“That is very expensive!”, “Oh I didn’t expect this price”, “Are you sure of the quotation?”, this is the kind of reaction we often have when talking about the price of a trip to Malawi and Zambia. Let’s be honest, a trip to Malawi and Zambia is going to require a certain budget.
Unlike Asia and in a certain way South America, Africa is far from being a cheap continent in terms of tourism. Even though Malawi is still not a big destination and Zambia – in parts – stays relatively unknown, they remain expensive destinations. Travelling to a poor country, even one of the poorest in the world doesn’t necessarily mean a cheap trip and it is often surprising for people who have never experienced what is it like to travel in this huge, but still widely unknown continent.
But why is it so expensive? Why is staying in a tent in the middle of the bush so high-end? Why is a 2-week road trip in Africa more expensive than a full month in Asia?
We decided to shed light on the costs and explain why a trip in Malawi is the experience of a lifetime that is worth a lot more than money.
Before the trip
Let’s start with the beginning, even before you fly! Visas and health costs. Malawi was visa-free until October 2015 but the government changed the law and tourists do have to buy a visa now. The visa cost is quite high especially when you are planning to visit both Malawi and Zambia, but it’s not the only cost before you start your trip. You’ll need some basic vaccinations, including yellow fever, plus consider prophylaxis for malaria, you really don’t want to get sick when you could be jumping in the crystal clear waters of Lake Malawi or watching lions and elephants by the river, right?
In order to reach Malawi and Zambia flying is the only option. So why nowadays, when you can find very cheap flights to cross the Atlantic or reach southeast Asia are flights to Lilongwe or Blantyre this long – with a stopover in Addis-Abeba, Nairobi or Johannesburg, and this expensive? The answer is easy and is a combination of; very few airlines, a low offer, bad infrastructures and long distances that make flying almost compulsory. With a demand often higher than the offer prices tend to climb.
Infrastructure is mostly bad if non-existent. Therefore, only very few travellers do use public transportation – very rare or crowded minibus’ that take 3 to 4 times longer to reach their destination, not the best solution when you have only a few days/weeks of holidays. Hiring a car is expensive as, once again, the demand is high and the offer does not always follow. Most of the time the best solution is to have a car and a driver directly from your tour operator. The driver won’t add up a lot to the price and will save you time and energy! Also keep in mind that price of fuel is not low in Malawi, a landlocked country where everything has to come by car. Travelling subsequently becomes expensive, especially as the distances are huge in most cases.
Whereas you can find cheap hostels in Asia or even beautiful lodges for a fraction of the price you would pay back in the US or Europe, it’s not the case within Malawi and Zambia. And the more remote you go: bush camps, tented camps, the higher prices get. Why is that? First because of logistics. Building and then maintaining a lodge in the middle of nowhere, or even just in Malawi, is an art! Because nothing is easily available, and most products besides fruits, vegetables and eggs must be imported, everything must be carefully planned, from building the lodge to filling the kitchen. The investment is huge, and in order to run it, costs are high. They are even higher as the staff often live on site – as most of the lodges are remote and people don’t have cars.
This is the price of remoteness/exclusiveness and an amazing experience at the heart of the bush or on a desert island. It is also the price of keeping European standard in a country where infrastructures don’t produce what we are used to.
When staying in Malawi and Zambia you will experience an incredible level of service, from food to waiter, the guide to the barman. Most lodges cater in an exceptional way for their guests. They can do it because unlike Europe or the US, the ratio staff to guest is 1:3. This also includes the “hidden” staff such as gardeners to grow local vegetables, but also maintenance team to keep the chalets in a good state as well as a mechanic to take care of safari vehicles.
It is also important to remember that Malawi & Zambia don’t benefit from good infrastructures to train their staff. Most of the time they will have to do it themselves which, indeed, has a cost.
Trained guides, warm and welcoming staff do have a price but it’s certainly worth it, especially when you feel at home as soon as you arrive somewhere!
Going on a game drive, a night drive, a boat adventure or sunset cruise do have a price. But these exceptional activities will bring you to stunning places where very few people have the chance to see. So not only the logistics are expensive: big cars, fuel, experienced guides, scouts, park fees – to help protect the beauty of nature, etc.… the remoteness of the place add to the price… and to the uniqueness of the experience!
Variation of the value of the local currency (Malawian or Zambian kwachas here) to dollar can also impact the price of your trip. As most things are imported prices can get high quickly.
Some countries – it’s not the case in Malawi nor Zambia – politics, promote high price low-density tourism to protect fragile ecosystems, which once again contributes to high prices.
Travelling to Africa is an expensive adventure because of the lack of infrastructure, the complicated logistics, high ratio staff to guests but also because of the extraordinary adventure you are going to live while travelling this continent. Especially in the warm heart of Africa; unlike other African countries where the tourists are many, Malawi and Zambia will offer a very exclusive experience far from the beaten path! Walking in landscapes that have, practically, never changed in a hundred years; looking at the most fascinating, and for some of them rare, animals, diving in the crystal clear waters of one of the biggest lakes on the planet, or finding some of the most endangered creatures on earth – rhinos – is a unique experience. The kind of moment you remember forever. And as science has proven, the experience will bring you more happiness than things.
So choosing to have the time of your life and discovering the warm heart of Africa is not that expensive in comparison to the uniqueness of the experience and you can even travel it on a budget!