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Why Malawi Is The Best African Destination For Female Travellers

Female travellers dominate the travel market

It’s no secret that women rule the travel industry. Research shows that they make up 64 per cent of all travellers and make 80 per cent of all travel decisions. 

In a recent survey, 70 per cent of travel agents stated that women are more likely to travel solo than men. In 2016, 68% of all women travellers were solo female travellers.  And in case you didn’t know, they’re doing it with their own money; 54% of well-to-do travellers (earning over $250K) are women.

So Why Malawi? Wait… Where is Malawi?

A quick Google Search will tell you that Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with over 73% of its population living on less than $1.90 per day. But somehow, this tiny, landlocked Southern African country beat over 200 countries/territories for a spot on Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Countries in 2014 and 2022! 

It has been featured on Forbes, CNN Travel, and National Geographic as a great travel destination.

So what is its secret?

Well…there are 5: It’s very safe, tiny, very geographically diverse, very rich in culture, and very cheap.

Is Malawi Safe?

Malawi has the same Global Peace Index (GPI) score as France. Under the “Peace and Security” component, it is the third-safest country in Africa and ranked higher than America. Unlike many poor countries, Malawi has not been ravaged by conflict, and crime is not spiralling out of control. On the contrary, Malawi is known as “the warm heart of Africa”–really! As a serial traveller and viral YouTuber, Drew Binsky points out, “Malawi is full of genuine smiles, laughter and happiness”.

women and men in malawi

While Malawi is generally safe for tourists, it’s always better to exercise caution. Here are some safety tips to follow:

  • Avoid walking around towns and cities after dark. Use taxis or transportation organised by your accommodation.
  • Keep your valuables hidden and in sight, and store them in your hotel’s safety deposit boxes if available.
  • Dress modestly in public areas, such as towns, villages, rural areas, and religious sites.
  • Avoid public displays of affection and physical contact with locals.
  • LGBTQIA individuals should exercise caution and discretion while travelling in Malawi due to the country’s legal framework and cultural attitudes.

Women’s Health and Safety Resources

Before travelling to Malawi, it is essential to prepare. It would be best if you visited your local GP for advice on recommended vaccinations, malaria prevention medications and general health advice for your trip. It would be best to get comprehensive travel insurance covering medical emergencies, evacuation, and repatriation. It is advisable to research and save contact details of your home country’s embassy in case of a medical emergency. 

In an emergency, it is essential to familiarise yourself with emergency service numbers in Malawi. The emergency number for police is 997, and for ambulance services, 998. You should also check your government’s travel advisory website for up-to-date information on safety and security in Malawi.

When it comes to local clinics and hospitals, small local clinics are available in most areas you’ll likely travel to. Still, the facilities and English-speaking medical staff may need to be improved. Your best bet for finding English-speaking doctors and well-equipped hospitals will be in major cities such as Lilongwe, Blantyre, and Mzuzu.

It is important to exercise safe food and water habits while in Malawi. You should drink only bottled or boiled water, avoid raw or undercooked foods to prevent foodborne illnesses and waterborne diseases and wash your hands frequently.

Finally, we advise against travel in local minibuses and motorbike taxis as they often drive recklessly. To ensure your safety, only use transportation arranged by us or your accommodation.

How big is Malawi?

In addition to being very safe, Malawi is relatively small, making it perfect for first-time travellers to Africa. This is why it is so familiar to see conspicuously foreign backpackers lugging their bags between cities. The tarred inter-city roads make it easy to zoom between the country’s many diverse tourist attractions (see the next section). Does that mean you won’t come across a city neighbourhood riddled with potholes or a difficult village road? Not on your life, but it means you can reach most travel destinations quickly and comfortably.

What can you do in Malawi?

Malawi has an unbelievably diverse geographic landscape offering many different holiday experiences. Want to go on a Safari? A challenging mountain climb? A chilled tropical island retreat? A mesmerising scuba dive? A trip to ancient history? Malawi has something for you.

Great Safari Experiences 

Malawi’s Safari destinations make for some genuinely remarkable game-viewing experiences. As a poorer African country, its marketing budget is negligible compared to other powerhouses like South Africa and Kenya. 

Like most hidden gem experiences, you can experience its attractions without the crowds and overcommercialization to enjoy your driving, walking, or boating safaris in peace. 

Majete Wildlife Reserve and Liwonde National Park host the Big Five (elephants, lions, rhinos, lions, leopards, and buffalo): cheetahs, painted wolves, hippos, crocodiles, sable antelope, and many other large animals. Not to mention, this tiny nation is home to over 650 species of birds.

A big reason Malawi’s wildlife thrives is the fantastic job that African Parks has done managing the reserves and national parks. They have introduced over 5,000 animals of 17 species, conducted the most giant black rhino and the largest elephant translocations in history, and established one of the most effective ranger forces in the region using the most effective technology to remove more than 40,000 snares. 

They have also done a great job engaging the local communities, supporting schools and community health centres, and implementing a chilli farming project, drastically reducing human-wildlife conflict by deterring elephants and enriching local farmers. 

rhino liwonde

Mountains & Forest Experiences

Malawi is also an excellent destination for avid hikers. There are many options, but the three most popular are Mount Mulanje, Zomba Plateau (Zomba Massif), and Nyika Plateau. boasting three main attractions which offer unique flora and fauna, dense forestry, and freshwater streams and waterfalls to swim in and even drink from. Regardless of your skill level, an enchanting trail in Malawi is perfect.

Mount Mulanje, over 3,000 metres tall, hosts spectacular and historic tea and coffee estates that wrap around its base, seamlessly blending into the surrounding forestry. The Mulanje Massif offers 20 peaks above 2,500 metres, and the landscape is scattered with rivers, gorges, waterfalls and unique vegetation.

The Zomba Plateau (Zomba Massif) has a raised forested area of 140 square kilometres over 1,800 metres high. Its steep edges offer viewpoints that used to be described as “the best views in the British Empire”. Its fauna includes giant butterflies, baboons and large numbers of birds. Leopards have also occasionally been sighted there.

Nyika plateau has a raised area of over 3,200 square kilometres, around 2,500 metres tall. It makes up Malawi’s largest national park and is home to the largest concentration of orchids in Southern Africa–over 200 types. As a critical mountain water catchment area, it attracts several animals, including zebra, roan antelope, eland, and Malawi’s highest concentration of leopards.

lady climbing mount mulanje

Tropical Lake and Island Resorts

Lake Malawi contains 7% of the world’s available surface freshwater and is home to over 1,000 unique species of fish–most of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. This UNESCO World Heritage Site makes for an amazing holiday destination. With palm trees, sandy beaches, and little tropical islands, it’s easy to think you’re at sea…until the water hits your eyes and it doesn’t sting. Popular activities on the lake include diving, snorkelling, horse riding, feeding sea eagles, sailing, and many more beach activities.

Lake Malawi is also home to several unique island resorts. Blue Zebra, named after a colourful cichlid (fish), is just 2 hours from Lilongwe International Airport. It is nestled on the unspoilt Nankoma Island, which offers wild island flora and fauna and a bustling freshwater habitat. Mumbo Island is an unpopulated paradise covered in thick miombo woodland, ancient fig, and giant baobab trees. The off-grid, eco-friendly Island Camp sleeps 14, offering a barefoot luxury experience. Kaya Mawa is Malawi’s most luxurious island getaway on the historically rich Likoma Island. The lodge has been featured in Forbes Magazine for marrying luxury, social responsibility, and environmentalism in its business model.

women on a rock on mumbo island, malawi

Malawi’s Rich Culture!

One of Malawi’s best cultural attractions is the mystic secret society of masked men known as the Gule Wamkulu, established in the 17th century. Their elaborate costumes and masks made of wood and straw represent various characters, including wild animals, spirits of the dead, slavers, and even objects such as motorbikes and helicopters. No wonder they are listed on UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The Chongoni Rock Art, created by Batwa hunter-gatherers in the late Stone Ages, is also a must-see. The 127 sites are recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, representing one of Africa’s richest concentrations of stone art. History buffs can also view the Malawisaurus dinosaur at Karonga Museum.

Arts Festivals

Malawi has a lively entertainment scene as the host of Lake of Stars, which is one of Africa’s largest Arts Festivals held on the glistening beaches of Lake Malawi. There is also the Tumaini Arts Festival, a free arts festival highlighting the multitude of cultures inside Malawi’s largest refugee camp, Dzaleka. Some newer additions to the scene are Art in the Park, held in the capital city Lilongwe, to highlight various art forms and talents in the country and the annual Wine Festival hosted by our sister company, Wines & Wings. There is no limit to the popularity of the arts in Malawi, which is even home to a Grammy-nominated prison band of inmates.

malawi drums

Malawi’s Green Credentials

Malawi is a popular destination for eco-friendly tourism, with many lodges following strict sustainable practices. As most of the country’s main attractions are natural reserves, the lodges here are committed to providing guests with an environmentally responsible experience. Many of these lodges are small and powered by solar energy, and they use water and recycle resources responsibly. They often grow their produce, and their kitchens use primarily locally sourced ingredients. 

Conservation is a top priority for lodges in and around national parks, and they adhere to a strict ethical code of conduct. Additionally, they contribute a levy per bed night to local conservation organisations, and some actively participate in conservation efforts. For example, Mvuu Lodge runs a program called ‘Children in the Wilderness‘, which educates local children on the importance of conservation, reforestation, and protecting wildlife habitats. This program aims to steer children away from poaching and helps them develop essential skills for their future. As the local population grows, protecting the natural beauty of Malawi becomes increasingly crucial.

Is it cheap to travel to Malawi?

As a poor country, Malawi has a low cost of living and can offer magical experiences at a fraction of what it would cost in neighbouring countries. But as wonderful as Malawi and its people are, it is a place in need. In 2023, Cyclone Freddy exposed the highly vulnerable situation that the Malawians living in rural areas find themselves in.

Fortunately, it is straightforward for tourists to make positive contributions. Just visiting Malawi makes a huge difference. Tourism accounts for 7% of employment; the government considers it a “key driver for sustainable growth and economic development.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean your money will automatically trickle down to those needing it. Still, by asking a few questions, you can easily create a great itinerary that helps the communities you travel to. However, the Malawian tourism sector provides many opportunities to support initiatives that blend women’s economic empowerment, environmental protection, and wildlife conservation. 

The former owner of Kaya Mawa established the Katundu project, which empowers women through artisanal training and ethical employment. Their unique and exquisite handcrafted pieces comprise a big part of the lodge’s interior design. 

Zumba Forest Lodge started the TREEZ conservation project to protect, rehabilitate and enhance the environment and ecosystem of the Zomba Plateau. They sponsor local football and netball teams and enlist their help in tree planting and fire prevention, they sponsor concerts and community activities to raise environmental awareness, and they provide financial support to the Zomba Forestry Department. 

Ready to Visit?

So there you have it. Malawi is truly a hidden gem destination, and it’s obvious why it’s such a hit with women adventure travellers. Interested in finding out more about what your trip would look like? Check out our Malawian Adventure itinerary.

Would you like to visit Malawi?


What should I wear to respect local customs while staying comfortable in Malawi's climate?

We suggest dressing modestly in public areas such as towns and villages. Avoid wearing clothing that is too revealing and instead choose mid-thigh to knee-length shorts, long pants, knee-length skirts or dresses, and tops that cover your shoulders. However, wear whatever you find comfortable at your accommodation, beach, or pool, including swimwear. Keep in mind that any nudity or topless display is strongly discouraged.

How can I ensure my safety when travelling solo in Malawi?

When traveling in Malawi, it is advisable to refrain from walking alone at night, especially in urban areas. It is also recommended to stay alert to your surroundings and be vigilant when interacting with strangers. When using public transportation, opt for reputable companies and try to travel during the day. Keep your valuables secured, and avoid displaying wealth in public. By following these guidelines, you can ensure a safe and pleasant trip to Malawi.

Are there any local customs or etiquette I should know to avoid offending locals?

Greetings in Malawi typically involve a handshake, considered an important social custom. Failing to do so may be perceived as impolite. Additionally, removing your shoes before entering someone’s home or a place of worship is customary. Dressing modestly is also essential, especially when visiting rural areas or religious sites. Finally, it is considered impolite to point with your finger, so try to use your whole hand instead.

Unfortunately, homosexuality is illegal in Malawi, and the LGBTQIA+ community is not widely accepted. It’s essential to exercise caution and discretion regarding public displays of affection or discussing LGBTQIA+ issues. Researching LGBTQIA+-friendly establishments and organisations is also good before travelling to Malawi.

What areas in Malawi are safe and suitable for female visitors who are traveling to the country for the first time?

Malawi is a beautiful and welcoming country, and several areas are safe and suitable for first-time female visitors. Here are some recommendations:

1. Lilongwe – The capital city of Malawi is a great place to start your journey. It has various accommodation options, restaurants, and attractions, such as the Lilongwe Wildlife Center and the Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary.

2. Lake Malawi – This stunning lake is one of the biggest attractions in Malawi. Several safe and secluded beaches around the lake are perfect for solo female travellers.

3. Zomba – This small town is located south of Malawi and is known for its colonial architecture, hiking trails, and beautiful waterfalls. It’s a peaceful and safe destination for female travellers.

4. Nkhata Bay – This is another popular spot on the shores of Lake Malawi. It has a laid-back atmosphere is famous for its beach bars and water sports activities.

5. Mangochi – This lakeside town is great for relaxing and enjoying the stunning scenery. It’s a safe destination and has a range of accommodation options.

Are there any restrictions on photography or specific cultural sites?

Travellers are advised to ask permission to photograph any people during their visit. We suggest refraining from photography inside religious buildings when a service occurs.

How is the internet connectivity in Malawi?

Internet connectivity in Malawi is touch and go and will depend on the lodge and area you are travelling. You can check if your accommodation has Wi-Fi or cell network on the individual lodge pages on our website; otherwise, please don’t hesitate to ask us.

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