Malawi, known as the ‘Land of the Lake’, is dominated by Lake Malawi. This vast expanse of water stretches 500 kilometres along the eastern border with Mozambique and takes up one fifth of the country’s entire surface area.
Part of Lake Malawi is the world’s first freshwater National Park. There is an active fishing industry, emanating from the small and picturesque villages dotted along the shore, especially at the north end of the lake. Local fishermen go about their daily work in dugout canoes. The fish not only make for tasty fare but also swarm amongst the intriguing underwater scenery.
The golden sandy beaches which fringe the lake attract visitors to Malawi from far and wide, to soak up the sun and try their hand at a range of water sports. The freshwater diving here is world renowned, as there are over 600 species of fish residing in the clear waters. In fact more indigenous species can be found here than in any other lake on earth.
The lake certainly presents a great draw but Malawi has much more to offer. The majority of Malawi lies within the Great Rift Valley, a trough-like depression running through the country from North to South. This geographical feature is the reason for Malawi’s spectacular contrasting scenery. Escarpments and dramatic peaks are found mostly in the North. These give way to forest covered plateaus and rolling grasslands, savannahs and floodplains.
The lesser known northern area of Malawi can only be described as ‘unspoilt Africa’. This region, other than the lake, consists of highlands teeming with an incredible abundance of flora and fauna. The numerous (over 200!) species of orchid, for which Malawi is famous, can also be found here. The Nyika Plateau, with several peaks over 2000m, dominates this area where the climate is cooler. Hiking or biking amongst the dramatic landscape is an excellent way to get the best views and spot some of the 400 bird species.
The South of Malawi gives way to plains, valleys and the River Shire. However, central Africa’s tallest peak, Mount Mulanje, can also be found in this part of the country. At 3000m this mountain is a great place for the intrepid explorer to trek and camp.
No trip to Malawi would be complete without a safari element, be it walking, horse riding, travelling by boat or 4×4. One of the best places to do this is in Liwonde National Park. Refreshingly, this park and all others in Malawi have not become overrun by 4×4 convoys and so guarantee that visitors feel very much alone with nature and the wildlife. Situated at the southern tip of Lake Malawi with the River Shire flowing along its western border, Liwonde National Park constitutes an excellent environment in which to view hippos and crocodiles.
There are also plenty of elephants, impala and baboons and the less common kudu and bushback as well as Black Rhinos which have recently been reintroduced. Leopards can be spotted on night drives and because of the amount of water within the park, birdlife is abundant. Liwonde is perhaps the most famous, but there are eight other national parks and wildlife reserves in Malawi which offer a diverse range of game viewing in differing terrains. Additionally, just over the border into Zambia and easily accessible from Malawi, is the South Luangwa National Park, one of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world.
The diversity of Malawi’s landscape makes it a particularly appealing and beautiful country to visit. There are not many places where you can scuba dive one day, trek across a high plateau the next and track rhinos in a secluded national park the following. But what really sets Malawi apart is the welcoming smiles, kind nature, desire to assist and genuine friendliness of the local people. There is no doubt that Malawi is fully deserving of its reputation as ‘the warm heart of Africa’