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Malawi- a moneysavers destination!!

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lynzpowerlynzpower Forumite
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OH and I decided to head off to Malawi for the Lake of stars festival earlier this month as we never got Glastonbury tickets! So this trip report is a explaination/discussion of the time we had, what we did, and importantly what we paid! We travelled independently, Malawi offers easy travelling, English is spoken as an official language, all newspapers/tv/ road signs etc in English.

Some good websites here - should help to wet your whistle!

Malawi is beautiful. The people are there warm, generous and kind, the amount of hassle we received as tourists was of the inquisitive kind, Malawi is not called the warm heart of Africa for nothing! Any preconceptions of Africa need to be left at Heathrow! We expected poor hygiene, plenty of hassle, begging and food shortages, none of which was borne out. The majority of people in Malawi are rural-living, often trying to make a living in very marginal farming areas. Nevertheless, hassle to buy stuff was negligible, as compared to many other places I have travelled to.

Despite being landlocked, Malawi boasts the most beautiful lake I have ever seen. There IS risk of bilharzia ( check the FCO) however it did not stop us diving into the beautiful lake. Its like a sea, you cant see the end of it, and it has waves! But not the salty water that makes you gag and your hair sticky! Paradise, like bathwater! The trick is with bilharzia when you get back its likely you will have contracted it, the London hospital for Tropical Diseases advised that they will test me in 3 months then if I have caught it, then I’ll be given a tablet which will get rid of it- perfect!

This is a breakdown of what we did and the costings: Using multiple currencies here so:
Kenyan Shillings in Nairobi airport
US Dollars ( I got 2 to the pound with Travelex at Heathrow)
Malawian Kwetcha ( official rate about 280 to the pound, however, we got 314 to the pound in exchange in Lilongwe, bureaux offer better than banks) You cant take Kwetcha out of the country, so we used USD trav cheques. ( need to change at bureau or banks, some hotels offer but on bobbons exchange rates). ATMs thin on the ground throughout Malawi, so we generally used TCs and carried large amounts of cash ( 300 quid on average usually) For safety,its worth splitting currency, carry a bit on person, split in your luggage. Just in case.

Our flights were basically 1.5k for the 2 of us, flying scheduled with Kenya Airways, via Nairobi- then a short connecting flight to Lilongwe, the Malawian Capital.. Kenya Airways catering was nothing short of poor, and I would try to fly with someone else next time if possible. Virgin have recently launched Nairobi and there have been some pretty good prices I spotted, but they launched that after we’d booked. We did pay more than usual, due to demand for the festival. Looking now, 420 plus tax is around, if not less.

Nairobi Airport
When Flying to Lilongwe, chances are you’ll fly through Nairobi. ( Some go via Joburg but are more expensive I believe) Nairobi airport, again much better than I thought it would be, not dodgy at all. I had some Kenyan Shillings left over from a holiday my parents went on, but the airport also takes payment in USDs for snacks/duty free/ curios. Quite a lot of shopping, much of it the same. Designated smoking areas too. Clean, safe and a pleasant enough place to transit.

Coffee ( very good) around the 75p mark
Toasted sandwich 380 Kenyan shillings - ie about £2.50
Samosas –about 60p.
Duty free- 200 B&H 15 USD ( cheaper than the plane)

Lilongwe Airport
Lilongwe is a very small airport, you won’t be overwhelmed with facilities. After filling out your tourist card you’ll get out onto the arrivals/departures concourse.
Here there are a few little shops/kiosks where you can get drinks/snacks/ and the ubiquitous samosas. Prices plummet from Kenyan standards. A glass bottle of pop ( coke/fanta/sprite etc) is no more than 100 kwatcha ( 35p) this price is the same ( if not less) wherever in the country you are- make sure you give the bottles back to the vendor tho! Its customary to stand drink your pop/beer, then hand the bottle back to the vendor, gives a nice opportunity to chat to locals – we met some fab people just through this custom!

Taxis from the airport into Central Lilongwe is about 3500 kwatcha ( £12) Not really negotiable to get the price down – due to the charges the aiport makes on pickup licenses from the Airport concourse.

Wed prebooked some accommodation for the first night at We hired a 2 bed chalet for 15usd per night ( 7.50) ( not per person ;) Perfectly clean, acceptable, mozzie nets present. Small café, where they make food on site. Friendly owners, nice atmosphere.

Dinner out in one of the upscale places in Lilongwe cost us about 5 quid for both of us including beers. Into a locals bar in town where we paid 75kw for a beer ( Carlsberg on license) Again, same price up and down the land wherever you are you’ll seldom pay more than 100kw for a beer :money:

Here we arranged transport up to the festival site in Chinthetche.

We just were asking around in the bar and some local guys were running a minibus up to the site. Beware, transport takes time in Malawi, it’s a big place in some respects, and much of the transport is of the shared minibus/back of a ute with every-man-and-his chickens/baskets/goats/bags of maize. However, there are more *Pullman* style coaches but they are not frequent and require a bit of planning – were a more “lets get going!” kind of couple! Our drivers took us up to chinthetche ( a good 8 hour journey!) for 2000kw ( about 6.50)

We had prebooked accommodation at the delightful and WHOLLY recommended Flame Tree Lodge. Super friendly owner, gorgous setting right on the lake, fantastic beach!! We paid a premium as the festival was on, and naturally the demand was atronomical. Even so we stayed for 4 days, so we had a double roomed ensuite chalet, breakfast daily, sometimes lunch and usually dinner too, and umpteen beers and fizzies and cost us 260 usd for the 2 of us (£130) it would normally be cheaper than this but as I say we paid a premium for the accommodation given the time of year. Beers again 100kw , 75kw for a soda. Meals were fabulous home cooked food- a chicken curry, rice salad was about 500 kw –about 1.60. Again these prices are fairly standard throughout Malawi. A breakfast of egg & toast & coffee is about 300kw ( £1) If you want bacon or sausages you’ll pay more for that, not that widely available! Chambo, the Lake fish of Malawi again widely available for the same price and excellent fish, similar to Cod/ Plaice. And caught that day of course!!

The festival we attended was we paid about 40 quid each for a 3 day pass through ticketline before we left, but it was only 7000kw on the door – so 23 quid. Ticketline made their usual profit out of us :rolleyes: In the site it was more expensive ( but that’s festivals for you!) 1000kw for meals, 300 for a pint of “green” ( Carlsberg) A lovely small friendly festival, however, a little bit overrun with westerners who of course can afford the ticket price. There are moves afoot for next year to make it more accessible I believe. Camping was available on site for 300kw per night ( £1).

From Chinthetche we took the overnight Pullman ( sacremento bus to liwonde, again 2000kw pp ( 6.50 ish) Liwonde is home to a national park where we went on Safari.

We took a cab to the national park ( 5usd pp park fee- 2.50 pppd) and booked into one of only 2 accommodation options in the Park. We paid 30usd pppn, and food was superb, all residents ate together with an honesty bar system.( again, 100kw beer) The park was PACKED with game, and we did night drive, a day hike and a canoe safari where hippos, elephants, bucks, birds galore were there for the snapping. Canoe safari 12.50usd pp ( 6.25 each) night drive 15usd pp. the viewing stage lent well- baboons spotted wandering around the camp at all times. It felt very secluded. We were the only jeeps out, there was literally no one else there! Also there were lots of park staff/ volunteers/ academics etc at the lodge who offer a really interesting perspective on preserving the park and game, and whats around, threats to game etc.

From there, we took a bicitaxi ( on the back of someone’s bike) the 2kms back to Liwonde Barrage for 50kw ( 20p! - obviously we gave them a tip!) then onto more utes/minibuses to make it up to the glorious beach resort of Cape Mclear National park.

Travelling on the back of a ute gives you the real nuts & bolts of malawian life, the tyre blowouts, the "can they really fit more people on?!" and the heat. Travelling in minibuses again is a bit cramped but there are legal moves at the moment to make 15 the limit in a minibus ( country up in arms due to loss of income) A 7 hour trip in a minibus ( not anywhere near as harsh as I thought it would be) cost us 350 kw ( justover a pound) the benefits of minibuses is that when they stop at villages & towns vendors will crowd around the windows with goodies to sell - bottles of pop of course, samosas ( 20kw - what 10p?) buns ( same price) fried chicken/ hot chips/( 100 kw) hand of bananas 50kw etc.

At Cape Mclear As is a bit more touristy up here there is the beach boys trying to flog necklaces and the like some we bought some we didn’t.- a clear NO will suffice generally. We stayed at the where we paid about 6 quid a night for accommodation for us with of course meals & drinks on top. Quite a few eatery options and a few bars in Cape Mcclear. The food we had everywhere was superb. And always less than £3.00 a meal.

We hired a sea kayak from a local for £3.00 for the day, which we took over to an island and had a bit of downtime and bird watching on route. Prices for things like this are negotiable as are curios. As ever, don’t exploit, but often the price given can be a wildcard for them to test out how much you will pay! My 2nd day I bought a necklace and realised Id paid a tenner! Going rate would be more like a pound, but hey, Im sure I made someones day there ;)

Then back to Lilongwe to come home and we stayed our final night at where we went for broke ( !!) and spent 75usd B&B in the executive room ( gorgeous!) and then headed home from there L We negotiated a cab back to the airport for departure of 3000 ( £10) which was good as that’s all we had left without changing more.

Quick Tips:

Do take enough shower gel /shampoo/ suntan lotion. Its just not that available
Batteries –partic if using a digital camera- take rechargables, Malawi uses the same 3 pins as we do! Again, simply not available.
If you smoke rolling tobacco do take plenty of papers, they just don’t exist outside of Lilongwe – although we did find some at Cape Mclear. They were expensive tho at 400kw per pack (double what they cost here, just cos they are rare more than anything)
Do take old clothes – once you are done with them either give them away or trade with locals- who are very open to this and often suggest it. A pair of trainers in Malawi ( or other flat shoes) are around the 20 quid mark, so this is something they need/want. I swapped a bundle of clothes ( just cheap vest tops/ t shirts etc) for a some crafts.
Malawians are often too in need of mobile phones- if you’ve any old Nokias hanging about to take those too- again good for trading or as gifts. There are few landlines in Malawi, and its not really online at all. The mobile network is good though in the main. Celtel sims are widely & cheaply available. Otherwise if you want to use a landline most villages will have a person on a plastic table with a parasol and a phone you can use for about 250kw. ( 70p ish)
Do speak to Malawians at every opportunity! . They are polite, and generally very funny!!! Laughter is on the agenda everywhere - join in!!
Do leave books! Rare as rocking horse whatsit and highly prized in Malawi – my charity shop finds went down well , leaving me a couple of extra Kilos in my bag for souvenirs.

Only take trousers and shorts as a woman. They have only recently become legal in Malawi, and to be honest, I received some looks of offence for wearing them. Generally I tended towards a modest knee length light cotton skirt.
Don’t expose too much cleavage outside of beach areas it does cause offence to the women. Men didn’t seem to mind so much. Also when you are climbing on the back of a ute, you don’t want to be falling out of your halterneck ( lesson learned) General v neck t shirts, safari blouses etc good for women.
Don’t rely on internet connections to release some digi photos off your drives. They seldom exist, so take extra memory cards.
Don’t expect Malawians to be scammers/ beggers. They aren’t, and desperate for their country to be on the map and want to work their way out of poverty. Theres a fine line to haggling – its always difficult to find that middle ground. If you genuinely don’t know what the price is/should be simply say “its too expensive” they are likely to come back with a revised price they are wiling to accept.

We just had an absolute blast in Malawi, always someone to talk to, learn from and will be heading back!!

Any questions, add here, or PM me .. I have phone numbers & email addresses for some of the hotels etc ,but winging it is perfectly possible outside of festival season.

And to total it all off, we took £1000 in spends and got 300 back - so pp we only spent 350 pp on everything ( exc flights) food, accomodation, transport safari, gifts, plenty of beer :beer: Truly a moneysavers destination!

Click Here to return to the Travel A-Z]
:beer: Well aint funny how its the little things in life that mean the most? Not where you live, the car you drive or the price tag on your clothes.
Theres no dollar sign on piece of mind
This Ive come to know...
So if you agree have a drink with me, raise your glasses for a toast :beer:


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