Kamran AbbasovKamran Abbasov 04 SEPTEMBER 2020 47 views 6 min. read

10 things I wish I knew before going to Malawi

47 views 6 min. read
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With the slogan of “the warm heart of Africa,” Malawi country is a beautiful place to pay a visit. Where is Malawi? It is located in southeastern Africa. The country borders Mozambique on the east, south, and southwest, Tanzania on the north and northeast, Zambia on the east. It is a landlocked country. Despite being landlocked, people can still enjoy a beautiful beach experience, thanks to Lake Malawi. What is the capital of Malawi? Lilongwe is the capital and the most populated city, with about one million inhabitants of Malawi. Its population is more than 18 million. Yet, only one million people are living in the capital. It is because the country’s urbanization level is one of the lowest, with around 4%, among other nations. Malawi’s population is multilingual. English is one of the official languages, even though about half of the population is not able to speak in English. Other languages include Chewa, Elomwe, Tonga, and Sena. Is it safe to travel to Malawi? Generally, yes. But you should still be aware of potential dangers and take preemptive measures. Below, I will highlight 10 things that you should know before you travel to Malawi.

1. Enjoy the lake!

Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi is the jewel of the country’s tourist attractions. It is like an inland sea for Malawians. The lake is surrounded by amazing golden beaches allowing visitors to enjoy swimming in this crystal-clear water. It has been named “Lake of Stars” in the 19th century by the explorer, Dr. David Livingstone. With the maximum depth of 700 meters, Lake Malawi is home to a variety of fish, hippopotamus, and African fish eagles. There are also deadly crocodiles, so it is not recommended to swim in non-designated areas.  

2. Possible earthquakes

earthquake

If you have never experienced an earthquake in your life, then be ready because you may experience one in Malawi. So, in terms of seismic activities, where is Malawi? It is located in the active seismic belt of the East African Rift System. The hazard level of the tectonic and seismic zones in Malawi is moderate. Historically, many medium-level (magnitude of ≤ 6.0) earthquakes happened. Earthquakes had not caused death until 1989 when the Salima Earthquake claimed some lives and damaged properties. This year the largest earthquake happened in Nsanje with a magnitude of 4.4, fortunately without any death. So, if you are visiting Malawi, you should know about instructions on how to behave and stay safe during the occurrence of an earthquake.

3. Beware of crime and fraud!

legal and illegal

Is it safe to travel to Malawi? It is, in general, safe to travel to Malawi. However, you should still beware of possible violent robberies and petty crimes, such as purse snatching or pickpocketing. Tourists can be a target of criminal activities in certain areas, including Kenyatta Drive, the bus stations in Lilongwe and Blantyre, and the ports for boarding a ferry. The Mount Mulanje, the beautiful tourist attraction, is also a place where robberies and violent attacks on visitors have happened. It is recommended that you consult with the Mountain Club of Malawi regarding security issues. You may also consider climbing the mountain in a group with an experienced local guide. Carjacking is still happening when you stop at intersections or waiting, so you should avoid unnecessarily stopping your car at night. Beware of residential break-ins and be super-cautious regarding renting a house in a very safe neighborhood. Do not leave your bags unattended and avoid boasting your valuables in a public place. Criminals and con artists may try to befriend you, help, and guide you. So, you should always trust reputable local guides.   

4. Be sure to be vaccinated

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One of the most important pieces of advice is that you should make sure that you are vaccinated before you travel to Malawi. Like for most African countries, you should have all the common vaccines, including Polio, Measles, Hepatitis, etc., for your visit to Malawi. So, you should call your doctor and consult regarding these vaccinations. Being blessed with freshwater resources, the country’s area is home to the most hated bugs on the earth, mosquitos. With the high rate of presence, these little flying bugs cause mosquito-borne diseases, which are characterized by headaches and fever. If a malaria-carrying mosquito bites you, the symptoms can be felt within a maximum of two weeks. This disease is too dangerous to be left untreated. You should definitely go to your doctor if you start feeling the symptoms after your visit to Malawi. Also, prophylactic therapies against malaria exist, and you should go for such therapies before going to Malawi

5. Beware of culture and laws!

Malawi people

People in Malawi country are mostly conservative and religious. Every young Malawian must respect the elderly and try to do things as their elderly ask them to do. You, as a foreigner, must respect their religious beliefs and conventions to avoid any possible problem with the local people. Moreover, taking pictures of government buildings, churches, airports, and military installations is prohibited. People may also find it culturally offensive if you photograph them without a polite request for permission. Regarding laws, driving is on the left, so if you are unfamiliar with this type of car setup, try to avoid driving. Malawian currency is the Malawi kwacha (MWK). The economy is mostly cash-based, so avoid over-relying on card payments; instead, try carrying cash for almost everything.

6. Poor road safety

Malawi

As mentioned earlier, driving in Malawi is on the left. If you are not comfortable with driving on the left, it can be dangerous for you to drive. The rate of traffic-related death in the country is very high. Driving at night can be very dangerous due to poorly-maintained vehicles, inadequate lighting, and a lack of traffic lights outside the major cities. Emergency roadside assistance service is limited, which makes driving alone at night even more dangerous. Taking hitchhikers can be very dangerous. Carjackers are usually armed, so you should not resist if they threaten you. Avoid keeping your personal belongings, bags, documents (most importantly your passport), and valuables in the car, since it may draw the attention of thieves resulting in a break-in to your car. In general, potholes, lack of lighting, unexpected road crossing by pedestrians or animals, vehicles driven without lights make it riskier to drive at night.   

7. Women and LGBTQ travelers safety

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Is it safe to travel to Malawi for women and LGBTQ people? Solo female travelers should be careful when visiting Malawi. In terms of culture and modernity, what is the capital of Malawi? It is Lilongwe. Yet, there were instances of women being attacked for wearing short skirts or leggings in Lilongwe. Women can be stripped or robbed if they wear something too provocative or luxury. It is recommended that solo women travelers wear a bit conservatively and avoid putting on expensive accessories. Sexual acts between same-sex people are illegal and socially unacceptable in Malawi. Homosexuals have been a target of verbal abuse and harassment. 

8. List of things to take

hiking in Malawi

First of all, take comfy clothes and shoes, since you will most likely hike to discover the beauties of this country. Also, don’t forget to take your swimming suit, shorts, or bikini, as well as a hat and sunglasses to enjoy the golden beach and the lake. Bring a converter and stabilizer for your electronic devices. You may bring mosquito repellent or buy one in Malawi. You may bring a camera to take amazing shots in nature while hiking and climbing Mount Mulanje. If you like to donate, you may bring your extra stuff to give them away. After all, Malawi is home to many poor people.

9. Medical services

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The only moderate level of medical services and facilities can be found in the capital city, Lilongwe. Outside the capital city, medical and emergency services are poor. It is highly recommended to get medical insurance. Animals and insects in the country can be a source of diseases like malaria or rabies. That is why be very careful. Some serious diseases or injuries may require evacuation, which requires up-front cash payments. So, make sure that you have travel insurance covering everything, including your hospital stays and evacuation.

10. Shopping

Shopping in Malawi

When browsing local stores and markets, you may be overcharged by some local sellers. Some of them even don’t hesitate to insist that you try and buy their products. You should know how to say a polite “no.” Also, if you are with a local guide, this may save you from overpaying in the markets. 

Quick recap

Being called “the warm heart of Africa,” Malawi is worthy of traveling and exploring. Being located in southeastern Africa, Malawi is mostly a rural and poor country. In this article, I have tried to touch upon themes like the languages of Malawi country and Lake Malawi. I tried to answer some questions: Where is Malawi? Is it safe to travel to Malawi? What is the capital of Malawi? 10 things I have highlighted that one should know before traveling to Malawi are the following: getting ready to enjoy the lake, possible earthquakes, being aware of possible crimes and fraud, getting vaccinated before visiting, knowing local culture and laws, poor road safety, risky for solo women and LGBTQ travelers, some important things take, poor medical facilities, and saying polite no when shopping.

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Kamran was born in Ganja, one of the ancient cities of Azerbaijan. Since his childhood, he has had a special interest in photography and traveling. As a recent graduate majoring in International Relations, Kamran has a relish to learn more about worldwide culture, art, and history of other nations. He also has more than one and a half year of experience in hospitality and tourism industry in Azerbaijan. He is a participant of the Summer Work & Travel program sponsored by the U.S. government. Kamran currently studies Master of Sustainability at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.

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