When I first booked my trip to work a few months in a hospital in southern Malawi, my friends and family could not be convinced of the idea to visit me. Political and social crises, the fact that it’s landlocked and hard to reach, the lack of famous national parks and simply not knowing anything about the country made it hard to get them excited. All I knew myself was that there was a massive lake in the middle, Lake Malawi. Unfortunately I also heard that this lake was rather parasite-infested – not necessarily appealing.

malawi - baobab trees - derek winterburnvia Derek Winterburn

Of course, I set out anyways to explore this little country wedged in between Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. I arrived at the international airport of the Malawi’s second-biggest city Blantyre and was greeted by hundreds of happy children watching the spectacle – there is only one flight arriving per day, and planes are still reason for excitement here. Immediately I felt drawn towards this country and its people, and soon I learnt that there is more to Malawi than a lake and the hospital I work in. This list love letter is for all the sceptics out there.

1) Lake Malawi

lake malawi - colin carmichaelvia Colin Carmichael

The beautiful Lake Malawi is so stunning that you quickly forget that you are not actually by the ocean. My favourite place along its shores is Cape Maclear, a rural village near the southern tip of the lake. Local businesses offer great opportunities for kayaking, snorkelling, catamaran rides or just relaxing on the beach while watching the locals drying fish and washing their clothes. If you buy a fresh catch most of the surrounding lodges are happy to throw it onto the grill for a small fee – best dinner ever.

Cape Maclear is also a good starting point to set off for the Mambo and Domwe Islands nearby. Domwe Island is still pretty wild with basic accommodation and a camping site, while Mambo Island is the more developed big sister with an all-inclusive nature resort.

malawi - lake malawi - likoma islandvia Kaya Mawa resort

One place which is said to be in a league on its own is Likoma Island further up north just off the Mozambique coast. It’s quite remote and has a luxury resort which easily puts more famous destinations in a corner.

If you happen to be in Malawi in September don’t miss the annual music festival called Lake of Stars in Mangochi. I reckon Glastonbury must have felt like this a long time ago!

2) Mount Mulanje

malawi - mulanje mountain 2via Mountain Club of Malawi

Also in the southern part of the country, perfect for a day trip from Blantyre, lies the majestic and third-tallest mountain in Africa, Mount Mulanje. Hikers can enjoy fantastic views from its top, but even if you are not in for the race to the summit, there is a lot to do. The forestry office of the reserve offers a guide listing all the highlights of the area and I was lucky enough to find a waterfall and natural pool for swimming here. An unexpected but great escape!

3) Liwonde & Majete National Park

malawi - national park tourmalawi - elephants by shire river - via st georgesbottom pic via st georges

Forget about the Serengeti and Kruger National Park (not really though – they’re awesome!), here come the national parks of Malawi! They might be smaller, but the variety of wildlife is just as great as in the more famous parks – particularly along the Shire River, which runs through both of these parks. They are relatively close to Blantyre and make for good weekend getaways to observe some elephants, lions or hippos!

4) Thyolo and the tea estates

malawi - tea - via nchengavia nchenga

In economic terms Malawi is best known for exporting tobacco, coffee and tea. Thyolo, half way between Blantyre and Mulanje Mountain reserve, is the capital of the local tea production. Here you can find one of the oldest tea estates of the country, the Satemwa Tea Estate. At its centre is Huntingdon House, which throws you right back into the British colonial time. Originally the family home of the estate owner it now offers lunch, high tea and exclusive rooms for accommodation.

5) Zomba Plateau

malawi - zomba plateau

With its altitude of over 2,000 metres Zomba Plateau offers amazing views, hiking trails and a great opportunity for horse riding. It is just an hour’s drive from Blantyre and very easy to access.

On the way up to the Plateau you have the chance to buy strawberries, mulberries and other wild berries from one of the sellers along the road, which make the best snack for the day. Around the plateau there are several opportunities to stay for a night – you don’t want to miss waking up to that view!

6) Blantyre

malawi - blantyre - market - travis lupickvia Travis Lupick

Although it is not the capital (that’s Lilongwe), Blantyre is Malawi’s biggest city and commercial centre, and there is of course a lot to do. Getting lost on one of the markets is one of my favourite things to do. Come here to shop for beautiful fabrics and delicious fruit, or bargain at the wooden market. For coffee head to the oldest building of Malawi, the Mandala House. In the evenings hit one of the city’s restaurants and clubs for delicious food and traditional African music. My bar of choice is Mibawa Cafe, particularly on Wednesdays when they host a fantastic poetry slam night!

 

I could go on and on about what to do and see in Malawi – my next goal is to explore the more remote areas of the north, like the Nyika Plateau. If you are in for an adventure, this is just the right place for you! It’s beautiful, diverse and – the best of it all – completely off the beaten track! A hidden gem of Africa!

malawi - sunset

This is a guest post by Julia v. Hake, who works as a medical doctor in a hospital in Blantyre, Malawi.
All photos by Julia, unless otherwise stated.