Zomba, Cape Maclear & Blantyre updates

Louise writes:

I’ve recently returned from a lovely trip to Malawi (early December), new Bradt guide to Malawi in hand, and wanted to draw your attention to some things which we found to have changed.
1. Zomba
Hotel Masongola. 
This place seems ti have gone downhill. It’s no longer upmarket, nor the smartest place in town by a long shot, and the restaurant and bar isn’t very good or popular with anybody. In fact this place is pretty awful. Thankfully they were ‘fully booked’ (despite the fact that the place was empty like a haunted house when we there for a drink). It has the strangest and creepiest bar/restaurant that we saw during our trip. Like some kind of train station waiting room of the afterlife. Caked in dust, 1 staff member carefully laying out about 500 cups and saucers in a completely empty fake wood panelled dining hall, while another guy offered us a drink from the dingy bar ‘selection’ which amounted to 2 dusty bottles of green from an empty fridge which didn’t look like it even worked. I could go on. Essentially this place has fallen. The price is correct and now it makes sense how this ‘upmarket’ place is so cheap.
Pakachere Backpackers
It was closed for a private function when we dropped by looking for accommodation, but I was told by a fellow traveller we met the next day that the place has a serious rat problem.
Annie’s Lodge
Foreigners should be aware that they may be told the only rooms available are the presidential suites, even when other rooms are largely empty.
Sunbird Ku Chawe
Not sure was it maybe a problem with their phones, but this number does not seem to work. (Note from PB – the number given in the book is the same as the central reservations number listed on the hotel website, but the website includes a second 01 514 237 – see http://www.sunbirdmalawi.com/index.php/contact-information-ku-chawe)
Trout Farm
“A little rundown and no longer very active on the trout rearing front” understates things! The place is basically derelict now, like a nice setting for a zombie film. Trout ponds empty or greened over with algae, some of the buildings fallen down. They did appear to be (very slowly) building some new structures when we walked through on the trail but they looked like picnic spots not accommodation.
In the end we stayed 1 night at Annie’s Lodge and 2 at Zomba Forest Lodge. ZFL is expensive (for our budget) but was lovely. Obviously with no electricity they also don’t do card machine, so maybe also point that out. $400 odd is a lot of cash to have (we did an EFT through our UK account in the end after we got home).
2.Cape Maclear
Chembe is lovely, probably our favourite village of our whole trip, very chilled, and a lot of times in darkness due to the power outs at night. We liked that staying in Chembe you are actually staying within a small fishing community, this was the whole charm of the place for us walking through the village after sunset, locals sitting outside their homes, kids playing with wheels on the dusty path back to the lodge. It was actually magical in its understated-ness.
Thumbi View Lodge
We stayed at Thumbi View, most rooms now upgraded, they also just finished installing a small pool when we were there and there’s a tailor with a small at the entrance who can make you clothes with local material (same day turn around!). We also went for drinks at Indaba Lodge which had a nice easy-going bar with local music on the stereo.
3. Blantyre
Henderson Street Guesthouse
Hardly a hidden gem. It is decent for the price and location, but rooms looked tired and they did not have DSTV. Very much average.
Kabula Lodge
Views were lovely and rooms nice, but the balcony restaurant/bar was not functioning (you can see where it was, but there’s nothing there anymore), so inconvenient in that you must get to town to eat, drink. But yes views lovely and shuttle still there.
Chez Maky
We saw 2 rooms, an en-suite and the shared bathroom, neither had fan or DSTV. The DSTV is just in the restaurant area it seems.
Doogles
There is no pool table, but the rest remains the same, spacious double room with fan, reasonable bar and food, clean, definitely good for the price but awkward location (do not go out at night from here unless in a car!! the bus station is a notorious mugging hotspot after dark, we were told this several times at different places during the trip when we mentioned Doogles). Was bit disappointed in the noticeboard and general knowledge about activities and onward travel. Especially considering it is essentially IN the bus station, they didn’t know anything about bus and coach services.
One other final note of interest, when we were there they were just about to launch a new 2000 kwacha note.
That’s it. All round we had a fantastic trip and you should be pleased to note that every single traveller we met and foreigner working in the country had a well-read copy of Bradt Malawi with them, still the best guides for Africa despite the glitches above!
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