Travelling in Malawi can be rewarding for the visitor, it can also present it’s own challenges. If one of the attractions of travel is to appreciate the variety of life in different places (vive la différence), then the challenge can be part of the attraction. The scenery is without question, one of the benefits.
Unfortunately, a fully comprehensive work of art, or written guide to travel in Malawi, is much more work than just one blog post. So, for this post I will try to content myself with an introduction to different forms of travel. Furthermore, I will try to focus more on the issue of travel, for the visitor, rather than travel issues faced by a resident.
I have had some interesting conversations recently with visitors, and lodge owners, on this subject. Some of the challenges seem to be to do with finding out information in advance of the trip and others are to do with costs and the unexpected. Some unexpected occurrences are entirely innocent but could potentially be interpreted differently…
The Style of My Malawi Reviews
Now, one other thing to mention which should be important when interpreting this blog post, is that I prefer to focus on the positive. Firstly, too many people like to be negative, and in all areas of life, being negative is easy. Secondly, I am generally positive about Malawi and if I want to communicate or present an image of Malawi to those enquiring from outside I would rather stress the positive. Thirdly, the culture in Malawi is more associated with gentle interactions rather than harsh direct criticism. I have had interesting discussions with my Chichewa teacher on this as one of my favourite topics is how language can be used as an indicator of culture. Fourthly, there are many ‘challenges’ here that affect all areas of life, criticizing without understanding is not the best way to start.
As far as providing information publically it is better to be positive. Although I write this blog it does not mean that I cannot be contacted directly, some things are better said face to face, or privately. If you are looking for negatives or warnings within this blog post it may be better to read between the lines or draw your own conclusions from what has been left unsaid. Alternatively, we should be contactable.
Options for Travel
What are the options to consider?
Car Rental - Online reservations / Upon arrival
Car plus Driver
Friends, Informal & Local Contacts
The subject of walking in Malawi reminds me of an article I read in the Society of Malawi journals. Around the times of the late 19th C and early 20th C some missionary organisations back in Scotland had expressed concern that European lady missionaries were stationed out in the bush in places far from any European males. At the time apparently there was some concern in Europe with regard to the safety of European ladies in Africa. Of course the missionaries on the ground and other early European visitors had a better ‘feel’ for the reality of the situation. In the Society of Malawi journal one lady in particular was indignant at the preposterous advice being received from back in Europe. I don’t think that she was a missionary although she had been in Malawi (then Nyasaland) for quite some time. She emphatically intimated that she could walk from Nsanje (then Port Herald) to Karonga without facing anything other than kindness, gentle consideration and warm generosity for the entire length of her journey.
Reading that made me smile because although written perhaps one hundred years ago, and in the style and context of a different era, any modern day Malawi person can recognize and understand the feeling. However, I am told that things are different now. Things are different but the ‘non-threatening’ feel that one encounters from Malawians lingers on and it is hard for some of us to comprehend that things are different from a time only a couple of decades ago.
I have heard people say that it is no longer safe to walk in the large towns and cities at night. That is good advice. Otherwise, the centre of towns and cities from Blantyre to smaller places, are usually small enough for walking to be perfectly practical in the daytime. However, you should stick to places where there are a lot of people about. For more specific advice on walking in Blantyre contact us direct.
Don’t walk in National Parks or Game Reserves without a qualified Game Warden / Game Scout on an organized walk. Warnings on safety here in Malawi are not like the cotton wool ‘warnings’ in many western countries. Here if someone tells you that something is dangerous then take it as a deadly serious warning. When I was a child it was considered ok to walk in Lengwe National Park. This is no longer the case. Buffalo’s there are now veterans of human / animal conflict. I met a lone male buffalo (the most dangerous type) when walking between the car park and the main hide. If there wind had been blowing in a different direction… I can write about this in another post perhaps. Other National Parks can be much more dangerous, stay in your vehicle.
Do walk on Mulanje, Zomba, Michiru and other mountains. Take a guide or porters (Mulanje). Mulanje is the best mountain in the world for hikers and is suitable for climbers of all levels. The world’s top bouldereres and mountain bikers are under the impression that they have just discovered Mulanje…
Speaking with the owner of a well known guest house we agreed than many visitors from other countries want to a true and authentic experience of travel, the kind available to most people. A further point I would make is that those backpackers who are traveling the world or through Africa over a period of many months or even years, have the time that is necessary for all the waiting and changing of minibuses.
There are large modern luxury coaches operating between Blantyre and Lilongwe. Large buses going between other times are less luxurious and I understand that the timetable between Lilongwe and Monkey Bay involves some very early morning or unsociable hours.
The convention on minibuses is for the driver to wait until the bus is full. This means that trips to anywhere other than main towns may involve significant and not entirely predictable waits when changing minibus.
I have written more about public transport on this blog post here.
International Car Rental – Online Bookings
Months before arrival a visitor to Malawi told me the car rental price he had been quoted over the internet. I was surprised at how good a deal it was. Given my knowledge of costs in Malawi I realised that there was no other option I could advise for him that would be comparable in value. I checked the information myself on the internet and sure enough – great deals seemed to be on offer. I decided to find out more.
When you book online please be aware of the different additional parts of the overall cost. Some costs you can find out about when you get to Malawi. There were three different types of insurance to purchase upon arrival. Two of these were compulsory and the third one PAI (personal accident insurance was optional). One should also be aware of mileage charges, VAT and the Tourism Tax. There may be an option for a driver plus his subsistence costs and the taxes for those.
Car Rental Arrangement upon Arrival
This option is available but of course the choice of vehicle will depend upon what is available at the airport at the time. The market is not large enough to be sure that a wide availability will be on offer. Take into consideration the time required to arrange things upon arrival.
Car Plus Driver
This possibility should be available for most car options (see rental above and transfers and other options below). An advantage of course is local knowledge of driving. However, if your destination is outside of the centre of main cities or towns or the largest resorts then you should prepare in advance with your own directions and maps.
This is an option that is popular with visitors at the high end of the market. It should be understood that many safari companies have their own specialist areas of knowledge e.g. their lodge and other lodges at the top-end of the market. A lot of these are fantastic places and great additions to the tourist scene in Malawi.
We offer a search and quotation service for this. Otherwise local contacts are important. Safari companies can also assist in this area.
Point to Point Transfers
We also offer a service where we find point to point transfers for you between airports and lodges in Malawi. Others can provide a similar service. Be aware of variations in prices.
Taxis may be a good option for getting around a town or city or between an airport and a city. Beyond that much is open to negotiation and becomes similar to the Transfers option.
Friends and Informal including Local Contacts
This is something that locally based people choose or can assist with. Be sure that you are content with the arrangements and compliance with your expectations. Many visitors rely on existing local contacts to assist them in this area. You may want to check that you are seeing different competitive options and alternatives.
That is it for now. When I embarked upon this article my thought was to use it as a start point and to go into more depth on each subject in later posts. If otherwise this post serves as the starting point for discussions with anyone reading this, then all the better.
* Travelling or traveling - check the link
Wiki Travel on Getting Around Malawi