Malawi, often described as the warm heart of Africa, is a tiny country tucked between safari giants Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. But despite its small size we found that Malawi has a lot more to offer than just its famously friendly people.
After the long, dusty drive down from Tanzania it was marvellous to cross over into Malawi, with its warm, welcoming locals and heart-stopping scenery. Ahead of us lay the grassy hilltops of Nyika Plateau, wildlife watching in Liwonde National Park and the golden beaches of Lake Malawi, all enticingly within our reach. It was time to get back out into nature.
Hiking in the hills
Strolling along the rolling green hills of Nyika Plateau, we could have been taking a leisurely walk in the highlands of Europe until a herd of zebras appeared on the horizon. We kept cosy at Chelinda Lodge in a charming chalet, nestled into the hillside in a storybook setting beneath a forest full of pine trees.
We are used to wildlife watching on the savannah or in the bush, not on a high plateau. It was wonderful to explore the wide-open spaces, wandering among wildflowers, biking along the winding, dirt tracks and fly-fishing for trout in the clear dams. The grasslands were teeming with wildlife: herds of roan antelope, zebra and eland, and elusive leopards hidden in the small pockets of forest.
Cruising on the river
Gliding along on a wildlife-viewing boat trip on the Shire River, we watched elephants wading knee-deep in the reedy shallows. Set around a lovely bird-filled lagoon, we stayed at Mvuu Lodge in lavish safari tents on the riverbank, falling asleep to the sounds of hippos honking in the moonlight.
Marcus went rhino tracking in the Liwonde Rhino Sanctuary, where they walked into the path of a bad-tempered bull elephant. The ranger told him to, “Run, run!” and soon after they stumbled upon a black rhino browsing in the bushes. Despite the rhino sighting we didn’t tick off the Big Five, but with its lush, palm-fringed river Liwonde National Park is brimming with safari romance.
Lounging at the lake
Snorkelling among the brightly coloured cichlids of Lake Malawi was like swimming around in an aquarium. Perched on top of a rocky cliff, the beach-chic tents at Mumbo Island Camp are built on wooden stilts overlooking the crystal waters to a dreamy crescent cove.
It was tempting to just laze about in our hammock, but we swung ourselves into action and jumped into a double kayak. Such an idyllic island was, of course, completely deserted, with just a handful of Malawian fishermen casting off for their catch of the day. We timed it so that the sun was setting just as we rounded the last bend, sparkling off the lake in a dazzling display.
The memorable time we spent in Africa’s warm heart will stay with us forever, from the beach to the bush and back again. Malawi has a little bit of everything that makes travelling in Africa so appealing – the magic, the beauty and the wilderness, all wrapped up in a neat little safari package. We would go back there in a heartbeat.