The country of Malawi uses the kwacha as its official currency. The word comes from a Nyanja word meaning ‘dawn’.
What coins and notes are available for this currency?
This decimal currency can be divided into 100 tambala. Incidentally tambala translates into ‘rooster’ – the bird that was depicted on the very first instance of the one tambala coin (a coin no longer in use). It also makes a good choice since kwacha translates into dawn!
The only coins that are commonly in use now are those of the kwacha. Inflation has consigned the tambala coins almost to history, although you may still see them around. The tambala coins are denominated as 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 tambala coins. The ones you will see are the 1, 5 and 10 kwacha coins.
There are several banknotes used by Malawians, and these are the 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 kwacha notes.
From past to present – the history of the Malawian kwacha
Malawi once used the Malawian pound, but in 1971 the government brought in the kwacha to replace it. Two of the new kwacha were worth the same as one of the old Malawian pounds. Their version of the pound was used because of the time when Malawi was essentially a part of Great Britain. Upon independence it brought in its own version of the pound, before opting to change eventually to the kwacha.
How to get hold of the Malawian kwacha
Since you won’t be able to get your kwacha notes before arriving in Malawi, you will have to explore the options for getting them once you arrive. This is best done by visiting either a bank or a bureau de change. There is a reasonable number of these in the main cities, but it goes without saying that finding currency becomes much harder the further you go into rural areas. This means making sure you are prepared and have enough cash to last when you want to see more of the country.
You’ll have to make sure you take in enough cash to exchange before you leave for Malawi too. Their old association with Great Britain means the British pound is recognised and easily changed here, although you could also opt for the US dollar with no problems. This is very much a cash society so you shouldn’t expect to make much use of your credit or debit card. Indeed it is all but impossible to use cards outside the biggest cities.
You can still take traveller’s cheques with you if you want to make sure you have something other than just cash. The best option is to take your traveller’s cheques in British pounds or US dollars.
How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the Malawian kwacha
Just find your favourite currency converter tool and locate the Malawian currency on there. By using the ISO code (the kwacha is known by the code MWK) you should be able to find it easily enough. You can convert from the British pound or any other currency depending on your needs.
There is a High Commission for Malawi in London and their website has some useful information about travel and tourism. You can take a look at the site by visiting this link – http://www.malawihighcommission.co.uk/.
Travelling safely with the Malawian kwacha
For the most part Malawi is a safe country to visit, which will no doubt come as good news for anyone wishing to go there. However there are the usual caveats to offer in terms of minimising the danger posed by pickpockets and petty criminals.
This is particularly worth noting since the country is a cash-based one. People will expect you to be carrying cash so the less you can carry the less you’ll lose if you are targeted. The best bet is to separate your notes and keep smaller amounts in different pockets as this means you’ll lose less if you are picked on. Bags are also worthy targets for many criminals, so keep a tight hold on yours, keep it zipped shut or closed and sling it over your opposite shoulder. It is also worth keeping an eye out around you when walking through busy places such as the markets.
Finally keep your passport and anything else you don’t need to carry with you in your hotel safe. You should also make copies so you have some evidence that might help if things do go missing.
Where to spend your kwacha in Malawi – and what to spend them on
Malawi is located in the south-eastern portion of Africa. It shares its borders with just three other countries. The first is Tanzania to the north, while the next country along in a clockwise direction is Mozambique. This wraps around the southern end of Malawi. Finally there is Zambia which is located to the west. While Malawi is a landlocked country, it does share a watery border with both Mozambique and Tanzania, thanks to the presence of Lake Malawi.
In fact let’s start here in terms of looking at the various places you can go in Malawi. Lake Malawi is known as one of the country’s prime tourist attractions and for good reason too. This lake means you can have a beach-based holiday in Malawi if you want one, thanks to the presence of plenty of beaches and also lots of opportunities by way of water-based sports. Also nearby is Lake Malawi National Park. You’ll find this at the southern end of the lake, and it has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are plenty of lodges here you can book to stay in, and while a significant portion of the park includes part of the lake itself, it does also extend inland.
The capital of Malawi is a city called Lilongwe. Unbelievably this was once a humble fishing village but today it is home to hundreds of thousands of people. It makes you wonder what those early settlers would make of their former home today! The markets here are one of the undoubted highlights, providing a chance to explore the many items for sale. These include bowls, statues and many wooden trinkets and objects that would make a fine souvenir of your time in Malawi.
Another area you may want to visit is the Thyolo Forest Reserve. This is famous for its tea estates and you can even choose to stay here if you wish. The area is popular among walkers as there are many trails you can follow and enjoy. The refined nature of the area, especially given the immense care and attention paid to maintaining it, is nothing short of impressive.
As you might have guessed, there are many natural sights to be appreciated throughout Malawi. Another example of this is Liwonde National Park, which is an excellent place to visit if you want to see some animals in their natural habitat, including elephants. You can actually get transport here quite easily from Liwonde itself, a town nearby. Again you can stay in the park itself and make the most of the facilities there, not to mention going on game viewing expeditions. Some of these are conducted on foot while others are in the more traditional 4x4s. Apart from elephants you can also see buffalo and literally hundreds of different types of birds here. You’ll need to watch closely and stay alert to see them all but it is a fascinating and thrilling experience.
There are many other national parks and reserves all over Malawi so if this one doesn’t suit your needs there are many others to choose from. The Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve is particularly worth noting since it gets its name from the mountain called Mulanje nearby. This provides a dramatic backdrop against the nature reserve itself. It is somewhat under threat compared to other parks in the country owing to the ever-increasing populations nearby. However since so many species make their home here it is hoped that the park will always be protected. It would be a shame for anything other than this to happen.
If you didn’t know much about Malawi prior to reading this article you may have been surprised at the sheer amount of attractions and places you can look forward to visiting if you decide to go there. Indeed, if you love the outdoors and getting closer to nature, this is a country that makes it particularly easy to do so.
Any trip should include some time near Lake Malawi, even if you don’t have a beach-based holiday in mind. Other than that you can explore the national parks or perhaps just visit one of them. There is really so much to do and appreciate in this fairly small country (compared to the size of others nearby, such as Mozambique) that it seems a shame to miss out on an entertaining and educational visit there.
Are you ready to see everything Malawi has to offer?