Detailed trip report from May 2013

Liesbet writes:

We just spent 2,5 weeks driving through Malawi.

The Route

We started in Lilonghwe, headed to Kasungu, Kasungu NP, Vwaza Marsh, Nyika, Livingstonia, Chinheche, Senga Bay, Zomba Plateau and Majete. We took our tents with us but slept in lodges/room from time to time.

Car hire
Car hire in Malawi is pretty expensive. I found a slightly cheaper option (PafeCarHire.com) and we decided to rent the car there. We regretted it the day we arrived. Although I e-mailed with the manager even up to the day before our arrival, to ensure that we were coming and to ensure that the car would be available, this was not the case when we arrived. They were still ‘fixing’ the car when we arrived. We waited for hours, and then left in a very small Toyota Starlet, which was totally unsuitable for the kind of trip we were planning to make. This prevented us from driving through Kasungu NP. The day after the rental company brought over a Mitsubishi Pajero. They said it was fixed and in good state. After so much stress in the Starlet, we took the Pajero but this was not an end of the problems and the stress. The same day the pajero broke down: the wheel axe fell apart under the car, while we were driving in the middle of nowhere on a dust road. We looked at it and the axe was just not properly fixed! Wrong screws were used, and instead of 4, the mechanic used only 2 unsuitable screws. The car rental company could not be reached. They did not pick up the phone so I texted them. One day later only, I got an sms saying that the mechanic was on its way. In the meantime we fixed the car ourselves so that wasn’t necessary any more. What were we supposed to do then? Wait a day and a night in the bush for them to come?? Later during the trip, the car didn’t start any more. We had to ask the mechanic in Nyika to fix the car, and then spend a full day in a local garage in Rumphi, getting the starter fixed. The mechanic there checked the car and said it was very old, and badly maintained. This is the list of car defects: wheel axe not properly fixed, claxon +airco+intercooler not working, front tyres worn off, central locking not working, trunk door could not be opened, tyres were flat + there was not a drop of oil in the car when car was given to us, back tyre was broken and the tools were removed from the car so we could not even remove the spare wheel, starter defect, gas pedal malfunctioning. In conclusion: the car was badly maintained and we spent 2 full days of our vacation getting the car fixed. These expenses were paid back only after a huge discussion with the manager, but in the end we decided it isn’t worth paying a bit less for a car, when you take into account all the stress and time for repairs that this car caused us. A lot of roads in Malawi are in very bad condition, so a proper car is a must. It’s unacceptable to rent a car to travelers that is so badly maintained. I would advise anyone not to rent a car with Pafecarhire.com

Police
There are many roadblocks and I advise you to be friendly, it helps. We had 2 instances where the police asked money. One military asked for food. Just don’t go into that. Make sure the papers of the car are in good order, and you know where the triangles etc are. Sometimes they look for something to get money from you. Also, police flashes here and there when you’re speeding.

Rumphi

We stayed at the Matunkha Safari Camp which is just outside Rumphi. Very nice chalets. Hot shower garantueed. Price has significantly increased to 35 dollar per room per night. Staff asked for 10 dollars more than advertised price.

Vwaza Marsh

The Kazuni Safari Camp is a little run down. Shower, toilet and sink are broke (not only in our but also in the other chalets). Locals run the place now and tend to beg quite a bit. Price 6200 MKW for 2 persons, 1 night. It’s a great spot. You just see the elephants pass by in front of your chalet.

Nyika Plateau

We camped at the Chelinda Camp where the zebras graze in front of your tent (price 15 dollar pp pn). Hot shower daily, and camp fire . It’s managed by Wilderness Safaris so overpriced like all accommodations they have in Malawi. Be sure to drive up there with a car with high clearance. Roads to Chelinda are not in a pretty state! Nyika is disappointing from a game drive perspective (do not expect to see too much), but has dramatic and breathtaking scenery. It can be very cold out here so take warm clothes with you. We were there in June and at night, it’s freezing temperatures.

Livingstonia

This place has been built and managed by Auke, a Belgian, since about 15 years. And it’s still being improved… Spectacular view on lake Malawi and the mountain. You can walk to Livingstonia from here.
You can rent a lodge here, a tent or set your own tent. We camped in our ow tent for 2 nights (2000 MKW pp pn, rather on the high side for Malawi). You can cook here yourself however most guests eat in the restaurant. Chicken, beef, pasta. A very nice menu however portions are sometimes too small.
There is a garden behind the lodges where coffee, and all kinds of vegetables are grown. Also chickens and even rabbits are kept here. The gardens are a beautiful example of permaculture. Sometimes, some monkeys visit the place. Showers are nicely build, outside, as well as toilets. They are clean and nicely built into the environment by usage of wood, and eco materials. Be aware that the road to Livingstonia (and thus the Eco Lodge) is full of holes, stones and it’s a winding road. Be sure you have a car with high clearance.

Chintheche
Spectacular beach! You can stay here in the rooms or camp on the grass field. Showers are clean and hot water is available all the time (which is not for granted in Malawi). The sanitary block is clean and OK but not nice from a design point of view. When you camp, you can charge your batteries and mobile phone, etc. on the camping site. Which is handy. You can use the open BBQ to prepare food, wood is available. There’s a bar in the garden, and even television there.Fishermen come by the beach and have some fish for sale. Only negative point is the price. As all Wilderness Safaris places, this one is also too expensive (for malawi). Camping is 10 dollar pp pn.

Senga Bay
We stayed at Cool Runnings because it’s mentioned in the Bradt travel guide. But to be honest, we regretted it. Near this place are two night clubs, and they played very, very loud music all night long. It was simply impossible to sleep here. And when you finally get to sleep, the staff of cool runnings starts to make noise as from before 6 in the morning!! Collection the bins, doing the lawn, running around, … Is this really necessary at this time of the day??? People come here to relax! Stop making all that noise. The place is situated actually in the middle of a residential area. I would not stay here again and instead look for a nicer and quite place to stay.There are some chaise longues placed on the grass with view on the beach. That is pretty nice to relax in.We camped for 5 dollars pp pn. Only negative thing is that they ask you to pay extra for fire wood. And when you pay, you get almost none, anyway it’s certainly not enough. The lady who managed this place is from UK and lived in Zimbabwe for a long time.

Liwonde NP
Liwonde Safari Camp is just outside Liwonde national park (before main entrance gate). It’s run by a Dutch guy, who bought this land a few years ago and created a very nice place. There’s a dorm where several people can sleep (I believe about 10), and there are tents set up in wooden shelters (with beds inside) for 45 dollar per person per night. You can also camp, which is what we did (7,5 dollar pp pn). The showers are very spacious, and really nicely build with local accents (like the doorhandles are wooden animals). We did not eat there, but there is a kitchen and ‘restaurant’.

You can best stay here when you visit Liwonde NP. The lodge inside is much more expensive and not worth the money. We stayed one night inside the park at Mvuu Lodge. We camped here but I would not do it again. For us it was not worth the money. The prices are too high (again, it’s managed by Wilderness safaris who is too expensive anywhere in Malawai) and ok, you have a view on the river from the lodges but you don’t really see the hippo’s out of the river (because banks are too high and they cannot come out there). Price camping 15 dollar pp pn. Also people at reception (a lady) were not friendly and not nice. When I asked which roads to take for the game drives (which we did ourselves because we had a 4×4, then they didn’t want to answer. According to the receptionist we had to take a ranger with us, since only they knew where the animals were. Yeah, right! Camp site is not nicely located at all. You have to look for your own wood. Sanitary block is not so nice. Also, there was no hot water when we were there which made me ask for a price reduction (I paid 5 dollars pp pn less). If you’re charging guests above average Malawi prices, then make sure that there is at least hot water! FYI I heard from people that stayed in the chalets near the water, that they also didn’t have hot water!! FYI the price of a lodge was 200 dollar, chalet 160 (including 3 meals and 2 game drives). For these prices you should assure hot water, and otherwise compensate by reducing your prices.I would advise you to stay outside the park, at Liwonde Safari Camp, and drive into the park in the morning. Camping is half the price there. And a lodge or chalet is much, much cheaper.
As for the park, we were a bit disappointed by the number of animals we saw, which is pretty low. I guess Malawi isn’t that great if you really want to see animals (better to visit Zambia or Botswana). Watch out for the elephants, which are pretty nervous. We drove around alone in the park and saw some, but not even that many.

Zomba plateau
We stayed at the Trout Farm and this was the worst accommodation of our stay. Place to camp is pretty nice, but go see the showers first! The toilets are pretty ok, but the showers are in desperate need of renovation. Floors are of concrete, there is no hot water and no light. Since there was no hot water, we had to specifically ask the staff to warm up some water in buckets so we could at least wash ourselves but it was a cold, unpleasant experience.
It’s freezing up there! Take warm clothes.

Majete NP
There’s a lodge just in front of the entrance gate of Majete NP. I believe it ‘s called Ng’ona lodge. It has a swimming pool which is included in the price. Great food here!! You can camp with view on the river, magnificent! Only camping is possible, lodges are being finished. We paid 6000 MKW pp pn. Shower and toilet inside the restaurant/bar and very very clean!! You can see that this is managed by a lady. Hot water available. This is a lovely place to relax. We stayed here because we arrived rather late in the day and did not want to pay entrance fee to the park for only a couple of hours left that day.
Next day we spent inside the park, at the community campsite. It was 10 dollar pp pn. There’s a bar on the campsite. Drinks are very affordable. Showers and toilets clean and nice hot water is available.
Not many animals, again. They say they have the big 5 but due to the trees and bushes, you hardly see anything. There were only 3 lion in the park, so your chances of seeing one are very low. Watch out for the elephants, which are pretty nervous. We drove around alone in the park and saw some, but not even that many.

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One thought on “Detailed trip report from May 2013

  1. Petra van Wakeboardschool Vinkeveen says:

    We just spent 2 weeks driving through Malawi (15th of October till 29th of October 2015)

    The Route

    We started in Lilongwe, Nkhotakota, Nkhata Bay, Kande Beach, Senga Bay for transfer to Blue Zebra Lodge, Cape Maclear, Liwonde, Senga Bay, Lilongwe.

    I read the review above and decided not to go for the cheapest option but for the best. Only one company answered all my e-mails and my questions about insureance. They gave me a great car and great service as well. I’m so glad I payed a few dollars extra.

    So I really recommend SS Rent a Car

    http://www.ssrentacar.com/

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