Malawi – Part 1: An introduction

Why Malawi?

Friends were curious to know why we’d booked a month in Malawi and to be honest, it was hard to answer. So, when we got to Malawi and everyone asked the same question, we came up with “We love Africa, and having been to many of the more-well known countries, thought Malawi would give us a good blend of safari, nature and beach”.

Malawi Also, we’d seen that Lonely Planet rated Malawi as one of the top ten countries to visit in 2014 for ‘the big five and beach life without the crowds’: we were keen to see whether this had changed.

It was easy to understand people’s fascination as, whilst we met many foreign aid workers, the few tourists we encountered were mainly European. The only Brits were two ladies having a few days relaxing by the lake after a Zambian safari.


Lake Malawi, the third largest in Africa, dominates the long narrow, land-locked country which borders Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. It’s smaller than England, diverse and easy to explore by road.

Getting there

As there’s no direct flights, we flew British Airways to Johannesburg and into Lilongwe with South African Airways and returned from Blantyre with Kenya Airways and BA, via Nairobi.

Central African Wilderness SafarisThe CAWS safari vehicle

Following a Silver Traveller recommendation, we booked directly with the Malawian Central African Wilderness Safaris (CAWS). Having read the excellent Bradt Guide, we listed what we wanted to see and after a few iterations, we had our tailor-made tour. This was the first time we’d not used a UK based agency, and it was slightly daunting transferring large sums abroad, especially when our payment in the local currency, the Kwacha, was rejected as they wanted dollars. Our guide - Everlasting However, everything worked out well and as there’s only a one-hour time difference, emails and queries were dealt with by return.  

We had our own driver/guide throughout our trip. His name, Everlasting, was highly appropriate as his tales were everlasting: he would have been great on Radio 4s ‘Just a Minute’ if it was called ‘Just an Hour’. However, Everlasting was a mine of information with a keen interest in birds, animals and nature.


Our visit in September, was in Malawi’s hot, dry season, just before the November rains.  Generally, temperatures were around 28° but in the northern Nyika National Park, where we were at over 2000m, we were glad of jumpers and log fires at night. In stark contrast, we struggled when temperatures in the southerly Sunbird Thawale reached nearly 40°.

Travelling internally

Everlasting wrapping our suitcases for protection Because of the country’s size, we travelled by road with some journeys up to 7 hours. It wasn’t the distances involved, it was the poor condition of many roads, which were little more than dusty tracks.  When travelling to Nyika, we stopped in a small town where Everlasting bought plastic bags to wrap our suitcases in, which were in the enclosed back of the Nissan pick up.  We thought this a little unnecessary until we saw the black plastic covered in red dust when unpacking.

A strong constitution was required, and not just to deal with the bumps and ruts which provided ‘a free  African Massage’. Loos were few and far between and their condition varied enormously. Those at petrol stations were the best, whilst some were literally a hole in the concrete floor. Likewise, lunch stops were scarce, and we took picnics from the lodges which were excellent but eaten in petrol station and hotel car parks, the roadside and a burnt stubble field.


Apart from Blantyre, where the Protea Hotel was of an international standard, we stayed in a variety of comfortable small lodges and tents.  The smallest, Zomba Forest Lodge, had only four rooms and was literally a home from home, whilst Kumbali Country Lodge in Lilongwe, is where Madonna is said to stay.  At Mvuu and Chelinda, both places owned by CAWS, we were offered upgrades from the cheaper camp to the lodge.

Nisma - the national dish Some places, including Mumbo Island, had no electricity, but solar power and candles proved adequate, even for charging the plethora of batteries now required for phones, cameras etc. However, we were totally unprepared for frequent, unexpected power outages that occurred in virtually every location.

Food and drink

Malawi’s national dish is nsima, a bland stodgy dish made from maize flour mixed with water, which is eaten at least twice a day with vegetables and occasionally meat. Hotels tended to serve a variety of western dishes and English breakfasts were excellent and ubiquitous. There was little pork as 13% of the population are Muslim, but fish fresh from the lake abounded.

Although South African wine was available, it was limited or expensive, but we really enjoyed the locally distilled Malawi Gin and Tonic. Carlsberg has the monopoly on beer which is known simply as a ‘Green’ after the colour of the label. 

Malawi – Part 2:The sights and culture

172 people found this helpful

Share Article:

Helen Jackson

Traveller & writer

Leave a comment


Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest travel tips on top destinations.

Join the club

Become a member to receive exclusive benefits

Our community is the heart of Silver Travel Advisor, we love nothing more than sharing ideas, inspiration, hints and tips between us.

Most Recent Articles

Ambassador offers unique ways to focus on health and wellness while enjoying the beauty of the sea….
Who can resist an invitation to a birthday party in Paris? Gillian Thornton celebrates 40 years of Riviera Travel, the…

Come feel the love on a Princess cruise. You’ll enjoy the MedallionClass experience others simply can’t, and it’s exclusively for everyone. Visit incredible destinations and be involved in the best experiences around each one of them.

Experience more with Princess and connect effortlessly with the world around you, spend time away with loved ones, take a moment for yourself, and fall in love with your holiday of a lifetime, every time.

With over 20 years of experience, Wendy Wu Tours has mastered the art of creating exceptional, fully inclusive tours which showcase the very best of each destination.

Each tour is led by a world-class guide, who will highlight the very best of their homeland, and includes authentic cultural experiences so you are not just seeing the sights, but truly immersing yourself in local life.

Say hello to ease at sea. Ambassador’s purpose is simple: they want to inspire every guest to experience authentic cruising, effortlessly and sustainably. Passionate about protecting our oceans and destinations, their ships comply with the highest industry emission standards and there is no single-use plastic on board.

On your voyage, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the Ambassador community as you sail upon the friendliest ships afloat.

This is a global co-operative co-owned by local partners using real local experts and guides, which supports local communities, environments and wildlife. It offers travellers quirky places to stay, activity holidays and learning experiences. Not In The Guidebooks gets travellers off the beaten track into local culture with day experiences and longer, immersive adventures.

From wild wellness breaks in Wales to painting in Portugal, sustainable adventures in Mauritius to food safaris in Brazil, this is immersive, exciting travel.

Seabourn’s five intimate ships carry guests to the heart of great cities, exclusive yacht harbours and secluded coves around the world, while two new purpose-built expedition ships will combine exhilarating adventures in remote destinations with the sophisticated amenities of the world’s finest resorts at sea.

From the luxury of all suite accommodations to complimentary fine wines and spirits, and a no tipping policy, Seabourn exemplifies the definition of travelling well.