Smiling is contagious
Known as the "Warm heart of Africa", the irrepressible spirit of Malawi’s people envelopes you as soon as you arrive. Broad smiles and a lighthearted sense of mirth are part of the national character, and if you learn a few words of Chichewa, the local language, you’ll earn an even warmer reception. Malawi is long and slim with the Great Rift Valley running through it and super-sized Lake Malawi to the east. Within its borders are high peaks, swaying grasslands and misty forests. Wildlife is plentiful, and after a series of reintroductions, it’s now possible to catch sight of the classic safari Big Five.
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Top three things to do in Malawi
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this African nation. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts, but in the meantime here are our top three things to do in Peru.
Catch a breeze on Lake Malawi
One of the great lakes of Africa, and number four in the world, lake Malawi’s tranquil waters harbour a fantastic diversity of fresh water fauna. From migrating birds to colourful fish and hippopotami, the waters are busy with life. Sandy beaches and fishing villages line its shores, and its famously crystal clear waters are perfect for snorkelling, swimming, kayaking, sailing and fishing. Malawi is officially landlocked, but it really doesn’t feel like it.
Visit an ‘Island in the Sky’
Malawi’s most spectacular scenery is found in the Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve. Rocky mountains thrust abruptly out of the surrounding plains, like the granite teeth of giants. Mighty Mount Mulanje reaches over 3000m into the sky, often shrouded in mist it is known as the ’Island in the Sky’. Tumbling waterfalls, deep emerald valleys and abundant wildlife make this prime hiking country.
Make some new friends
Malawi is famous for the friendliness of its people and connecting with them will probably be one of the highlights of any trip. Visits can be arranged to tribal villages throughout the nation (some with overnight stays). Spending time with Malawi’s people in their own homes and communities is a real breath of fresh air, and is both fascinating and wickedly fun.
Lesser-known things to do in Malawi
While there are many well-known things to do in Malawi, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative adventure.
The Lake of Stars music festival
Scottish explorer David Livingstone was hypnotized by the constellation of lanterns bobbing aboard fishing boats out on Lake Malawi, thinking them reminiscent of stars. He dubbed the huge expanse of water the ‘Lake of Stars’, which in turn gave its name to Malawi’s annual music event, a three-day international music festival held every September. Go to see local and regional talent mingle with popular and world-music acts from Europe and beyond.
Go on sub-Saharan safari
Malawi isn’t a number one safari destination and, as a poor nation, poaching has inevitably affected wildlife numbers. That said, Malawi has several beautiful National Parks with game reserves and enclaves that local groups are doing an admirable job of protecting. With patience, visits to Majete Wildlife Reserve, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve or Liwonde National Park can be highly rewarding, with elephants almost a guaranteed sight even if lower numbers of big cats remain camera shy.
Fair-trade tea and tastings
Tea is one of Malawi’s core exports after tobacco. Visit a tea plantation to tour the estate, learn about the fair-trade tea harvesting and to enjoy a tasting. The hills and slopes of Southern Malawi, Thyolo and the foothills of the Mulanje range are patchworked with tea growers such as the historic Satemwa Estate in the Shire Highlands. Enjoy tastings, tours, dinners and comfortable overnight stays.
When is the best time to go to Malawi?
Like most African nations Malawi has a dry season and a wet season. The wet season stretches from November to April and is not the most highly recommended time to visit, although the storms towards the end of the season are spectacular to behold and bring the landscape to life. The dry season extends from May to October, with cool temperatures (by African standards) until August. Those seeking warmer weather should target September or October, when temperatures are pleasantly hot. September/October also hosts the Lake of Stars festival – a must for music lovers.
Insider tips from our trusted local experts
Being local, our experts have an extensive knowledge of the secrets to experiencing Malawi. Here are a few of their top tips - ask them for other recommendations when you enquire to ensure you have the most in-depth experience whilst on holiday!
Explore Malawian culture
A two-hour drive from Lilongwe or a three-hour trip from Blantyre, the Kungoni Centre of Culture and Art is a tribal culture hub providing insight into wood carving techniques, traditional rites of passage, Gule Wamkulu masks and more. Set up by a Canadian missionary keen to preserve Malawian culture, what began as an art co-operative is now a thriving centre that will be a highlight to any trip.
Seek out the rock art
The Chongoni Rock Art Area on the plateau of central Malawi conceals 127 rock art sites among its forested hillsides. This is the largest concentration of such art in Africa and these late Stone Age and Iron Age depictions are a UNESCO-protected national treasure. In-country experts can prepare interpretive walks and tours.
Sundowners over the city
Certain hotels in Blantyre and capital Lilongwe offer rooftop sundowners with spectacular sunsets for surrounds. Cocktails or cool beers are the order of the day, making these a welcome treat after a dusty day’s trekking or an epic haggle in the bustling markets.
Interesting facts about Malawi
Malawi is a fascinating country. But did you know any of our top four facts about it?
- Malawi’s chief exports are tobacco and tea, and the country has the world’s most tobacco-dependent economy.
- Lake Malawi was called the Lake of Stars by David Livingstone, which is now the name of the country’s largest annual music festival held on the lakeshore.
- Lake Malawi is poetically referred to as the Calendar Lake, for it’s (almost) 365 miles long and (almost) 52 miles wide.
- The first Carlsberg brewery outside of Denmark was built in Blantyre, Malawi. Sold in green glass bottles, it’s therefore relatively cheap in country. If at the bar, simply ask for a ‘green’.
What to read before you go to Malawi
If you're looking for something to get you in the mood before you set off on your travels to Malawi, we've gathered a list of our favourite books to inspire you.
'Dark Star Safari' by Paul Theroux
Chance encounters are key in this classic Theroux travelogue. Cars and armed convoys transport the author across deserts and danger zones, as he transports the reader into the heart of the beautiful African landscapes of his past. Discovery and rediscovery collide on this literary safari, a word which, in Swahili, simply means journey.
'The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind' by William Kamkambwa
The bestselling, heart-warming memoir of William Kamkwamba, a youngster who dreamed of magic and for whom modern science was pure mystery. Kamkwamba used his quirky inventiveness to bring electricity to his Malawian village when his family lost everything in a drought – with a windmill crafted from scrap.
'My Secret History' by Paul Theroux
In this tour de force, Theroux introduces Andre Parent, a passionate writer and traveller who loves women and living life to the full. From Massachusetts to Malawi we join an adventure culminating in marriage, fame and an unenviable double life.
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