Transportation in Malawi is good; the country has a good road network and many air connections with the outside world. Boat services on Lake Malawi are reliable; they also connect Malawi to its eastern neighbours, Mozambique and Tanzania. Railroads in Malawi are weak, and its services are limited. However, the railway was recently privatized, and plans are being developed to improve trains in Malawi, with international assistance.
Our advice is to leave all your expectations behind before you travel to Malawi; then, you might go home surprised. But if your expectations are too high, you might be disappointed if plans fall apart. Travel in Africa can be challenging, and part of the experience is expecting anything to happen. Roads often have limited signs, and directions along Malawi’s main routes can be scarce. Be sure to buy a good road map if you plan to hire your own car.
Use our Malawi Transportation Guide to find out how to get to and around Malawi. You can also email our Destination Management Company, Nyasa Adventures.
Don’t forget that one of the best ways of getting around and exploring this beautiful region of Africa is by taking one of our recommended tours in Malawi.
Most international visitors travelling by air will arrive into Kamuzu International Airport in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. From here there are commercial connections to Chileka International Airport in Blantyre, the country's southern capital; although in most cases, a domestic flight from the hubs of Nairobi, Lusaka, Dar es Salam and Johannesburg will connect directly to Blantyre. Additionally, connections can be made from Lilongwe to most areas within Malawi via the country's private air charter company, Nyasa Air.
Apart from the national carrier Air Malawi, international carriers including South African Airways, British Airways, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines operate from Malawi.
A Malawian company, Ulendo Airlink, operates charter flights to many neighbouring countries.
Malawi can be reached by car from Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa. Buses also operate regularly between these countries and Malawi.
In general, Malawi has a strong internal road network throughout the country. The M1, which runs the length of Malawi from Tanzania in the north to Mozambique in the south, offers spectacular views while passing through the Viphya Mountain Range, the Dedza Mountains and the Chikwawa Escarpment in the south. This beautiful route provides travellers insight into Malawian culture and traditional lifestyles; villages built from mud and straw appear throughout the countryside, and traditional crafts are presented and sold along what used to the Malawi’s ancient trading routes. For competitive car hire rates please contact Nyasa Adventures at firstname.lastname@example.org
There are direct train lines to Mozambique; however in the west, the service stops at the Zambian border.
The Ilala Ferry is a highlight for any travellers with time on their hands. As the country's only passenger ferry, it crosses the lake from north to south and back once a week. This is a unique way of transport in Malawi and a cheap way to the offshore islands and Mozambique. De-commissioned in Scotland and re-built in Malawi in the mid-20th century, the Ilala is about as famous as the lake it travels on. Stopping at various ports and offshore islands en-route it is a common means of transport for travellers moving up or down the country, or simply a novel way to cruise along the country's most famous attraction.
Air and road travel are the most convenient and easiest modes to get around Malawi. Boating, however, is the most fun.
Air Malawi operates regular flights between major cities like Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu, and to Club Makokola near Lake Malawi. Charter and seat-only flights are available to many smaller destinations and tourist centres including Liwonde National Park and Likoma Island.
Matolas (local minibuses) operate along the majority of local transport roads in Malawi and are the most common public means of getting around cities and between towns along the country's major routes and highways. These are usually the cheapest and easiest means of travel and provide the chance to experience local African life by interacting with locals and fellow travellers. Be aware, though, that you may find yourself travelling with a variety of animals, furniture, farm produce or seasonal goods en route to market. Though they are becoming less widely used, a more ‘rustic’ means of transport in rural areas are open-backed pick-up trucks; travellers must be aware of the dangers associated with standards of driving and sobriety.
For those searching for a more comfortable and safer way of travel, buses are a good option. Recent additions of good quality, air-conditioned buses have been placed on roads in Malawi’s main cities and towns. To travel in between cities, there is a variety of luxury, express and regular routes to choose from.
Taxis are available in most cities; however, it is difficult to hire a car outside of Lilongwe and Blantyre.
Also see our guide to Car Hire.
One of the most common means of transport in Malawi for locals are boda-bods, pedal bikes with cushion seats attached to the rear. They are generally found peddling back and forth between trading centres and small towns and villages. For a couple of dollars travellers can hop on the back of a bike and travel between small trading posts or often into rural villages on motorised boda-bodas.
Train service is limited at the moment, and trains tend to be slow and crowded. Tourists rarely use trains, with the exception of travelling from Liwonde to Nayuchi on the Mozambique border.
When travelling on any public transport in Malawi, it is vital to keep your luggage in sight at all times. Malawi is generally safe and friendly; however, temptation and opportunity are easy catalysts. Always check bus and matola fares with a local before travelling, as drivers sometimes take advantage of visitors with a hiked mzungu price. Patience is necessary when travelling in Africa, as timetables are rarely followed and breakdowns and delays are normal. Relax, soak up the experience, and enjoy the ride; it’s part of local culture in Malawi.