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…
A. Nkhata Bay B. Senga Bay C. Zomba Plateau
Top 3 Malawi craft markets (in terms of selection and quality):
Nkhata Bay (Northern Region)
Wooden jewelry is inexpensive and make for great souvenirs
Impressively, the majority of these artisans have not been formally trained.
The more you buy, the better the deal!
Chief chairs come in all different shapes and sizes. Some artisans will customize them for you.
You will find many colorful paintings like this throughout Malawi, especially being sold outside of hotels
Senga Bay (Central Region)
Straw hats like these require several hours of labor
Guess who bought the guy on the right?
Stalls are simple: thatched roofs and four wooden posts
Zomba Plateau (Southern Region)
View of the Zomba market from the entrance of the Sun Bird Hotel
Ironwood mask at Zomba market features scenes from daily life
A sea of chief chairs and a Bao game table
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:
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.)
Official languages: Chichewa, English
Currency: Malawian Kwacha
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.