Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Top 12 unmissable places to visit in Malawi

I'm often asked what things are not to be missed by friends travelling to Malawi, so I've pulled all my tips together into a single post.

Here are my top 12 unmissable places to visit in Malawi.

1. Mount Mulanje

Mount Mulanje is Malawi's highest peak. Situated in the Southern region above the town of Mulanje, climbing/hiking tours can be arranged, which generally take several days, camping overnight on the mountain. Mulanje offers a breath-taking tropical climb.

2. Lake of Stars festival, Salima

OK, so not a place but an event - and not one you want to miss! Lake of Stars is an institution in Malawi, started a number of years ago, it brings together global and local musicians for a 3 day festival of music and partying. It generally takes place one weekend in October - for more details, visit the Lake of Stars website.

3. Lake Malawi Steamer - the Ilala

The only way to see Lake Malawi - the Ilala steams up and down the west coast of Lake Malawi from Monkey Bay, to Likoma Island, Nkhata Bay and all the way to Chilumba. There are only 5 cabins, but what better way to kick back and relax on a cruise up or down Lake Malawi. Recommended!

4. Nkhotakota pottery, Nkhotakota

Malawi actually has quite an impressive pottery industry, both for local people and travellers' souvenirs and one of the most famous lies in the town of Nkhotakota, on the central/northern lakeshore road. Tied to a hotel, Nkhotakota offers pottery breaks where you can see them at work, paint your own or just buy some of their fabulous products. The do all sorts of crockery, bowls, plates, salt and pepper shakers, as well as tiles and other custom items. Brilliant!

5. Sambani Lodge, Chintetche

Sambani Lodge is a small hotel situated on a beautiful, white sandy beach on the shore of Lake Malawi. Nestled in mango trees, several kilometres from the main lakeshore road that runs from Nkhata Bay to Salima, Sambani Lodge offers good quality accommodation at a decent price. The water is also Bilharzia free, so swimming is compulsory (a huge relief in the heat of the day!). There are also all sorts of activities to occupy you, and if there aren't enough of you for a volleyball team, some locals will be sure to help you out!

6. Kasungu National Park

Kusungu National Park takes up much of the central west part of Malawi, bordering Zambia, and is a huge, mainly wooded park containing buffalo, hippos, leopards and lots of fabulous birdlife. Visiting this park off-season is not recommended as the tree cover means animals are hard to spot and there are lots of waterholes to choose from.

7. Livingstonia

Cut off from the rest of Malawi by a single road, and often inaccesible during and just after heavy rains, Livingstonia should be a separate country of its own. Named after David Livingstone, it sits atop the rift valley plateau, perched on the edge of the escarpment that drops away over 1,000 feet to Lake Malawi below. People and guesthouses are few and far between but for me nothing can detract from this beautiful wilderness.

8. Likoma Island

Perched in the middle of Lake Malawi, Likoma island is accessible by plane (as it has a small airstrip) or by steamer boat from Nkhata Bay. It is a beautiful island, with around 9,000 inhabitants, and randomly a cathedral in the centre! There are guesthouses available for visitors, but booking in advance is recommended.

9. Karonga Museum (it's all about the Dinosaurs!)

This museum is as incongurous as it sounds. Situated on the outskirts of Karonga township, and boasting an amazing full 'Malawisaurus' skeleton (yes that's its name...really!) found nearby, this museum with make you chuckle as much as inform you of the mythical history and local traditions of the area. Worth a visit if you are passing through!

10. Vwaza Marsh National Park

Vwaza Marsh doesn't sound like the nicest place to go, but it is one of the best, and most reliable parks to visit in Malawi. The accommodation is situated around the main marsh/lake with chalets and space for camping. Animals you'll see are elephants, crocodiles, hippos, buffalo, wildebeast. If you go, make sure you sign up for their night safari and walking safaris - you'll be astonished by what you see.

11. Lake Malawi National Park

Claiming to be the world's first freshwater national park, Lake Malawi National Park, in the southern region of Malawi, covers a mere 9,000 hectares, but in spite of its small size it is packed with huge concentrations of Malawi's diverse bird life, as well as hundreds of different species of fish. Lake Malawi has the largest number of species of ciclid of any freshwater lake in the world!

12. Nkhata Bay

Nkhata bay is the place to hang out if you're on an overland tour, or want to do activities in Malawi. The large, pebbly beach is surrounded by guesthouses and lodges, all offering various watersports and other activities. A short way away (on the road to Chitetche) there is a huge roadside carving market, where carvers of all types of soivenirs (traditional and modern) hang out waiting for passing cars and customers. The good news is they are all negotiable!

So, those are my top unmissable places to see in Malawi - have I missed any that you would add? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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