In October last year, Lonely Planet voted Malawi one of the top 1o countries in the world to visit in 2014.
Malawi has held a special place in my heart ever since I worked there as a tour guide a couple of years back and I fell in love with this friendly country, also known as ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’. It is ‘famous’ (or should that be infamous) for being the place where Madonna adopted two of her children from but there’s so much more to it than that!
Malawi is a great place to visit – a land of lakes, mountains and safaris – but many visitors only pass by briefly or overlook this small but amazing country completely, not realizing what great attractions it has on offer! Here are just some of the reasons I love it so much:
A Lake or the Ocean?
Let’s start with the obvious one. Lake Malawi is the country’s premier attraction, although you’ll rarely find the resorts overcrowded. It’s the perfect place for all kinds of activities, including diving, horse riding, and kayaking.
Lake Malawi is so huge that sitting on the sandy beaches that line the shore, you would never believe that this was a lake. It’s so wide that you can’t see the other side, and it even has tides like the ocean. Along the beach you’ll meet all kinds of interesting characters with names like ‘Cheese on Toast’ and ‘Jacket Potato.’
Lake Malawi is also known as Lake Nyasa, the name relayed back to Europe by David Livingstone, after speaking to the locals he met there. But something was lost in translation, as ‘nyasa‘ simply means ‘lake’ in the local Bantu languages, so Livingstone called the lake ‘Lake Lake.’
The lake is home to more species of freshwater fish than any other lake in the world, so it’s a wonderful place for snorkeling and scuba diving. In northern Malawi, Kande Beach and Nkhata Bay are two popular spots to stay. Both offer diving, kayaking, and horse riding. In southern Malawi, the village of Chembe in Cape McClear is my favourite spot. You can also dive here, as well as take boat trips or even play Robinson Crusoe on one of the nearby private islands of Mumbo or Domwe. As you drift off to sleep at night, lights from the fishing boats twinkle like stars in the darkness.
World Class Safaris
Malawi might not be the first place you think of when you decide to go on a safari, but it should not be dismissed!
Liwonde National Park is one of my favourite safari destinations in all of Africa, and I was immediately struck by just how beautiful this place is. It has a hazy sort of beauty, the type that makes you feel so calm that you forget about anything else. We stayed at Mvuu Camp, right on the banks of the Shire River. The camp offers both camping and static tent accommodation, and so is great for all budgets. Both driving and boat safaris are available. My favorite memory was listening to an elephant munching on a tree just behind my tent in the middle of the night. Magical.
Another great safari can be had in Majete Wildlife Reserve, just an hours drive outside of Blantyre. Once ruined by poaching, Majete has been restored to her former glory and is now a place where you can spot the Big Five: lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino, and elephant.
Beautiful Mount Mulanje
If hiking’s your thing, then Malawi has just the place for you! The Mulanje Massif is a stunning place, near to Blantyre in the Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve.
You can hire a qualified guide at the Forestry Department Office. It’s a difficult hike to Sapitwa Peak, the highest part of the mountain at 3,002 m high, so a reasonable level of fitness is required, but altitude sickness should not be a problem. There are plenty of places to stay on and around the mountain so you can spend a good few days exploring the area and taking in the stunning views.
Lake of Stars Festival
Lake of Stars is the the nickname given to Lake Malawi by David Livingstone. But it’s also one of Africa’s premier music festivals, where each September people from all over the world head to the shores of Lake Malawi to be entertained by both local and international artists.
The festival is largely staffed by volunteers, so if you’re looking for a different type of volunteering project in Africa, this could be just the thing for you! Plus, I can’t think of a better place to dance in the sand, under the stars, listening to cool music whilst drinking a Kuche Kuche beer. This is my kind of festival.
A Lovely Capital City
I love Malawi’s capital city of Lilongwe. It’s a great place to regroup and organize onward travel and safaris.There are tons of cool coffee shops and bars, too – in fact, I had one of my best nights out ever in Lilongwe! There’s a fantastic curio market in the center of town selling all kinds of jewelry and art at bargain prices, as well as carved wooden chairs and furniture – something Malawi is famous for. My advice: save the bulk of your souvenir shopping in Africa for Malawi!
In Lilongwe you can also visit the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre run by the wonderful Born Free Foundation.
Malawi is a beautiful, friendly country and one not to be overlooked!