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.
Various official announcements and documents about rules & regulations issued through the COVID-19 pandemic can be viewed in this folder. The key current regulations are as follows:
- As from 1 June 2022, travellers can enter Malawi with EITHER a vaccination certificate OR a negative PCR test; All travellers that are fully vaccinated are no longer 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 are 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. These regulations apply to those aged 12 and over. Under 12s can enter Malawi unconditionally (accompanying vaccinated parents/guardians) Click here for the official announcement.
To ensure the integrity of presented certificates at Malawi’s borders, the Ministry of Health (in collaboration with the African Union and Africa CDC) implemented 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.
For the latest information on all health matters check the Malawi Ministry of Health Facebook page.
For further details on getting to Malawi, go to our ‘Getting There‘ 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 tourism industry remained open for domestic travel through the pandemic and many of Malawi’s tourism operators 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 (each employee in tourism in Malawi supports 14 or more people); lodges and tourism operators across Malawi support local communities and protect vulnerable natural environments through a variety of projects. The down-turn in tourism had a significant negative impact on Malawi and its people and so potential visitors 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). Foreign (hard) currency notes are accepted by those in the tourist industry (hotels, lodge and tour operators) with the requisite licence, and also at the roadside curio stalls. But for general shopping, Malawi Kwacha will be needed. 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. Malawi Kwacha is easy to obtain from Forex Bureaux and banks, or from ATMs if you have a Visa card or Mastercard. 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. Visa and Mastercard can also be used at the larger shops for direct payments.
There is no limit to the amount of foreign currency imported but it must be declared and accounted for on departure. An equivalent of US$100 of local currency may be exported by travellers.
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||7th Apr|
|Easter Monday||10th 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
A Chichewa-English Dictionary is available, with the publishers now offering an instant ONLINE translation facility: http://translate.chichewadictionary.org/
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.