Do you know Malawi as that poor country in Africa where UNICEF is helping to save children? Or do you know Malawi because of Madonna’s slightly controversial adoptions? ‘’Why should I travel to Malawi?’’, people ask quite often. And we admit that it’s not easy to give an answer. Not because it’s hard to find a reason, but because there are so many! Everyone has their own reasons to travel to Africa and we believe that this relatively small and unknown country offers it all. Those children might be the happiest you’ll ever meet, since the people in Malawi are very positive and hospitable, despite poverty. And as the title of this blog suggest, it’s possible to spot the Big 5; the dream of every safari tourist. We’ve picked the biggest five reasons why Malawi should be your choice when traveling to Africa. We promise you won’t regret your decision!
1. The friendly people of Malawi
One of the main reasons to visit Malawi, is the friendly people you will meet here. The country is also known as the Warm Heart of Africa and you won’t need long to find out why. Wherever you go, people genuinely welcome you with a big smile and the sparkling eyes of a Malawian make you feel like you’ve been best friends for years. Everyone instantly becomes ‘’brother’’ or ‘’sister’’, so don’t even try to understand their complex family structures. Whether you’re connected by blood or not, we are here together in Malawi, so we shall take care of each other. That’s the spirit! And if you’re only visiting, the locals will try to change your mind about catching that flight out. Quite dangerous, if you don’t plan to make this your permanent home…
Besides friendly and welcoming, the people of Malawi are also very proud of their rich culture. Rightfully so! The Chewa are the largest ethnic group in Malawi, but you will also meet many Tumbuka and Yao. Each culture has its own rituals and if you’re lucky, you could attend and experience traditional dancing. If you like rhythm, colour and energetic moves, you’ll have a blast! Malawians also love sharing their stories, which is one of the best ways to get to know a country and its people. As soon as someone starts telling a story, many from the village will join in a large circle and contribute extra details. This could take a while, so you better find a good spot in the shade of a mighty Baobab tree!
2. The world-famous Lake Malawi
With 29.600 km² in size, Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in Africa. It covers nearly the whole eastern side of the country, so you can keep enjoying the views from different angles during your trip. There is always movement and a great vibe at the golden beaches in the south and the crisp white beaches in the middle. Every morning the local fishermen return in their dug-out canoes (locally known as ‘bwato’) with the daily catch. Most of the fish is sold immediately to be cleaned and roasted on the fire for lunch. The smaller types of fish are usually dried in the sun and eaten at night with ‘nsima’ (maize meal porridge) and some fresh vegetables.
Swimming and kayaking are popular activities at Lake Malawi. You can always find a local fisherman who would be happy to take you to one of the islands in his boat. There you can snorkel between the rocks and enjoy some spectacular birds, including the African Fish Eagle!
3. Malawi’s comfortable climate
We’re not far from the equator, which means no shortage of sunshine and pleasant temperatures! On average, differing a bit per region, Malawi gets 25 – 30 °C during daytime throughout the year and in the winter not much below 15 °C. It’s slightly warmer at the southern inland and on the shores of Lake Malawi and a few degrees colder on the highlands (bring something warm to wear in winter!), but the local weather usually puts a smile on everyone’s face.
People ask us what the best time of the year is to travel to Malawi. It might seem like a standard answer, but it really depends on what you wish to get out of your holiday. Are you mainly interested in spotting as much wildlife as possible? Then you’d best travel in September and October. This is the end of the dry season, when most of the game will regularly show up around the few remaining watering holes and rivers. The bush is also less dense, so you could look further into it. If you’d like to experience more colourful landscapes with flowers and extra migratory birds, you will enjoy the green season from November to April. The cooler winter months of May to August are ideal for outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking and horse riding. Good to know: the water in Lake Malawi has a great temperature for swimming year-round!
4. The best of Africa at short distances
If you ever went to popular African holiday destinations like Tanzania, Kenya or South Africa, you know that it’s no exception to drive for hours each day and that even domestic flights are a common part of your itinerary. However, you still only get to see limited parts of the country. Compared to most African countries, Malawi is relatively small, about half the size of the United Kingdom, which means it’s easier to explore all the highlights and many extras without having to rush. And without having to queue everywhere! Still few people decide to travel to Malawi and without the masses you can experience the true meaning of feeling free, surrounded by nothing but nature.
The main roads are easily accessible, but otherwise you’ll find a variety of dirt roads. Especially during and after the green (rainy) season, it might take you longer to cover certain distances than Google Maps shows. If you are keen to explore these more remote and authentic parts of Malawi, it’s essential to get proper information and personalized advise. Alternatively, you can decide to travel without any worries and book with a driver-guide.
5. Malawi has been reborn as a real Big 5 safari destination
The last, but certainly not least reason to book a trip to Malawi, is the spectacular nature. It’s not uncommon to drive through a totally different landscape each hour with breath-taking views all around you. There’s also a number of great National Parks and Wildlife Reserves, all of them with their own unique stories. Unfortunately, in the past, many people were forced to go out poaching wildlife to feed their families. Even protecting their small-scale agriculture resulted in dangerous conflicts between farmers and crop raiding animals.
The good news is that in recent years, the situation has improved drastically. Malawi’s government started working closely with international conservation organizations, such as African Parks and IFAW. Together they protect the precious nature and provide education and socio-economic development for communities. More and more Malawians now understand the value of ecotourism, which is creating many jobs in and around protected areas. Nature is recovering quickly and, sometimes with extra help, many game species are returning in large numbers. Elephants, buffaloes and leopards never disappeared completely and due to the reintroduction of rhinos and lions, Malawi can proudly call itself a Big 5 safari destination again.
But don’t just focus on the Big 5! The zebras, giraffes, hippos, cheetahs, wildebeests, warthogs and many different antelopes are just as beautiful. And don’t forget the feathered wildlife, because with about 650 bird species, Malawi is a true birding paradise for beginning as well as advanced birders. Make sure to bring your camera and binoculars!
Bonus reason for caffeine addicts like us: Malawi’s locally grown and roasted coffee is among the best in Africa, just like its tea. We are looking forward to taking you on a plantation tour, obviously followed by a tasting!