Seldom Seen Most Beautiful Parts of Malawi Tour

Tour 1: 27th April – 7th May 2024

Tour 2: 11th May – 21st May 2024

Book

Lilongwe to Blantyre via Lake Malawi and the Liwonde Game Reserve.

Please contact James to check availability for your chosen Tour dates. A 50% deposit secures your place. The other 50% is due 6 weeks prior to the Tour.  Should you be unable to participate after paying your deposit you may substitute a different person to take your place. If the Organisors cancel the Tour for any reason we will either agree (with your consent) to an alternate tour or refund you in full.

Duration: 6 days riding, 3 rest days, 2 days for traveling to and from Malawi
Distance: Approx. 650km (longer Route)
Cost: R30 000 per person sharing. A single supplement at some hotels is available – Please contact James who will provide details on this option.
Bike: Bring your own bike – Mountain Bike (Hard Tail or Full Suspension) or Gravel Bike or E-Bike
Included: 10 nights accommodation, the best available, 3 meals per day, refreshments on each day’s ride & vehicle back up and support. Fantastic well-planned routes offering you a unique cycling tour – GPX files for each day’s ride to download onto your device. Every participant will receive a unique cycling top as a memento! The Group size is small (max of 12 riders) to ensure a friendly tour with lots of individual care and attention for each participant. Nobody will be left behind, and those wishing to ride ahead following a Garmin track are welcome to do so!
Excluded: Excluding flights, Game Drives, bar bills, Tips, Items of a personal nature.

This is an 11-day holiday (10 nights). Starting in Malawi’s Capital City – Lilongwe, routing along the edge of the Great Rift Valley, before dropping down to Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is a holiday paradise, water sports, relaxing at resorts or visiting real African villages – your choice of what to do! The holiday includes two rest days at the best resorts on the Lake.

From the Lake the tour winds its way to Liwonde which features one of Malawi’s best game reserves located on the Shire River. After a third rest day at Liwonde spent game viewing and relaxing, the tour heads for Blantyre with an overnight stop at Malawi’s original Capital – Zomba.

The final evening in Blantyre is a celebration dinner at Blantyre’s best restaurant – Bombay Palace. The next morning it’s off to Chileka Airport, Blantyre to board your flight home after an unforgettable African experience!

About this Tour

After moving to Malawi in 2018, James has ridden thousands of kilometers and mapped the best routes. Malawi is undeveloped and has a huge friendly rural population with little private ownership of land. Free access to all land is permitted. Paths and district roads stretch for hundreds of kilometers in all directions, creating a unique Mountain Bike or Gravel Bike cycling paradise. This is a tour not to miss, it is highly recommended!

Day 1

Arrive by air on the daily flight from Johannesburg; or via your chosen route and we’ll meet you at Kamuzu International Airport, Lilongwe, Malawi.

The rest of the afternoon is spent checking into our Lilongwe Accommodation, Wendel’s Guest House, building bikes and taking your bike for a test run. Dinner is a social occasion hosted by our host and Chef supreme – Tom who is a local cycling legend – and his wife Mel. The evening is planned to be a relaxed social affair; to meet the tour group and to get to know each other better.

Day 2

Lilongwe to Dedza Pottery (99km)

After an early breakfast, we leave Lilongwe passing the Presidential House and head into the countryside on winding sand roads and tracks. As we leave Lilongwe, we leave the more urban villages on the outskirts of the city behind us and head into farmlands, farmed by small scale farmers. There are no gates or fences, and the riding is not technical. The first half of today’s ride is mildly undulating. At Nkhoma Village we will stop for refreshments.

The second half of the ride to Dedza is a little more strenuous as we climb towards Dedza which is the highest point of the tour. Closer to Dedza we will pass through beautiful pine forests, as we climb gradually to our over-night stop.

We will be staying at Dedza Pottery. Our support crew and Malawi’s legendry ‘’Thobwa’’ protein/energy replacement drink will be waiting for us! A late lunch will be served, and the afternoon is at leisure to look around the Dedza pottery workshop. An early dinner will be served at about 18H30. The Chicken Kawasho Kawasho is highly recommended!

Day 3

Dedza Pottery to Eagles Nest, Chembe Village – Cape Maclear. (Intermediate Route 124km, Longer Route 154km)

Today’s distances look daunting at 154km for the long route, it is however a spectacular mostly downhill ride! After a few Kilometers on the M1 (main tar road – take care), we follow a beautiful – almost brand-new quiet tar road – leading down the escarpment into the Great Rift Valley. It’s a mix of switch backs and descending, you may think you are in Italy’s Dolomites! The early morning views with mist hanging over the Rift Valley are spectacular. Halfway down we turn off the Golomoti Pass tar road and follow a sand road and then a second quiet tar road before reaching our first major village at Kasinje at the 78km mark. It’s a well-deserved Coke stop!

The middle portion of today’s ride is on a good sand roads and slowly becomes more single track as we leave the more populated areas behind. At 124 km we cross a tar road where a support vehicle can collect those who have had enough! The last 30km to Cape Maclear are scenic but be warned – there is a final short steep climb on an old pot holed tar road, before a fantastic free wheel into Cape Maclear.

While today’s distances are long the downhills, some tar road, and good condition sand farm paths contribute to making these distances achievable and very rewarding to complete.

We will be staying at Eagles Nest – Chembe Village, Cape Maclear. This is a well-run beautiful resort on the edge of Cape Maclear with its own private beach. Cape Maclear is a fishing village, visited frequently by tourists – Malawi’s answer to the Cote d’Azure with sparkling turquoise waters fringed by the vibe of everyday African village life.

Day 4

Rest Day – Chembe Eagles Nest – Cape Maclear

Our first well deserved rest day is at Cape Maclear. It is said that David Livingstone described Cape Maclear as one of the most beautiful sites in Africa. The village of Chembe at Cape Maclear has grown enormously over the last few years but it remains idyllic, offering a wonderful African experience.

Activities include snorkeling, paddling, feeding the many fish eagles, visiting the village, or just chilling at the swimming pool. For the more energetic a ride to Monkey Bay is an option! Very friendly local’s will offer to sew you bags, happy pants, wooden curio’s, boating trips …. Please consider supporting them!

Day 5

Chembe Eagles Nest (Cape Maclear) to Makokola Retreat. (95km)

Today it’s one of my favorite routes!

I always leave Cape Maclear with a heavy heart – it’s a happy place, but on we go, so much more to see and explore! We climb slowly out of Chembe village, and soon we are on village tracks again. The route is undulating, scenic and with a gentle climb to the day’s high point at 66 km, all on very good tracks. As we drop back down towards the Lakes more southern shores we will be treated to magnificent views of the Lake – slow down, stop and enjoy the view! The last few km’s is on one of the gravel roads where some traffic can be expected.

Makokola Retreat, Malawi’s premier and most luxurious Lake Resort awaits us! We should arrive in time for a hearty lunch! The afternoon is at leisure to enjoy the many activities on offer at Makokola Retreat or just to put your feet up and relax!

Day 6

Rest Day: Makokola Retreat.

Today is our second rest day with lots to offer! Makokola Website. A late sleep in, and a relaxing day! Makokola Retreat has something for everybody, water sports, bird watching, feeding fish eagles, diving in the Lake to view Lake Malawi’s famous Cichlids (tropical fish), or just relaxing at Makokola’s fantastic pool, or at one of the many lounges.

For the more adventurous mingling with locals at the local village is a good way to meet the gentle and very kind Malawians who epitomise the slogan – “Malawi the Warm Heart of Africa.”

Day 7

Makokola Retreat to Liwonde Safari Camp (Liwonde Game Reserve). ( 134 km)

Today after a good rest at the Lake – the Queen stage of the tour! A good opportunity to work off any overindulgence!! Today will test your fitness, it’s a long but rewarding day!

After a hearty breakfast buffet, we will retrace our incoming route for a few kilometers and climb inland leaving Lake Malawi behind us. Most of today’s climbing comes early on a district sand road, and a cautious start will pay dividends!

From the high point it’s a meandering route through villages and small-scale farmlands down towards the Shire River (the only river that flows out of Lake Malawi, and a major tributary feeding the Zambezi River.) The route is on village tracks with a few km’s of riding on a new tar road just before we reach the town of Liwonde. We cross the Shire at the new barrage at Liwonde and ride through the town on a heavily pot holed tar road before reaching our Camp just inside the Liwonde Game Reserve. The Liwonde Game Reserve is one of three reserves in Malawi which after years of poaching are being repopulated. Currently Liwonde is a Big 5 reserve, but with limited infrastructure.

Day 8

Rest Day at Liwonde Safari Camp.

Liwonde Safari Camp is a real Malawi experience, two nights in the bush! Its basic, its clean, it’s laid back, it’s two nights under the stars, housed in either a large tent or dormitory!

There is one “luxury suite” see photos below! This will be auctioned with every cent raised going to the Blantyre SPCA. The Blantyre SPCA is run by Dr Dagmar, a young German lady Vet with an absolute passion for animals. She deserves our support and if she is available she will be invited to our Celebratory Dinner once we reach Blantyre.

A river cruise along the Shire River exploring the edge of the Liwonde Game Reserve is an option. Elephants, Hippo’s, Crocs, and many other animals, including leopards and lions can be seen. (Please note a river cruise is not included in the tour fee, the cost is normally about ZAR 600 per person, before negotiation!)

Other options for the day include taking it easy at the splash pool, watching game from the viewing decks, or going on a game drive. For the more adventurous a ride into the town of Liwonde to visit the market or a ride to the seldom seen Malape Sand Pillars are options to consider.

Day 9

Liwonde Safari to Zomba – (75 km)

We leave Liwonde Safari Camp and follow the Shire River east. It’s a short day’s ride with a tough climb towards the end!

At the halfway mark, a Coke stop is essential, the big climb of the tour awaits us!

It’s a tough climb, but well worth the sense of achievement! It reminds me of some of the great climbs of the Giro or Tour de France, getting up without putting a foot down deserves an applause! Fortunately, it’s on an old tar/concrete road built in the days when the Zomba cement factory was operational. It’s also a Strava section – go for it, it’s currently my Crown, but yours to take! From the top it’s an easy, fast ride into Zomba!

For those who wish to duck the climb a motor bike taxi (Called a “Shifter” in Malawi) will shift you and your bike up the hill!! Negotiate a fair price and you will be on top in minutes!

We will regroup at the top of the climb and ride to the town of Zomba (the Capital of Malawi during Colonial times) A new Coffee Shop/ Small Hotel is opening in Zomba (Called Kefi), and we hope to stay with them. A drive or even a ride to the top of the Zomba Plateau is an afternoon option!

Day 10

Zomba to Blantyre. (96 km)

Our last day!! The ride from Zomba to Blantyre is different to the other days in that we pass through some commercial farms farming tobacco, macadamia, soya, and maize. We will also pass-through small scale local farmers and at this time of year the harvest will be in full swing.

It’s a meandering route, on good paths and tracks…

We have the option of a few Coke stops at village shops and the last refreshment stop in the trading center of Lunzu, a busy town not far from Blantyre.

The gateway into Blantyre (Malawi’s Financial hub), is “guarded” by the infamous Sanjika climb. Sanjika is a Strava segment and one of the most prized crowns in Malawi! See if you can take it on tired legs from Dr eRni Welsh, an Anesthetist from Johannesburg!

Once back in Blantyre lunch will be served and then there will be time to pack bikes and recover! That evening a celebratory dinner will be held at Blantyre’s finest eating establishment, Bombay Palace which has been serving Blantyre and its visitors since the 1950’s.

 

Day 11

Homeward Bound!

The daily Air Malawi flight to Johannesburg leaves Blantyre’s Chileka International Airport at 09H30. After an early breakfast, our support crew will transport those on the morning flight to the airport. We will assist you through the departures hall and see you safely on your way.

We hope that you would have enjoyed your time in Malawi, and we hope that you will do one of our future icycle tours in the not-too-distant future!!

Some of the best riding you will ever do on this planet! Thoughtfully planned, tested and tweaked GPS guided routes that flow and link together taking one to places very few people will ever see, ending each day in amazing facilities that only local knowledge could procure. Years of experience in these types of tours results in the superb organisation that ensures one can switch off, just ride and enjoy this unique experience in a special part of Africa. Every need is looked out for, from logistics to cold cokes in the middle of nowhere and no-one is left behind philosophy makes this a repeat bucket list tour. I’m in constant training to do it again”

Dr eRni Welsh - Johannesburg

“James and Natalie, just a few words of thanks for some amazing tours that have taken me from the far corners of South Africa and Namibia to the top of the Pyrenees and Dolomites. Your ability to provide top notch support and accommodation in the most remote areas is remarkable. The routes you chose are tailored to provide a challenge at times but with the reward of spectacular scenery and seldom seen vistas. As a cyclist your concern for safety and backup is a real comfort. Please continue displaying your skills. I look forward to more of your unique cycling tours.”

Rory Attridge – Johannesburg

Tour Notes

  • Malawi is a malaria area. The chance of catching malaria is small, but you should take the necessary precautions! 
  • We will be cycling in areas which are not easily accessible, and getting medical assistance is extremely difficult. Accidents can create huge problems and lengthy delays and we ask that you exercise the utmost caution when riding.
  • GPS routes for your Garmin will be supplied for all stages, and those wanting to ride in a faster group are welcome to do so. 
  • We will be sharing paths and district roads with off-road motorbikes, local cyclists, pedestrians, children, goats, chickens, and the odd pig! They are all hazards with zero road sense at all. When you see them (which will be often), take care! 
  •  Motorbikes are possibly the biggest hazard – Take Care!! 
  • As Tour Organiser I always ride at the back. Nobody is ever left behind.
  • Water is readily available from boreholes fitted with hand pumps. This water is good to drink and even better to cool off under on a hot day!
  • You can buy basic refreshments along the way at village shops. A 300ml glass bottle of Coke is R5,50 and a packet of biscuits is the same price!  
  • About 60% of Malawi’s population is under the age of 20, and in terms of GDP per capita, Malawi is the second poorest country in the world. Poverty is everywhere. Despite their hardships, Malawi’s people are immensely kind, cheerful, polite, and peaceful.
  • I have cycled thousands of kms across Malawi, mostly alone, and I have been welcomed everywhere. There are a few basics to adhere to, Malawi is densely populated and in villages, we must proceed slowly and politely!!
    • The aim of these tours is to share great times with good friends. It’s not a race! There will be time to chill and to put your feet up!
    • Malawi is not well developed which makes it a wonderful country for cycling. We will see very few cars and trucks! The downside is that accommodation is not of the same standard as South Africa and often things go wrong – e.g., no power or the shower does not work! We simply must accept that “This is Africa,” but there is always a plan to be made!
    • A cycle tour in Malawi is an adventure rather than a 5-star outing!!
    • Bicycle Shops are very rudimentary in Malawi – please ensure your bike is in excellent condition, spares are not available!!

    Most asked questions and answers...

    Is Malawi worth visiting?

    Yes!!! Malawi is known as the “Warm Heart of Africa” for very good reason. It’s blessed with the friendliest people, and the country is perfect for cycling and holidays. You will love it!!

    What precautions must I take?

    Malawi is a malaria area. Most expats who live in Malawi never catch malaria by taking normal precautions including covering up in the evening and using mosquito spray. In Malaria areas beds come equipped with nets. Additional precautions including anti malaria tablets are recommended. Sunburn is to be avoided, lotions with high protection factors are highly recommended.  

    What is included in the tour fee?

    The tour fee includes all transfers from the airport, all accommodation in hotels or lodges, 3 meals per day, basic refreshments on the ride, Wi-Fi where available, a support vehicle which will transfer your luggage each day and a well-managed Tour, including fantastic well researched routes!

    Is this a fully supported tour?

    Yes, all arrangements will be made before your arrival, you will be met at the airport, and you will have a Tour Leader with you throughout the tour to ensure you have a fantastic time and to help wherever required.

    Your luggage will be transported by our support crew, and they will be on hand to transport participants wishing to ride a shorter route each day.

    What should I bring with me?

    Your mobile (local sim cards are available for purchase or use Wi-Fi where available). Your bike (I ride a hard tail MTB), a spare tyre, chain lube, spare brake pads, a light cycling jacket (mornings can be cool), cycling kit including helmet, cycling shoes and sunglasses, suntan lotion. Casual clothing including warm clothing for the evenings, swimming costume, sun hat….

    Please also bring a minimum of two bicycle water bottles. A bicycle bell is highly recommended, it’s the polite way to get pedestrians out of your way!

    Malawi is very laid back; a sense of adventure will hold you in good stead!!!

    What weather should I expect?

    Late April/May should be the end of the rain season! We might experience some shower’s so a rain jacket would be useful! The temperature will be in the range 10C – 28C, and possibly warmer at the Lake. Even with cloud cover suntan cream is highly recommended, a high UV protection factor is best.

    Are flights included and which one must I book on?

    Flights are not included in the tour fee. It must be noted that Malawi Airlines which is 90% owned by Ethiopian, flies a daily morning route of Lilongwe – Blantyre – Johannesburg. And an afternoon route JNB – Blantyre – Lilongwe, using a Boeing 737. SAA has recently launched flights on a twice per week basis.

    Prior to the Tour you will receive an email with recommended flights. Currently the cost of flights is approx. R10 000.

    (Return: JNB – Malawi – JNB).

    What cycling rules and customs are followed?

    Helmets must be worn whenever riding! It’s also a good idea to buddy up and should your buddy stop then please stop the rest of the group.

    The group will be small and if it splits into a faster and a slower group then choose the group you are the most comfortable with. If the group splits the Tour leader will lead the slower group and ensure that nobody is left behind. Remember it’s a Tour, not a Race!

    Most days offer a shorter and longer route. Those wishing to do the shorter route will be bussed part of the way and they will join those doing the longer route for the best part of the day’s ride.

    Is Wi-Fi available?

    Most hotels do not offer Wi-Fi. We will set up a Wi-Fi Hot spot at hotels for everybody to use.

    Must I bring bike tools and spares?

    We will supply all basic tools including a foot pump, Allan Keys, Bike Washstand, Bike washing Kit etc. Suggest you
    bring a spare tyre, spare chain link, chain lube and a set of brake pads. Please note bombs are often confiscated on the flight, so we suggest you leave them at home.

    Please ensure you have tubeless tyres containing adequate sealant, tubes are not recommended.

    Will we be sharing rooms?

    Finding suitable accommodation able to accommodate a group of 12 is a huge challenge in some parts of Malawi. In some places we would ask cyclists to share rooms / bathrooms (with single beds where needed). In the larger hotels we can offer a single supplement. Please contact the Tour Organisers if you require more information on a single supplement.

    What plugs are used in Malawi?

    English plugs (see photo below) … The Tour Organisers will have a few adapters (for South African plugs) to lend out but please bring your own adapter if possible!

    Is Malawi safe?

    Malawi is a peaceful country, and the people are polite and considerate. It’s always a good idea to take normal precautions – keep an eye on your bike, and your belongings. At first you may feel a little uncomfortable riding through villages, but you will soon relax as you are welcomed and never threatened!

    What currency does Malawi use?

    The Malawi Kwacha! The Kwacha is worth approx. ZAR1 = MWK 65 or USD 1 = MWK 1200. The Kwacha is expected to de-value significantly in the coming months. ATM banks are only available at the Airport, major towns and in Blantyre.

    What is not included in the tour fee?

    Flights to and from Malawi, Bar Bills, Curios, Tips, laundry services.

    Medical rescue or medical treatment is not included. You must ensure you have Medical Aid cover and Travel Insurance including repatriation cover.

    Extra activities at the Lake (Snorkeling etc.) not provided free by the hotel. Motorised water sports, and booze cruises may incur an additional charge. A Game Viewing River cruise at Liwonde is not included in the tour fee. The price for such activities can be negotiated with local vendors.

    Is the route available to download on my GPS device?

    GPX files will be emailed to you prior to the tour. If you do not have a GPS that’s not an issue. The Tour leader will have a GPS, he knows the routes and he will ensure nobody gets lost.

    What admin must I do?

    You must book your own flights. We will advise you which flights are recommended.

    On arrival in Malawi, you will be requested to complete a Tour Indemnity Form and provide proof of Medical Aid and Travel Insurance.

    Photography and Locals

    Malawi is beautiful and a camera is a necessity! There will be stops for photographs – it’s a tour not a race! Some locals may request cash if you take their photo, but a polite Greeting “Bo-bo” followed by a Thank You “Zikomo” should suffice!

    The locals who live close to the larger towns (Lilongwe and Blantyre) tend to beg for cash. Please do not part with cash – it creates the perception that cyclists are travelling auto banks!

    Can I wash cycling kit while on Tour?

    A minimum of 3 sets of cycling clothing is recommended. It will be possible to have kit washed on the rest days.

    What if I want to bail?

    We will not have a support vehicle behind us as the tracks make this impossible. If you are feeling unduly tired, you may elect to sit out the days ride and to travel in the support vehicle.

    During the day we should meet our support vehicles at least once – offering those who have had enough a lift!
    As a last option – Malawi has many motorcycle and bicycle taxis, cyclists have been known to hop onto a motor bike taxi to get to the overnight stop! It’s similar to Ubering, but Malawi style!

    What happens if I’m involved in a crash, and I’m hurt?

    The route is a safe route with very little technical riding. The biggest danger is pedestrians, children, animals, motor bikes, local cyclists and very occasionally vehicles. You must be cautious and avoid dangerous situations: slow down when you see hazards! If you are injured, we will make every effort to get you back to Blantyre or Lilongwe comfortably and as quickly as possible where Doctors and Medical Help is available. Please be aware that we will be riding in rural areas with limited road networks. This makes it difficult to get injured people out and currently no helicopters are available in Malawi.

    Do I need a Visa to visit Malawi?

    South Africans will get a free 30-day visitor’s Visa on arrival at the airport in Malawi. If you are travelling on another passport, please check with the Malawi Embassy.

    Do you hire out bikes?

    Unfortunately, we do not hire out bikes but are looking at adding this service as a future option. Please bring your own bike. Bike bags will be transported from the start to the end of the tour.

    A mountain bike or Gravel Bike with a wide range of gears is recommended. You may bring an e-Bike but most
    airlines will not transport them. Should you wish to bring an e-bike please contact the Organisors for advice on getting your bike to Malawi.

    We hope that you would have enjoyed your time in Malawi, and we hope that you will do one of our future icycle tours in the not-too-distant future!!