Getting around Malawi – Lonely Planet

Getting around Malawi is easy compared to many other African countries. Malawi has a good coach network linking all major towns, roads are in good condition and cars are generally in good working order.

The motola minibus system is affordable, but traveling this way can be frustrating as the minibuses won’t leave until they are (dangerously) filled to capacity with passengers. Visitors to Lake Malawi should consider traveling by ferry – the ancient MV Ilala – rather than driving. Although the schedule is loose at best, it’s a romantic and scenic way to explore the lake.

In the capital city of Lilongwe, you’ll likely depend on taxis as the city’s sprawling layout isn’t walkable. Blantyre is more walkable but choked with traffic, while the leafy avenues of Zomba are a joy to explore on foot.

Anyone planning to visit a national park will either need to rent a 4×4 vehicle or hire a driver. Roads can be rough in remote places like Nyika, and rains make dirt roads difficult to navigate.

Roads can be tricky in remote areas like national parks, so consider hiring an experienced driver © Gallo Images / Getty Images

Take the ferry across Lake Malawi for a memorable experience

the MV Ilala has been plowing Lake Malawi for 60 years and offers a unique perspective on this beautiful body of water. The leisurely schedule has him up and down the lake once a week in each direction, from Monkey Bay in the south to Chilumba in the north. It’s not a luxurious experience, but it is a deeply distinctive experience, especially if you can splash around in a cabin. Drinks, snacks and meals are available on board.

Malawi has a good inter-regional coach network

Malawi is criss-crossed by a reliable and competitive coach network. It can be a sociable way to travel: you can chat with other passengers and get a panoramic view of the beautiful countryside passing by. The main competitors are Axa and SoSoSo: both stream music videos at high volume, so take earplugs if you want to close your eyes.


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Lake Malawi with small sailboats.
Simple sailboats and canoes join the main public transport option, the MV Ilala ferry, on Lake Malawi © Karwisch.de / 500px

Disadvantages of taking a motola (minibus) in Malawi

Completely full motorola the buses certainly bring you closer to the people of Malawi, but it can be a rather austere – and dangerous – experience. Yes, it’s a very cheap mode of transport, but you often wait for hours for the bus to fill up, and the shoe drivers carry far more passengers than is safe. In addition, it is often difficult to see anything through the windows due to overcrowding.

Top tips for driving in Malawi

Unless you are a confident driver, you will likely find renting a car in Malawi a stressful way to travel. Other drivers travel at high speed and with cavalier overtaking manoeuvres, and unfortunately road accidents are common here.

There is little road lighting, which makes night driving particularly dangerous. The speed limit is 80 km/h (50 mph), 50 km/h (30 mph) in cities, and driving is on the left.

If you visit any of Malawi’s national parks to view wildlife, you will be driving a lot on dirt roads. In the dry season these can get rutted and slippery so a 4×4 is recommended. When it rains, the ground can get sticky and small cars might get stuck.

Car rental is relatively expensive in Malawi, so consider sharing a car with other travelers to reduce your impact on the environment and share costs.

If you want to visit remote areas and national parks, you can reduce the stress of your trip by hiring an experienced driver, who may also have guiding skills to point out wildlife and provide interesting information. background on the country.

Take a cab

Taxis are ubiquitous in cities and fares are generally reasonable. You might want to work out a fare before you take a ride, but inflated fares aren’t a big deal in Malawi.

Airlines that fly to Malawi

Malawi Airlines flies between Lilongwe and Blantyre, while Ulendo Airlink offers private charters from Lilongwe. Needless to say, flying is the least climate-friendly way to explore Malawi.

A man cycling with bananas in Malawi
You will find that locals often cycle in Malawi, but on the main roads it can be dangerous © Patrick Galibert / 500px

Cycling in Malawi

Long cycle journeys in Malawi are only for fit and well-equipped people, and passing cars are a hazard on the main roads. That said, most Malawians travel by bicycle rather than by car, and you’ll likely enjoy friendly encounters with other cyclists. Get some good maps, then go on an adventure on the back roads. Bicycles can be transported intercity on the roof of a coach or minibus.

Most lodges rent bicycles for local exploration, and cycling with a local guide can be a fun way to explore rural areas.

Can I travel by train in Malawi?

Malawi has a limited rail service that operates between Limbe and Blantyre, Balaka and Nayuchi via Liwonde, and Limbe and Makhanga. The trains are overcrowded and in poor condition, so it’s not a recommended way to get around.

Accessible transport in Malawi

Malawi is not an easy country for travelers with disabilities and there are no special provisions for wheelchairs. The best option, although not cheap, is to hire a dedicated driver with a car that can accommodate a wheelchair.

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