Malawi Craft Markets and Advice for Bargaining

The Republic of Malawi is a small country in Southeastern Africa known as “the Warm Heart of Africa.” In terms of poverty, Malawi is the 9th poorest nation in Africa after others like Somalia and Zimbabwe. But what it lacks in GDP and modern infrastructure, it more than makes up in good old-fashioned creativity.

For newbie and seasoned travelers alike, there is no better feeling than getting a “deal” on a work of art while souvenir hunting abroad. This post is about the best of Malawi Craft Markets and advice for bargaining on the things you want to buy.

Check out our article: Advice for Traveling to Malawi

While Malawi is a mostly agricultural nation, many people dedicate their lives to arts and crafts. Malawian woodcarvings are varied and charismatic. Local artisans use basic tools such as carving knives, sand paper and shoe polish to fashion pieces that reflect their personal styles and local culture. While some artists may only carve large masks, others dedicate themselves to making chessboards, chairs or decorative bowls. If you are planning a visit to Malawi, visiting the craft markets is a must! Although the capital, Lilongwe, features a craft market, it does not come close to these…

Craft market locations

A. Nkhata Bay   B. Senga Bay   C. Zomba Plateau

Top 3 Malawi craft markets (in terms of selection and quality):

Nkhata Bay (Northern Region)

Necklaces in Nkhata Bay

Wooden jewelry is inexpensive and make for great souvenirs

Masks in Nkata Bay Market

Impressively, the majority of these artisans have not been formally trained.

Elongated masks Nkhata Bay

The more you buy, the better the deal!

Vendor with his chief chairs

Chief chairs come in all different shapes and sizes. Some artisans will customize them for you.

Colorful paintings for sale outside Chinteche Inn Hotel

You will find many colorful paintings like this throughout Malawi, especially being sold outside of hotels

Senga Bay (Central Region)

Straw hats for sale in Senga Bay

Straw hats like these require several hours of labor

Typical Senga Bay stall

Guess who bought the guy on the right?

Senga Bay Vendor Stalls

Stalls are simple: thatched roofs and four wooden posts

Zomba Plateau (Southern Region)

Panoramic shot of Zomba market stalls

View of the Zomba market from the entrance of the Sun Bird Hotel

Large mask at Zomba market

Ironwood mask at Zomba market features scenes from daily life

Zomba market stall

A sea of chief chairs and a Bao game table

Zomba Plateau wooden crafts

A common theme throughout Zomba market is the “Big Five” : lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo

Various woods are used to produce these crafts including pine, ebony and ironwood. Baobab trees are common throughout Malawi and other parts of Africa, but their trunks are too fibrous to use in carvings. If you happen to pass through Blantyre, there is also a crafts market there. Prices are slightly higher than in the three above, but selection is good too. Watch the video below to see the Blantyre market.

Other Malawian crafts include:

cloth purses

jewelry

keychains

pottery

nativity sets

furniture

Practical advice for bargain shopping at Malawi’s markets:

Be aware that the price a shopkeeper tells you is about 30% to 50% more than you can bargain for it. Don’t feel pressured to pay for something if you think you’re being scammed. Also, expect several shopkeepers to be persistent in trying to sell you something. I suggest you tell all of them that you are looking at everything before you commit to making a decision. I never felt unsafe at any time, but it’s always a good idea to be polite, yet stern, when telling someone you are not interested. Most importantly, do not forget that Malawi is a poor country. Some of the crafts take days, weeks and sometimes months to complete. They appreciate your business, but play fair.

And remember to enjoy your shopping experience (and bring an extra suitcase for all your treasures.)

Additional Info

Official languages: Chichewa, English

Currency: Malawian Kwacha

CURRENCY CALCULATOR

Have you ever shopped at a Malawi craft market? Leave us a question or comment below! 

A special thanks to the Malawi Tourism Board for hosting us during our stay.

16 thoughts on “Malawi Craft Markets and Advice for Bargaining”

  1. paula says:

    Good afternoon,

    I really appreciate to have a nativity from Malawi. Is it possible to send me photos of the nativities you´ve to sale, please?
    Could you ship to Portugal? How much does it cost?
    I´ll wait your news.
    Have a nice weekend
    Regards
    Paula

    1. David says:

      Hi Paula, thank you for writing me. Unfortunately, I do not sell them myself. I bought a nativity from Malawi during my last visit. I hope you find what you’re looking for…Take care!

    2. victor says:

      hi paula.
      am victor from kenya, i need yoir email address to send you more beautiful hand crafts.

      regards.

  2. paula says:

    Hi David,
    thank you for your message and attention.
    I´m trying to find and it´s really hard to find. The best is to travel and buy .
    See you soon

    Regards
    Paula

  3. Beverly says:

    David, I have a nativity set from Malawi and am willing to discuss it with Paula. Maybe you could put us in touch. I lived and worked in Malawi 1990 to 1998. Your comments on the craft markets are good. Bless the craftsmen, they do spend a lot of time.

    1. David says:

      Hi Beverly, I sent her your email address so she can reach out to you. Thank you!

      1. paula says:

        Hi David and Beverly, thank you for your help. we´re going to keep in touch. All the best for both of you.

  4. Ruth Calkins says:

    I have been to Malawi twice and am going again next year. Can you give me an address for the Nkhata Bay Craft Coop?

    1. David says:

      Hi Ruth thanks for stopping by. I remember it was the only craft market in Nkhata Bay – about 50 km from the lakeshore. I am sure that if you ask your guide or hotel front desk they would know how to point you in the right direction. I remember being along the main road. Good luck!

  5. Nina says:

    Paula
    If you haven’t yet get one from Malawi let me know,,I send some curvings to Dermark and UK,am sure its possible to send to Portugal as well.thanks.

    1. Paula says:

      Hi Nina,

      I haven´t find Malawi nativity. If you can help me and send some pictures of nativities and give me the price, i´ll be very happy.
      Thank you so much for your attention and care.

      Regards
      Paula

      1. order directly from http://www.malawiconnect.com or email us with a description of what you want at info@malawiconnect.com

        thanks

  6. Paula for any Malawian carvings or any work of art please order directly from http://www.malawiconnect.com. If you cannot see what you are looking for please feel free to email us with a description of exactly what you are looking for and it will be shipped directly to your address. Looking forward to your contact.

    Thank you

  7. Tim Barnes says:

    Incredible article. I’m from Canada and was in Malawi in 2003 and spent a day with three brothers as they carved one of the chief chairs for me. Incredibly talented. This year I started a cause called http://www.facebook.com/MoreThanAid that is trying to help one of the northern villages to get themselves out of poverty by selling their crafts in the western world. Proceeds go back to the artists and to young kids we are trying to help get educated in secondary school. Feel free to visit our site. Take care Canadian Tim

    1. David says:

      Hi Tim, thanks for stopping by! Thank you for sharing your cause. It sounds like an amazing concept 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.