Malawi self-drive trip report

General Comments

We loved Malawi. It was very ‘easy’ Africa. By this we mean that there was relatively little hassle and the people were friendly. The roads up to the Nyika Plateau and Vwaza Marsh are not great, but are passable with a 4×4. Incidentally, we did get stopped a lot by the police, but more on that later.


The Route

Our plan was to spend little time down by the lake because of the malarial risk. Instead, we headed up to Rumphi (after one night at Karonga). From there we made a trip to Vwaza Marsh and then back to Rumphi and then a trip to Nyika and again back to Rumphi.

After that we headed to Lilongwe, Liwonde, the Zomba Plateau and Blantyre. After Blantyre we basically headed back to Lilongwe again before heading in to Zambia. So, quite a circuitous route.



Just before you reach the town of Karonga there is a sign for a place called the Beach Chamber Hotel. It is right by the lake and in front of the hotel is a large patch of sand which is within the hotel compound. We were able to camp there and have the use of a shower and toilet within a room.



We stayed at the Matunkha Safari Camp which was 700 kwacha each with our son free. Very good and pleasant facilities. This is part of the orphanage and an excellent charity to support. Do speak to the Dutch couple who run it and ask about their project and how to support them. At the moment they are struggling for funding and my fingers are firmly crossed that they will receive all the funding they need to carry on this vital work.


Vwaza Marsh

The only place to camp is the Kazuni Safari Camp, but it has a great spot down by the lake with fantastic views and decent facilities. Don’t be put off by the night time snorting of the hippos.


Nyika Plateau

We stayed at the Chelinda Camp which was wonderful. We had sweeping views of the plateau and a roaring camp fire. In the morning bushbuck were wandering through the campsite. Nyika is a fantastic place – like Scotland in the middle of Africa! The roads can become slippery when wet so use the diff lock if necessary and early morning mist is quite common.



The most popular campsite and hostel is the Mzoozoozoo, but we found the owner drunk at midday and frankly just didn’t get a good vibe especially with a child. Instead we stayed at the CCAP William Koyi guesthouse. It is a Presbyterian church run place so be discreet about alcohol. However, the staff were so friendly and the facilities are decent.

Just down the road is the Chinese bakery (really) which has the best bread in Africa! There is also a decent PTC supermarket in town.



The most popular place is the Mbeya Camp which is run by a very pleasant British couple. However, the bar can be noisy and lively so be prepared for a possible disturbed night. It does have decent facilities and plenty of information about Malawi and the surrounding countries plus a decent pool. Although we enjoyed our stay there we did have several disturbed nights.


Liwonde National Park

We camped at the Liwonde Safari Camp. It is run by a chap called Peter. His number is 0881813240 to book in advance. This was the best bush experience we had in Africa and Peter is a mine of fantastic information and a great chap. His game drive was the best and our son thought it was brilliant. He will take you in his 1972 vintage land rover. Highly recommended.


Zomba Plateau

We stayed at the Kuchawe Trout Farm which cost 600 kwacha each and our son was free. This is a lovely spot although it is slightly run down and has a faded charm. The facilities are ok.



We camped in the car park of Doogles. If it is wet then the car park just becomes a muddy morass. The staff are pleasant although the bar can be lively. The facilities are fine and very clean and there is plenty of information around about the local area.



Yes, we came back to Lilongwe for a night before heading over the border to Zambia. This time round we stayed at the Lilongwe Golf Club which was 700 kwacha each with our son free. The facilities are fine and there is the use of a big pool. A better option if you absolutely want a quiet night and don’t mind the lack of a bar near to your camping spot.



We had no difficulty finding places to camp throughout Malawi and the standard of facilities is reasonable. Finding provisions isn’t too difficult although the ‘Shoprite’ in Lilongwe is very expensive. There is a chain of supermarkets called the PTC which appear cheaper and have a reasonable selection of goods. Malawi also only has low denomination kwacha notes which means several trips to the ATM especially when there is a limit on the number of notes the ATM will dispense.


Border Crossing

Very easy. Polite and friendly.


The Police

Heading over the border from Tanzania we were stopped 4 times by the police/customs in about 24 miles. Basically, it is a requirement in Malawi to drive with reflective strips on the front and rear bumpers of your car. The strips are really diamond shaped pieces of reflective paper – white for the front and red for the rear.

The police set up road blocks over the border to catch people who do not have reflective strips. There are no signs at the border to say this is a rule and equally there is nowhere to buy reflective strips either at or before the border. We were very lucky and actually escaped a fine because the police were more amused by our son and the writing on the side of our truck (we wrote everywhere we camped on the side of the truck). Many people we know just paid the fine and if you pay at one road block you will not have to pay at another if you show them your receipt.

Sometimes it is customs who stop you, but this should be no problem provided you are not bringing in anything illegal!

We had no problems with the police and tried always to be polite and friendly. However, we know of one person who took a high handed and rude approach and was given short shrift. Basically, he was taken aside and physically threatened. The moral has to be to treat people with respect and good humour and generally you will receive these in return.

Once you reach Karonga there is a place to buy reflective strips. It is on the first roundabout as you go in to town. Between the second and third exits of the roundabout there is a shop which has bicycles outside. It is like a hardware/mechanical spare parts shop. The chap there will sell you reflective strips for about 50 kwacha each.




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