My Favorite 14 Things to do Malawi – Blantyre, Lilongwe & Lake Malawi

Posted on January 31, 2017 by in Things to Do (City Guides), TOP Travel Destinations

IMG_9940

My Favorite 14 Things to do Malawi – Understand

Malawi can be best described as a gigantic organic farm where time has stood still for the last 200 years. Malawians are superbly talented farmers who have had no trouble foregoing a material life for a life living inside the huge farms that this country runs. The soil is fertile and the weather is perfect for year-round harvesting and the population is small enough to sustain the current population.

Malawi somewhat unofficially invented the marketing slogan as being the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’. Malawi is the world’s poorest country, but there is little extreme poverty like you see in India or Nigeria. There are precious few natural resources in this country but it will win you over with its warm smiles and curious people.

IMG_9918

IMG_9864

IMG_9916

IMG_9886

Sometimes all that interest can be just too much, though; it’s hard to walk around or get out of a car without the whole neighborhood descending on you (mostly with good intentions, I was led to believe).

Malawi is ‘landlocked’ and surrounded by Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. There seems to be an endless amount of rolling hills and jungly cliffs when you drive through the country.

Malawi has a surprisingly good basic infrastructure of many well-maintained one-lane roads and good electricity (though internet plays almost no role in the agricultural economy).

IMG_9885

Hotels, transport and restaurants are very expensive in this country, as you will be the only one using them. Locals never tend to leave the country, use only bicycles or minibuses for transport and never eat out.

My Favorite 14 Things to do Malawi – Get Around

Roads are in good shape in most of Malawi, though a 4WD is a good idea for the rather badly-maintained dirt roads. It’s feasible to rent and drive a car yourself even as a foreigner, though it’s expensive and accidents can easily go against you. We hired drivers in Blantyre and tuk-tuks in Lilongwe (who usually charge two or three times what you’d expect even after 30-60 minutes of long negotiation).

IMG_9875

IMG_9914

IMG_9877

My Favorite 14 Things to do Malawi – Safety

Malawians have a track record of being only non-violent offenders and crime tends to be opportunistic. The streets of Malawi are safe for foreigners and locals alike during the day. However, at night the cities empty out and it’s not advisable to go anywhere on foot. Driving is still OK and there are precious few people looking for marks in the cities. Nevertheless, muggings are common, though carjackings are rare.

IMG_9889

IMG_9945

IMG_9944

My Favorite 14 Things to do Malawi – Blantyre

Blantyre in southern Malawi is a rather picturesque city that’s surrounded by green hills. Blantyre has a good amount of history from colonial times when Malawi was home to the British Protectorate of Nyasaland. Blantyre has a rather small downtown area and stretches out into the suburbs from there. Most neighborhoods I saw can be described as suburban and leafy – you have to look hard to find a shanty town (if there are any).

IMG_8914

IMG_9892

IMG_9867

IMG_8946

Downtown Market

Right downtown in Blantyre is a big outdoor market that sells everything under the sun.

IMG_8875

IMG_9872

IMG_9878

IMG_9895

IMG_9879

It’s a good idea to get a guide or be extra cautious; I found walking around difficult, as there was way too much attention and people yelling at us. We had a tail who followed us for most of the day after that episode. It’s safer than the Mercato in Addis but not by much. Come prepared and you will be OK, but be super-vigilant.

My Favorite 14 Things to do Malawi – Blantyre – Eat & Drink

Veg-Delight

Veg-Delight specializes in good vegetarian curries for the local Indian and Pakistani community (which is rather big). The curries weren’t fresh but still tasted no older than a week. The spices and chili were pretty good and it’s moderately priced.

IMG_9865

IMG_9866

Hostaria

Hostaria does excellent Italian food in a lovely location with a large patio. We loved the pizzas and the appetizers. Once we explained how a Greek salad should be done that was great too (as the local version involves lots of lettuce drowned in mayonnaise). The staff are friendly and prices are moderate.

IMG_8876

IMG_8877

IMG_8872

IMG_8873

Bombay Palace

Bombay Palace is said to have the best fine-dining Indian food in Blantyre. It’s right outside the Protea Hotel Blantyre Ryalls. I did not have a chance to eat there, but it gets great reviews from the locals.

Things to do Malawi Things to do Malawi

La Caverna

La Caverna is another place in town for some good Italian food.

My Favorite 14 Things to do Malawi – Blantyre – Where to Stay

Protea Hotel Blantyre Ryalls

The Protea Hotel Blantyre Ryalls has tons of history and many public areas to enjoy even if you don’t stay at the hotel. The food is not great in any of the restaurants despite much local praise, though.

IMG_9861

IMG_9849

IMG_9858

My Favorite 14 Things to do Malawi – Outside Blantyre

Conforzi Plantation

The Conforzi Plantation is one of the largest farms in Malawi; it grows tea and macadamia nuts and breeds chickens. The estate is mind-blowing; you will drive by (on a good road) for 20 minutes and you are still on the same farm. There is no easy visitor process and we just talked our way in to see trees and some processing facilities. We could not believe there were no macadamia nuts from the season just a few months ago; we could not buy any!

IMG_9926

IMG_9932

IMG_9933

IMG_9938

IMG_9934

IMG_9942

IMG_9925

Game Haven Lodge

This is an animal preservation area with a lodge set on top of a green hill, allowing fantastic views from the patio. It’s one of the best ways to spend a beautiful day – just watching the clouds move by and taking it slow. Malawi makes it possible to connect with nature because, well, there isn’t anything else going on in the country really.

IMG_8885

IMG_8886

IMG_8892

IMG_8897

IMG_8912

IMG_8895

IMG_8919

The food is acceptable at the lodge too.

IMG_8754

IMG_8916

Satemwa Tea & Coffee Estate

Satemwa is another huge farm right opposite from the Conforzi gate. No visits are allowed unless you make prior appointment with the American owners.

IMG_9902

IMG_9903

IMG_9904

IMG_9906

IMG_9917

IMG_9922

IMG_9923

My Favorite 14 Things to do Malawi – Lilongwe

Lilongwe is the LA of Malawi, with big plots of land mixed up rather randomly for farming and urban use. There is no urban center but instead lots of micro centers.

Kamuzu Mausoleum

The statue on top of the former president’s mausoleum is a great photo – click it and move on.

IMG_9977

IMG_9972

Four Seasons

The Four Seasons was likely my favorite place in all of Malawi. It’s a beautiful garden oasis in Lilongwe, which brings out the best things about Malawi (everyone here seems to have a green thumb) and it’s a place where you can buy plants and trees.

IMG_9969

IMG_9962

IMG_9966

IMG_9965

Besides the many plant shops, it also sells artsy wares and has a coffee shop that made me instantly forget about two weeks of mediocre food in southern Africa. We tried the hummus, the teas and several sweets, which were all excellent. Organic ingredients are used in a gentle way to extract the best natural favors. What a discovery. If you only have time for one thing in Lilongwe, go here.

IMG_9967

IMG_9968

IMG_9960

Bingu International Conference Center

The Bingu International Conference Center is a spaceship from China or Kazakhstan that landed in Lilongwe. It quite literally seems tied to the Chinese investors who simply must have used an existing design and dropped it here. The building looks beautiful but is already leaking through the roof structure.

IMG_8935

IMG_9952

IMG_8942

IMG_9956

IMG_8938

My Favorite 14 Things to do Malawi – Lilongwe – Eat & Drink

Bombay Palace

Unlike its Blantyre namesake, this is an affair to forget; don’t go here.

IMG_8934

Things to do Malawi

Latitude 13

This is likely Lilongwe’s best restaurant and hotel deal. It’s a brand new hotel that looks great (at least on the pictures) and also has good food. It’s also rather cheap at under $100.

Things to do Malawi Things to do Malawi

My Favorite 14 Things to do Malawi – Lilongwe – Where to Stay

Kiboko Hotel

Kiboko Hotel is a ‘downtown’ Lilongwe institution with several restaurants and lots of outdoor space. It’s a good area for coffee or a drink, but unfortunately it is a terrible hotel (which still charged me $70). The tiny rooms feel more like dripping caves. The good news is that the staff are friendly and knowledgeable and all the laundry was done in just a few hours perfectly for very little money.

IMG_8932

Things to do Malawi

My Favorite 14 Things to do Malawi – Lake Malawi

Due to the distances involved and the plans I made before arrival I wasn’t able to go to Lake Malawi. It gets a lot of great reviews and stretches all the way north towards Tanzania. The best way to travel the lake is by a houseboat safari for a few days. However, there are plenty of islands in the lake that also call for a short visit.

Things to do Malawi

Things to do Malawi
Things to do Malawi

Keep in mind that there are often just basic services provided in the villages and towns. The lake is home to ferocious crocodiles and worms that can penetrate your skin when swimming. The lake region also has more mosquitoes and many of them carry malaria in Malawi. Take Proguanil (about $50 a pack at Walmart Pharmacy) or spray all your body parts with a DEET bug spray BEFORE you go out (and every few hours again).

4 / 5 stars