Although Lilongwe and Blantyre have American-style shopping malls, Malawi’s unique retail experience takes place in its sprawling street markets found in every city, town and village. As with the rest of Africa, Malawi is famed for its art and curios, the only source of income for its talented craftspeople. Wood carving in teak, ebony and mahogany is a traditional souvenir, with the carvings based on artifacts still in use in everyday life. Ceremonial dance masks, chiefs’ chairs, small tables and legendary folk figurines and animistic beliefs sit alongside ebony elephants and other African wildlife.
A new trend in Malawi is crafting using recycled materials such as bottle tops, wire and plastic, with artisans showing resourcefulness at its best. Other goods include vibrantly-colored batik textiles and traditional clothing, beadwork and jewelry, carved soapstone figures, cane or raffia baskets and decorative containers for the home.
The Craft Market in Old Town has a selection of everything, while the Old Town Mall has a huge variety of quality artifacts from all over the country. A massive new regional shopping mall opened in Lilongwe in 2011, based on the success of similar South African shopping hubs. Lilongwe’s other centers and malls include the new Crossroads Complex, full of upscale fashion and home decor, supermarkets and banks.
Blantyre’s city center is a hive of shops, larger stores, a market, and malls catering to shoppers and trades people from all over the region. The new Chichiri Shopping Center is a hub for expat and tourists and is one of the largest malls in the country, offering great choice at good prices. The city market stocks handicrafts including traditional musical instruments and clothing and bargaining is an essential, enjoyable experience for both buyer and seller.