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Malawi

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Crossroads Hotel Lilongwe
Crossroads Hotel Lilongwe - dream vacation

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Latitude 13
Latitude 13 - dream vacation

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Malawi (; Chewa: [malá?i] or [maláwi]), officially the Republic of Malawi, is a landlocked country in southeastern Africa that was formerly known as Nyasaland. It is bordered by Zambia to the west, Tanzania to the north and northeast, and Mozambique to the east, south and southwest. Malawi spans over 118,484 km2 (45,747 sq mi) and has an estimated population of 19,431,566 (as of January 2021). Lake Malawi, also known as Lake Nyasa, takes up about a third of Malawi's area. Malawi's capital (and largest city) is Lilongwe. Its second-largest is Blantyre, its third-largest is Mzuzu and its fourth-largest is its former capital, Zomba. The name Malawi comes from the Maravi, an old name for the Chewa people who inhabit the area. The country is nicknamed "The Warm Heart of Africa" because of the friendliness of its people.

The part of Africa now known as Malawi was settled around the 10th century by migrating Bantu groups. Centuries later, in 1891, the area was colonised by the British and became a protectorate of the United Kingdom known as Nyasaland. In 1953, it became a protectorate within the semi-independent Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. The Federation was dissolved in 1963. In 1964, the protectorate was ended: Nyasaland became an independent country under Queen Elizabeth II, and was renamed Malawi. Two years later it became a republic. It gained full independence from the United Kingdom, and by 1970 had became a totalitarian one-party state under the presidency of Hastings Banda, who remained in this role until 1994. Today, Malawi has a democratic, multi-party republic headed by an elected president. Lazarus Chakwera of the Malawi Congress Party led the Tonse Alliance grouping of nine political parties and won the court mandated Presidential Election rerun held on 23 June 2020 after the May 2019 Presidential Election was annulled due to massive electoral irregularities. The country's military, the Malawian Defence Force, includes an army, a navy, and an air wing. Malawi's foreign policy is pro-Western. It maintains positive diplomatic relations with most countries, and participates in several international organisations, including the United Nations, the Commonwealth of Nations, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and the African Union (AU).

Malawi is among the world's least-developed countries. The economy is heavily based on agriculture, and it has a largely rural and rapidly growing population. The Malawian government depends heavily on outside aid to meet its development needs, although the amount needed (and the aid offered) has decreased since 2000. The Malawian government faces challenges in its efforts to build and expand the economy, improve education, healthcare, and environmental protection, and become financially independent despite widespread unemployment. Since 2005, Malawi has developed several programs that focus on addressing these issues, and the country's outlook appears to be improving: Key indicators of progress in the economy, education, and healthcare were seen seen in 2007 and 2008.

Malawi has a low life expectancy and high infant mortality. HIV/AIDS is highly prevalent, which both reduces the labour force and requires increased government expenditures. The country has a diverse population that includes native peoples, Asians, and Europeans. Several languages are spoken, and there is an array of religious beliefs. Although in the past there was periodic regional conflict fueled in part by ethnic divisions, by 2008 this internal conflict had considerably diminished, and the idea of identifying with one's Malawian nationality had reemerged.

Exercise a high degree of caution

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

Violent robberies and petty crime, such as pickpocketing, mugging and bag-snatching, occur. Tourists are particularly targeted on Kenyatta Drive, walking between the Old Town and the Capital City, at the main bus station in both Lilongwe and Blantyre as well as at the main ports for the Ilala ferry. Avoid walking alone at night. Con artists are active in major cities and tourist destinations such as Blantyre, Cape Maclear, Nkhata Bay, Senga Bay, Mzuzu and Zomba.

Do not show signs of affluence. Muggings have resulted in the loss of travel and identification documents. Carry copies of your passport identification page and other travel documents and place the originals in safekeeping facilities.

Residential break-ins and carjackings are prevalent throughout the country. Organized robberies and attacks by gangsters occur and may target foreigners. Carjackings often occur when a vehicle is stopped, for example, when waiting to enter at a compound vehicle gate, at intersections, or in traffic.

In Malawi's capital, Lilongwe, as well as in BlantyreZomba and Mzuzu, there are reports of a gang of men attacking women wearing pants, leggings and short skirts. The women are stripped and robbed. Women travellers in these areas should avoid wearing close fitting clothing and be aware of their surroundings at all times.

Contact the Mountain Club of Malawi for security advice before climbing Mount Mulanje.

Demonstrations

Political demonstrations and strike activity occur and can turn violent, especially in the capital Lilongwe. Exercise a high degree of caution, avoid demonstrations and large gatherings, monitor local media and follow the advice of local authorities.

Road travel

Traffic drives on the left. The traffic-related death rate is high. Poor road conditions, poorly maintained vehicles, and inadequate street lighting make driving dangerous. Potholes, pedestrians, animals, abandoned vehicles, and vehicles travelling at night without lights also pose risks. Avoid driving outside cities after dark. Emergency roadside assistance is very limited.

Armed carjackings, particularly of four-wheel-drive vehicles, have occurred. You should not resist if threatened by carjackers. Always wear seat belts. Keep windows closed and doors locked and never leave your personal belongings in a vehicle.

Hitchhiking or taking matola (informal lifts in the back of open vehicles) is considered dangerous.

Public transportation

Public transport is limited in rural areas. There are regular flights and bus services between BlantyreZombaLilongwe and Mzuzu. Travel by minibus between cities is not recommended, as they are overcrowded and poorly maintained.

Consult our Transportation FAQ in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General safety information

Exercise great caution, especially on buses, at bus stops, and while hiking, or when approached by persons who wish to befriend you, help you, or become your tour guide. Do not accept food or drink from strangers as it could be drugged. Do not leave your luggage unattended.

Tourist facilities are limited outside of major centres.

Hikers on Mount Mulanje are advised to employ a locally registered tour guide.

Reserves and safaris

There are inherent risks associated with viewing wildlife (both marine and on land), particularly on foot or at close range. Always maintain a safe distance when observing wildlife and avoid leaving the vehicle unless it is deemed safe to do so by professional guides and wardens. Use only reputable and professional guides or tour operators, and closely follow park regulations and wardens’ advice.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in East Africa, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in East Africa. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Cholera

There have been cases of cholera reported in this country in the last year. Cholera is a bacterial disease that typically causes diarrhea. In severe cases it can lead to dehydration and even death.

Most travellers are generally at low risk. Humanitarian workers and those visiting areas with limited access to safe food and water are at higher risk. Practise safe food and water precautions. Travellers at high risk should get vaccinated.

Schistosomiasis

Schistosomiasis is caused by blood flukes (tiny worms) spread to humans through contaminated water. The eggs of the worms can cause stomach illnesses like diarrhea and cramps or urinary problems. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Avoid swimming in contaminated water. There is no vaccine available for schistosomiasis.

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in East Africa, certain insects carry and spread diseases like African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), chikungunya, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, dengue fever, leishmaniasis, lymphatic filariasis, malaria, onchocerciasis (river blindness), Rift Valley feverWest Nile virus and yellow fever.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

African trypanosomiasis

African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) is caused by a parasite spread through the bite of a tsetse fly. Tsetse fly bites are painful and if the disease is left untreated it is eventually fatal. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Protect yourself from bites especially in game parks and rural areas during the day. Avoid wearing bright or dark-coloured clothing as these colours attract tsetse flies. There is no vaccine available for this disease.

Onchoceriasis

Onchocerciasis (river blindness) is an eye and skin disease caused by a parasite spread through the bite of an infected female blackfly.  Onchocerciasis often leads to blindness if left untreated. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Protect yourself from blackfly bites, which are most common during the daytime and close to running water. There is no vaccine available for onchocerciasis although drug treatments exist.


Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria throughout the year in the whole country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bednet or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss the benefits of taking antimalarial medication and to determine which one to take.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, and bats. Certain infections found in some areas in East Africa, like avian influenza and rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practise proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.

HIV

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks and impairs the immune system, resulting in a chronic, progressive illness known as AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). 

Practise safe sex while travelling, and don’t share needles, razors, or other objects which could transmit infection.

Remember that HIV can also be spread through the use of unsterile medical equipment during medical and dental procedures, tattooing, body piercing or acupuncture. Diseases can also be spread though blood transfusions and organ transplantation if the blood or organs are not screened for HIV or other blood-borne pathogens.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs.

For most travellers the risk of tuberculosis is low.

Travellers who may be at high risk while travelling in regions with risk of tuberculosis should discuss pre- and post-travel options with a health care provider.

High-risk travellers include those visiting or working in prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, or hospitals, or travellers visiting friends and relatives.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical facilities are below Western standards. Medical evacuations to South Africa are required for serious conditions. Cash payment is expected and may be required before any service is provided.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

It is illegal to purchase uncut precious stones and they may not be exported.

It is prohibited to import ivory, drugs and pornographic material. A licence is required to import firearms and munitions for the purpose of hunting. Contact the High Commission of the Republic of Malawi for specific information regarding customs requirements.

It is illegal to talk on a mobile phone while driving.

Homosexual activity is illegal.

Photography of government buildings, airports, bridges, churches or synagogues, and military installations is prohibited. It may be culturally offensive to photograph people, and it is recommended that their permission be obtained first.

Penalties for drunk driving and speeding are severe in Malawi.

An International Driving Permit is recommended.

Culture

As in many African countries, Malawian culture is generally conservative and respectful of elders. Common sense and discretion should be exercised in dress and behaviour. Respect religious beliefs and social conventions to avoid offending local sensitivities.

Money

The local currency is the Malawi kwacha (MWK). Credit cards are not widely accepted outside major hotels. Foreign currency can be exchanged at the airport, banks and exchange houses. There are very few automated banking machines, even in tourist locations, and they may not accept international cards.

Climate

Malawi is located in a seismic zone. Although infrequent, earthquakes do occasionally occur. The most recent earthquake occurred on January 12, 2010, and measured 4.9 on the Richter scale. An earthquake may cause landslides in affected areas. Strong aftershocks are possible up to one week after the initial quake.

The rainy season extends from November to April. Secondary roads may be impassable to all but four-wheel-drive vehicles during this period. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly. If intending to visit flood-affected areas, ensure that you have sufficient quantities of potable water in reserve.

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