I was so excited about my solo trip to Malawi, so I spent a lot of time researching things to do and see. It would be my first trip alone in years, and I wanted it to perfect. I wanted to create memories that would last a lifetime so after I booked a flight from Nairobi to Lilongwe, I immediately started planning my trip to Malawi.
Malawi might come across as a small country but there is so much to do, and I only had two weeks to explore. It is why I decided to post some tips you should take into consideration if you are planning to travel Malawi solo or with a group of friends I hope my research will come in handy as you make plans to go to Malawi.
What should you expect in Malawi?
- The official languages in Malawi are English and Chewa. Most people speak English hence you will not face language barrier issues.
- The flight from Nairobi to Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi took 2 hours with a 30-minute layover in Dar es Salaam. You can always choose to land in Blantyre in case you want to start your travels from there.
- The currency in Malawi is Malawian Kwacha. Use the XE Currency App to be up to date with the rate. The app works even when you are offline.
Should I be worried about Bilharzia?
Bilharzia is a disease caused by parasitic flatworms which are carried by fresh water snails. Read this article to understand more about it. There is always the constant fear that Lake Malawi has these snails that carry the parasite and during the trip, I met tourists who refused to get close to the Lake. I cannot blame them because there have been reports of travellers getting Bilharzia. However, I never took any prevention measures and I still swam in the lake and almost a year later, I am bilharzia free. hehe. Most resorts next to the Lake have a notice saying the Lake is Bilharzia free, but I would recommend you to take some prevention measures. I was supposed to take some pills but I totally forgot and I turned out fine but I would not advise anyone to risk it.
Is the lake free from Bilharzia? I honestly do not know but I swam in the lake and I did not get infected.
Read this article to understand the facts about Bilharzia in Lake Malawi.
When is the best time to visit Malawi?
- Hot, rainy Seasons- Mid November to April
- Cold, dry seasons- Mid May to Mid August
- Hottest Months – September to November
I traveled to Malawi in October. I immediately knew I had made a mistake. I found the heat unbearable. I did not realize that it was possible for a black person to experience tan. If I had known better, I would have visited during the cold, dry season.
How long should you stay in Malawi?
I would recommend a minimum of 2 weeks to be able to get a taste of both the northern and the southern regions. Two weeks will be enough although you will have a busy itinerary. If you have the time and resources, you can always choose to spend more time. In fact, a month will be ideal.
How do you find things to do in Malawi?
I have made videos and written in detail things I did in Malawi here. However, if that is not enough, you can go through various travel blogs on things to do in the country which is what I did as a matter of fact. I went through several blogs noting down everything that interested and I promise you, it was a long list of things. Malawi may look small but believe me; two weeks will not allow you to do everything. After coming up with my list, I started checking online the distances between the places I would have loved to go, and I would note this down. Afterward, I checked how these places were rated on Tripadvisor by other travelers to know if they were worth the hassle of going. By the end of my research, based on my findings, I had a list of must do things and I ended up eliminating some activities.
FYI: Read this to know how you can travel to Malawi by road.
Distances in Malawi
Now, unless you are in Lilongwe the capital city of Malawi, public transport in Malawi is almost nonexistent. A distance of 4 hours may take 8 hours with public transportation because there are a few matolas (mini buses) on that route. The few matolas keep stopping at every stage to pick up passengers since they have to cater to everyone. Welcome to Africa by the way.
It is frustrating because you end up spending too much time on the road. If you are traveling by public transport, it would be best to set aside full days when moving from point A to B in Malawi no matter how short the distance may seem on the map. However, if you are traveling in a group which I strongly recommend, the best thing will be to rent a car for distances longer than 4 hours. It will be cheaper and faster since you are in a group. You can always choose to drive yourselves or get a driver.
Here is an estimated time from most popular places by car
• Lilongwe to Cape Maclear – 3.5 hours
• Cape Maclear to Blantyre – 4 hours
• Lilongwe to Nkhata Bay – 5 hours
• Nkhata Bay to Livingstonia – 3 hours
Use this site to calculate how long it may take you to drive between two points.
How much will the Malawi trip cost?
Malawi is probably one of the cheapest travel destinations I have ever been to in Africa hence the perfect destination for a budget traveler. I met some travelers that would cook their food as opposed to eating out which would reduce their costs significantly. I have indicated how much I spent on my blog solo backpacking Malawi posts so be sure to check them out as they will give you a rough idea of how much the trip will cost you.
Traveling alone is pricier than travelling in a group because you don’t get to split some costs. In Malawi I’d spend between usd 30-50 per day depending on the activities I engaged in.
Money is a bit of a problem in Malawi. Ensure you stack up on enough cash because sometimes the ATMs do run out of money. Some places may not accept cards, so it’s always a good idea to have liquid cash. Remember to pay with your debit card or credit card whenever you can to avoid using all your money at hand. You do not want to find yourself in a situation where you have no money, and the ATMs are not working.
Camping in Malawi
Most hostels allow travelers to camp for as low as 8 USD as long as you have your camping gear. The price will be a little bit higher if you do not have the equipment. Camping on islands like Likoma and Domwe is a bit on the higher side. Some hotels do allow camping, but some do not so be sure to find out from the hotels before heading out.
How to avoid spending too much money
Befriend locals. Malawians are the friendliest people I have ever come across so this should be easy. Find out from them decent, affordable places to eat and hang out. Notice making friends with a local is different from having a guide. A guide costs money, a local shares with you tips on places to eat, things to see that have not been discovered by Instagrammers yet and also the prices of stuff to avoid scammers.
Internal flights are super expensive. A one-way ticket to Likoma Island from Lilongwe can cost up to 300 USD! As you are on a budget then this will not be ideal you are better off renting a car or traveling using matolas. There are several companies that rent cars in Lilongwe and Blantyre and each comes with their own rules so it will be up to you to choose which company will suit you best based on your needs and budget. Be sure to check how travelers rated this company on before renting a car from them. As for bus companies, AXA bus company is one of the coaches that operate the route from Blantyre to Lilongwe to Mzuzu. However, it runs at different times; hence you have to find out from their offices the exact times the bus leaves. It means you must book your ticket in advance.
What kind of transport should you choose?
I would recommend couples, group of friends and families to rent a car. Solo travelers on a budget will have to struggle with public transport which is honestly a hassle. I used the AXA bus and taxis. Unfortunately, there was no uber hence taxi rates were a bit expensive.
I would alternate between staying in hostels and hotels. Hostel prices would rate between 10 USD for a dorm to 25 USD for a private room. For hotels, I would advise using booking.com since the app allows you to choose the star rating and the rates. Regular hotels rates start at 40 USD per night. If you choose to stay in most hostels and some hotels, you will have to pay to access WIFI.
You will need to carry extra chargers for your gadgets. Power cuts are usual in Malawi. We would last the whole day without power which never seemed to bother anyone.
I bought an airtel sim card and the coverage was superb even in remote regions. Purchasing the sim card was easy, all they needed was a copy of my passport.
Malawi Packing list
Malawi has a bit of everything with game drives, hikes, beaches and cultural trips so carry clothes that will suit such places. Do not forget:
• Mosquito repellent (seriously, do not even think of ignoring this)
• Motion sickness pill if you choose to take the MV ILALA ferry
• Usb cables and power banks
• Hiking pants and boots
• Sunglasses and a hat
• Leggings and t-shirts
• Long skirts or dresses
• Layers for game drives
• Avoid white clothes
Malawi is an underrated destination that is known as the warm heart of Africa for a reason. It is easy to fall in love with this country so why not make it your next African destination?
If you have any more questions, you know where to find me!