Solo Backpacking In Malawi
Honestly, Malawi is like a brilliant artist that most people are unacquainted with. This artist is not popular because he probably lacks marketing skills or he does not know the right people. Ladies and gentlemen, Malawi is this artist I speak of. Most travelers, me included want to visit the popular travel destinations and end up overlooking regions like Malawi.
Have you been to Malawi? Did you know that it is home to the most beautiful Islands in Africa? Do you like fish? Well, Malawi has the Chambo fish that is only unique to Malawi. Let me add that this species is endangered hence you might want to find your way to Malawi before the chambo becomes extinct. If you do not like the Chambo, best believe you will love the other common type of fish known as Kampango.
I will not go into why I chose to visit Malawi because I want to make this post strictly about Malawi. Malawi is a special country especially to Kenyans. First things first, we do not require a Visa to visit this beautiful hidden gem. Secondly, should we be on a tight on budget, we can access Malawi via public means from Kenya through Tanzania. It is a long journey but it is manageable. The other easy option is to fly to the country’s main cities, Lilongwe or Blantyre and start your travels from there. Thirdly, Malawi is the warm heart of Africa; you will want to enjoy the company of the ever friendly Malawians over a cold Carlsberg while overlooking the ever blue Lake Malawi.
Once you are in Malawi, you will need to get with the program. Malawians are never in a hurry. In fact, I believe the saying ‘there is no hurry in Africa’ must have its origin in this country. Malawians like to take their time you will not find people rushing to serve you. Another thing, the transport system is extremely slow; it is almost as frustrating as going online on 2G/EDGE service. You know how easy it is to catch a matatu in most parts of Kenya? Well that is not the case in Malawi. If you decide to tour to the southern region like cape maclear, matolas (mini buses) are extremely slow and you are better off grabbing a taxi or better still hiring a car. In fact, my number one tip for a group of travelers in Malawi is to rent a car. It will be cheaper because you will be splitting the expenses and you will save so much time. A distance of 3 hours might take you 7 hours in Malawi. SEVEN hours. These cases are not unusual and if you want to cover more area in the country, you are better off hiring a car. Dear Malawians, if patience is a virtue, why can’t hurry the hell up be a virtue too? Surely, how can a journey that is meant to take three hours last seven hours?
Another thing; you people complain about Kenya Power aye? Once you get to Malawi, you will start treating Kenya Power like royalty. I promise you will send them those angry tweets I see flying left right. Power failure is typical in Malawi. It is an everyday occurrence. During my stay, there were would be days when I would wake up to no electricity and this would last the whole day.
The weirdest thing I saw is that some Malawians eat mice. Yes!! I saw people selling fried mice the way mshikakis are sold in Kenya. Best believe their mice do not only fear cats but also man. Why would you eat mice? Are you playing extra on Tom and Jerry?
Malawi like most African countries is pretty much a conservative country and women travelers are encouraged to cover up. You can “slay” at the beach or within the confines of where you are staying but in public it is best to be decent.
Overall, Malawians are friendly people. Most people I met seemed genuine and honestly interested in knowing my name and what brought me to Malawi. My first stop in Malawi was Lilongwe, the capital city although I left almost immediately to the Northern part of Malawi that is Nkhata Bay.
Getting to Nkhata Bay
Nkhata bay is at least 5 hours from Lilongwe. I travelled to Nkhata bay using the AXA bus and I believe it’s currently the only bus company that operates that route from Lilongwe. It’s meant to leave at noon everyday but the day on which I travelled, the bus left at 4pm. Yikes! The bus trip will end at Mzuzu after which you will have to take a shared taxi to Nkhata bay. The bus ticket to Mzuzu costs about 20USD .The shared taxi costs from Mzuzu to Nkhata bay 5 USD per person.
Nkhata bay is the relaxed region of Malawi. It has a Caribbean feel mainly because of the rubber trees that surround the region. It is not touristy and its home to a bustling craft market.
Things to do in Nkhata Bay
- Visit Chintheche, Chikale and Kande Beaches
These beaches sit pretty along the shore of Lake Malawi while giving you a picturesque view of this Lake that resembles an Ocean. You can choose to enjoy spectacular sunsets from these beaches or the comfort of where you are staying.
- Kande Horse Stables
This is an opportunity to explore Malawi’s countryside so you may want to visit the stables at Kande horse near Kande beach. If the lake’s tides are low, you would do well to experience riding the horses and swimming with them in the lake. This activity costs 45 USD per hour.
I am not big on safaris because I believe I would get value for my money back home in Kenya but if you are interested in safaris I would recommend Nyika National park, one of Malawi’s largest parks and Vwasa Marsh Wildlife Reserve. These places are about two hours from Nkhata bay.
If you are on a tight budget I would recommend staying at Mayoka Village. Their rates can are as little as 5 usd depending on what kind of accommodation you prefer. Check their rates out http://www.mayokavillagebeachlodge.com/accommodation/
Another accommodation option for those that do not mind spending more is Njaya lodge. Check out their rates http://www.njayalodge.com/copy-of-rooms-and-rates-1
Most of these accommodations offer touristy activities ranging from water sports like scuba diving to guided village tour visits.
Here’s the video of my experience in Northern Malawi.
P.S Carry lots of mosquito repellant and sunscreen should you decide to visit Malawi.
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