Malawi Travel Guide
A long and skinny country that grew up alongside the third largest lake in Africa, Malawi is a nation of great natural beauty. While its signature body of water will likely draw you in (and rightfully so), its peaks, game reserves and its cities will also hold their own share of appeal for visitors.
Currency: Malawian Kwachas
Languages: English, Chichewa, various indigenous languages
What To Do
Start your tour of Malawi in Blantyre, its second largest and most commercially important city. Make time in your schedule to visit Mandala House while you are here, as it contains a number of attractions relevant to Malawi’s human history and culture.
Mandala House is the oldest standing structure in the country, as it was built in 1882 in the British Colonial style. While it is surrounded by beautiful gardens, its best attractions can be found within, as it contains an art gallery with paintings and sculptures created by local artists.
There is also a museum with exhibits that bring life in 19th century Malawi to life, through numerous photographs, journal entries and antiques.
One of the largest churches in Africa can be found in one of the least expected places. While Likoma Island is a pastoral isle in the middle of massive Lake Malawi, the presence of Christian missionaries since the late 1800’s ensured that St. Peter’s Cathedral got built.
A sturdy and attractive building on the outside, the interior is even more noteworthy, as its sweeping arches stand in stark contrast to the humble pews that sit beneath them.
Focusing primarily on experiencing Malawi’s natural attractions on this visit? You can still work in some cultural immersion by spending a night at the Kumbali Cultural Village. Located on the outskirts of the capital city of Lilongwe, visitors will get to enjoy traditional Malawian music and dancing, food prepared using local techniques, and sleep in authentic mud huts.
When you are ready to leave, there are arts and craft stalls where you can grab a last-minute souvenir for friends and family back home.
Visitors looking to go on safari while in Malawi will find Majete Game Reserve to be the best hunting grounds. Covering over 70,000 hectares of land in the southern plains of this country, there are 4,000 animals that call this place home. Elephants, zebras and leopards are often spotted on expeditions here, while hippos and crocodiles can be sighted along its riverbanks.
A prominent geological feature in Africa known as the Great Rift Valley figures prominently in the geography of Malawi. It has given this nation the Mulanje Massif, which is among its highest peaks. Built over 130 million years ago by a series of violent volcanic eruptions, this peak still lords over the surrounding plains, with a peak elevation of 3,002 metres above sea level (which gives it a vertical rise of 2,319 metres above the tropical lowlands).
Travelers will find this peak great for hiking and rock climbing, as well as the viewing opportunities made possible by the national park that is established here. The Mulanje cypress is an endemic tree here, and fauna such as white-winged apalis and dwarf chameleons are also native animals that cannot be found elsewhere in the world.
While the peaks here grab their share of attention, Lake Malawi is undeniably the dominant natural feature in the entire country. Formed by the pulling apart of tectonic plates that have formed the Great Rift Valley over millions of years, this massive body of water is transfixing, and can be hard to move on from as a traveler.
Stunning white sand beaches, awesome kayaking opportunities, and the delightfully slow pace of life in places like Cape Maclear will have you spending more time in this part of Africa than you had originally anticipated.
What to Eat
With much of Malawi working in subsistence agriculture, the vast majority of people here work very hard from day-to-day. In reflection of this fact, their diet is very carb heavy, as they need access to a lot of quick energy.
Nshima, a thick porridge made from maize flour provides this in spades. While it is as bland as you can imagine, locals typically have it with various kinds of relish to give it flavour.
If you are looking for some light and healthy fare, have some Kachumbari with your meal. A simple salad made from chopped tomatoes, onions and chili peppers, it will provide you with the nutrients you need, with some added zing for good measure.
Many traditional African cultures are not high on sweets as Western cultures tend to be, but many Malawians will enjoy some Mandasi after a meal on occasion. A simple donut that is fried and sold plain (but made with a small amount of sugar for just a hint of sweetness), you will often find this for sale at bus stations across Malawi.