What to know before you go: LAKE OF STARS FESTIVAL

People travel mad distances in order to attend the Lake of Stars Music Festival on the golden sands of Lake Malawi. In fact, I was one of these who planned my travels and work around the eagerly anticipated festivities. Coming from Lilongwe the festival build up was definitely the talk around town. “Are you going to Lake of Stars?”, “Where are you staying for Lake of Stars?”, “See you at Lake of Stars!” With all the talk I was surprised to realize how little I knew of what to anticipate. The party certainly lived up to all the hype BUT for all of you first-timers out there… here’s everything I wish I had known before attending LOS 2015.

  1. Cash Economy is KEY

There are no convenient cash points or ATM’s close-by. I heard a rumor of one at the festival hotel – although the website mentions it depletes quickly. Regardless, cash is king in all of Malawi and it is best to stock up all the Kwacha you need before arrival. If you’ve never been to Malawi this means that you will have rolls and rolls of bills with you. With the current exchange rate the largest bill you can retrieve at the ATM is the equivalent of $2 USD. Everyone deals with this appropriately but this quickly brings up my next (and most glaring) point.

  1. Personal Safety

Pick pocketing is a real issue at this festival. Almost everyone we spoke to had a story about someone they knew who was robbed at the festival. Tents were slashed in the night, bags were nicked and purses cut. Simply, be aware – theft of course will happen at any large festival across the world. Regardless, the police station in Mangochi was full of tourists and locals’ alike submitting lost item reports over the weekend.

  1. Transportation Issues

The majority of attendees seemed to be camping on-site. This worked well as it negated the transportation issues my friends and I personally experienced. I heard solid reviews about the campsites…spacious and relatively clean. However, there were rumors that they were full before the start of the festival. Book early if this is your preferred method of accommodation. Otherwise there are several expensive hotels close-by. My group opted to rent a cottage about 15 minutes drive away. Split between 10 people this was another affordable option. However, driving to and from the venue proved to be tricky with both the number of people and the general amount of alcohol consumed. We ended up taking local cabs to and from, which always turned into a fight with the local drivers who knew very well they could take advantage of Mzungu (white) prices. So far the best idea I’ve heard is hiring a driver for the entire weekend to come with you as part of the group – you can do this cheaply in Lilongwe or Blantyre and save money on cabs and even more hassle not having to fight with a driver of an unmarked car in a remote area every time you want to leave….

  1. Dress to impress

If you are coming from abroad pack your best festival attire. We had face paint (via the UK), which was an awesome addition to the scene. We also made tons of friends this way – my advice is bring something sparkly and bring something to share! The local Malawian ladies definitely came dressed to impress. Daytime bikinis quickly turned into party dresses – be prepared to stay out all-day and let the face paint melt away with the sweat!

  1. Food/water cost

Adding to the tricky cash situation – drinks and food were at full on Mzungu prices inside the venue. Although I won’t complain… I was a total sucker for the Portuguese chicken burger and the bar was fully stocked. There was another option of leaving the front festival gates where there was a small market area where more affordable food could be found. A variety of samosas, maize, chips, chicken skewers and sausages were up for grabs outside. WARNING: a friend and I both got sick after eating here the first night of the festival – typical street food woes – *stay away from the mysterious bags of food! I’ll stick to the chicken burgers inside next time. Also – pack snacks and any other items you may not want to purchase at Mzungu prices. 😉 Bags were checked upon entry but only for weapons and illegal substances.

  1. Buy Tickets Early and in-country

Ticket options were much cheaper at the early-bird price if purchased in-person in one of the larger cities in Malawi. International tickets were available to be purchased online an increased rate – another deal involved using Airtel money for a discount. We opted for full-price tickets before arrival in Lilongwe…saving us about 3,000 Kwacha or the equivalent of $6 USD compared to purchasing at the door.

  1. Prepare to stay Sunday night as well

Some of the best music was on Sunday night! So…save some GO JUICE for the final night, take Monday off work and prepare accordingly. The crowd was definitely much smaller on Sunday, which was a shame as the party certainly didn’t stop without them.

  1. The festival was about more than just music and partying.

Lake of Stars was wonderfully presented as a cultural experience. It was great to see dance performances, local organizations and artists represented. We attended an awesome slam poetry performance and loved the art instillations. I read another blog about how there should have been more Malawian musicians represented this year. I disagree – I won’t pretend to be an expert in African musicians but I thought Malawi was highlighted in a beautiful way; simply bolstered by the songs and smiles of its surrounding African neighbors.

Lastly, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Malawian or African music scene…Here are some of my new favorite songs via LOS 2015!

Sonye – Tsika

You had to stick around late on Sunday to catch Sonye. Here’s THE song to know via this Malawian celeb.

Toya Delazy – Love is in the Air

This South African artist put on a rad performance to kick off the festy vibes on Friday night. She totally brought the energy and I’m excited to have discovered her!

George Kalukusha – Strangers

George is totally the popular kid in town. He is well known and seems to be friends with just about everyone. With wonderfully chill vibes and smooth sound…everyone loves him and you will too! Here’s his latest music video, but don’t miss his version of Desperado.

Busy Signal – Dreams of Brighter Days

This artist wasn’t aaactually aaaat the festival but it’s a song you need to know before you arrive in Malawi as you will hear it EVERYWHERE. It’s currently on repeat in my house too! Malawian reggae is represented in full force. Start jammin’ now!

Thanks to the Lake of Stars team for putting on such an unforgettable event! The warm nights, “supermoon”, wild dance moves and green hangovers won’t soon be forgotten! Thanks for the beautiful introduction to Malawi and we’ll be looking forward to next year!

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6 Replies to “What to know before you go: LAKE OF STARS FESTIVAL”

  1. Malawi is a very small and slow paced developing country, in fact let me not bs you, we are not even developing, we, i believe due to harsh political environments we have allowed ourselves to be in, are going the opposite route of development, with this said, every bit of chance us Malawians get to see some live actions, we flock to in our large numbers….that’s just us.

    on a more personal note, everything about the festival is extremely expansive for the regular Malawian to be able to come and take part in this festival, what do i mean, and this is of course from a local’s point of view;

    -beer cost: MK 800-1000.00 (you know what we pay for a beer, in town? MK 400-500)

    -Accommodation: MK 300,000.00 (for the weekend)plus for about 10, i would know this, i run a private beach front cottage in Monkey-bay.

    -Food: way priced than the quality of service and food provided.

    TPT: MK 15,000.00 (if your coming from LL.and are driving at average speeds) MK 20,000.00 (if your like me and like to let the engine breathe in that open road) these of course are fuel costs if your travelling from Lilongwe (the capital city), the Festival is 200+ kms if you are driving in from Blantyre.

    Visa: and this is a very controversial issue in the country, at the moment. should tourists really pay $ 75.00 on entry into Malawi? for what? for what?, tell you what, i have been going to my cottages since i was about 15 years old, am turning 27 on the 2nd of November, and guess what? the road from the main road which leads us to my actual property has been dusty since, yet Government requests huge tax from business premises in and around the Lake-shore area, the same with the road to cape mac, the roads are appalling!!! so i ask “who really benefits from all the events/activities?

    Hell, even the marijuana is heavily priced at the festival, what one would normally pay MK 1000.00 in town, you will end up paying MK 5000.00 as if you have not already spent enough, you also have to worry about an overpriced ticket.

    The majority of people reading this, would not understand all am saying as you guys get your money in US dollars, so when you convert it, its nothing! but for my fellow kwacha handlers, well, if you dint make it this year, there’s always next year! i understand tickets are already up for grabs…

    other than all this, enjoy the shows… PEACE

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    1. Hi. Is it feasible to use public transport to get to and from the festival via Lilongwe? We’re travelling as a couple, and it may be quite pricey to rent a driver for the weekend.

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  2. OH! AND IF ANY ONE OF THE ORGANIZERS OF THE EVENT WILL READ THIS, GET RID OF THE CAR PARK COST, I THINK IT WAS ANOTHER MK 1000.00 I ASKED ONCE MORE, FOR WHAT?, FOR WHAT? BY THE TIME YOU GET INTO THE FESTIVAL YOU HAVE MOST LIKELY SPENT A GREAT DEAL CHUNK OF CASH, BUT WAIT, YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT TO THE MORNING, BECAUSE WAKING UP ON THE BEACH IS PURE GOLD.

    ON A SERIOUS TIP, CONSIDER PAYING ALL THOSE VOLUNTEERS, BECAUSE IN MALAWI, TIMES ARE TOUGH, YOU CANNOT HAVE PEOPLE DOING VOLUNTARY WORK, IN RETURN, YOU FEED THEN MEDIOCRE MEALS AND OFFER A BACKPACKERS TENT, WHILE THE ORG RACKS IN A BILLION PLUS KWACHA WAY BEFORE THE ACTUAL EVENT!!!

    I AM PRETTY SURE THAT, IF YOU CAN PAY FOREIGN SECURITY COMPANIES, YOU CAN DAME WELL PAY YOUR VOLUNTEERS SOMETHING SUBSTANTIAL…..

    I APOLOGIZE IF I SOUNDED HARSH, BUT HEY, THIS IS AN OPINION I AM VERY MUCH ENTITLED TO. THE FESTIVAL IS A SUCCESS, AND WE NEED THE FESTIVAL MORE THAN THE TOURISTS THAT COME TO IT….LETS TAKE IT FURTHER THAN JUST A FESTIVAL….

    FYI, LAST YEAR I WAS VOLUNTEER, THIS YEAR I WAS A FULL TIME GUEST, SO AM NOT JUST TALKING RUBBISH OVER HERE, I AM SPEAKING OUT OF EXPERIENCE….

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  3. Nice work! I’d like to add that food options at the venue were very limited for vegetarians this year. Another note, if you’re driving, people will absolutely block your car in and finding the owner of that car during the festival is not gonna happen – so park strategically if you can.

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