the hippos, birds, crocodiles, elephants and other wildlife. You can self-drive or get a taxi, it is approx. 1,5-2hrs north of Mzuzu. After Rumphi just follow the signs along the dust road to Vwaza National park.

 

The most beautiful safari park is in Zambia, South Luangwa. Kiboko Safaris do a great all-inclusive tour. We can contact Kiboko for you if you are interested.

We have some independent Malawian tour operators for Malawi that we recommend

  • Kay from Warm Heart organises great kayaking & hiking trips, and is a yoga teacher for some stretching exercises along the way. Kay +265999913972
  • Davie from Nkhata Bay Safaris +265999265064
  • Johnnie from Misuku Expeditions +265999629810

Diving

If you want to explore the waters around Cape Maclear, you can contact Rob of SCUBA on robdivesmalawi@gmail.com or +265 999952488

 

In Nkhata Bay, Aqua Africa offers great diving trips. divemalawi@gmail.com

 

 

Of course we are happy to connect you, or book your diving adventure and accommodation for you! Malawi is an easy country to travel and you do not need a travel agent but feel free to use them if it makes you feel more comfortable, if you want someone with local experience & stories or if you don’t feel like driving yourself.

 

Mountains

Hiking on Zomba plateau or Mulanje Mountains is highly recommended! Pakachere’s barman Isaac runs his own business as a guide and the feedback we get from customers is always very good. He can offer trips on the plateau from a couple of hours to a couple of days in various grades of difficulty.

 

Zomba plateau trip

One thing you can’t miss when in Zomba, is walking on the plateau! Together with our experienced guide Isaac, you will discover the 2085-meter high mountain. Isaac can tell you a lot about the flora & fauna, and knows all the nice hidden spots.

We offer 4 different trips:

Trip 1 Waterfalls (3 hours)

Trip 2 Queen’s & Emperor’s view & waterfalls (4 hours)

Departure from Pakachere by arrangement

 

Trip 3 Highest peak & Chingwe’s hall & Waterfalls & potato path (6 hours)

Trip 4 Highest peak & Chingwe’s hall & Potato village (potato path) & Waterfalls (8 hours)

Departure from Pakachere between 7:30 and 9.00AM

 

Mount Mulanje

Mulanje is beautiful. You can hike for a day or stay up the mountain for many days and walk from hut to hut. Before you go up you have hire a guide and if you carry a lot of stuff, you can also hire a porter. At the forestry office you register and pay, and you will get assigned a guide. They work with a rotating system, so all guides get a fair chance to get work. You are not allowed to go up without a guide! Prices are indicated on the form at the forestry. Make sure you agree on the price before you start and maybe even write it down in case your guide demands more money afterwards (this rarely happens, but of course this can happen).

 

A porter might be handy because you have to carry all your food (including pots and pans, plates and cutlery, oil, salt, spices and herbs), sleeping bag and warm clothes up the mountain. You can become a member of the Mountain Club Malawi for $10 per year. With a membership and key (that you have to pick up in Lilongwe, Zomba, Blantyre or Mulanje town) you have access to big cupboards in all huts with mattresses, blankets, some solar lights, pots and pans, plates and cutlery). Make sure you count everything before you use anything and leave it behind clean and tidy.

 

There is watchman at every hut who will get water for you (you can drink water straight from the streams on the mountain) and light a fire for cooking and to stay warm. It does get cold on the mountain, even in the hot season.

 

Nyika, Livingstonia and Ntchisi

In the north you find Nyika; we heard nothing but good stories, but have not had the chance to visit yet. We were told it can be expensive and that the road to get there can be bad. You do need a four-wheel-drive. Next to Nyika is Livingstonia with the beautiful lodges Mushroom Farm and Lukwe (affordable for all budgets). In central Malawi, between Nkhotakota and Lilongwe is Ntchisi Mountain with Ntchisi Forest Lodge (more high-end with prices starting from $75 per person incl. 3-course evening meal and breakfast but if you have a tent, you can camp here for $15).

 

Zomba plateau guide Isaac, tel. +265 (0)88 277 3247 or +265 (0)99 901 5560

 

Music

Rhythms of the Rain Forest (Ntchisi Forest Lodge), intimate festival with Malawian music for overnight guests. In September or June; check the website for information and other events at the lodge.

Lake of Stars, the renowned international festival at a location on the shores of Lake Malawi. A fantastic 3-day festival, organised according to European standards with great music from the UK, South Africa and Malawi, always at a different but beautiful location. Book your camping ticket, take insect repellent and sun lotion, some snacks and big bottles of water, your swimming gear and sturdy (closed) shoes for the evening, and enjoy! Be aware of pickpockets; there are thieves operating at this festival because they know a lot of international visitors attend lake of Stars with lots of cash and nice smart phones. Not in 2020, but they will be back in September 2021. For information and tickets, check www.lakeofstars.org

Blantyre Arts festival, not every year, but this Malawian cultural festival takes place in Blantyre early October. Check www.blantyreartsfestival.org for details.

Sandfest: Usually in Salima/Senga Bay at the end of October. This 3-day festival attract mainly Malawians and has its highlight on the Saturday when a big headliner will play late at night. Bring a tent, your swimming gear, insect repellent and sun lotion, and some healthy snacks! There won’t be any/much vegetarian food for sale on site. Good fun, great music and very Malawian. Ask around for details.

Music Against Malaria is a music festival organised in Blantyre in October. Check Facebook and Twitter (#AnnemarieQuinn) for the 2020 date. Probably towards the end of October.

Tumaini: An amazing project, the 4th edition taking place on 4 November 2017 at Dzaleka Refugee Camp. A 2-day festival, usually the 1st weekend of November in Malawi’s biggest and only permanent refugee camp. Take a hat and sun lotion, because it can be scorching hot. Info can be found on Facebook. From 2018 you can book a homestay and stay with people in the camp.

 

There is a lot of live music in Malawi. In Salima there is Riverside (just ask if something is happening when you are in the area), in Lilongwe you find many places to dance or listen to music like Harry’s Bar, Grittahs Camp (Thursdays), Living Room (acoustic on Tuesdays) and every last Thursday of the month, Thirsty Thursday at Lilongwe Wildlife Centre. In Zomba you can go to Vibes for live music or Havanna to dance in a nightclub. Also check The Chocolate Factory or Pakachere.

 

Please check our Facebook page for events, like live music, pub quiz or club nights with DJs (with cocktails).

 

You can listen and download great Malawian music from www.malawi-music.com

If you want to listen to (web)radio, try CapitalFM.

 

Landing package

 

When travelling to a new country, the arrival can be a bit daunting because you don’t know what to expect. We are happy to pick you up and settle in!

 

What do we offer?

  • Arrival pack send to you by mail, including forms to fill in your visa application and information about Malawi;
  • Pick up from the airport;
  • Stop at the bank to get cash out (Malawi kwacha);
  • We provide you with a local SIM card for your telephone if you want;
  • A welcome drink on arrival at the lodge;
  • One, two or more nights at Pakachere Backpackers;
  • Our personal recommendations for transfers, trips and tours;
  • We can book your accommodation, rental car, transfers, and activities;

 

You can add extras to the welcome package, for example

  • A walk around Zomba town
  • Chichewa class to learn the basics
  • Visit to a traditional village with local food (nsima & relish)
  • Local tribal dance class or a painting workshop with a local artist
  • A hike on Zomba mountain

And much more!

 

 

What to do before you leave?

Check list

  • Bring dollars (big notes (10+), printed after 2009 and in good order – not old dirty notes that are ripped or crumbled and no $1 notes). Most lodges and tour operators will accept dollars (also euros, pounds and rand) if you have no kwachas.
  • Bring the exact amount of dollars for your visa ($50 per person). Do not buy your visa at the embassy in Europe or the USA, because it is much more expensive and it is easy to buy it on arrival. Nowadyas, tourist visa are $50 and you can get it online on evisa.gov.mw
  • Get vaccinations: yellow fever, hepatitis A and check your tetanus. Rabies only if you think you might be working with monkeys or are really scared to get bitten by street dogs (which is unlikely). Bring the yellow book, as you might need to show it at the airport – they will check for your yellow fever stamp.
  • Your special mediaction (do not check it in and ask your doctor for a letter explaining about your medication);
  • Get malaria tablets, either Lariam, Malerone or Doxycycline. Malerone is expensive; Doxycycline (‘doxy’) can also be bought here in Malawi. Some people take Lariam, which works well and is less expensive than Malerone, but you cannot take it if there are any psychological illnesses in your family or if you have a history of depression or psychosis yourself.
  • You can buy some mosquito repellent with at least 40% deet. You can also buy good spray here (Peaceful Sleep) for 2,000 MWK (less than €3). You can bring your own mosquito net, but most lodges will have nets (all the places we stayed have nets! But some have holes..).
  • If you want to travel low budget, bring a tent. Accommodation is quite pricy in Malawi but camping is cheap.
  • The best travel book is the Bradt guide; Lonely Planet doesn’t have much on Malawi, but on the internet you can buy the Malawi chapters in PDF of the Malawi, Zambia & Mozambique book.
  • Bring an extra (old) phone for your local SIM card so you can easily call to make reservations or call a doctor in case of an emergency. Take your smart phone as well; 4G is quite cheap, most lodges have (paid) wifi, and WhatsApp is the most used means of communication.
  • Get a converter plug. Malawi has 220-240V (like in Europe) and three square pins plugs like in the UK.
  • A (head) torch, solar charger (or all-in-one, like the Waka Waka), power bank.
  • Some batteries for your (head) torch and camera.
  • For women, take at least 1 skirt or pair of trousers the cover your knees if you intend to visit rural areas. Or buy a ‘chitenje’ (cloth/sarong) here!
  • Sun lotion is expensive in Malawi! Mosquito repellent is cheap.
  • You can drive in Malawi with a European/US license, so no need to buy an international driving license.
  • A copy of your passport; also recommended to take a photo of the picture page.
  • If you like hiking, good walking shoes. If you like snorkeling, swimming gear and snorkel (even though you can borrow or rent them at most places on the lake). If you want to go on safari, a good camera and maybe binoculars.
  • Medication is available all over the country. It is good idea to bring your own thermometer. You can buy Ibuprofen and Paracetamol, but also anti-biotics, malaria medication and antidiarrheal at pharmacies in bigger towns. There are many safe clinics in the country where you can get a quick test if you think you have malaria and medication is easily available. If you want to bring a first aid kit, it is good to bring ORS (oral rehydration salts), antihistamines if you suffer from allergies, plasters, iodine (we love the plaster spray that disinfects the wound and puts a protective layer over it to stop dirt from getting in), and a thermometer.
  • Gifts: Basically you can buy almost everything here, but Western food, electronics and other mod cons are expensive and the quality is often bad. Don’t worry if you forget tooth paste or a tooth brush, insect repellent or a mosquito net; you can get it all here. From biscuits and crisps to marmite and peanut butter. Cornflakes and granola bars are for sale in the big supermarkets in the cities, and even soy milk is available in some supermarkets (only in Lilongwe and possibly also in Blantyre and Mzuzu). Soy pieces can bought everywhere. Good (tasty matured) cheese is hard to get here and chocolate is available but very sweet. Health food can be found in Lilongwe and Blantyre, but is very expensive.

 

If you want to give something away for charity like hardcover notebooks (for school children), pens or balls, we actually recommend not to bring it from your home country; you can buy it here and you will stimulate the local economy by purchasing your goods here! If you want to bring clothes, toys or other things you want to donate, please ask at the lodge what is the best way is to distribute the donations. Giving away things randomly is not stimulated, because it creates a society where people expect handouts and can create jealousy. We kindly request to think before you give gifts to local people and want to ask you to donate your things to a registered charity or someone who can help distributing your donations in a fair way to people who need it the most. Most lodges work with community projects and have good local knowledge to assure your donations find a good home.