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visiting Malawi

Elena and I will manage a lodge in Malawi from mid-October to mid-January (we replace managers who go on vacation).

The place is called Macondo Camp and is located in Mzuzu, in a very beautiful area only 40km from the crystal clear waters and unique sights of Lake Malawi.

If you want to come visit us and at the same time experience one of the most beautiful countries in Africa,

Macondo Camp will offer a 15% discount on accommodation to the subscribers of this list.

If you’re interested in this unique opportunity
just fill the form at the bottom of this article
It will NOT be considered as a definitive booking, just a way to show your interest and for us to get back to you

This article is just a draft of our upcoming guide about Malawi, but it should contain all the basic info needed to start planning a trip to Malawi.


About Macondo Camp

Macondo Camp is a lodge and Italian restaurant in Mzuzu, North Malawi. There are 8 rooms available, 3 tented chalets, and a wide area dedicated to camping. Macondo is a relaxed place and has the best food available in Malawi, with local delicacies complementing the Italian menu. For more information and pictures of the place refer to the official website www.macondocamp.com  

facts about Malawi

Bits and Facts about Malawi

  • Climate: Subtropical
  • Currency: Malawian Kwatcha (+/- 730Kw to 1$ – 840Kw to 1€)
  • Visa: 30 days/75$ on arrival for most countries
  • Population: 18.62 Millions (2017)
  • Population Density: 129/sqKM
  • President: Peter Mutharika (since May 2014) – DPP (Democratic Progressive Party)
  • Resources: limestone, arable land, hydropower, unexploited deposits of uranium, coal, and bauxite
  • Mandatory Vaccinations: None (unless coming from a Yellow Fever Country)
  • Recommended Vaccinations: Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Tetanus and Poliomyelitis (read more here)

Visa for Malawi

A 30 days Visa on arrival can be obtained at every land border and airport, it costs 75$ for most nationalities.

The visa can be very easily extended near most of the major tourists spots in Malawi – Monkey Bay, Selima, Mzuzu, Nkhata Bay, and even Likoma Island all have an immigration office. A 30-days visa extension in Malawi costs 5,000 Kwatcha.

In Nkhata Bay though, the lady at the immigration gave us 2 more months at the price of one without even us asking… signs of destiny, another reason why we got stuck in Malawi.

Getting in Malawi

Malawi borders with Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zambia – there are many border posts and all of them issue visas on arrival. The main airports are Lilongwe and Blantyre, your best bet for international flights will be Lilongwe.

London is a good strarting point to get in Malawi via Johannesburg, in South Africa. Daily flights are operated by South African Airways and British Airways, leaving London in the evening, and arriving in Jo’burg the following morning.

Connections from Johannesburg to Malawi are operated by South African Airways daily to Lilongwe and three times a week to Blantyre.

Other parts of Europe are will connected with Kenya Airways flying via Nairobi and Ethiopian Airways via Addis Ababa (great deals from Rome).

If you are coming from North America, you could fly direct to South Africa or pass through Europe (most likely London).

We recomend using Kiwi.com as a tool for such fly searches, as it is the most powerful available and with the widest range of options. You can search flight straight from the widget down here.

Getting to Mzuzu from Lilongwe

The two main bus companies in Malawi are Axa and Sososo. The Axa coach to Mzuzu leaves from the city mall in the afternoon. The Sososo leaves from the Game complex. It departs morning at 7 am. Boarding the is 6:30 am.

You’ll need to book in advance, the office is behind the Game city complex. You can book until a day before departure. But you may need book earlier as it is mostly full. We’ll assist with transportation arrangments for those who’ll come to visit us at Macondo Camp.

Mzuzu Malawi

A view over Mzuzu

About Mzuzu

Mzuzu is the capital of North Malawi and third biggest city in the country. Its population though, roughly 220,000 people, is still comparatively low and widespread, making Mzuzu a lively center of gravity but definitely not a crowded city. Its setting is very pleasant, amidst the lush valleys of one of the greener parts of Malawi,  a gap in the Viphya Mountains, while the temperatures are mitigated by the high altitude (1,250 meters).

There are several hiking opportunities straight from Mzuzu, with the Lunyangwa Forest Reserve immediately in the outskirts of town. This is a vast and wild mountainous area, full of different species of plants, reptiles (watch out for the poisonous snakes), insects, and birds.

The city itself is interesting, with restaurants, markets, and bars, but Mzuzu is especially great as a base to explore the surroundings, only 50km both from the wildlife park of Vwadza, and the clear lakes of the lake at Nkhata Bay. Nyka National Park and Livingstonia are also doable as day trips from Mzuzu.

Mzuzu is the only place with proper supermarkets and shops in North Malawi, that also makes it kind of a mandatory stop for overlanding travelers.

traveling in Malawi

Climate and best times to visit Malawi

Malawi is a subtropical country laying on the Southern hemisphere. Winter (June, July, August) is very dry and moderately cooler. At high altitudes, it can get very chilly at night. Westerly wind blow throughout June and July, sometimes strong enough to make the usually calm waters of the lake quite dangerous to cross. Winds usually calm down in late August.

Summer is the wet and hot season, rains are heavy especially in January, February, March but it still rains throughout spring until May. The wet season though is a great period to visit Malawi, which is lush and verdant during this times of the year. It’s pretty hot and humid down the lake though.

Overall, there’s no best time to visit Malawi, it really depends on your preferences, it’s beautiful all-year-round. Cycling Malawi though, is definitely more convenient in winter though, because of the better road conditions and milder temperatures.

Geography of Malawi

Geography of Malawi

Geography of Malawi is pretty diverse for such a small country (at least when compared to its neighbours). The whole country constitutes the southernmost branch of the Great Rift Valley…

The western area, from Lilongwe to Mzuzu, lays entirely above 1000 meters on the Southern African Plateau, vegetation is bushy but greener and more fertile than Zambia. The landscape here is not exciting, with the only diversion consisting of scattered rocky hills (similar to south-africana kopjes).

South-Estern Malawi has a lower altitude with the Lake Malawi at its lowest and the solitary peak of the Mulanjie as the highest point, surprisingly, in the whole country. The small plateau of Zomba is another notable feature, point of interest, and tourist attraction of Southern Malawi.

In the north-east of the country, the mountainous area of Nyka National Park dominates the landscape with its unique grassy landscapes. This massif drops quite abruptly into the lake, lush tropical vegetation wet with plentyful streams, especially of course in rainy season. This is one of the most beautiful parts of Malawi.

Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi at Sunset in cape Maclear

Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi deserves a separate mention. Lake Malawi is between 560 kilometres (350 mi)[1] and 580 kilometres (360 mi) long,[2] and about 75 kilometres (47 mi) wide at its widest point. The lake has a total surface area of about 29,600 square kilometres (11,400 sq mi).[1] The lake is 706 m (2,316 ft) at its deepest point, located in a major depression in the north-central part 4th biggest by volume.

Lake Malawi, also known as Lake Nyasa or Niassa, is a jewel still well kept that will amaze any traveler – backpacker, cycle tourer, overlander. The third biggest freshwater lake in Africa is an astonishing body of water, a totally unique feature of this planet we are hosted on. Its humanity lives here a relationship of dependence and respect towards its dangers with the lake but still not one of exploitment. Lake Malawi shores are still pristine and touch of its people is still gentle.

Almost untouched beaches, spectacular rocky shores, and a thriving fishermen culture in a unique and diverse mix of baobab covered bush and subtropical jungle, make Lake Malawi one of the most beautiful gems of Africa.

In our 20 days itinerary of Lake Malawi we alternated cycling and “backpacking” via the two operating ferry boats serving the communities of the lake, the Malawian Ilala, and the Mozambican Chambo.

A great part of the lakeshore is also easily accessible overlanding by road but the ferry, especially the Ilala, is a unique perspective, brings you to faraway places and it’s the “only” way to reach a few remote and unique spots, like Likoma Island.
 
The Portuguese trader Candido José da Costa Cardoso was the first European to visit the lake in 1846. David Livingstone reached the lake in 1859 and named it Lake Nyasa. He also referred to it by a pair of nicknames: Lake of Stars and Lake of Storms. The Lake of Stars nickname came after Livingstone observed lights from the lanterns of the fishermen in Malawi on their boats, that resemble, from a distance, stars in the sky. Later, after experiencing the unpredictable and extremely violent gales that sweep through the area he also referred to it as the Lake of Storms.

backpacking Malawi

Malaria in Malawi

Malawi is one of the countries with the highest number of malaria cases in the whole world. On the lake and lowlands, risks are pretty high even in the dry season, while at altitudes above 1,200 meters the dangers are reduced, although still present.

As you should know, there is still no vaccine for malaria, although one is being tested recently, so the only way of avoiding the nastier forms of malaria is taking a prophylaxis.

Keep in mind that taking a malaria Prophylaxis won’t prevent you from getting malaria! What the prophylaxis does is to protect from the most deadly forms (like brain malaria) and to soften the symptoms if you get it – Elena got malaria in Congo while taking the prophylaxis!

Moreover, most doctors do not recommend taking any malaria prophylaxis for more than three months in a row, because the drug could permanently damage the body. If your stay is short term though, we definitely advise taking malaria tablets.

If you don’t want to take the prophylaxis, be sure to cover your body at dusk and spray a ton of repellent. Look for guesthouses with mosquito nets.

We recommend buying some Cortem for an emergency, but it’s most advisable heading to one of the many local clinics if you feel sick… go as soon as you accuse the first symptoms – they’ll test you for free and treat you for cheap, no one knows malaria better than those doctors.

If you are traveling remote areas, consider buying a self-diagnose malaria kit to test yourself, those are said to be reliable. If it’s positive, get as fast as possible to a health center or take your Cortem.

bikepacking Malawi

Safety In Malawi – Belharzia and Crocodiles

Thefts, robberies, or attacks are very rarely (if ever) experienced in this area, in general the whole of Malawi can be considered pretty safe for tourists if the obvious concerning precautions are applied.

Scams happen but usually those are just overcharges for a product or service. If you want to buy some souvenirs or go on an “unofficial” tour, try to understand what a fair price for that will be by asking around. Always bargain reasonably and never accept the first price.

The real dangers of Monkey Bay and Cape Maclear belong to the animal kingdom, specifically to the world of big creatures and those of the very small ones. The smaller one is actually the most dangerous

Despite what Malawians and lodge managers say, crocodiles are very common on Lake Malawi, especially in the South. We heard of three Malawian persons killed in the last month in the Cape Maclear area and we also got to personally experience the thrill of meeting a big “presidential” croc at about 3 meters distance.

We are kayaking the rocky bay at the back of the Mufasa Lodge in Monkey bay, long and thick underwater weeds scrape the bottom of our plastic boat, locals fish from the boulders and wash themselves in the placid waters. While slaloming through the islets we surprise it, and it surprises us…

It is big, at least 3.5 meters long, we make a quick contact with its yellow eyes, eyes from another era of this planet, eyes that install ancestral terror… then it goes into the water, as quick as a demon of the human mind. Will it run away or come after us? Elena panics, I try to calm her down and calmly but steadily we resume paddling towards safety. We have to cross the underwater forest again, can’t help but think this is perfect hunting ground for a prehistoric monster.

We tell some locals playing around there, they say they know him “the small one”… “no bro, it’s the big one” I say. Their faces change for a moment, then one recovers his guts and goes “I’m not afraid! It’s my friend”. “Good for you brother, I hope you won’t be the next meal”.

Once back at the lodge, we realise we were in a military area, the president has a holiday villa there and access is restricted, we would have been arrested if had lended on that nice beach. Great the lodge people didn’t tell us… we got to meet the Presidential Crocodile, a once in a lifetime opportunity. Too bad we missed the hippos.

Even though far to be considered “infested” crocodiles and hippos are a real concern of Lake Malawi you should be aware of. The government and tourist operators are trying to hide the real numbers but do not trust them and always be careful in shallow waters and isolated areas of the lake, especially when kayaking. Getting attacked while swimming from a busy beach though is almost impossible, so enjoy it.


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