When to Go/Climate
Malawi is a year-round destination with parks and reserves staying open in all seasons and only a handful of lodges choosing to have short annual periods of closure for re-furbishment.
For most people the dry (winter) season is most attractive (i.e. April/May to October/November). The chance of rain is slim, daytime temperatures are generally pleasant (in the 20s Celsius) and the low vegetation and limited availability of water mean that game viewing is at its best. However, some of the best birdwatching can be had from November to April and the orchids of Nyika are best seen from December to March/April.
Malawi’s temperatures are moderated by altitude. Only in the hottest month (usually November) will maximum temperatures get above 30°C, and then only in the hotter (low lying) locations. In the coldest month (probably July) maximum temperatures will be in the low 20’s. On the uplands (e.g. Zomba, Nyika and Viphya) it can be quite cold at night at those times. The hottest area, all year, is that at the lowest altitude – the Lower Shire Valley. Rainfall is extremely rare in the dry season and even in the so-called wet season, the rains are usually short-lived storms, as is typical of the tropics, and at no time does the climate seriously inhibit the traveller. Around the country, rainfall varies, with the highlands causing the highest figures.
Central African Wilderness Safaris have produced a helpful guide of the natural highlights of Malawi over the calendar year. Click here to view. If you wish to time your visit to coincide with one of Malawi’s sporting or cultural/music events, check the listing on the Events page. And for a calendar of Public Holidays, see below.
Health & Safety
Immunisation against polio, tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A is recommended. Yellow fever immunisation may be required only by visitors entering from a yellow fever zone. There is a risk of malaria and prophylactics should be taken. Seek up to date advice from your doctor. There is a risk of contracting bilharzia if bathing in some parts of Lake Malawi but the risk is negligible near the main beach hotels. Although serious if left to develop, the infection is relatively easily treated once diagnosed. Anyone feeling unwell after swimming in Lake Malawi should alert their doctor to the possibility of bilharzia infection. For further information about bilharzia in Lake Malawi click here. Malawi is a high risk area for AIDS.
Malawi is considered a safe country for tourists and Malawians are rightfully known for their friendliness. However, the usual precautions should be taken as would be advised for tourists anywhere.
Malawi reported its first 3 confirmed cases of Coronavirus on 2 April 2020. In an effort to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, the Government of Malawi has taken a number of preventative actions.
As at 23 May 2022 it had had a total of 85 935 cases with 82 848 having recovered and 2638 deaths, leaving just 172 active. 1 181 806 people have been fully vaccinated.
For the latest information check the Malawi Ministry of Health Facebook page.
The Malawi Department of Tourism published Guidelines on COVID-19 Prevention and Management in the Tourist Industry in early July 2020 – to ensure that tourists could visit Malawi as safely as possible. Click Here to see the latest version of that document which, in March 2021 earned the country the Safe Travels Stamp of approval from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). The Safe Travels stamp is the world’s first global safety & hygiene stamp for travel & tourism, designed specifically to address COVID-19 and similar outbreaks. It was developed by WTTC taking into account WHO and CDC guidelines, to help restore confidence in travellers – enabling them to distinguish destinations around the world which have adopted health and hygiene global standardised protocols so they can experience ‘Safe Travels’. These worldwide measures provide consistency and guidance about the necessary new approach to health, hygiene, deep cleansing and physical distancing.
Lilongwe Airport was also certified as ‘safe for travel’, having been officially accredited on the Airport Health Accreditation (AHA) program for the COVID-19 pandemic. The accreditation is organised by the Airport Council International (ACI), a global trade representative of the world’s airport authorities.
- Malawi’s borders were fully opened in August 2021 to allow entry for all travellers with a negative PCR test obtained no more than 72 hours prior to arrival. (PCR test requirement applies to all travellers over 12 months of age). The official August release from the Malawi Ministry of Health can be downloaded by clicking here. And the latest Guidance on International Travel issued in September 2021 can be downloaded by clicking here.
- In late November 2021, the Presidential Taskforce announced the additional need (as from 10 December 2021) for all travellers to show a valid electronic COVID-19 full vaccination Certificate at point of entry. (Those unable to show a certificate will be expected to access COVID-19 Vaccine made available for free. And anyone refusing the vaccine will undergo institutional quarantine for 10 days at their cost). The full statement can be downloaded by clicking here.
- To ensure the integrity of presented certificates at Malawi’s borders, the Ministry of Health (in collaboration with the African Union and Africa CDC) are implementing an online system to authenticate and verify travellers COVID-19 certificates in line with the Trusted Travel (TT) framework. Click here for the announcement and click here for the guide to using the TT system.
- As from 1 May 2022, the previous requirement for all travellers departing Malawi to have a negative PCR test has been removed. Requirements on PCR tests and vaccination status for departure will be determined by the destination country. Click here for the announcement.
- As from 1 June 2022, all travellers that are fully vaccinated will no longer be required to produce negative PCR tests. All travellers that are not fully vaccinated or don’t have a valid electronically verifiable COVID-19 full vaccination certificate will be required to produce a negative PCR based COVID-19 certificate that is not older than 72 hours at the time of arrival in the country. Click here for the official announcement.
Various announcements and documents issued through the pandemic can be viewed in this folder
For further details on getting to Malawi, go to our ‘Getting There‘ page.
Malawi’s tourism industry has remained open for domestic travel and many of Malawi’s tourism operators have adjusted their booking terms and conditions to allow for more flexibility and fewer penalties, particularly on postponements.
Tourism plays an important role in Malawi’s economy, particularly in rural areas. It is a vital source of essential foreign exchange, and, as well as providing income from which employees support their wider families, lodges and tourism operators across Malawi support local communities and protect vulnerable natural environments through a variety of projects. The inevitable down-turn in tourism will have a significant negative impact on Malawi and its people and so potential visitors are encourage to view current disruptions as a reason only to postpone their visit to Malawi rather than cancelling plans. Cancellations and refunds will deprive tourism businesses of any funds and income, without which they will be forced to close down, so depriving their employees and local communities of the essential support that they currently provide. Each employee in tourism in Malawi supports 14 or more people and if jobs are lost, the result will be devastating, at a time when the population is extremely vulnerable already. Once the pandemic has passed and restrictions on travel lifted, travellers are encouraged to visit Malawi as soon as possible in order to enjoy its warm welcome, amazing range of attractions – and to help it with its recovery.
Food & Drink
Excellent fish dishes are widely available but especially near Lake Malawi. Most hotels and safari camps serve “western” dishes with, perhaps, game and occasionally local foods such as maize meal porridge. Locally produced chilli sauce is popular for those brave enough to give it a try.
Soft drinks are available everywhere. Beers, South African wines and some spirits are reasonably priced and commonly available. Carlsberg has its only African brewery in Malawi and its beers are found throughout the country. Known by their bottle label colours, ‘greens’ and ‘browns’ will fast become the drink of choice for beer connoisseurs. When it comes to spirts, Malawi is rightly proud of its own gin and a ‘Malawi Gin & Tonic’ or ‘MGT’ is by far the most popular spirit drink ordered in bars and restaurants around the country. Bottles of Malawi Gin are also the best sellers in the airport duty free shops! As the first country in Africa to grow tea, the locally produced teas and coffees are also well liked. After all, this was the first country in Africa to grow tea, and in Satemwa Estate, Malawi has a Fair Trade tea producer that supplies both international supermarkets and speciality tea outlets.
For drinking, bottled water should be used in preference to tap water.
For those hankering after a taste of Malawi once they have left the Warm Heart of Africa, the Scotland Malawi Partnership has a page of information about where to obtain a number of Malawi products (including gin!) in the UK. Click here to find out more.
Dress is generally informal. Swimwear and very skimpy clothing should be confined to the beach resorts. For safaris, “natural ” colours should be worn in preference to light/bright colours. In the uplands, especially in the winter (April-September), it can be cold in the evening and extra layers may be needed. It can be very cold on morning or night safari drives.
Malawi’s unit of currency is the kwacha (abbreviated to MK internationally; K locally). The kwacha divides into 100 tambala. Practically speaking, only the kwacha is used. Banks in the towns are open weekdays from 0800 to 1300. Mobile banks operate along the lakeshore and in more remote areas (check days/times locally). Travellers Cheques or foreign (hard) currency notes are widely accepted. If using dollars to pay for your tours and accommodation, please be aware that $1 bills will not be accepted or exchanged; the minimum domination able to be changed is $5. Avoid black market currency traders. There is no limit to the amount of foreign currency imported but it must be declared and accounted for on departure. Only MK3000 of local currency may be exported. There are 24-hour ATMs in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu. Only local currency is dispensed and that is limited to approximately the equivalent (depending on exchange rates) of GB£85, Euro110; US$140 in any period of twenty-four hours.
Malawi time is GMT+2, as with most of southern Africa.
|New Year’s Day||1st Jan|
|Chilembwe Day||15th Jan|
|Martyrs’ Day||3rd Mar|
|Good Friday||2nd Apr|
|Easter Monday||5th Apr|
|Labour Day||1st May|
|Kamuzu Day||14th May|
|Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan)||Upon sighting of new moon in month of Ramadan|
|Independence Day||6th Jul|
|Mother’s Day||15th Oct|
|Christmas Day||25th Dec|
|Boxing Day||26th Dec|
If a holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, then the next Monday becomes a holiday. Muslim festivals may also be celebrated in some areas.
Supply is based on the 220/240 volts system, using “British type” square bayonet three-pin plugs.
The telephone system is reasonably reliable, though mobiles can often be easier to get through to than landlines. Sim cards for local mobile phone networks are widely available and relatively cheap and easy to use. Most hotels and offices are readily reached by e-mail. The postal system tends to be slow. International courier DHL operates in Malawi.
TV & Radio
There is a national TV station, though its primary output is news. In addition, many city centre hotels receive international satellite channels. There are English language radio broadcasts.
Any camera equipment is best brought into the country and care should be taken to avoid its exposure to extremes of heat. Most Malawians will not mind being photographed but it is common courtesy to ask permission first.
While English is an official language, and is widely understood, a number of indigenous languages are also spoken. The most common is Chewa (or Chichewa – the language of the Chewa). Here are a few Chichewa words and phrases:
Goodbye Tsalani Bwino
How are you? Muli bwanji?
What is your name? Dzina lanu ndani?
My name is … Dzina langa ndi….
I come from…. Ndikuchokera ku….
How old are you? (To child) Uli ndi zaka zingati?
Excuse me Zikomo
How much? Mumagulitsa bwanji?
How much is this? Bwanji ichi?
Thank you Zikomo
Small supermarkets are found in towns and larger villages. Large supermarkets and European style shops are almost exclusively found in Blantyre and Lilongwe. Markets and roadside vendors are popular with travellers. Attractive souvenirs are the excellent wood carvings, widely available, and straw goods together with work by local artists. The standard of craftwork varies but at its best is quite outstanding. In the markets, bargaining is expected. Traditional Chief’s chairs are popular. Shops and offices open and close earlier in the day than is the custom in Europe or North America.