Malawi shares borders to the north and northeast with Tanzania, to the south, east and southwest with Mozambique and to the west with Zambia. Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa, is the dominant feature of the country, forming the eastern boundary with Tanzania and Mozambique. The scenery varies in the country’s three regions. The Northern Region is mountainous, with the highest peaks reaching over 9,843ft, and features the rolling Nyika Plateau, rugged escarpments, valleys and the thickly forested slopes of the Viphya Plateau. The Central Region is mainly a plateau, over 3,300ft high, with fine upland scenery. This is the country’s main agricultural area. The Southern Region is mostly low-lying except for the 6890ft-high Zomba
Plateau south of Lake Malawi and the huge, isolated Mulanje Massif (10,000ft) in the southeast. The variety of landscape and the wildlife it supports make this relatively unspoilt country particularly attractive to visitors.
Formerly Nyasaland, Malawi was once named Maravi, or ‘reflected light’, perhaps referring to the brilliant glitter on Lake Malawi as the sun shines on it. The shores of Lake Malawi have been
inhabited for thousands of years and recent archaeological excavations have revealed evidence of settlements dating back to the late Stone and Iron Ages. British colonial settlers and missionaries, men such as the famous Dr David Livingstone, moved into the area in the late 1850s.
The majority of the present population descend from Bantu tribes (ancestors of the present Chewa, Nyanja, Lomwe, Yao, Tumbuka, Sena, Tonga, Ngoni and Ngonde tribes) who arrived in the region some time before the first Arab slave traders and Portuguese explorers.
Despite the large number of tribal backgrounds in the Malawi population, integration is well established and visitors need not be aware of any social differences. The white population is very small in number. There are some religious differences, most noticeable among the Muslim population and especially as far as alcohol consumption is concerned. Malawians place emphasis on the importance of shaking hands on meeting and departing. The special handshake, which includes grasping the thumb and putting the other hand on the forearm, is best avoided unless practised. Children and some women may curtsey as a greeting or if being made a presentation. Offering a soft drink to a visitor is common at meetings. Malawians tend to be conventional rather than casual in their dress, especially in formal gatherings. The strict dress code of Dr Banda’s days are gone but modest dress should be worn unless at the beach or playing sport.
The national language is the widely spoken Chichewa but the official language, and that of the business community, is English.
The president is head of state, and holds all executive powers. Legislative authority is vested in the unicameral National Assembly with 112 members, elected for a five-year term. It became Republic since 1966. Gained independence from the UK in 1964.
GMT + 2.
220/240 volts AC, 50Hz. The standard plug is square three-pin.
Varies from cool in the highlands to warm around Lake Malawi. Winter (May to July) is dry and nights can be chilly, particularly in the highlands. The rainy season runs from November to March. Around Lake Malawi, in winter, the climate is particularly dry with pleasant cooling breezes.
Clothes to Wear:
Lightweights are worn all year in the Lake Malawi area, with warmer clothes advised in the mountains, particularly during winter and on chilly evenings elsewhere. Visitors to Nyika and Zomba should note that the nights can be cold. Dark or ‘natural’ colored clothing should be worn for game viewing.
Entry & Exit Requirements:
A passport, return ticket, and adequate funds are required for entry into Malawi. U.S. citizens traveling to Malawi for tourism, transit or business for 30-days or less can obtain a visa at the airports or border points of entry. The 30-day visa may be extended up to an additional 30 days prior to visa expiration.
Currently, the Malawi Immigration Department is charging for all visa extensions as follows:
- A 30-day visa (or less) is granted at any port of entry and is Free
- Application for a visa extension for an additional 30-days (or less) is MK 5,000.00
- Application for a second visa extension for an additional 30-days (or less) is MK 5,000.00.
A visa extension application must be submitted prior to the visa’s expiration date. There is no guarantee the request will be granted.
American citizens are reminded that they are subject to Malawi’s laws. Individuals that overstay on their visa, even unknowingly, have been fined, arrested and deported.
U.S. citizens traveling in Malawi are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State’s travel registration page in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security. U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Registration is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency.
U.S. Embassy Lilongwe
Area 40, City Center, Lilongwe
Tel: (265) 1-773-166, 342 and 367
Fax: (265) 1-774-976
Diarrhea and other food borne illnesses are a common problem among travelers. Travelers are urged to avoid tap water, ice cubes, and raw fruits and vegetables. Bottled water is recommended for drinking and food preparation. Only food that is well cooked and served hot should be consumed.
Malaria is a potentially life-threatening disorder that is endemic to Malawi. Malaria prophylaxis is strongly advised and should be initiated prior to arriving in Malawi. Visitors should consult their physicians to learn which prophylaxis would suit them best and review possible side-effects. In addition, other personal protective measures such as the use of insect repellents help to reduce the risk of malaria. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one-year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and tell the physician their travel history and what anti-malarial medications they have been taking.
Schistosomiasis (also known as Bilharzia) is present in most lakes and rivers in Malawi, including Lake Malawi. The Department of State recommends against swimming, wading or bathing in fresh water.
Tuberculosis is prevalent as well. Caution should be exercised if visiting crowded settings for prolonged periods of time, especially public hospitals and prisons.
Other health risks include typhoid, hepatitis A and B, tetanus, and rabies. Vaccination for these diseases is advised. Additionally, travelers should be aware that trypanosmiasis (African Sleeping Sickness) is present in some game parks and that cholera outbreaks are often reported.
Yellow fever vaccination is required if traveling from an endemic zone.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Banking & Currency:
Kwacha (MWK; symbol Mk) = 100 tambala. Notes are in denominations of Mk500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of Mk1 and 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 tambala.
US Dollars, Pounds Sterling, Euros or South African Rand are readily exchanged but lesser-known currencies may prove difficult to exchange.
Acceptance of credit and debit cards is very limited, although in Lilongwe and Blantyre and in main hotels, American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa can be used.
Travelers’ checks can be exchanged in banks, hotels and other institutions. In remote areas, the Treasury Office of Local District Commissioner’s offices will cash travelers checks. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travelers are advised to take travelers’ checks in US Dollars, Euros, Pounds Sterling or South African Rand.
The import of local currency is unlimited. The export of local currency is limited to K3,000. The import of foreign currency is unlimited. The export of foreign currency must not exceed the amount imported and must be declared on departure.
IDD is available. Country code: 265 (no area codes). Outgoing international code: 101. The digit 1 was added to the beginning of each land telephone number in 2002 and the number of landlines has doubled in the past three years.
Mobile telephone: GSM 900 network. The digits 8 and 9 are added to the beginning of each mobile telephone for the two providers respectively.
Cell Phone Usage:
Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.
Food & Drink:
Hotel restaurants and many of those in the cities are of a good standard. They offer a wide choice of dishes including European, Korean and Chinese as well as authentic Malawi dishes and haute cuisine. Poultry and dairy produce are plentiful and tropical fruits are abundant in season.
- Fresh fish from Lake Malawi is the country’s speciality, chambo (Tilapia fish) being the main lake delicacy
- There are trout from streams on the Zomba, Mulanje and Nyika plateaus
- White maize eaten with vegetables and sometimes meat or fish
- Nthochi (bread made with banana)
- Mbatata cookies (made with sweet potato and cinnamon).
- The local beer is very good
- Malawi gin and tonic is well known and inexpensive, with almost cult status.
There is little nightlife in the European or US sense. Some restaurants have entertainment as do some of the hotels but outside Blantyre and Lilongwe this will usually take the form of a display of dancing during or after dinner at the lakeshore hotels.
Malawi produces a variety of colorful arts and crafts. Items are invariably handmade and there is no factory production of curios. Purchases include woodcarvings, wood and cane furniture, soapstone carvings, decorated wooden articles, colourful textiles, pottery, beadwork, cane and raffia items. The standard of woodcarving is one of the highest in Africa. The Mua Mission, south of Salima, where carvers are trained, has an excellent shop. Traditional musical instruments are also sold throughout Malawi.
Shopping hours: Mon-Sat 8am-5pm. Markets and roadside stalls trade every day.
Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.
Generally not expected, but some employees who are very poorly paid might appreciate a small tip for good service.
Laundry service is available at most hotels in the main centers, and at the luxury lodges and camps. Generally you should allow about 24-hours before the item is returned to you, however, some have an emergency service available at an extra charge.
PHOTOS & VIDEOS
In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.
USE OF DRONES
The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.