Malawi Country Guide
Malawi is unbeatable when it comes to the hospitality of its people, and its reputation as ‘The Warm Heart of Africa' is remarkably accurate. Culturally, Malawians are extremely welcoming and respectful of their visitors, ensuring they portray their country in the best possible light and are always interested to stop and chat and hear your story. Malawian are incredibly proud of their country, heritage and culture being one of the few countries avoiding colonisation at the turn of the 20th century as well as surviving tribal warfare, conflict or civil unrest over the decades remaining one of the most peaceful, laid back countries on the continent.
Malawi is divided into 28 districts within the northern, central and southern regions and has a diverse landscape with wetlands, forests and mountains. Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa, takes up three quarters of Malawi's eastern boundary. Lilongwe is the capital of Malawi while Blantyre is the commercial centre and largest city.
This Malawi Country Guide gives some useful background information on the country. A great way to see the local tourist highlights of Malawi and experience the local culture is by taking a Malawi tour.
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Malawi Country Guide
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The international telephone dialling code for Malawi is 265. Telephone penetration is low and the telephone system rather unreliable, though accessibility is much better in urban areas. Mobile telephone coverage is quite good, particularly in major cities and towns, and service is expanding all the time. Roaming arrangements are in place with many international mobile service providers.
Internet cafes and services are available at most towns and tourist centres. Hotels tend to have internet connectivity and facilities.
Postal services are generally slow. Post offices working hours are 7.30 am to 12 pm and 1 pm to 5 pm Monday through Friday. International courier services like DHL operate in Malawi.
Currency and traveller's cheques can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change, and authorised hotels in major towns. The easiest currencies to exchange are the US dollar, British pound, Euro and South African rand. A 1% commission is usually charged for cashing traveller's cheques.
Credit and debit cards are not widely accepted expect in major cities of Lilongwe and Blantyre. ATMs are also hard to find outside of main cities.
Banking hours in Malawi are 8 am to 2 pm Monday through Friday.
Total Area: 118,484 sq km (45,747 sq miles).
Capital: Lilongwe. Population: 597,619 including suburbs (2003).
Time Zone: GMT + 2
Much of Malawi's land surface, particularly central region, is plateau with elevation ranging from 900 to 1200 m. The northern region, where you find the Nyika and Vwanza Plateaus, is more mountainous while the southern region is made up of mostly low lying areas including Shire Valley, though it also accounts for the majestic Mulanje Massif (elevation 3000 m) and the Zomba Plateau that rises more than 2000 m above sea level.
Malaria and other insect-borne diseases like plague, filariasis, chikungunya fever and African sleeping sickness are common in Malawi. Outbreaks of infectious diseases like rabies, hepatitis and tuberculosis also happen every so often. During rainy season cholera is quite common. Visitors are advised to take vaccinations.
It is recommended that you eat only well cooked food and drink only boiled or bottled water. Remember to avoid swimming in stagnant or slow moving waters, as there are risks of water-borne diseases such as bilharzias. The best places to swim are near main resort areas.
Taking along a medical kit for private use is a good idea as medications may be hard to find outside major cities. Comprehensive travel insurance is highly recommended.
The 19th century saw the most eventful period in Malawi's history. Tribal skirmishes were rampant and with the slave trade in full swing, the area was in complete turmoil. Things settled down a bit with the arrival of David Livingstone - the missionary explorer whose monuments can still be found in many parts of the country - and the colonisation of the country by the British in 1891. Colonial rule and missionary work put an end to slave trade; however, the arrival of more Europeans meant less land and more taxes for natives, giving rise to a lot of discontent.
Malawi gained independence in 1964. Then followed the autocratic rule of Hastings Banda, leader of the independence movement, until 1993 when multiparty democracy came to the country.
At present Malawi is in a constant struggle to become economically independent, root out corruption, and to improve education, healthcare and environment protection. Poverty and high incidence of HIV AIDS are making a big impact on the socio-economic fabric of the country. However, much progress has been made and things are looking up with economic reforms and international aid.
Malawi, being a land of many native ethnic groups as well as having smaller populations of Asians and Europeans, several languages are spoken in the country. In the northern areas, Tumbuka is a language used by many people. Chiyao, Chinyanja and Chitumbuka are other languages used by large sections of the population.
Don't be surprised to see women kneeling down to greet you, or the doubled handed handshake, a sign of respect and welcome. However, be aware that many women in rural areas can still be very shy of westerners and it is advised to be cautious and respectful of their wariness. In the past customs on clothing and behaviour in rural areas had strict regulations with arms and legs covered and modest behaviour expected, however, although these have slackened, it is still regarded as good manners to dress modestly and behave in a respectable manner when visiting these areas.
Like its population, Malawi culture is a combination of the native and the colonial. Several languages are spoken and different religious beliefs are followed. Football and basketball are popular sports while diverse dance and art forms thrive in the country. Malawi's music tradition is particularly rich, influences of Islamic Yao people who came from Tanzania and Zulu ngoni people from South Africa are clearly noticeable. Traditional music and dances are part of many celebrations and ceremonies such as marriages, initiation rites and rituals.
The Chewa people who form the largest ethnic group in Malawi are mostly Protestant Christians and people of Yao ethnicity are predominantly Muslims of the Sunni branch. Roman Catholics make up the second largest Christian group with smaller communities of Anglicans, Baptists and Seventh day Adventists.
Visa is not needed for most nationalities including citizens of Commonwealth countries (baring India, Pakistan and Nigeria), USA, most European countries, Israel, Japan and Iceland. Nationals of these countries will be issued a tourist pass valid up to three months at points of entry. Citizens of other countries should approach Malawi embassy or the nearest diplomatic mission for visa requirements and information.