There are two international airports in Malawi: Lilongwe and Blantyre. There are no direct flights from Malawi to Europe with Nairobi and Johannesburg being the international link off the continent. Most travelers connect via Johannesburg (South Africa) or Nairobi (Kenya). State carrier Air Malawi claims to be Africa's Friendliest Airline, but its limited network covers only nearby countries plus Middle Eastern hub Dubai. There is road access to all neighbouring countries. There is a goods rail service to the port of Nacala in Mozambique as well as a goods and passenger rail service to the Zambian border.
Malawi is a popular fixture on the overland and backpackers’ trail between eastern and southern Africa, and as many tourists arrive in Malawi overland as come by air. Many such people travel independently, but an increasingly popular choice for first-time visitors in an overland truck trip, which allows you to compress several countries and sites of interest into a limited period. Some of the overland companies include Absolute Africa, Bukima, Dragoman, Drifters, Exodus, Kumuka and Which Way Adventure Company.
For independent travellers, the main border crossings are as follows:
To/from South Africa
Getting around Malawi
If you have never travelled to Malawi, you will also notice ‘Matola’, vehicles offering transport for hitch hikers, these are normally dangerously packed and for to health and safety reasons we would not recommend you avoid these areas of unlicensed transportation.
When and if you are travelling on your own, please only use licensed transport alternatively check with your local tour operator on who they recommend. Preferably choose drivers who can speak and understand English.
Air Malawi operates regular flights between the major urban centres. There are also occasional flights to the luxury lodges on the lake (Club Makokola). It is also possible to hire private single and twin-engine aircrafts.
Airlines operating in Malawi
Air Malawi – 01 772132 or 773680
Air Zimbabwe - firstname.lastname@example.org
South African Airways – 01 772242
Ethiopian Airways – 01 771002 or 771308
Kenya Airways – 01 774227 or 774330
Zambia Airways - email@example.com
Two lake steamers operate services to lake towns and villages and connect with railways at the port of Chipoka. The steamers link the lakeside areas to Likoma Island and Chizumulu Islands.
The MV Ilala is a ferry running from Monkey Bay in Mangochi once a week. More information about the Malaw Lake Ferry.
The main highways in the country are tarred. A two-lane asphalt highway connects north and south, from Karonga to Blantyre. Some of the dirt roads are at times impassable during the rainy season. Most roads, as well as roads within towns and cities, have been fixed. While travel during daylight hours is relatively safe, it is not recommended to travel after dark, both because of driving conditions and lack of security.
There are a number of car rental companies in the main towns providing self-drive hire but charges are very high dependant on the vehicle and length of rental contract.
Bus services connect all main towns and conditions of travel are reasonable. There are also bus services of varying standards within the cities. More common locally used buses can be found on almost every main road in Malawi. For more highly upgraded coaches, best when travelling long distance, please check with your tour operator alternatively with a hotel.
Taxis are available in Blantyre, Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Zomba. As most taxis do not have metres, charges per kilometre and fees depend on the customer's bargaining power.
Main Border Crossings
To/from South Africa
Most people travelling between South Africa and Malawi take a bit of time over the trip, passing through a combination of other southern African countries, including Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe, as well as those covered individually below. However, if you literally want to travel between Johannesburg and Malawi as quickly as possible, direct coaches cover the route via Harare and Tete, which involves three border crossings and takes 24 hours if all goes smoothly. A recommended operator is K J Transport which has offices on the corner of Smit and Mellie streets in Johannesburg and in Blantyre Lodge opposite the main bus station in Blantyre. Coaches depart from Johannesburg at 10:30am on Wednesday and Saturday, and from Blantyre at 08:30 on Tuesday and Saturday, and a ticket costs around MK13,500 or the rand equivalent.
The most frequently used border is Mchinji, on the main road between Lusaka and Lilongwe. Several buses now do this 15 – 18 hour rub directly, including KOBS and the Zambia Coach – tickets cost around MK5,000. You can also make the trip in stages. Regular buses run from Lusaka to Chipata, 30km from Mchinji, where at least 5 km divides the Zambian and Malawian border posts. Once you cross into Malawi, it’s only a few minutes’ walk to Mchinji Town where there are several basic resthouses if you arrive too late to catch a minibus to Lilongwe, 90km to the east.
Malawi and Mozambique share a long border. Indeed, the large wedge of Malawi to the south of Lilongwe is surrounded by Mozambique on all sides. Therefore there are great many possible border crossings, though only a few are used regularly by travellers. A remote but enjoyable possibility between northwest Mozambique and Malawi is with the MV Ilala, which calls in at the Mozambican ports of Cobue and Metangula; there’s a goodhostel and campsite in Cobue, but it’s easier to get road transport out Metangula.
Of the various northern road crossings, the one between Mangochi and Mandimba is quite straightforward. Regular transport to the border leavesMangochi from the main bus station, stopping en route at Namwera, a small town with plenty of resthouses. If you can’t get a lift along the 7km road between the two border posts, you options are either walking or hiring a bicycle taxi – and if you opt for the latter you won’t regret splashing out on a separate bike for your luggage.
Also worth considering, at least when it’s working, is the train to Nayuchi Liwonde to Cuamba via the Nayuchi border. When in service, trains to Nayuchi leave Liwonde at 6:00am Monday to Friday and take about three hours, in Interlagos on the Mozambican side of the border there’s a restaurant and resthouse, though if everything runs to schedule you should pick up the train to Cuamba on the same day, a four-hour trip which might take twice as long on a bad day.
The Muloza/Milanje border between Mulanje and Mocuba is worth considering only if you’re determined to visit Quelimane. It’s easy to get a bus from Blantyre or Mulanje to Muloza, where there’s basic accommodation on both sides of the border, but transport from Milanje on to Mocuba is eratic.
Coming from southern Mozambique (or Zimbabwe)between Blantyre and the Tete Corridor (named after Mwanza/Zobue border post between Blantyre and the Tete Corridor (named after the Mozambican town of Tete). Regular buses run between Harare and Blantyre stopping at Tete, and minibuses also cover this route, though you’ll need to change vehicles at Mwanza/Zobue. Driving up this way from southern Africa, be warned that officials along the Tete Corridor have a reputation for fining drivers for transgressing a variety of obscure or non-existent road regulations, but the road itself is in excellent condition.
The only viable road route from east Africa to Malawi connects Mbeya (in the southern Tanzaniain Highlands) to Karonga via the Songwe border post. Most people cross in stages. From Mbeya, there are plenty of minibuses through to Kyela, the closest town to the border, but you could also break the trip at the beautifully positioned town of Tukuyu, below the forested Mount Rungwe. Either way, ask to be dropped at the turn – off, walk the 6km to the border post, orhire a bicycle taxi. If you need to overnight here, the only accommodation is on the Tanzanian side. However, plenty of minibuses run from here to Karonga, sounless you arrive ridiculously late in the day, the chance of getting stuck at the border is minimal. It is also possible to travel directly between Lilongwe and Mbeya or Dar es Salaam with the Mohammed or Taqwa services, which share an office on Devil Street in Lilongwe and between them run everyday except Monday and Thursday, leaving Lilongwe at 19:00 and taking about 15 hours to Mbeya (MK4,500), 27 hours to Dar es Salaam (MK8,000) and 48 hours to Nairobi (MK14,000).
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