Sandwiched between Tanzania, Zambia, and Mozambique, Malawi is a beautiful little, landlocked country, often overshadowed by several better-known tourist destinations in the region. Malawi is named one of the top 10 places to go by Lonely Planet, for “the Big Five and beach life without the crowds”. This small country packs a mighty punch in terms of attractions, which makes it a real example for the phrase, “Good things come in small packages.” People travel to Africa for various reasons, including finding lesser-crowded places, beautiful beaches, safari, hiking, and exploring fascinating nature. It usually surprised visitors that Malawi has something to cater for every taste!
Malawi is the place to be if you want to enjoy a natural paradise without everybody else. Lake Malawi, its majestic lake, dominates the eastern border that gives way to beautiful beaches, amazing fresh seafood, and tons of outdoor activities to do in Malawi. Although Malawi is a small country relative to African standards, this is often its appeal as it welcomes those looking for a relaxing holiday in a beautifully unspoiled part of the world. You can also check out our ultimate travel guide to Malawi which is like Malawi 101 for the beginner travelers in Africa.
In this post, we’ll tell you the top 10 reasons why you should visit Malawi and add it to your travel bucket list.
1- Friendliest People in the World
Malawi is a destination with an incredible amount to offer. From safaris, breath-taking views, amazing wildlife, but most importantly, it is renowned for its warm and friendly atmosphere created by the Malawian people. Malawi is known as the “warm heart of Africa”, and rightly so. Malawi’s people are friendly and peaceful, making you feel completely welcome and at ease in their beautiful country. It is common for strangers to wave and greet visitors as if they know them. It’s also easy to make them smile with a “moni” (pronounced mo-nee, not money), which means hello in Chichewa, the local language, and “Zikomo” (thank you).
It is the legendary friendliness of the Malawian people that has endeared tourists to this little-discovered African country. Wherever you go in the country, you’ll be greeted with huge smiles, even if people can’t speak English. Everyone instantly becomes ‘’brother’’ or ‘’sister’’, so don’t even try to understand their complex family structures.
2- Amazing Weather Year-round
Malawi is not far from the equator, which means no shortage of sunshine and pleasant temperatures! Unlike other African countries, this beautiful nation is not very hot, nor humid. The temperature throughout the year is around 30 degree. 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. Although winters can be cold, the shores of Lake Malawi are warm, sunny and dry. 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.
There’s no certain answer on the question of ‘what is the best time of the year to travel to Malawi?’
The answer to this question, totally depends on the type of traveler that you are and the activities you’d like to do in Malawi.
- If you’re interested in spotting lots of wildlife, the end of the dry season, September and October are the best time to visit Malawi for you. That time is when the bush is less dense, and most of the game will regularly show up around the few remaining watering holes and rivers.
- If you’re interested in some colorful scenery and bird watching, the green season is from November to April.
- For outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking and horse riding, the winter months of May to August are ideal.
3- One of the Safest Countries in Africa
Similar to any other continent, some African countries are safer than the others. Although relatively poor compared to other African nations, Malawi is a safe option for a traveler visiting Africa. The country has never had a civil war since independence.
Malawi’s atmosphere is also as peaceful as it gets. Cities are quiet places without the usual urban chaos and traffic jams. Of course, all countries have their problems, but a high crime rate is not one of Malawi’s problems. The most important thing is to be a responsible tourist. Because of the high poverty rate, it’s imperative that you tip generously for good service and buy from the informal sector because that is the only way some will have a meal for the day.
4- Surreal Lake Malawi
Although Malawi is landlocked, its giant, freshwater lake is its life blood. Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site with 29.600 km² in size, Lake Malawi is the fifth largest fresh water lake in the world by volume, the ninth largest lake in the world by area—and the third largest and second deepest lake in Africa. Having some of the cleanest beaches and crystal water, you’ll think you’re on a sub-tropical island with its sandy beaches and palm trees, backed by towering mountains covered in rainforest.
Lake Malawi has the largest number of fish species in the world, 99 % of them endemic to the region (thought to be between 500 and 1,000), making it the biggest natural aquarium in the world. But it’s not only about the fishes. This lake draws in a variety of bird species, as well as hippos, warthogs, baboons and occasional elephants.
It covers nearly the whole eastern side of the country, so you can keep enjoying the views from different angles during your trip. While the near empty waters make it ideal for freshwater snorkeling and scuba diving, the golden beaches and palm tree covered islands are great for relaxing. Described as the Lake of Stars, due to the sparkling waters by day and the twinkling of hundreds of lights from fishermen on their dugout canoes, lining the horizon, by night, this lake is one of the best places to gaze up at starry skies. There are other water activities on offer around the lake, including swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, water skiing and kayaking. The warm waters of the lake and dazzling quiet beaches make it a great year-round location for swimming.
Some of the best water activities in Lake Malawi are offered by Aqua Africa Dive School. Aqua Africa is a PADI Scuba Diving Center located on the beautiful shores of Lake Malawi. Experience the warm, clear, fresh water and stunning tropical fish life. Whether you’re an experienced diver or never tried before, they have options for everyone!
5- Bush and Beach On the Same Day
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. But being about half the size of the United Kingdom, Malawi is one of the easiest countries in which to combine ‘bush and beach’. There are few destinations where you can easily be watching cheetah in the morning and enjoying a sundowner drink on a dhow sailboat in the afternoon, without the need for a flight in between.
Liwonde National Park is only 2 to 3 hours from the southern part of Lake Malawi. You can be on safari in South Luangwa in the morning and on the beach at Lake Malawi in the afternoon – a perfect combo!
Its compact size, peaceful people and reasonable standard of roads make Malawi safe and easy to travel around; whether that be on a privately guided or self-drive holiday to Malawi.
On the other hand, if you are short of time or prefer to fly, there are excellent scheduled and charter flights services, connecting airstrips in the key locations throughout the country.
The cool Dutch guys at ‘1 2 Travel Africa’ offer an amazing 11 hours long tour to both Lake Malawi and Kuti Wildlife Reserve. This tour is the perfect outing from Lilongwe, when you don’t have much time, but still like to see a combination of Malawi’s bush and beach. These guys are both from Netherlands and have long been living in South Africa and Malawi. They’ve been in the tourism industry for quite a while and will take good care of you.
6- Fewer Tourists Around
Unlike some go-to holiday destinations in Africa like Mauritius, Malawi is still relatively undiscovered and untouched by tourists and tourism, which makes it the ideal destination for those travellers looking for an authentic and crowd free African experience.
Imagine having such beautiful places like the beaches in Lake Malawi, all to yourself, without having your perfect day wrecked by a bunch of vacationers blasting horrible music. You also won’t have to jostle for reservations at hotels, restaurants or game parks. There are very few cars in the capital, Lilongwe which enables you to walk to places without feeling overwhelmed or fearful of getting run over. You can go from the high life of the Kumbali Country Lodge, where Madonna stays, or sleep in more budget accommodations.
7- Wildlife Safari At Its Best
It’s not uncommon to drive through a totally different landscape each hour with breath-taking views all around you in Malawi. There’s a number of great National Parks and Wildlife Reserves, all of them with their own unique stories. Four of its protected areas – Majete Wildlife Reserve, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, Liwonde National Park and Mangochi Forest Reserve – are now under the management of African Parks, an internationally renowned conservation organisation.
As a part of a major decade-long rehabilitation plan (thanks to a partnership between the government and a non-profit organization), Majete Wildlife Reserve has become home to the Big Five (elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, buffalo). In this beautiful park you’ll be able to spot lions, leopard, buffalo, elephant and other animals without the traffic jams and crowded roads of other more famous reserves.
The Shire River runs alongside the park and serves as a watering hole for most animals in the park. Taking a river safari there is like stepping into the Lion King. It’s a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ to see all the animals gathering around water to drink, wash themselves, and play. And the best part is that boats are not as noisy as a jeep which allows you to listen to the true sound of the nature.
And if you’re still a big fan of traditional safari in Africa, Malawi Adventure has some amazing road safari tours in Malawi. This private tour takes you across Malawi to experience remote villages, the wild nature and animals in their natural home, and even snorkeling and diving in one of the islands on Lake Malawi.
8- Outdoor Adventure Sports
Malawi is a long, narrow country, about 520 miles north to south, and the diversity of the scenery as you traverse it is remarkable. It offers the adrenaline junkie looking for adventure beyond the safari. Thanks to the hotels and camp sites along the Lake Malawi, the ranges of water-based activities in Malawi are mind-boggling. From lengthy kayaking and canoe expeditions to luxury yachting and sailing marathons, there is plenty to do at Lake Malawi.
Freshwater diving and snorkeling
Malawi is one of the best freshwater diving and snorkeling spots in the world. Even if you are a first-timer diver, you can safely learn how to do diving and snorkeling in Malawi. The still water and aquatic life make it a great place for scuba diving and snorkeling. Excellent visibility makes it a favorite for first-time divers. What’s more, you can go water-skiing, sailing, kayaking, sail boarding or parasailing. As mentioned in reason 4, Whether you’re an experienced diver or never tried before, Aqua Africa Dive School has options for everyone!
However, the outdoor activities in Malawi don’t end with snorkeling and diving. There are far more outdoor sports to enjoy from on the dry land in Malawi.
baring rock flanks tower to 10,000ft (3,000m), Mount Mulanje has Malawi’s highest peak. Mulanje is known locally as the ‘island in the sky’ because it rises almost sheer from the plains below. The height of Mulanje is such that it creates its own climate and unique vegetation. Mulanje lies to the east of Blantyre and is easily accessible from south Malawi‘s capital. Visitors can drive round the foot of the massif in a day but even more attractive is to walk, trek, hike and camp on the mountain. There is a large network of paths and trails and choices between quite gentle walking and serious climbing. Visitors can spend a couple of hours taking a walk to some river pools and waterfalls, or spend many days exploring the whole massif.
The best tour you can get to hike the Mount Mulanje is with Francis Atiya. His knowledge of the region and the mountain make this experience unique and easy. His experience in leading tours for all ages, nationalities and personality types make him adaptable and extremely professional. The tour also includes all meals, snack, and even water.
Biking in Nyika
Accessed by just a single rough dirt road, Malawi’s largest national park is easily the most enchanting place in the country. This park’s sublime grassland flashes with zebra, Roan antelope, eland, bush pig, 400 species of bird, and over 200 species of orchid. The perfect place to ride a bike.
Cycle Malawi is a company based in Blantyre, Malawi and would professionally assist you with your Malawi cycling trip. They are great in communication and flexible with your needs.
9- Island hopping
Lake Malawi is home to some beautiful islands, from tiny Domwe and Mumbo islands with no permanent inhabitant, to Likoma Island, where there are bustling local communities and a handful of wonderful lodges. The three Marelli Islands, which are protected as part of the Lake Malawi National Park are home to hippos, otters, bush babies and 300 species of birds, and the super laid back Chizumulu Island, which you can walk right around in under three hours.
Mumbo Island is a private island in the middle of Lake Malawi, perfect for the luxury traveler looking for an untouched paradise. The island has never been inhabited by a permanent population. If you like to have a few quality days with your partner, friends, or family, Mumbo has no cell service or electricity so you can truly get that digital detox you need. At Mumbo Island hotel, the wooden stilted cabins overlooking the turquoise water of Lake Malawi are the definition of rustic luxury. You should leave the doors to the balcony open to wake up to the incredible sunrise and the birdsong of the island.” During your stay on Mumbo Island, you can do activities like kayaking, yoga, hiking, sunset boat rides, and evening campfires.
Off the eastern shore of the Lake is Likoma Island, a small piece of Malawian territory in Mozambican waters. The island has a few bustling local communities and some lovely beaches. Given its small size, it is easy to explore on foot. Nearby is another tiny island, Chizumulu, also Malawian territory. The island has a few bustling local communities and some lovely beaches. Given its small size, it is easy to explore on foot. Nearby is another tiny island, Chizumulu, also Malawian territory.
There are not a lot of choices when it comes to booking a hotel in Likoma Island, but there is this unbelievable hotel called ‘Kaya Mawa‘ which is often referred to as one of the top 10 most romantic lodges in the world. They offer snorkeling, yachting, and fishing activities. The level of service in this hotel is incredible and being surrounded by crystal clear water and lovely beaches would trick your mind of being somewhere in the Caribbeans.
10- Mouth Watering Malawian Cuisine
Despite being a poor country, Malawian cuisine is a rich, fascinating one which has had very little influence from the outside world. Unlike other African countries where beef and meat are the staples, in Malawi, fish is most common, both fresh and dried.
Every morning the local fishermen return in their dug-out canoes (locally known as ‘bwato’) with 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.
You have not experienced Malawi, unless you have had their delicious nsima (made from cornmeal) and chambo (similar to Tilapia fish, served deep-fried, grilled or baked). Groundnuts, rice, sorghum and corn are the main ingridients, used in mgaiwa phala (sweet breakfast porridge of corn), kondowole (made from cassawa), kholowa (sweet potato leaves) and mkhwani.
Some other local Malawian dishes are:
- Mpasa (lake salmon)
- Kampango (similar to a catfish)
- Usipa (similar to a sardine).
- Kachamburi (Malawian-style salsa)
- Mpunga (the Chichewa word for rice)
Tea is Malawi’s second-largest export after tobacco and Malawians mostly drink local tea. Do yourself a favor and try some with your breakfast. You could also visit the Malawian famous Tea farm, Satemwa Tea Estate which is a family-owned business, having different range of unique orthodox specialty teas like white, green, oolong, dark