Monday, 16 August 2010

Top 10 items you need to pack for a trip to Malawi

So, you have your trip booked, great - and you've weighed up the different flight providers, excellent - but what are you going to pack in your 23kg (46kg if you're flying Ethiopian) of luggage space?

I've compiled a list of 'must have' luggage items for your trip to Malawi, whether you are just staying in Lilongwe, or travelling up to the Northern region (and Sambani Lodge!) Or even into Tanzania or Mozambique - here are my top 10 tips for things not to forget:

1. Anti-malarials
Definitely don't forget these. Malawi does have the female mosquitos that carry Malaria, and although prevention is better than cure, if you are bitten you'll be glad you have them. Read my previous article on the anti-malarial drugs available in the UK.

2. Long-sleeved clothing
This ties in with the prevention rather than cure philosophy. Mosquitos are most active at dawn and at dusk, so for these key times, make sure wrists and ankles are properly covered. Mosquitos love these areas of the body, as the blood vessels are close to the surface, and the skin is thin. You could go for socks and gloves as well, but that might be going over the top!

3. Bug spray!
This is turning into a medical post, don't worry, there are non-bug related things to pack! An excellent spray for warding off creepy crawlies will have a high concentration of Deet in it. Make sure you take enough, as there's nothing worse than running out in the middle of nowhere.

4. Old clothes
Sounds silly, right? You don't want to bring old clothes as they'll take up loads of room and you want to wear new stuff on your trip, right? Wrong! Bring a load of old clothes, especially stuff that you don't mind leaving in Malawi; that way when you are travelling you can use your old stuff, which you won't mind getting dirty, and wear your new stuff once you arrive at your destination. The added bonus is Malawians will often take payment for souvenirs in old clothing (or just donations!) so you know your old garments are going towards a good cause.

5. Cheap digital watch
One of the best purchases I've ever made for travelling to Africa is a cheap digital watch. They're really reliable, they don't stand out to thieves as they are quite prolific in Malawi, and you won't mind if it breaks or gets lost, as you only paid a few pounds for it. Just remember the appointments/buses/people in Malawi run on GMT (General Malawi Time) so give everything you do a few hours flexibility.

6. Everything to do with the sun
Sunhat, sunglasses, sun cream etc. Malawi can get hot. Damn hot! Sitting in the tropics, Malawi has pretty consistently hot weather, from north to south. Half the country sits at the top of the rift valley at an altitude of over 1000ft above sea level and common temperatures are 26-33 degrees celsius. If you head down to the lake, whether it be Sambani Lodge in Chintheche or up to Karonga, temperatures push 40 at some times during the year, so make sure you take the usual stuff to protect you from the rays.

7. Camera equipment and a battery charger
It almost goes without saying that you should take your camera, batteries and a charger to Malawi when you go. I just wanted to emphasize a couple of points here. Firstly, Malawi is an AMAZING place to take photographs, I have never taken so many good, high-saturation, colourful photos as I have in Malawi. Secondly, because of the hot humid conditions, your batteries will run out quicker than usual, and there is nothing worse than framing the perfect shot, only to realise you are out of juice!

8. A good library of books
The idea of timekeeping is incredibly loose in Malawi, and, as mentioned earlier, the Malawian attitude to time can be summed up as GMT (general malawi time). As this is the case, if you are doing any travelling around in Malawi, you should be prepared to spend long periods waiting for people or activity. The remedy for this is, of course, ensuring you have the latest version of the lonely planet, or some other weighty tome, to keep you occupied. And of course you can always leave your novel with a friendly (and appreciative) Malawian once you're done.

9. Our Chewa phrasebook
Ok, so I had to get a plug in somewhere! Serioisly though, while most Malawians can speak small amounts of faltering English (and you'll get loads of kids shouting 'how are you' at you), I'd thoroughly recommend buying a copy of our phrasebook (a snip at £3) to help you with some of the common words, phrases and verbs in Chewa. It will REALLY make a splash with local Malawians and springboard you to the centre of attention, whether at a bus stop or in the market.

10. Leave some space!
I mention this one through first-hand experience of having to travel with a carved 'elephant' stool in my hand luggage because it wouldn't fit in my hold baggage allowance. Leave some space as you are likely to want to bring some (lots) of items back from Malawi - whether it be ceramic pieces from the two famous potteries - Dedza and Nkhotakota - carvings, paintings, jewellery or any other souvenirs that can be found throughout the country.

Those are my top 10 for now - let me know what you think you'd add to that list, or if you disagree using the comments section below!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

What's the cheapest way to fly to Malawi from London?

Malawi as a holiday destination can be pretty cheap once you're there, but what airlines fly to Malawi from London, what's the cheapest way to get there, and what do you trade off with a cheap flight?

Which airlines fly has been a bone of contention for some time as there used to be direct flights to Malawi with British Airways, which were brilliant. However these flights were stopped around 2000, for reasons unknown. I presume it was uneconomical for them to fly and once the profit margin falters on those long haul flights they get descheduled pretty quickly.

So who actually flies to Malawi from London?

At time of writing, the following airlines are offering a route to Malawi:

  • Air France
  • KLM
  • South African Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Ethiopian Airlines
What routes do these airlines take to Malawi from London?
The Air France route to Malawi is part operated by Kenya Airways, and they fly: London Heathrow > Paris > Nairobi > Lilongwe (Malawi capital in the central region of Malawi)

The KLM route from London to Lilongwe is also part operated by Kenya Airways but their route is: London Heathrow > Amsterdam > Nairobi > Lilongwe

South African airlines offers a longer route which goes: London Heathrow > Johannesburg > Lilongwe
Virgin Atlantic fly (in partnership with South African): London Heathrow > Johannesburg > Lilongwe
Finally, Ethiopian Airlines operates a route to Malawi via its hub in Ethiopia, and its route is: London Heathrow > Addis Ababa > Lusaka or Lubumbashi (refuel) > Lilongwe
That's all great, but how long do they take to get there, and get back?!

                      LHR - LLW        LLW - LHR
Air France       c. 12 hrs          c. 15 hrs
KLM               c. 12 hrs          c. 15 hrs
South African  c. 15 hrs          c. 18 hrs
Ethiopian        c. 14 hrs          c. 20 hrs
Virgin Atlantic  c. 14hrs           c. 15hrs

So, which airline is the cheapest to travel to Malawi?

Without a doubt, the cheapest airline to fly with is Ethiopian Airlines. They are consistently the lowest cost over the course of the year, and their top prices are not that much higher than their value fares. You can expect to pay between £490 - £700 for a flight
The other airlines - KLM/Air France/South African depend on when you book and when you travel, but cost around £600 - £900.
The most expensive is Virgin Atlantic - a flight with them will cost around £1000+

Finally, which is the best airline to fly with?

Well, in this humble blog author's opinion, South African is the best for experience, it's comfortable and the air crew are friendly and experienced (especially if linked with a Virgin Atlantic flight!).

KLM/Air France and good for speed of journey, they get you there quickest, but part of the flight is operated by Kenya Airways, which can be hit and miss, and Nairobi Airport is chaotic.
Ethiopian really fits the mantra that you get what you pay for in a flight, expect chickens in the aisle, toilet lights that don't work and films that are too long for the flight. However it is cheap and you get 46kg baggage allowance - double what the other airlines offer, so plenty of room to bring back oodles of African carvings...if you're happy to sit on a flight for 20 hours!