The tiny nation of Malawi doesn’t have the hordes of tourists that South Africa or Tanzania command, but that is part of its appeal. Though small in size, the country does not want for abundant activities and breathtaking sights for visitors to take part in, and was even named one of the top 10 places to go in 2014 by Lonely Planet. The following are 10 reasons why you should head to Malawi on your next holiday — before everybody else finds out about it.
Sources: Edition.CNN.com, GoAfrica.About.com, VirtualTourist.com, TripAdvisor.com, MalawiTourism.com, African-Parks.org, Mahlatini.com,
Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city, is a unique city that still manages to be bustling, despite the small size of the country. With a population of only 1 million people, Lilongwe combines old and new world aspects, with modern office buildings and residences sitting next to “old town” markets. Lilongwe also offers visitors the chance to check out tobacco auctions, held in huge warehouses in the city, where burley tobacco is bought, sold, and bought again as it enters the world marketplace – Malawi is the largest producer of burley tobacco in the world, and the auctions are a fast-paced, fascinating business to watch.
Lake Nyasa, also known as Lake Malawi, is the biggest draw of the country to many. Surrounded by golden beaches and filled with incredible biodiversity, the activities are endless. Scuba diving and snorkeling are extremely popular, as is the annual Lake of Stars Music Festival. There’s also all types of water activities, including sailing, water skiing, island hopping, and general beach bumming. Many Malawians head to the lake region for holidays, and it is one of the biggest destinations for international visitors as well.
The Majete Wildlife Reserve, located in the Lower Shire Valley in the Great Rift Valley, covers an area of over 700 square kilometers, and is home to a wide range of biodiversity. Diverse vegetation, from think woodlands to dry savannah, allows for all manner of species to live in the reserve, including elephants, black rhinos, leopards, buffalo, sable antelope, zebras, and more. It is the only protected area in Malawi, and is operated by African Parks Majete, who made major moves back in 2003 to reintroduce the once prolific wildlife to the reserve.
Looming over southern Malawi is Mulanje Mountain, an enormous granite presence that reaches up to 3,000 meters in altitude. With endless hikes to choose from, the mountain is full of huts to spend the night in en route, complete with cooking facilities and more. The mountain itself is a part of the Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve, and is home to the last remaining Mulanje Cypress tree, which was almost logged to extinction, along with many bird and amphibian species.
Likoma Island, actually closer to Mozambique than Malawi, but still under Malawian control, is one of Africa’s premier ecotourism destinations, with eco-friendly lodges and unbelievable beaches. Few cars are permitted on the island, making for a peaceful atmosphere, and the scuba diving is internationally recognized as some of the best in the region. Likoma Island is also home to regular “dance-offs” between dance troupes of other islands, making for a unique and unforgettable experience for locals and visitors alike.
Near the base of Mt. Mulanje, visitors can visit a host of tea estates, many dating back to the beginning of the colonial era. These estates offer a look into old-world Malawi, as well as gorgeous walks on the preserved land. Most of these estates offer tea factory tours, as well as swimming in natural pools and tours of the area. The Lujeri Tea Estate, an hour and a half south of Blantyre City, is particularly popular with visitors.
Malawi’s premier wildlife park, Liwonde National Park, is set along the banks of the Shire river, and is home to an incredible range of animals. From hippos to elephants to extensive bird species, Liwonde offers a wide range of wildlife for visitors to view on walking, driving, and boat/canoe tours. Though the park itself is relatively small, especially in comparison to other national parks in Africa, over 1,000 different species of vascular plants have been recorded in Liwonde, and it remains a hot spot of ecological research.
Zomba Plateau stretches 900 meters into the sky above Zomba, and offers visitors incredible views of the surrounding region. Also home to plentiful waterfalls and trout-filled dams, visitors can hike, horse-ride, or even drive to the top of the plateau, and inns are dotted along the top of the mountain for those that wish to stay a while.
The Nyika Plateau is one of Malawi’s most important water catchment areas – indeed, its name, Nyika, translates to “where the water comes from.” The Nyika National Park stretches across the plateau and offers some of the most unique landscape on the continent, with rolling scenery that is home to over 200 different types of orchids during the rainy season. Trekking, mountain biking, and horse riding are very popular in the region, as well as 4×4 excursions. Visitors may get the chance to see a variety of wildlife, including zebras, eland, antelope, warthogs and more.
Cape Maclear is a small fishing village on the shores of Lake Nyasa, but deserves a mention all to itself. Also known as Chembe, the village offers visitors a unique look into the friendly and peaceful way of life in Malawi, as well as access to the nearby Domwe and Thumbwe islands out in the lake. The region of Cape Maclear was declared a national park in 1980, known as the Lake Malawi National Park, which also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. It was the first freshwater national park in the world, and is home to hundreds of bird and fish species. Cape Maclear is particularly popular with backpackers, and is full of bars, restaurants, and affordable accommodations.