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Malawi Travel Guide

Malawi — Transportation

Malawi Taxis and Car Rental

Both licensed and unlicensed taxis are available in all Malawi’s cities, although unlicensed cabs should be avoided. The vehicles themselves vary in age, condition, comfort, and maintenance, making each journey potentially a mini-adventure. Prices quoted to tourists are typically at least three times the going rate, so you should be prepared to negotiation a more reasonable fare before setting off. Ask an expat or friendly local what the price of the trip should be so you have a baseline for comparison. Avoid traveling at night if possible, as roads are unlit and accidents frequent. In the capital, BamberGTaxis (+265-951-308-0468) and Sputnik Airport Taxis (+265-761-563) are reliable operators. For short trips around town, a bicycle taxi (shapa shay), is a fun and cheap way to get around.

Given the reasonable state of Malawi's roads, self-drive is a good way to see the country, although by local standards it’s not exactly cheap unless you’re traveling in a small group and can share costs. Rural routes after heavy rain may become impassable, but major roads are generally well-maintained. Airports offer car rental though international companies such as Avis, but depots in the cities tend to have local firms whose idea of maintenance may not be up to Western standards. Roads in large cities can get crowded in rush hour, although in general the number of vehicles on Malawi’s streets is a fair way from stressful.

Malawi Water Taxis

Getting around Malawi by boat is one of the most enjoyable forms of transportation, with Lake Malawi at its hub. Ferries from Monkey Bay to Chilumba run regularly and take about eight hours if everything goes smoothly. If not, you'll likely lose a day, although reliability has improved lately. Ferries also connect the islands in the lake and tickets are reasonably priced. It’s possible to arrive in Malawi via a boat from Tanzania’s Mbamba Bay to Nikhata Bay, a four–hour, incredibly cheap trip.

Malawi Trains and Buses

For mainstream tourism, Malawi’s rail services offer little help, although the weekly train between Blantyre and Balaka makes for a ridiculously cheap excursion. Liwonde to the border town of Nayuchi is another useful route. The luxury end of Malawi bus transportation is run by Shire Bus Lines with a thrice-daily coach from Lilongwe to Blantyre.

Sacramento Bus offers express service between Lilongwe and Mzuzu, while Shire Buses also provides city-link express buses with limited stops and no standing in the aisles. The ordinary, uncomfortable long-distance buses stop absolutely everywhere, making journeys excruciatingly painful. For traveling around the cities, minibuses (usually provided as pick-up trucks with standing room only) are a scary, but practically free option. Lilongwe is also served by the Axa Bus Company.

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