Things to do in Lilongwe, Malawi.
February 27, 2010 10:08 AM   Subscribe

How can I make the most of 4 weeks working in Lilongwe, Malawi?

I'm doing a research project in Malawi, probably from mid-April to mid-May. It will mean interviewing representatives of international donor organisations and the government, so it will mean staying in Lilongwe for four weeks. What can I do during the evenings and weekends to make sure that I make the most of my time there? I am a cyclist, I can drive (only not very well), enjoy outdoors-type things and would love to get a feel for the more social/cultural side of life there. Also, is there anything I should be wary of?
posted by YouRebelScum to Travel & Transportation around Lilongwe, Malawi (6 answers total)
I have a friend that makes regular trips to Malawi for her charity that helps build and equip schools there. I emailed her and asked for words of advice for you, and will post them here when she responds.
posted by mcstayinskool at 10:17 AM on February 27, 2010

I was a peace corps volunteer in Malawi, and I spent a fair bit of time in Lilongwe.

It is unfortunate that you will only have the weekends available, as it is difficult to get anywhere in Malawi without a car in less than a day. If you have the cash, you could rent a car I suppose, but I'm not sure about the feasibility of that, as they don't allow volunteers to drive.

As far as weekend destinations, you can easily get to the lake from Lilongwe for a relaxing beach weekend. Senga Bay is the closest beach town, and takes about 4 hours to get to via mini-bus. There are a wide range of hostel/hotel options in the area. Lake Malawi is a great place to visit throughout Malawi, but it tends to be more touristy, so keep that in mind. Nkhata Bay is my favorite, but that's up north and takes a full day via mini bus to travel to.

Also: Please DO go swimming in the lake, despite what people may warn you about schistosomiasis. Yes, it is quite likely you will contract it, but it will not cause you any harm in the short term (takes several years infected to see the harmful effects), and it is a simple one pill treatment once you get back.

Dedza, to the south of Lilongwe, is a nice mountainous area to visit. They have a cool pottery store there (called Dedza Pottery) that has some amazing little restaurant and really unique pottery made by locals. There is a lot of hiking to be had in the Dedza region, and I bet you could get a lot of good biking in there, as well.

With a car, you could probably get to Liwonde, the country's only real "safari" type park. I never went while I was there, but I heard good things from friends, and you can definitely see some elephants, hippos, buffalo there.

You definitely need to go check out the Lilongwe city market, which is a chaotic mess of merchants selling anything you could think of (usually used or Chinese imports). I could spend hours there just looking through the mountains of used t-shirts and chatting with the sellers. Something I learned late in my time there is that the practice of bartering is an ancient pastime in this part of the world, and that people do it as much for the enjoyment of the game as they do for their livelihood. Go into a bartering session with this in mind and you will have a much better time of it. This market can be chaotic, and you will most likely stick out like a sore thumb, so just be careful of your belongings - pickpockets have been known to frequent the area.

People in Malawi are generally some of the nicest and most accommodating people I have ever met, and you should take the opportunity to get to know them more by talking to the random people that you meet. If you learn the basic greetings in Chichewa, this will go even smoother. Even if that's all you know, its enough to get a smile and friendship of many a Malawian.

Safety things: use taxis to get around the city at night. If you are driving on the roads, be careful and expect the unexpected, especially at night. You'd be surprised how many people will just be walking down the middle of the country's main highway in the middle of a pitch black night.

I can go on for hours, but this is getting long, so I'll leave it for now. Feel free to email me if you have more questions. Good luck and have fun! Malawi is a really special place, and you will have a great time, I'm sure.
posted by i less than three nsima at 11:36 AM on February 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

A weekend isn't really enough, but if you want a great safari experience you could visit the Luangwa Valley in eastern Zambia. If I'm remembering correctly it would be about an hour away by small plane.
posted by alms at 12:17 PM on February 27, 2010

Here's the response from my friend as promised, and best wishes on your trip:
Yes, but most of my suggestions are for side trips:

1. Mua mission in Mua Malawi - wonderful Malawi cultural museum. Great
accommodations (Namalikhate Hostel). Awesome wood carvings and great village
life. There is a vibrant roadside market day on Wed and Sat.

2.Mvuu Lodge in Liwonde National Park. It is spendy but fun safari - lots of
hippos, great ride through the villages to get to the river launch.

3. Zomba village and Zomba mountain is beautiful. Southern Malawi has some
beautiful hiking. Life and culture around Zomba hums - life up and down the
mountain is industrious. There is a fancy hotel atop the mountain - Sunbird
KuChawe. It is a bit run down but has gorgeous views. One of the wood
carvers running shops outside the hotel can likely lead a hike.

4. Lake Malawi is a must see. There is lots to do there. My personal fave is
hanging out at Club Makokola. Its really spendy and wonderfully luxurious. A
cheaper accommodation is the Florence Holiday resort. Its accommodations are
passable. It is the lake front life that is so appealing about this place.
Club Mak keeps the locals at bay. You live alongside the locals at the
Florence. You can find the Florence on Trip Advisor. Tell Charles, the
manager, Barb and Henry sent you.

5. In Lilongwe, be sure to go to the city markets near the Shop Rite down
town. The main market across the river is Lilongwe's version of the mega
mall. You'll find everything for sale there. It is a real communing spot. On
our last trip, I met a man named Clemmons who works at the Lilongwe Wildlife
Refuge. He got roped into a game of spoons with our cast of characters while
we were all staying in Mua. I've never been to the center. We rarely have
time to tour around while we are in Lilongwe. I am working to get the name
of the best Ethiopian restaurant ever that is in a private home in the city.

I hope this is helpful.
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:55 PM on February 27, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks guys. Great answers. Already whetting my appetite for the trip.
posted by YouRebelScum at 7:45 AM on February 28, 2010

on the Ethiopian restaurant mentioned above:
The great Ethiopian restaurant is called Sheba. It is near the American Embassy. Take friends. The food is best eaten in a big group - sharing.
posted by mcstayinskool at 4:35 PM on February 28, 2010

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