Why photographers should visit Malawi
Malawi is perhaps best known for its impressive lake, which covers 20% of the country. Lake Malawi is a huge body of water featuring white sand beaches, turquoise waters and a tropical vibe. Water activities like kayaking, snorkelling, sailing and diving are a real treat, and of course, just lounging on the beach can be a great way to relax after a safari. Malawi’s history is also a point of interest. Dr David Livingstone, famous Victorian missionary and explorer, arrived in Malawi in the late 1850s where he fought against the slave trade. Malawi is a relatively densely populated country, so the national parks are quite small, but Nyika and Liwonde offer something special, and the birding in Malawi is fantastic. Malawi’s people are very friendly; they have earned the country the nickname “warm heart of Africa”.
Situated in the Great Rift Valley, Lake Malawi is 560 kilometres long and 75 kilometres wide. It is often called the Lake of Stars for the twinkling reflections upon its shimmering surface. Here baobab trees loom above white beaches and blue waters. Lake Malawi’s tropical, crystal-clear, turquoise waters are home to an incredible diversity of cichlid fish, of which there are more than 1000 endemic species. The lake offers some of the best fresh water snorkelling and diving on earth. Lake Malawi National Park was the first fresh-water marine reserve in the world in recognition of the unique fish diversity in the lake. It is also known for its outstanding diversity of cichlid fishes of which there are more than 1000 endemic species.
Likoma Island is 7 kilometres from Mozambique on the eastern side of the lake. It covers just 17 square kilometres and has a population of mostly fishermen. In Likoma Town, you’ll find St Peter’s Cathedral. It was built in 1903, and is the same copy and design as Winchester Cathedral. Perhaps the best snorkelling and diving in Malawi can be found along the islands sandy beaches and hidden coves.
Nyika National Park covers 3,000 square kilometres of the stunning Nyika Plateau, which features rolling high grasslands and rocky outcrops. The area is recognized for its endemic plantlife and prolific wild flowers that include 200 species of orchids. Special species include some of the smaller things such as frogs, chameleons, birds, and butterflies. Zebra, eland, roan and reedbuck graze in the montane grasslands while leopard, serval and spotted hyena can also be seen.
Because Malawi is a densely populated country, its national parks aren’t huge. Liwonde covers 580 square kilometres. Still Liwonde offers a beautiful setting for a few days of game viewing. The bird life is stunning along the verdant Shire River on the western border, one of the park’s most picturesque features. Game drives and boating safaris are popular activities. Wildlife includes elephants, hippos, crcodiles, kudu, sable, bushbuck, leopards, hyena, and black rhino.
Malawi is a landlocked country bordered by Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. It forms the southern terminus of the Great Rift Valley. Lake Malawi covers 20% of the country.
Full name: Republic of Malawi
Population: 16.4 million (2013)
Geographic coordinates: 13 57 S, 33 42 E
Area: 118 484 sq. km / 45 747 sq. mi.
Time: +2 hours GMT
VISAS AND PASSPORTS
Visitors to Malawi must have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months beyond your intended departure date, together with onward travel documents, proof of accommodation and sufficient funds for the duration of your stay. Please also ensure that you have sufficient blank visa pages (not endorsement pages) in your passport, with at least 2 consecutive/side-by-side blank pages. Our recommendation is 3 pages (or even 4 if you are travelling through more than one country on your journey). Visitors from most countries can get a visa on arrival, while visitors from most counties in Southern and East Africa don’t need a visa. Please confirm with your local embassy whether there are any visa requirements or by contacting us.
BANKS AND FOREIGN EXCHANGE
The currency unit is the kwacha (MK internationally of K locally), with 100 tambala making up 1K (one kwacha). Foreign currency can be exchanged at local banks and Bureaux de Change. Visa and Mastercard are sometimes accepted but cash is often necessary. You can draw local currency through local ATMs in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu. The exchange rate is currently $1 : 700MK.
English is an official language as is widely understood. The most common indigenous language is Chichewa, but a number of others are also spoken. Road signs and official forms are in English and English will be spoken in tourism destinations.
Malawi is a democracy. People are extremely friendly. Crime is not prominent, but is a concern in certain areas. You should be careful when travelling not to be an obvious target. Keep a close eye on your possessions and lock your valuables away. Be careful not to venture into unknown urban areas, especially at night. If in any doubt ask your hotel, but use your common sense and you will be more than fine.
Malaria is a concern in Malawi. Please make sure that you consult your doctor in advance and take necessary precautions. Yellow fever vaccination is only required if entering from a yellow fever zone. Consult your nearest travel clinic for up to date information. It is also advisable to know your blood group in case of an emergency.
Malawi is a tropical country with temperatures moderated by altitude. Malawi’s dry seasons stretch form April to May and October to November and temperatures are generally pleasant, in the 20s Celsius but reaching the 30s. November to April is great for wild flowers and birding. Even during the rainy season, storms are usually brief. The most rain falls on the highlands, which can also be quite cold at night. Malawi is a great destination any time of year.
Please ensure that you have medical insurance cover while you are on safari. It is also recommended to have cancellation and curtailment insurance as Photos & Africa or agents cannot be held responsible for unforseen events such as delays in international flights or health issues. We ask that full insurance is put in place at point of confirmation. Please give us the details as above. We expect that every guest has insurance that covers the following as a minimum:
- Cancellation and curtailment
- Medical costs (including full hospital costs should it be needed)
- Personal accident or death
- Emergency evacuation from the point of evacuation to the nearest best hospital and then back to the guest’s hometown. Family or traveling partner should also be covered for accompanying an evacuation.
We cannot emphasize how important it is to be fully covered. Private hospitals in Africa will not accept a patient until full medical insurance has been established.
WHAT TO BRING
You should always travel with soft bags, not hard suitcases (not only for the smaller aircraft but also to fit into vehicles). Weight restrictions on internal flights is usually between 20 and 25 kg per person with one carry on bag that is usually limited to 7 kg per person. Photographers need not be overly concerned about these limits. The airlines do not allow valuable items to be checked into the hold and will allow cameras to be taken on board as long as the cumulative weight is adhered to. We recommend that you travel with anything essential (medication in particular, spare glasses, batteries) and, if possible, a change of clothes.
WHAT TO PACK
Please see our website for a full description of what to pack, photo gear suggestions, rental and also safari clothing. When packing, consider the following:
Always carry a hat, sunglasses, high-strength sunscreen, moisturizer, lip salve, strong insect repellent, anti-histamine cream and tablets. Bring binoculars, a torch (flashlight) and if you wear prescription glasses, bring a spare.
Clothes – all properties have a daily laundry service, so do not bring too many. Here is a good guide:
- For safari,
- 3 sets bush coloured safari outfits (long/shorts/shirts) i.e. green/brown/dark khaki (not white, cream or bright colours – especially for walking).
- 2 set casual evening clothes (long trousers & shirts and socks to reduce insect bites).
- 1 lightweight sweat Warm jacket in winter (June/July/early Aug).
- Light rain gear for the wet months (November – April). Lodges do provide ponchos.
- Open shoes or sandal type shoes for warmer day A pair of closed walking shoes – need not bring boots.
- In cities and some of the more upmarket camps, the dress code is generally very informal, but you may wish to bring along a non-safari shirt with a collar – even if it’s a golf shirt.
- A number of camps do have pools, so bring swimwear with you.
STAYING IN TOUCH
There is mobile and internet reception through Malawi and also at the camps that you will be visiting. It is likely to be slow internet compared to your home country. Also remember that browsing through local internet service providers is very expensive. We suggest you connect via wireless networks to avoid returning home to a big bill.
POWER AND ADAPTORS
Please note that the plug points are three-flat pins (220 volt). Most hotels and lodges have adaptors for the commonly used, round two-pin plugs.
Please let us know any food allergies or any other special dietary requirements well in advance so the camp /lodge can accommodate you.
We recommend the following books specific to the South African region:
- Scramble for Africa – Thomas Pakenham
- Creatures of Habit, African Animal Behaviour – Peter Apps
- Safari Companion – Richard D. Estes
- Behaviour Guide to African Mammals – Richard Estes
- Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals – Jonathan Kingdon
- Field Guide to the Larger Mammals of Africa – Chris & Tilde Stuart
- Birds of Africa South of the Sahara – Ian Sinclair & Peter Ryan
- The Birds of Malawi: An Atlas & Handbook –
Africa’s wild animals are unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Photographic safari activities and staying in any safari camp place visitors in close proximity to wild animals. It is therefore an inherent risk. Whilst every care is taken by personnel to minimise exposure to risk, our company and its suppliers bear no responsibility whatsoever for any loss, injury, illness, death, delays, cancellation of flights or change of itinerary and retain the right to alter, amend or cancel any part of a safari with just reason.