Malawi, located in south-east Africa, borders Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. It is a popular destination for both backpackers and worldly travellers: attracted by the lake (the third largest in Africa), the wildlife; did you know? The Big5 can be found in Majete National Park and the reputation of course. Malawi isn’t nicknamed ‘the Warm Heart of Africa’ for nothing! The people of Malawi are extremely friendly and that is one of the reasons why Malawi is safe to travel.
In this post, we will discuss the safety of travelling in Malawi and reflect on personal experiences.
Let’s begin by looking at the recent history of Malawi.
Malawi gained independence from Britain in 1964. It was formerly known as Nyasaland. Having lived in Malawi for the last two years (as a Brit) I can justly tell you there are no hard feelings! Malawians do not have a history of persecuting any race or nation. You may hear the phrase ‘Azungu’ during your travels, this means ‘white person(s)’. This isn’t a racial slur and isn’t used in a malicious manner. You will most likely hear this from young kids who are not used to seeing white people.
Unlike many other nations, Malawians haven’t fought amongst themselves: the country has never had a civil war.
Malawi has been a multi-party democracy since 1994. Since then to the present day, there hasn’t been any political unrest in the country. The current president, Peter Mutharika, has been president since his election in 2014. The next presidential election will be in 2019.
There is a low threat from terrorism in Malawi. Malawi and most of Central Africa have a low threat level whereas most of Europe and the US have a general threat or high threat level.
Although it is one of the poorest countries in the world, by regional standards Malawi has a low crime rate. Of course, crime does exist and precautions should be taken to protect your belongings from muggers and bag-snatchers when walking the streets.
Most crime exists in the big cities: Lilongwe, Blantyre and Limbe and most thefts from visitors take place in busy areas such as the Lilongwe bus depot. It is advised to avoid walking around quiet areas, especially at night.
I haven’t been a victim of, nor have I witnessed any crime. Just like you would any other country, you must adhere to the necessary precautions.
Generally, road travel in Malawi is safe, however, driving at night is not advised. This is due to other vehicles not always having lights – or just one light! Cyclists and pedestrians are also quite hazardous as they seldom wear reflective clothing making them difficult to spot.
Travelling by minibus or pick-up truck isn’t recommended. Often, these vehicles are not maintained and are overloaded. The larger coach services such as the AXA bus are more reliable. Additionally, if you travel with Malawian Style you will have your own guide (who knows the roads extremely well) and private car, which is regularly serviced to the highest standards.
It is recommended to visit your doctor 8-10 weeks before visiting Malawi. Unless you have been to this part of the world before you will need to be immunised against several diseases. You can find more info about those here.
HIV/AIDS is prevalent in Malawi. An estimated 1.1 million Malawians are living with HIV that is around 10.8% of the adult population. Exercise appropriate precautions if engaging in activities that expose you to risk of infection.
Malawi is a high-risk Malaria area, personally, I have not had malaria but I know many people who have. You cannot be vaccinated against malaria so it is necessary to take precautions:
Schistosomiasis (also known as bilharzia) is found in freshwater throughout Malawi. Some reports say bilharzia is no longer present in certain parts of the lake but we strongly advise anyone who even paddles in the lake to take the recommended medicine (Praziquantel) 8 weeks after swimming in the lake. For further peace of mind visit your doctor upon returning home as advised by Fit For Travel.
According to the World Health Organization Report, Malawi health system ranks number 185 out of 190. It is impossible to comment on the quality of clinics and hospitals throughout Malawi, however, I recently visited a clinic for the first time and was seen very promptly after registering and having a quick check of my weight and blood pressure. Following my diagnosis, I was placed on a course of antibiotics and 5-days later my symptoms had gone.
You cannot predict what will happen so we highly recommend arranging travel insurance before visiting Malawi.
So, all things considered, is it safe to travel Malawi? Yes. If you take the same precautions you would in any other country you will not be at any higher risk of being a victim of a crime or caught up in a distressing situation.
Need more convincing?
Time and time again Malawi is listed as one of the safest countries in Africa; 6th in this poll by Answers Africa. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), Malawi is one of 15 countries that are safer than the UK.
The best way to remain safe when travelling Malawi is to use a reputable tour operator to arrange your travel and accommodation and use their guiding services to explore this magnificent country. That being said, thousands of people, safely, solo travel Malawi every year.
Don’t take my word for it – visit Malawi and see for yourself!