Malawi, the "Warm heart of Africa"
Malawi advertises itself as the “Warm Heart of Africa” and with good reason. However, I prefer the nickname “Africa Light” which refers to the safety of travelling in the country and the friendliness of its people (and is in direct contrast to the often-held belief that it is inherently dangerous to travel anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa). Malawi is a joy to travel – it is safe, beautiful, relatively small compared to its neighbours and is jam-packed full of warm, friendly people.
Accommodation: see Malawi Accommodation
Fisherman's Rest, Southern Blantyre
Cool Runnings, Senga Bay
ACT to Protect, Kasungu National Park
Getting there: International flights into Lilongwe with KLM and Lilongwe/Blantyre with Ethiopian Airways.
Currency: Roughly 550 Kwacha = 1 Euro
Budget: Malawi is very good value for money. Expect to pay 5 - 10 Euro per day for accommodation, 5 Euro for food (or 20 per week if self catering) and 6 Euro for a long distance bus ride.
Languages: There are many local languages, though Chichewa is the most commonly spoken throughout the country.
Visas: Tourist visa will suffice for now. You will need to renew this on a monthly basis.
Getting around – The main way to travel around Malawi is by bus and this can be rather painful. More often than not you will spend hours waiting for the bus to fill and when you finally leave you will stop every couple of km. For a long distance bus ride you will need a whole lot of patience and some water to keep you hydrated.
Economy: Malawi is one of the least developed countries in the world and is heavily reliant on foreign aid. Emphasis is being placed on education, though with few job opportunities, Malawi faces the further problem of “brain drain”, with its best and brightest moving abroad to find work. Many years of foreign aid pouring into the country have failed to raise Malawi out of poverty (and arguably have done more harm than good). It is a glaring example that aid is not working and this is something you are sure to come across during your time in the country. Perhaps in the years to come we will see the development new alternatives to aid for stimulating economic growth in Malawi.
Tourism: Even if you are not volunteering by the lake, you cannot possibly travel to Malawi and not visit its no. 1 feature, even if it is just for the weekend. Cape Maclear provides the classic “sea-side resort” option, but the lake has more to offer. If you are into diving, considering checking out Aquanuts at Kande Beach (often overlooked but, in my opinion, the finest stretch of beach on the Malawian side) or if you want a bit of off-the-beaten-track adventure, take the horrendous but worthwhile 11 hour boat journey from Nkhata Bay to Ruarwe and enjoy a nights sleep at Zulunkhuni lodge, in a cabin perched 10 metres above the water. And then jump off it in the morning.