The main roads are in a relatively good shape.
While driving i was asked by a local guy if i had a PHD. Returning the question why he asked, he said: it seems so, by the way you drive. You must have been to Africa before !!! He got me confused now.
Yes he says, in order to avoid the pot holes in the tarmac, you have to drive from one side of the street to the other. Make sudden stops, reverse the car ens.
So, he says, you have developped these skills, to drive in Malawi.
So we honour you with a PHD: Pot Hole Dodger.!!!!
Compared to other countries in Southern Africa, except for the RSA, busses are in quite a good shape. To my surprise, vehicules are checked every year, in order to be allowed in traffiic. We did not discover what this check up really was.
Busses are very crowded, hot and sticky.
A mixture of smells catches you when going on the bus. But you get used to it after a while.
At the Lake Malawi it's nice to make a boatride by hiring a boat of the local people, who are around at the beach or at guesthouses.
It is not expensive, the scenery is beautiful and a meal or barbecue at the beach or an island can be included.
We really enjoyed our boatride from Cape Maclear to one of the islands.
“There is a nation-wide bus service catering for the local population. They seemed to stop every hundred yards to on-load and off-load passengers: often burdened with the most improbably shaped packages and produce. These buses are crowded and lively. The seating allows the traveller to appreciate every rut and pothole on untarred roads! This service is unhurried and offers an unrivalled opportunity to share ´a close proximity travel situation´ with the very friendly Malawian people. At many stops the bus windows attracts swarms of children selling local snacks, drinks and curios. Main bus stations are always situated close to population centres and are thronged with street vendors – if you get that far. Breakdowns are far from uncommon” (“Guide To Malawi”)
This changed during the last years. The number of vehicles on Malawi’s roads has increased significantly from 80.000 to more than 350.000 since the introduction of multiparty democracy in 1994, when transport sector was liberalized and the control of the import of vehicles was stopped.
Nowadays there are only a few busses on the roads to find. For longer destinations there is usually only one day and one night bus.
Minibusses and pick ups are far more common now.
Our two trips to Grand Beach were done by car from Luanshya, Zambia - a 600-mile trip each way. Once past Lusaka, the Great East Road was the direct link to Malawi at the Chipata border crossing. This was a good road with an 80 mph comfortable cruising speed, hardly any traffic and only two places to stop for any hope of supplies or gas. On the second trip, I kept hearing a funny noise every time the car went around a turn on the highway. When we finally reached the resort and checked in, the rear wheel rim of the Toyota Crown broke into two pieces while we were slowly driving to our accommodations (the slow speed must have placed additional stress on the weak point - one advantage of speeding!). No damage and we made it back on our spare tire at the end of the trip. Photo taken along the Great East Road in Zambia near the border, with a Baobab tree and landscape similar to Malawi's.
Despite the increase of vehicles on Malawian roads there is still a chronicle shortage of public transport in rural areas due to the poor road conditions. As a result, most bus operators prefer to ply between cities and towns. To fill that vacuum more and more villagers are getting into the bicycle taxi business and it became a common feature on rural Malawian roads. Bicycles ranks can often be found at junctions. If there is an inefficient bus service locals offer this service for the “last mile”.
The fare is determined by the distance and the weight of the passenger. Bicycle taxis also operate as courier service for the delivery of parcels.
Taxi cyclists are usually organised with a chairman standing at the head of a rank. If someone got harassed he or she can complain to him and if the taxi owner is found guilty he can be suspended for two weeks to two month, if it was a serious offence.
It may feel strange for a traveller to use this service that might look like a relict of old colonial days as the Muzungu is sitting on the back seat and the black man is sweating to pedal him through the days heat. But at least this taxi business is enabling villagers to earn some money for their living. Beside the taxi business some “side business” like bicycle maintenance developed and is offering some income for even more villagers.
I believe that public transportation was mostly available in the major cities (not so much in the rural areas, but still available), but I am not sure about their reliability. And, if you venture on your own and decide to rent a vehicle (not sure of the costs) to travel in, make sure you drive on the correct side of the street! For Americans and others used to driving on the RIGHT side of the road, get used to driving on the LEFT side! Africa is under the British rule, so the driving applies too - hence, the opposite driving side of the road in America!
By plane you will arrive at Kamuzu International Airport. KLM, Britsh Airways and some African airlines have flights between Malawi and Europe. We flight with KLM directly from Amsterdam.
At the airport are banks, a postoffice and a pharmacy.
All buses from/to Lilongwe to/from the north will stop at the airport, so it's easy to go by bus to the capital. We had a hired bus.
Backpacking in Malawi? Head North or South along the lakeshore by the Ilala Ferry and truly experience the beauty of the lake. I would recommend starting North at Chilimba and going all the way south to Monkey Bay. You get to stop off at small lake island, see the beauty of the Mozambique shoreline and experience the hustle and bustle of trading onboard. The locals use the Ilala as their main form of trade down Lake Malawi.
Since the beginning of 2004 the ´MV Mtendere´ is cruising the southern parts of Lake Malawi.
´MV Mtendere´ Weekly Voyage Schedule
Port Day Arrival Departure
Monkey Bay Wednesday 09.00
Makanjia Wednesday 12.00 13.00
Meponda (Moz) Wednesday 14.30 15.30
Senga Bay Thursday 05.00 06.00
Makanjia Thursday 07.30 08.30
Monkey Bay Thursday 11.30
Fares in Malawian Kwachas:
Embarkation Port is Monkey Bay
Port / Ensuite Cabin / Standard Cabin / Business / Economy
Makanjia: 3.200 / 2.000 / 600 / 280
Senga Bay: 3.800 / 2.000 / 800 / 380
Meponda (Moz): 4.600 / 3.000 / 380
First Class fares include English Breakfast and late afternoon snaks.
A third vessel is cuising the northern parts of the lake. Its the Tanzanian ´MV Songea´. For the schedule ask in Nkhata Bay. Usually the boat arrives there on Sunday afternoon, coming from Mbamba Bay in Tanzania.
The locals mainly make use of their bicycle to get to places and to carry wood, sweet potatoes and whatever they need. It is amazing how much they can carry on their bicycle and still keep their balance! For tourists it is best to hire a car though (or take your own car with).
Ride in the back of a pickup truck! It’s amazing how much fun it is to cling precariously to the
sides of the truck as you careen wildly over Malawi’s less than perfect roads, trying to get
comfortable amongst crying babies, bags of mangoes, dried fish, and a football team from
Chikengawa. Pick up trucks charge a set fee. Flag them down from the side of the road.
For a more in-depth description of this not-to-be-missed experience, please see my travelogue A Tambuku Parable.
Fly direct into Lilongwe or Blantyre. There are many overland trippers also who approach from both South Africa / Zimbabwe and from the North via Tanzania / Kenya.
Hitch hiking is relatively safe along the main roads. Road surfaces are very bad with deep potholes ( or they were when I was there) and riding in the back of a bakkie is not recommended for long distances. (unlike what someone else has said elsewhere !)
Flying is the easiest way, with good connections to most of the large cities in Africa and then on to the rest of the world.
There are good bus services between the large cities, but locally the minibuses are great and they will more or less go anywhere. There is also a boat service which runs up and down the lake, stopping at most major places along the way.
I had a wonderful stay at Madidi Lodge in April 2011. The manager/owners are very friendly and...more
2 HANNOVER AVENUE, Blantyre, MA 1
Good for: Couples
We stopped here for lunch on a trip through the area. It was a beautiful setting on a patio...more
More Regions in Malawi