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Malawi with kiddos

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My husband will be working at a hospital in the Mangochi district during the months of February and March. We plan to spend 6-8 weeks there with our three kiddos, 7, 4 and 1. I would love any information from those who have traveled or lived in the area. We hope to have two weeks to travel, the rest of the time will be spent working. Any recommendations on beautiful, budget-friendly (my husband is a medical student) travel locations would be appreciated! And any day-to-day expectations would be helpful (e.g. do I bring carseats for my kiddos?). We are very excited!

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    I went to Malawi a few years ago---it seems off the typical safari path but it was a beautiful country to see...lots of animals in the right places...here was our itnerary (we tacked on Madagascar but I'll remove that part and add a pic link as well...

    US to JoBurg---overnight
    JoBurg to Blantyre, Malawi overland to Mvuu
    Mvuu Lodge for four nights
    overland to Cape McLear, two nights at Mumbo Island
    Ilala Freighter overnight to Kaya Mawa for three nights
    small plane to Lilongwe
    Lilongwe to JoBurg overnight

    Mvuu was simply beautiful...a wide, palm lined African river with as many hippos as anywhere I've been....huge crocs were easy to see and were quite active---I viewed crocs mating in the lagoon right off our room's balcony. One large croc took off after another smaller one on land as I read a book out on the porch...bird life is amazing and I marvelled at what you could log if you sat in one place for a little while...Elephants are also very good and one young bull appeared in the path as we walked back to our room causing us to run for our lives(imagine hearing the crashing of brush and looking up and seeing all bull elephant with a weak little torch)...the same bull got frisky on the walking safari the next day and the guide had to unload about five rounds to scare him back...quite thrilling lol! All's well, that ends well, we say.

    We arrived in the night and what a feeling to cross that dark river under starlight---really magic. no real predators to speak of but loads of sable more than anywhere else we've been. Also glimpsed Roan and red river hogs...no rhino although they're in a fenced reserve...rarely seen from what I was able to gather.

    Lake Malawi is incredibly beautiful. The kayak ride to Mumbo can be perilous as "seas" can be quite rough...my dad and I barely made it out of the lagoon before capsizing and had to be pulled into the boat like a pair of tunas.

    Mumbo is idylic---a croc had taken up residence and therefore parts of the island were off limits for swimming/snorkeling...it was a great place to kayak about and see the beautiful cychlid fish. Two days is plenty unless you really want to relax and unwind...Kayak Africa runs it/partnering with Wilderness...I thought they weren't quite up to service standards as Wilderness but the place is too beautiful to worry much about that. The winds can really be strong and pick up and drop off with little rhyme or reason...

    The Ilala was quite fun---it would definitely not be for everyone. No offense, but the scene is sort of "Eurotrash backpacker" --- I mean that in the best possible way lol just budget backpackers (guarding the good chairs jealously on the top deck) drinking beer and watching the lakeshore go by...they've got great tales of their travels and even some drama (one guy had an argument with his wife at Monkey Bay and drank himself into a stupor---the staff made sure he didn't roll off the upper deck by strategically placing chairs along the rail---but alas they made up when she turned up onto the boat and got off in Mozambique to travel some more. I enjoyed "slummin'" on the Ilala---the beer was cold, the lakeshore beautiful and the engine lulled you into relaxation...the Owner's Cabin was perfectly fine as was the food. It was late as predicted...we were to arrive in the afternoon but instead departed crawling over burlap sacks of goods at 2A....how beautiful to motor around the perimeter of Likoma Island under starlight...

    Kaya Mawa was as quirky and interesting as I had hoped. Our chalet was named for a Black Dog, one of the owners departed pets and it was buried somewhere underneath...a cross marked his final resting place. It was here that the "Warm Heart of Africa" slogan for Malawi especially took hold...children ran and waved along the shoreline whenever we strruck out by boat....even adults waved wildy as if we were long lost relatives as they bathed. We were awakened by the gentle surf and then the muffled noises of children at play and bathing on the bgeach as their mothers washed clothes and dishes. The church is beautiful and the music wonderful...I would say three (we did three) or four nights would do it...unless unwinding and total relaxation is your bag...we were discouraged from going over the Mozambique from here....the message was a lot of trouble for basically what you see by not going through the "border" hassles...it is tantalizingly close however...just there...

    We had some luggage issues as we probably brough too much so a bag was left behind...Wilderness was great to make sure it reached us however...a very good outfit.


    If you're more visual---here is a photo tour of our trip...might help you decide what you'd like to see : )

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.12502143487.33995.610038487&type=1&l=ed608f0497

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    gator, I had no particular interest in this post - certain questions just catch my eye -- my I wanted to say I thought your response was so thorough, and your pictures make me want to follow in your footsteps!!

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    oh thanks! Really I pillaged it from my trip report that I posted on here couple years back but I remember at the time that Malawi wasn't frequently written about so I didn't think there would be a ton of responses...we loved Malawi...probably wouldn't be the wildlife lover's choice for first trip to Africa but there is definitely some nice wildlife viewing in Liwonde NP and then the lake is absolutely spectacular! Thanks for the nice compliment : )

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    Car seats? I definitely would.

    I can only speak of Kenya and/or Tanzania and while most vehicles have seatbelts (seems few adults use them, except those on safari when good guides are reminding their paxs to buckle up), it's rare to see a child's car seat; not even locals* use them which I find absolutely shocking. It's not like they're not available for purchase. Rather they put the kids in the back seat of vehicle and hope for the best. Most roads aren't very good... bumpy, dusty which can be taxing on adults, so just imagine the little ones. Accidents to happen regularly!

    *expats seem to be more compliant with their little ones, having arrived from the UK, CA, US, OZ, etc.

    Have had peeps in country for over a month (volunteering at a hospital) with 4 & 2/yr kiddies, and they absolutely did bring and use these. The kids eventually got used to the roads, so they could fall asleep and nap rather than hearing "are we there yet?" :)

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    Hi, good advice and reports from the others, note you will find a lot more on Trip Advisor and Thorntree.
    Malawi is an amazing country, often wild, scenic, spectacular, friendly, can be life changing, often heart wrenching, but ALWAYS memorable.
    Mangochi District Hospital will be a world away from what you are used to, a major culture shock. Patients get only medical care, (often very basic), all other requirements are provided by families, who will be camped in the hospital grounds. Where they wash clothes, cook the food. The hospital is always short of staff, and chronically short of medicines, and even the very basics of equipment and simple requirements.
    If you want a luxury weekend, then I can recommend Nkopola Lodge, or Makokola Retreat. For a basic but clean hotel, Florence Motel, near Makokola Retreat, or for a family orientated family run lodge, Nanchengwa Lodge, near Monkey Bay, all within 20-30km of Mangochi. both on the lakeshore. Malawians LOVE kids, yours will have a great time, kids soon make friends, even where they don’t speak the same language. When they were young, my friend’s kids used to disappear into the village at the back of the house all day, without a moments worry.
    Find me on TA and Thorntree, Malawi forums, where you can send me a personal message to ask specific questions.
    Ask away; always ready to help THE WARM HEART OF AFRICA.
    Ivan

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    So, I know this is several years later, but should anyone else ever have questions about traveling with kids in Malawi, please contact me! I did indeed travel with my three kids, and it was quite an adventure. We had a tough time finding resources for info about traveling in Malawi with small children for those on a very small budget!

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