Malawi trip report
Replies: 13 - Last Post: Nov 19, 2012 11:09 AM Last Post By: TexasTea
May 29, 2012 6:43 PM
Malawi trip reportSo, a wonderful 3 week trip. The people were outstanding: so friendly, always ready to greet and to help. Way too much to say, but I will try to hit the key points that get asked about a lot. We are more than happy to answer any specific questions, just post them or PM me. Will try to get accommodation reports up on TripAdvisor in the next few weeks.
A huge thank-you to everyone who helped us figure all this out, especially mpembeivan, MalawiKate, Itchyfeet38, segou, and everyone else who answered my many questions.
Rental car (4X4), but mini-buses in Lilongwe.
Car rental: we rented from a smaller company recommended by friends: Beta Car Rentals (265 1 761 062; firstname.lastname@example.org. They should have a website soon). They were terrific, the vehicle was in great shape, and they honored their original quote in kwacha in spite of the devaluation. They were very responsive, brought the car to us, and met us at a convenient return point.
Fuel: we built two fuel days into our schedule, but didn’t need them. Got diesel in Dwanga going north (475 MKw/liter, new valuation). Bought in Kasungu going south, same price. We also carried two 20 liter jerry cans that we filled in Dwanga at the regular rate.
Where we went and where we stayed:
Lilongwe; private residence.
South Luangwa National Park, Zambia: Land and Lakes Safaris; Marula Lodge (loved it).
Nkhata Bay via the M5 (lakeshore road); Big Blue Star Backpackers.
Ruarwe via the Ilala ferry; Zulunkhuni River Lodge.
Nkhata Bay via private boat (35,000 MK for 4 adults), then straight to
Mzuzu; Flame Tree Guesthouse.
Village in Karonga district; private residence.
Livingstonia; Mushroom Farm.
Mzuzu via the back (dirt) road from Livingstonia through the Phoka Valley; Pine Tree B&B (this place really deserves a bump up in the guidebooks).
Lilongwe; Korea Garden Lodge.
Where we ate (all good with A1 Restaurant & Pine Tree B&B being the stand-outs):
Lilongwe: Harry’s Bar; Korea Garden Lodge; Blue Ginger, grilled chicken place in the Game complex.
Nkhotakota: Nkhotakota Pottery.
Nkata Bay: Big Blue Star; Kaya Papaya; H & M Restaurant (tucked behind the main drag; go in the morning to order the charcoal grilled butterfish for dinner. Yum!).
Mzuzu: A1 Restaurant (great Indian Food); Pine Tree B&B (great everything food).
Ruarwe: Zulunkhuni River Lodge.
Livingstonia: Lukwe Permaculture Camp; Mushroom Farm.
We also bought groceries for the Ilala. However, there is reasonable food service on board, so this is not necessary.
Money: we arrived on the day of the devaluation (May 7), so prices were a little inconsistent. In towns, the new value was in effect everywhere ($1 = ~250 MKw). However, in Nkhata Bay, prices in MKw had not changed, even by May 11.
Favorite things: dancing iwes on the M5; the Ilala; homemade Mother’s Day cake at Zulunkhuni, everything about Ruarwe, the view from Mushroom Farm.
Not so favorite things: chims
Stuff we took to donate: solar calculators (school project) & pediatric stethoscopes (we visited a couple of government health centers and are happy to report if anyone is interested). Also, anyone looking to volunteer might want to contact http://www.phunzira.com in Ruarwe.
Biggest thing we weren’t prepared for: the smoky air. Fields burning, trash burning, cooking over wood or charcoal, candles for lighting.
Overall, it was a great trip. Wish we could have stayed longer and done more, especially points south of Lilongwe. Maybe next time!
May 30, 2012 5:53 AM
May 30, 2012 8:03 AM
2Hi Texas, thanks for that, what was the situation with regard to money (cash) on the way in/out, any sign of the requirements to declare cash? How did you manage money, cash/ATMs, forex exchange?
Any problems with police check points? I found them always polite.
Yes the smell of burning, wood especially, is something which triggers memories with me even after 6 yrs away. Very much an African thing with so much cooking done on open fires
May 30, 2012 8:05 AM
May 30, 2012 9:55 AM
Money was a non-issue. Never got asked coming in. Going out, there is a form to indicate how much we spent in-country and we were honest. We took USD with us and changed about 2/3 of it on the black-market (contact made through someone living in Lilongwe). Because we arrived on May 7th, valuations were a little bouncy and we ended up with 260 Mkw/$1 USD. Might have been able to do better, but the devaluation put the squeeze on the black-market folks and we didn't want to hassle with banks/FOREX since we were heading straight to Zambia the next morning.
With the exception of our safari, we paid for everything in kwacha. Our calculations were close enough that we never needed to use either ATM's or credit cards. We just lugged all those kwacha around in a knapsack!
Police check-points were also a non-issue, we were only stopped to chat once. 9/10 times we were just waived through.
The smoke was an issue for me (asthma), and I suggest that anyone with breathing issues review their med usage prior to going. It would have made my trip much easier had I known in advance.
Kaz: chim is short for chimbudzi = pit latrine. These vary in quality from brick structures with concrete floors and wood doors to stick and mud structures with dirt floors and plastic bag for a door. I must add that we were a little bit on the "underbelley" tour and probably saw more of the latter than most people should expect to encounter (e.g., rural villages).
Jun 10, 2012 5:10 PM
Jun 10, 2012 8:07 PM
Yes, we went overland from Lilongwe to South Luangwa, passing through Mchinji and Chipata. The road was fine tarmac until a ways past Chipata, where it becomes dirt to Mfuwe (about 4 hours of driving on dirt road). The tarmac road in both Malawi and Zambia was comparable and without problems.
The good news is that they seem to be making progress on grading and paving the road the rest of the way to Mfuwe. Perhaps by August, it will be further along. People estimate that the trip from Mfuwe to Chipata will only take about 2 hours once complete.
If you are doing Lilongwe to Lusaka, I believe it is tarmac the whole way. You might want more advice from the Zambia branch, since that will be the longest stretch for you. Lilongwe to the border is about 2 hours.
Enjoy your trip.
Jun 26, 2012 10:52 PM
7Superbarton: The road is excellent between Lilongwe and Lusaka. It took about 12 hours. The bus that leaves from Lilongwe only goes twice a week, and for the life of me, I cannot remember which days those are (It was different from what is in the Lonely Planet)- but the company is on Devil's Road in Lilongwe by all the buses. However, I believe you can take a minibus to Mchingi, taxi to the border, taxi to Chipata, and get a bus to Lusaka on any day of the week. We did that in reverse order when we were going back to Lilongwe. Also, if you are driving, there is very little between Chipata and Lusaka - so, stock up before leaving Chipata. Have fun!
Jun 27, 2012 6:34 AM
8Hi Texas. Next month I am traveling to Lilongwe to travel to Nkhata Bay. I will take your suggestion for car rentals. I am a single female driving along to Nkhata Bay where I will be staying at a lodge and meet up with friends.
How is the road between Lilongwe and Mzuzu and about how long did it take you to drive? Any hesitations you'd have if I drove alone? I have been living and working in Western Kenya so familiar with African life, but Malawi is a new place for me.
Thanks. Advice welcome.
Jun 27, 2012 10:22 AM
9We drove both the M5 (Lakeshore) and the M1. Both roads are well-tarmacked. Of the two, I preferred the M5 because there were fewer big-rigs and fewer vehicles overall. It is also much more populated with foot, bicycle, and ox-cart traffic (you are never trully alone on this road!). It is also narrower, so you do need to be alert for on-coming vehicles. That said, it is a lovely drive and I think it took about 6-7 hours, with an hour stop for lunch.
The M1 had less pedestrian traffic, is more curvy, and has more vehicle traffic. More vehicles passing each other, etc. Also, probably more dramatically scenic. Mzuzu to Lilongwe was ~4.5 hrs, so to Nkhata Bay probably 5+ hours.
About being alone: the M5 seemed more populated but fewer other cars, while the M1 has long stretches between trading centers. However, there are plenty of people about if you need assistance. If you don't want to drive alone, you could advertise a ride on the Lilongwe google-chat group; there are always people looking for lifts to Mzuzu. Alternatively (we did this a lot), keep your eye out for hitch-hikers waggling their hands at the side of the road. We met many wonderful Malawians this way. Do be careful and never take more people than the number of legal seat-belts.
Other car rental agencies that we had very positive pre-trip interactions with were Pafe and SS, although we did not end up renting from them.
Jul 2, 2012 1:32 PM
10Hi there, great report, This might seem strange but when you rented the car, did you know if there was any availability to hire a child car seat? My partner and I are going to malawi for 2 weeks in september with my daughter who will be 18 months and would like to hire a car but could only do so with a car seat. Thanks.
Jul 2, 2012 8:15 PM
Nov 17, 2012 7:56 AM
you wrote, that you went to South Luangwa with Land Lake Safaris. I'm just now considering to book a safari with them. Can I ask you therefor some questions?
Did you hire the car with them and went to Sambia on your own or did you join them on one of their Safari trips? Can you recomment them? How many days did you stay in South Laungwa?
Nov 19, 2012 11:09 AM
We did not self-drive to Zambia. Land & Lake provides transport in a ~15-passenger bus; I believe Kiboko (another Lilongwe budget safari company with a good reputation) uses the same. The drive to S. Luangwa is rather difficult and I am glad we did not undertake it. From Lilongwe to Chipata is good tarmac, but several km beyond Chipata the road becomes dirt for the rest of the way. And it is not just straight dirt: because they were grading the road for eventual tarmac, it's just a narrow dirt track that winds back and forth across what will be the main road. Lot's of rocks, soft sand, and barriers. Four of the six hours that it takes was on this surface.
We did a 3-day trip (one day out, one day at S. Luangwa, one day back) and stayed at Marula Lodge (ensuite chalet), which we absolutely loved. Overall we were quite happy with Land & Lake. We know others who have used them and were also very satisfied. As far as I could tell, the only real difference between their "budget" safari and the more expensive ones offered by other agencies was how good the shock absorbers were on the bus! Keep in mind that the Park guides are provided by the Lodge, not by the safari company (at least in our case). Our guide, David, is full time at Marula Lodge and was excellent.
Feel free to PM me if you have additional questions.
Western ZambiaBook now
(4 star Hotel)
From US$1160.00 per night
(0 star Hotel)
From US$12.00 per night
(3 star Hotel)
From US$200.00 per night