Sustainable bucket list guide for wildlife lovers
1 March 2024
Malawi doesn’t often get the same attention as its bigger-hitting neighbours on the African continent – the likes of Kenya, Namibia and South Africa; or Morocco and Egypt in the north – but those who take a chance on Malawi soon fall in love with the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’.
Plenty of unique experiences are to be had in this enigmatic nation, as well as glorious views, the peaceful waters of Lake Malawi, impressive wildlife conservation, and welcoming locals who will readily invite you to eat and socialise with them. Read on for some of the best ways to make the most of this intriguing, underrated destination on a bespoke trip to Malawi.
Though Malawi is largely flat, and mostly known for its vast and glittering lakes such as Lake Malawi, its mountainous regions are simply magical to explore. In the northeast lies Nyika National Park, an expanse of undulating grasslands which bloom into hundreds of wildflowers after the wet season, and teeming with interesting wildlife.
Most of the park lies around 2,200m above sea level, which makes for a captivating backdrop to the herds of zebras, hyenas, warthogs and roan antelopes that roam the peaceful, rolling hills. You’ll find a sense of the British Isles here, with swaying crops of heather and rocky clusters akin to being in the Scottish Highlands; this only makes the sight of trademark African animals (even the odd leopard) more ethereal.
The best way to experience Nyika is to go driving or hiking on the trails and camp out at a mountain lodge. By staying overnight, you’ll see how spectacularly clear the night skies are in this remote environment – perfect for stargazing.
Malawians love to celebrate, and the Lake of Stars Festival lends the ideal opportunity for both locals and visitors to party together in appreciation of the arts. The festival forms a stage to bring the musical talent and cultural scene of African nations to a wider audience, and big-name headliners help draw international attention (the likes of Beverley Knight, Bombay Bicycle Club and The Maccabees have all headed the lineup in previous years).
The event was started back in 2004 by a British expat, Will Jameson. After a year spent studying in the country and becoming immersed in the local music scene, he saw the Lake of Stars Festival as a necessity for the artists of Malawi and surrounding nations to be seen on a global stage. Since its debut, the festival is now deemed one of Africa’s most important festivals – and despite a rocky few years due to COVID-19 and a lack of funding, it’s due to continue in 2024 and hopefully beyond.
If you’re visiting Malawi in September and you’re up for dancing to reggae, hip-hop, Afrobeats, highlife and a healthy dose of indie rock with music-minded Malawians, don’t miss the chance to support the festival – it’s usually situated in a scenic location overlooking the pristine coastline of Lake Malawi.
Tea estates abound in Malawi – the fragrant green leaf is one of the country’s biggest exports – and the verdant plantations that flourish in the south are a real treat. Satemwa Tea Estate is one of the most rewarding spots to explore. Tea has been grown here for over 100 years, and in the fresh-aired elevations of the Southern Highlands, it’s the perfect climate for tea leaves to thrive.
A satisfying choice of activities is available here, which includes biking or strolling the trails over lush hills, going on a guided tour of the tea fields and factory, and of course, sampling a steaming cup of the brew itself as you admire the towering Mount Mulanje in the distance.
Staying for more than a day is also recommended, as it’s truly sublime to take it at a slower pace here. Lodgings include a night at Huntingdon House, the historical home still lived in by the family of Scottish founder of the tea estate, Maclean Kay.
Malawi’s splendid self-named lake is a natural marvel. At over 11,000 sq miles it covers the eastern border of the country’s landmass, is the third-largest lake in the whole of Africa, and with its crystal-clear waters and immense biodiversity, is ripe for an assortment of sun-splashed, island-hopping adventures.
Though you could spend a fine day reclining on the lake’s sandy shores (Cape Maclear in the south of Lake Malawi offers sunbathing spots to impress any seasoned beach-goer), you also won’t regret exploring its glittering turquoise waters. You can go freshwater snorkelling in search of vibrant cichlid fish, take to a kayak, or indulge in swimming and stand-up paddle boarding – a dream day for water sport enthusiasts.
Nothing beats the sense of being marooned in a tropical idyll, however, so drop anchor at one of the many islands to truly experience what Lake Malawi has to offer. Likoma is the biggest and most popular island; it even has its own St. Paul’s Cathedral alongside an array of stunning beaches. Chizumulu is the place to meet local communities and explore numerous cassava plantations. Gorgeous Mumbo Island is uninhabited, but home to some spectacular luxury eco-lodges that will have you feeling totally off-the-grid in the best way.
For safari fans, Malawi isn’t often the first place that comes to mind (again, Kenya and South Africa nab the game-viewing crowns). It’s a mistake to overlook the incredible wildlife that resides here, however – and the impressive conservation stories that coexist alongside its presence.
There’s no better example of this than Majete Wildlife Reserve. Situated in the southwest of the country, it was once prime land for poachers, who decimated populations of the Big Five that roamed the grounds: lions, wildebeest, hippos, elephants and leopards. Since the turn of the millennium, the Malawian government has worked with local conservationists to make remarkable moves towards recovery – bringing in animals from around the continent and running a reintroduction programme for the almost-extinct black rhino.
Today, visitors can spot a fantastic array of animals here; herds of elephants, snoozing leopards and wandering wildebeest are easily spotted, alongside antelope, crocodiles, and hundreds of bird species. Game drives at Majete have that special quality due to knowing how rare these sightings once were.
If you’re raring to experience the unique magic of Malawi, our local travel experts are on the ground ready to start planning the trip of a lifetime based entirely on your preferences. Get in touch with them today.
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