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Malawi offers a diverse array of attractions which are easily accessible by car, from its wildlife, varying landscapes, lakes and rivers to its rich culture. Visitors can drive along Lake Malawi, which extends for more than 300 miles along Malawi’s eastern border. Dotted along its shores are villages and small towns where visitors can interact with Malawi’s greatest asset: the Malawian people. It’s the friendliness of the people from which Malawi’s other name, ‘the warm heart of Africa’, is derived.
Driving in Malawi can be hazardous if not done with care. It is suggested that travellers avoid driving at night as there are a range of potential hazards, such as potholes, animals, pedestrian traffic and even automobiles without headlights. Fuel shortages are common and can cause lengthy queues at petrol pumps.
Driving licences: UK drivers are permitted to drive here with a valid UK driver’s licence for up to 90 days. Persons possessing an International Driving Licence are able to drive here for up to a year.
Which side does Malawi drive on: the left.
Urban areas: 35mph (60kph)
Outside urban areas: 60mph (100kph)
Alcohol limits: the same as in the UK—0.08 per cent. Malawian police are known for administering breathalyser tests and offenders risk having their vehicles confiscated on the spot.
Driving age: 25 years to hire a car. Sometimes two years of driving experience is required.
Seatbelts: required to be worn by the driver by law but it is advised that all passengers wear a seatbelt at all times and that children are properly restrained in the back seat.
Mobile phones and GPS: it is illegal to talk on a mobile phone while driving. GPS may be helpful, especially when travelling along the most frequently used roads.
Cost of fuel in Malawi: slightly cheaper than in the UK.
Car hire and fuel payment: credit cards are not widely accepted in Malawi. Using cash is the preferred method of payment for petrol, but major car hire depots accept credit cards.
Insurance: third-party insurance is generally included in the price of car hire but collision damage waiver should be considered as an add-on.
Traffic and parking: most hotels offer secure parking. When parking, be sure not to leave any valuables in your car as car break-ins are common, especially in cities such as Lilongwe and Blantyre. Traffic congestion is not usually an issue, but livestock on the roads can cause delays.
Though there is rail service connecting major cities in Malawi, trains are seldom used by tourists as they tend to be slow and crowded. There are trains from Mozambique to Blantyre, but large stretches of track may be out of commission and will therefore need to be covered by truck.
Taxis are available in any of the cities in Malawi. Some are licensed while others are not. Visitors have to negotiate the cost of the ride and drivers are notorious for charging tourists two to three times the normal rate. Visitors can enquire at their hotel as to what the cost to their destination should be, which can be a helpful guideline in the negotiating process.
It is possible to take a bus from southern Malawi (Blantyre) to northern Malawi (Mzuzu or Karonga) for around £8. There are also buses from Mozambique and Tanzania into Malawi. It is advised to take a ‘luxury’ bus as some of the lower class buses can be in poor condition.
A relaxing way to explore Lake Malawi is to take a ferry that travels the length of the lake. Fares between Monkey Bay and Chilumba range from about £6 for economy class to around £56 for a cabin. This particular route takes approximately two days to cover and represents the longest stretch. There are stops along the way at Likoma Island and Nkhata Bay.
The main airport in Malawi, Kamuzu International Airport, is situated 15 miles (25kms) from Lilongwe, with bus and taxi connections available. Most flights originating from the UK fly into Johannesburg, South Africa, from where there are connections to Lilongwe. UK nationals are not required to purchase a visa as long as their stay is for less than 30 days.
There are many diverse places to visit in Malawi. Southern Malawi is characterised by its highlands, such as the Zomba Plateau and Mulanje Massif; the former is accessible by car. Mount Mulanje is the highest peak south of Kilimanjaro.
The east of Malawi is dominated by one of its main attractions, Lake Malawi, which runs along most of the country’s eastern border and is the third largest lake in Africa. From Monkey Bay, visitors can access Cape Maclear, with its sandy beaches and clear water which is ideal for swimming.
In the north of Malawi is the rocky Nkhata Bay with its quaint lodges. Further north is Nyika National Park, the largest national park in Malawi. Still further north, at the ‘top’ of Malawi, is the charming town of Karonga. This town near Lake Malawi is an excellent place to mingle with the Malawi people who are renowned for their friendliness.
Central Malawi is the home of the capital city of Lilongwe. Here, you will find the Lilonge Wildlife Centre and all the amenities of a modern city. North of Lilongwe is Ntchisi Forest Reserve with its breathtaking rainforest.
Malawi enjoys a sub-tropical climate of warm, wet weather from November until April, when 95 per cent of the annual rainfall takes place. Cool, dry winters usually last from May until August. During this time, temperatures typically range from 17°C to 27°C, with temperature lows of between 4°C and 10°C possible. There is a hot, dry season in September and October with average temperatures of between 25°C and 37°C.