Liwonde, Malawi

I was in Malawi, Africa for a month and I fell deeply in love with it. Malawi holds a very special place in my heart and memory.  Nothing is truer than what you hear and read about Malawi, that “It is the warm heart of Africa”

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The people are kind and generous. The landscapes vary from mountains to Savannah, and the wildlife is diverse, and ever present. Any trip to Africa is not complete without visiting this beautiful country.

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I spent a lot of my time doing field research in partnership with Malawi agencies (the feasibility of constructing a monolithic dome as a sustainable tourism lodge) in the small town of Liwonde, and in Liwonde National Park (LNP).

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During my weeks in Liwonde and LNP I picked up on a few key tips so here they are,

  • From my first night I learned, always be prepared to share a bathroom with frogs. From jumping on your leg, jumping on your face, teasing you by sitting close to the toilet or under the toilet ready to pounce when you least expect it, frogs are a part of everyday bathroom life.

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  • Do Not dance in public. I am not sure if this pertains to men but definitely does to women. I grew up loving music and when I hear it I move automatically. Not in Liwonde! As my guide said “we do not dance in public in Africa.”(This may be stretching it a little because after the presidential election I saw tons of dancing and chanting everywhere).
After election day people celebrating in the street

After election day people celebrating in the street

  • ALWAYS have your camera, the easier the access the better.  While I was typing this post, sure enough, a group of baby Baboons came through the fence of the National Park to my camp. They started wrestling and playing. One even walked to where I was sitting and started playing and swinging on the small tree right in front of my hut, perfect picture moment, right? I would show you but I didn’t have my camera ;P

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  • Bring a sports bra. This item is nice to have, especially for ladies that are larger up top. I remember reading this tip in someone else’s blog about travel in Africa. I thought it was silly then but now I GET IT! The bumpy roads, overcrowded buses, in the back of lopsided trucks can lead to some very uncomfortable boob bouncing moments.

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  • Be clear about prices because in my experience money seems to be a subject that is neither polite nor comfortable for Malawians to talk about. Ask from the beginning what the price is so there are no surprises later on.

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  • Practice eating with your right hand. Left hand is for the bathroom so people in Malawi eat with their right hand. The staple food in Malawi is Nsima. One of the lovely people I traveled with said it tastes like plain grits with a different texture, though I wouldn’t know because I don’t eat grits. To me it looked like masa (dough) for arepas (flatbread of maize) and the taste is plain. Locals ball it up in their right hand, dip it in a sauce, and eat it.

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  • Don’t be in a rush, and don’t expect things to be done quickly. Malawi moves slooooooooow. Enjoy the slowness, relax, no New York minutes here.

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  • Bring binoculars. You will see many animals up close but with binoculars you will see so much more detail. It is a nice touch to any safari trip, highly recommended.

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  • There are not many internet cafes. The guide books say there is one in the center of town but it is one old computer that is usually not working. For the best Wi-Fi connection you can visit the Hippo View Lodge Hotel near the river, enjoy some yummy Indian food, and use your electronics.

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  • There are several places to stay in Liwonde. If your pockets are deep and you are there mostly to safari in the National Park, stay in Mvuu Wilderness Lodge. It is inside the park right on the river and about a 30 minute drive from the park entrance. The cost of Mvuu is around U.S. $350+ (yeah I know, I didn’t have it either) and you will get the luxury, and comfort with the African charm and the Safari feel.
  • There is the Hippo View Lodge, a large hotel on the river. It has the convenience of being in town but is also the furthest from LNP, of any hotel that I include here.  Hippo View Lodge has good food, electricity, even a television in the rooms (though only like two channels work). However what it has in modern comforts it lacks in charm. A night at the Hippo View Lodge starts at about U.S. $55+
  • Finally, my favorite, Liwonde Safari Camp. It is a 5 minute walk from the park entrance, or a 2 minute drive. It is about 5 miles from town center. The food is delicious and affordable, and there is no electricity so you won’t get lost in every day distractions. It is as charming as a place could be. There are lookout towers, hammocks in hidden places, an honesty bar, darts, a camp fire, and open roofed hot showers so you can look up and wave at the monkeys in the trees.
    Enjoying a good book by the honesty bar

    Enjoying a good book by the honesty bar

    Liwonde Safari camp also has great tour guides, Samuel (when I was there), and the owner Fredrick from Curazao. Both were so laid back, always with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, now that’s the life. The price for a night in the hostel was about U.S $15, and if you want to rent a luxury private tent it is about U.S. $40 + (I was not paid to write this I just seriously adore this place, pretty much could live there eating fresh steaks and drinking South African wine while sitting in the lookout tower watching the sun go down over the savannah)

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There are many other great hostels and hotels but these were the three that stood out to me.

  • If possible bring a Visa card instead of a MasterCard. The only bank in Malawi that allows you to withdraw money from the ATM with a MasterCard is the Standard Bank and the maximum is $50 in some places and $100 in others. This equals tons of withdrawals and tons of bank fees, always something to bear in mind.

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  • When visiting Liwonde National Park without a tour group make sure you opt for a larger car like a SUV or jeep, preferably with 4 wheel drive. A smaller car should not be allowed in the park, and I speak from experience…The ground will collapse beneath your tiny car, you will be stranded and left to be crushed by the elephants or attacked by wild hogs…but that’s for another post 🙂
This is the right kind of vehicle, not a hatchback peugeot

This is the right kind of vehicle, not a hatchback peugeot

Lastly, Enjoy this beautiful place, Enjoy listening to birds sing in the morning and Owls Hoot at night.  Enjoy having baboons run around your camp. Enjoy riding bicycle taxis on bumpy dirt roads and over dilapidated bridges, and hearing stories from locals about crocodile attacks, and enjoy looking up at star filled skies, and eating nsima for every meal, while listening to hippos grunt all day and all night, seeing elephants march through your camp grounds, or seeing evidence of their visit by finding their poop laying around.

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Malawi is a MUST! It is lovely, and fun, and adventurous….what are you waiting for go book your flight 🙂

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