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Malawi: Africa’s Best Kept Secret

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By Scott Dicken

Photos by Scott Dicken

Malawi: Africa’s Best Kept Secret

Malawi is, in my opinion, one of Africa’s best kept secrets. Despite a concerted effort by the Government of Malawi, and plenty of international press opining its virtues, the relatively small, land-locked Southeast African country seems to have remained largely off the average tourist’s radar. Whilst this is obviously disappointing for a country that could really use the cash injection that tourism has brought to other East and Southern African countries, it means those of us willing to tread off the beaten path and visit Malawi will be blessed with all the country has to offer without the excessive crowds.

That’s why, in this month’s issue of Take Photos Leave Footprints, I’ve decided to explore five great reasons why you should add Malawi to your travel bucket list.

Reason 1: Word-Class Wildlife

Malawi has had its fair share of problems with wildlife crime. But, over the past few years Malawi’s government, together with the Lilongwe Wildlife Foundation, has created a wildlife crime investigation unit and passed a Wildlife Act. For the nation’s wildlife, which has historically been under huge pressure, these important changes are happening alongside carefully managed wildlife rehabilitation, park and reserve management programs, conservation education, and the trans-location of animals. The result is a resurgence of wildlife and, ultimately, the return of the ‘Big 5’ (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo). Two of the most popular safari destinations in Malawi are Liwonde and Majete; with the former offering spectacular opportunities for both land and water-based safaris. Other parks worthy of consideration are Kasunga, Nkhotakota, Kuti and Nyika, although the tourist infrastructure at these less frequented parks is significantly underdeveloped.

Reason 2: Beachfront Bliss

There aren’t many landlocked countries in which you can relax on the beach, scuba dive at a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and kayak amongst mangroves. In Malawi you can! Lake Malawi, stretching over 360 miles along the country’s eastern border, is arguably its best-known, and well-developed, tourist attraction. The Lake’s golden sand beaches, turquoise waters, and stunning waterfront accommodation make it the perfect place to spend a few days relaxing after a ‘hard’ week of safari. The Lake also offers picture perfect sunsets and the twinkle of fisherman’s lanterns on the water into the night. It was the latter which led to David Livingstone coining Lake Malawi’s more affectionate name, “The Lake of Stars”. It’s a stunning locale from which to enjoy a well-earned gin and tonic and fresh seafood supper.

Reason 3: Serenity and Solitude

Malawi is lovingly known as ‘the warm heart of Africa’. It exudes an easygoing vibe and is home to some of the friendliest people you’ll meet. It’s also a country that has managed to maintain a peaceful, stable, and safe environment for tourism; something that makes the relative dearth of visitors to the country even more mystifying! As one of Africa’s best kept secrets you’ll be afforded the opportunity of exploring everything the country has offer without the crowds so often prevalent in other regional destinations. For example, if you’ve visited the Serengeti in Tanzania, the Masai Mara in Kenya, or Kruger National Park in South Africa, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that it’s possible to traverse Malawi’s National Parks for hours on end without seeing a single other person.

Reason 4: Captivating Culture

Although most visitors will focus on the safari and relaxation options on offer, Malawi is a country steeped in vibrant culture and tradition. If you’re looking for an event around which to base an entire trip, then look no further than the Lake of Stars Festival. This annual cultural celebration was established in 2003 and has rapidly become the talk of the African continent. Featuring leading international and local musicians, lectures, theatre, and film the festival, set on the northern shores of Lake Malawi, is a cultural experience unlike anything else Africa has to offer.

Further south, visitors should be sure to visit Malawi’s tea plantations which sit nestled beneath the majestic Mount Mulanje, overlooking the Shire Valley. A notable tourist tea-tasting hotspot is Satemwa, in the Thyolo Tea Estate region, which has been producing Black, Green, White, Oolong, Dark, and Fusion teas since 1937. The Estate offers tours of the factory and tasting sessions where visitors can learn more about the tea growing and preparation process.

Reason 5: Spectacular Scenery

Africa is well known for its sunsets, and there’s no better scenic vista from which to watch them than the sandy banks of Lake Malawi. But Malawi has much more by way of scenic diversity than its world-famous lake. From Mount Mulanje, the highlands of the Zomba Plateau, and the scenic hills of Dedza to the wetlands of the Lower Shire in the Great East African Rift Valley, Malawi has something to cater for every taste. This diversity of landscapes is particularly unusual for such a small country and can be attributed to its altitude range – from 10,000 ft. to below sea level. Not only does that make Malawi a photographer’s dream, but it affords visitors the opportunity to try activities as varied as scuba diving, trekking, horse riding, mountain biking, rock climbing, abseiling and fishing.

If you’re considering a visit to Malawi after the travel sanctions are lifted, make sure to check out the website where you’ll find more hints, tips and destination inspiration for your trip.

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