Booking a holiday to Malawi or South Africa; what’s best for you?

Are you going on holiday to Malawi or South Africa? After living in South Africa for six years, we moved to Malawi. And our sustainable travel company moved with us! We now regularly get questions about the differences between Malawi and South Africa. For example from people who visited us in South Africa and are now wondering whether it’s worth it to also book a holiday to Malawi. And yes, it certainly is! We completely fell in love with Malawi. But everyone is different and we believe that only you can choose what’s best for you. Read more about the similarities and the differences between a holiday to Malawi and South Africa.

Booking a cheap holiday to Africa

Let’s start with the price. We’re still Dutch after all… Just to immediately throw in a cliché: you can make it as expensive or cheap as you want. Although Malawi is a much poorer country than South Africa, that doesn’t mean that a holiday to Malawi is automatically a lot cheaper. In fact, the airline tickets are even more expensive than to South Africa. This is because there is significantly less demand for flights to Malawi. As a result, fewer companies offer this option and there is therefore less competition amongst airlines. Fortunately, this has the enormous advantage that Malawi does not know any mass tourism.

Welcome to Malawi

The first sign you see when arriving at Lilongwe airport.

An average return flight from London to Lilongwe, Malawi, costs around $800, while to Johannesburg, South Africa, you pay around $500. Of course, there are regular specials and it also depends a lot on the time of year and your stopovers.

Holiday accommodation

On holiday in either Malawi or South Africa, you can choose all kinds of accommodations from budget backpacker hostel to luxury five-star resort and everything in between. Since South Africa is further developed as a holiday destination, you have a greater choice there. In Malawi, for example, there are beautiful locations, where only one or two accommodations can be found. There are more options around Lake Malawi, the national parks and in the cities and towns.

Lodge at Lake Malawi

When will you join us to our favorite lodge at Lake Malawi?

Unfortunately, in Malawi you also come across some large hotel chains, which immediately transfer all their profits into a foreign bank account. We believe that the country itself should benefit from the income from tourism and therefore only work with companies that value this. If you book your holiday to Malawi with us, you will stay in smaller, personal accommodations where the local community and surrounding environment come first. Did you know that we are in the process of becoming the first tour operator in Malawi to get officially certified by Travelife?

What can you eat and drink in Malawi and South Africa?

Shopping in Malawi is a bit more expensive than most people expect. This is because many products are imported from South Africa. Although, if you go to the local market for fruit and vegetables, then you really eat cheaply in Malawi. In addition, by doing this you directly stimulate the local economy. Many lodges, especially in remote areas, have all meals included in the room rate.

Howard and Dilo eat fish

Howard and Dilo are enjoying a fish from Lake Malawi with local vegetables and chips

The quality of the food here is always good. In many places you will see European and Asian influences, often with a Malawian twist. People here use a lot of oil for frying, which most Europeans consider too distasteful. To be on the safe side, especially in remote places, you can order your food “Azungu style”, which means; in the way of white people. When you go to a restaurant somewhere, we recommend to order meals prepared with local ingredients. Then the price remains low and you limit your ecological footprint. For a full-filling and tasty main course, you pay on average between $5 and $10. In the cities most restaurants are a bit more expensive, but then you also have more options. Do you like a little adventure and an authentic experience? Then we definitely recommend trying local ‘street food’ in Lilongwe. For less than $2 you can enjoy roasted maize on the cob with some chicken pieces. At Lake Malawi, for even less money you can buy fresh usipa (small fish) with nsima (maize porridge) and masamba (local leafy vegetables). Nowhere in the world will you get your food served with a great smile from a local than in Malawi!

Dilo drinking form a coconut

In Malawi and South Africa there are many places to get cheap and tasty ‘street food’. We love drinking directly from a coconut!

Did you know that there are countless banana and mango trees in Malawi? Due to the warmer winters than in South Africa, the fruit here is sweeter and full of flavor. Do you also love to pick your own fresh fruit and eat it right away?

On safari during your holiday

There is much more wildlife in South Africa than in Malawi. Nature conservation in Malawi is still in its infancy, while in South Africa many parks have been professionally protected and managed for years. This doesn’t mean that you can’t go on safari in Malawi! It is actually quite nice that you don’t have to choose from dozens of parks. And it is even better that you’re never stuck in traffic on safari in Malawi. Because far less people come here on holiday, you have the feeling that you’re really all by yourself on safari. You don’t see or hear other people. It’s just you and the African bush.

Elephant on safari in Malawi's Liwonde National Park

Besides game drives, boat safaris are a popular way to explore nature in Malawi. This way you experience nature in a completely different special way.

We have to admit, in a number of national parks and wildlife reserves in Malawi it is difficult to spot animals, because there are fewer than in South Africa. But in Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve, for example, nature has been fully restored and you can see a wide variety of beautiful wildlife. Including the famous Big 5! In this blog you will find a more detailed description of what it is like to go on safari in Malawi. Both Malawi and South Africa boast great numbers of beautiful birds and the landscapes in both countries are breath-taking.

African souvenirs

We aren’t real souvenir shoppers ourselves, but the prices are roughly the same in Malawi and South Africa. In this respect too, you have a wider choice in South Africa, but be careful not to buy “made in China” souvenirs. Also stay away from products from or with protected animals and plants, so that you won’t face any unpleasant surprises at customs. When in doubt, it is better not to buy anything.

African souvenirs

Many people love exploring souvenir markets.

Malawi is known for its beautiful wood carvings. With all the details and the high quality, this is actually art instead of a souvenir. So be prepared to pay a little more, but don’t forget that negotiating is always possible.

Transport in Malawi and South Africa

In South Africa it’s not really recommended to use public transport. In Malawi this is not a problem in terms of safety, but keep in mind that it is quite uncomfortable to spend hours in a slow-moving and packed mini-bus. On the other hand, it’s super cheap and you can have nice conversations with locals.

Self-drive in Malawi with a roof tent

We prefer traveling with our 4×4 and rooftop tent, but anything is possible.

In addition to the option to go on holiday with a driver-guide, you can also travel independently with a rental car in Malawi as well as South Africa. Malawi is a bit more “off the beaten track” for many and therefore there are fewer car rental companies here than in South Africa. The rates for this are a few dollars per day higher in Malawi, but you should pay more attention to insurance and other conditions. Of course, we can perfectly assist you with this!

Safety during your holiday

During your holiday you don’t want to worry about safety. Good news, because Malawi and South Africa are both safe countries for tourists. Malawi is overall one of the safest countries in the world. Wherever in the world you go on holiday, you’ll have to use common sense at all times. Especially in the cities and other busy places, you have the chance to encounter pickpockets. This isn’t really dangerous, but it definitely is very annoying if this would happen to you. If we are talking purely about crime against tourists, there are more incidents in South Africa than in Malawi. But this may also be, because many more people visit South Africa.

Map with safe countries of the world

The colors on this map show how safe each country is. Malawi is as green as most of Europe. Global Peace Index

If you are on holiday with a rental car, we don’t recommend driving in the dark in any African country. You don’t know the roads and can be surprised by sharp bends or holes in the road. Additionally, in many places, cattle, donkeys, goats or even wildlife walk along and on the road. In our first year in Africa, we had an accident when we drove into a suddenly crossing cow. Believe me, you don’t want to experience that! So drive during the day and make sure you are nicely at your accommodation at night. Then you won’t have to deal with bad or often missing street lights.

Visa for your holiday

Europeans and Americans need a tourist visa for Malawi and South Africa. Both countries provide this upon entry at the border in the form of a stamp with the end date in your passport. In South Africa, for many nationalities this visa is automatically valid for 90 days. Note, that is not exactly as long as three months! In South Africa this is free for the Dutch, Belgians and most Europeans, but you should always check the government information before you travel. In Malawi, a tourist visa costs $50 (recently reduced from $75) for 30 days. You can then extend this twice for 30 days for just over $10. Although sometimes you don’t have to pay anything at all for those extra stamps. If you’re lucky, the officer is in a good mood…

Hessel still enjoys getting new stamps in his passport!

Hessel still enjoys getting new stamps in his passport!

Do you choose a holiday to Malawi or South Africa?

Everyone is unique and no one has the same wishes when booking a holiday. Therefore, we provide a little overview of the differences between Malawi and South Africa: Malawi

  • Authentic and “off the beaten track”
  • Safe destination for holidays and in general
  • No mass tourism
  • Relatively small country, perfect for “slow travel”
  • Mix between East and Southern Africa

South Africa

  • More modern
  • Easily and relatively cheaply accessible
  • Good infrastructure
  • Everyone speaks English
  • Great variety of accommodations and restaurants

Sunset over Lake Malawi Are you already looking forward to booking your holiday to Africa? We like to answer all your questions during a (video) conversation. The better we get to know you and your wishes, the better we can give advice about your ideal holiday to Malawi and / or South Africa! If you subscribe to our mailing list, you will receive an update from Malawi twice a month. You will now also receive a free list with 8 tips for when you start packing for your holiday to Malawi! Will you let us know in the comments why you would rather go to Malawi or South Africa?


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