Malawi, although lacking the high international popularity profile of some of its better-known neighbours, is, however, slowly gaining ground as a must-visit tourist destination.
One of Southern Africa’s most affordable countries, it is a magnet for backpackers and budget travellers, and its trump card is Lake Malawi, which lies within the Western Rift Valley and covers about a fifth of Malawi’s whole land space. The lake, with its clear tropical waters, is one of the most densely populated with fish species on Earth.
At its southern end is Lake Malawi National Park, framed by the granite hills of the Great Rift Valley escarpment, where sandy beaches, rocky shorelines, swamps, lagoons, and wooded hillsides meet and merge.
It’s the first freshwater national park in the world and a World Heritage Site – not only because of its exceptional natural beauty, but also because of its hundreds of fish species, nearly all endemic, considered as important to the study of evolution as the finches of the Galapagos.
The Malawian authorities have been vigilant in their conservation efforts, and although the lake’s southern shore, particularly at Cape Maclear, is bustling with fishing villages, hotels, B&Bs and campsites, the northern shore is still largely untouched.
Lake Malawi, fed by 14 perennial rivers and whose sole outlet is the Shire (pronounced “shirra”) River, a tributary of the Zambezi, is perfect for water sports. Your clients can try fishing, waterskiing, canoeing, kayaking, swimming or snorkelling in its crystal-clear waters; or, if they visit in July when the Mwera south-easterly winds blow, they can watch the annual Lake Malawi Sailing Marathon. Started in 1984, it’s still considered one of the world’s most exciting regattas.
In the south of Malawi, at about 550km2, Liwonde National Park is well worth a visit. Situated on the banks and floodplains of the huge Shire River, your clients will come face-to-face with massive crocodiles, herds of elephant, buffalo, hundreds of hippos, sable and roan antelopes, zebra and eland. It’s particularly rich in birdlife, with approximately 400 of Malawi’s 650 species, including sought-after species such as Pel’s fishing owl, African skimmer, brown-breasted barbet, Böhm’s bee-eater and palm-nut vulture.
In the north of the country, 2 500m above sea level and extending across the central region plateau, is Malawi’s oldest and largest national park, the 3 200km2 Nyika National Park, one of the country’s outstanding destinations.
About 480km north of the capital, Lilongwe, it’s a wonderland of flowers, including 200 species of orchids, proteas, irises and many more. Nyika also teems with game, including lion, giraffe, buffalo, elephant and scores of plains game, as well a large population of very elusive leopards. Your client can hire a mountain bike, or take a guided walking trail all the way down to the former Church of Scotland mission station of Livingstonia – a great way to appreciate Nyika’s scale without missing out on its details.
Situated in forested hills high up against the plateau of central Malawi, the 127 sites of the Chongoni Rock Art Area World Heritage Site feature the richest concentration of rock art in this part of Africa.
If your client is staying in Blantyre, Malawi's financial and commercial centre and second largest city, the 3 000m-high Mount Mulanje is easily accessible.
They can drive around the entire foot of the mountain in a day, or go camping or climbing on the slopes. A must for hikers, they can choose a gentle walk or a more demanding climb amid gorgeous scenery. Camping equipment and the services of a guide can be hired. There is plenty of wildlife, from the tiny klipspringer antelope, to various other small mammals and a large variety of birds.
Renowned for its friendliness, small but packed with wonderful things to see and do, Malawi is a captivating destination.