|There are over 10,000 animals in this photograph from Nkhotakota Game Reserve.|
This country might be more known for hunger, floods, corruption and poverty than tourism. But go, and you will be rewarded by beautiful beaches, safaris, natural attractions and friendly locals. And I guarantee you won't meet your neighbour.
Written by Øystein Garfors.People travel to Malawi for a variety of reasons, but few tourist are flocking to experience the country’s attractions. This might change. And it should. Lonely Planet added it to its top 10 recommendations for 2014 while Huffington Post proclaimed it the winner of its “top emerging travel hotspots for 2015”. I have lived there for 14 months and made 10 visits. That made me fall in love with the beautiful country and its beautiful people.
countries with lowest GDP per capita” list - or the world's poorest countries. Norway, my country, is on top of the list of the richest countries with a GDP per capita that is 384 times higher than Malawi. There the GDP per capita is as low as 253 US dollars.
But thanks to the countless smiles that meet you, the poverty doesn’t show. And every time I return home from a visit, I am ashamed of us Norwegians. Why? I dare to say that we are introvert, self-centred and shy. At our best we might share a modest nod to strangers.
Not so in the little African country, the size of Pennsylvania. Malawians greet all visitors with a beaming smile and with genuine, disarming warmth. They will go out of their way to be friendly and helpful to anyone who honours them by visiting their country. And one little trick will make them smile even broader, if that is even possible; learn a few greeting phrases in Chichewa, their language.
Say “muli bwanji?” (how are you?) and “dili bwino kaya inu” (I'm fine, and you?), and you will be adopted as a lifelong friend on the spot. But there is more. I will give you another five good reasons, why Malawi better come high on your next gotta-go-to list.
In my opinion Lilongwe is actually best avoided. Except for getting that genuine feel of a real and chaotic African city. And most travellers will have to spend at least a night or two upon arrival or departure, so make the best of it. The main market in the old town is huge and interesting place to get lost during the day. Just watch your belongings. And if you are into dodgy nightlife, Lilongwe is your new hotspot for years to come. There are fun discos and nightclubs where you can exhaust yourselves until next morning. Just don't judge them by the volume. The worst ones usually play the loudest music. If you stay centrally in the Old town, you are safe to walk as long as it is light. I'd recommend to go by taxi after dark, and especially when looking for nightlife.
And despite of Lilongwe's drawbacks, this is actually where you will find the best restaurants in the country.
2. Senga Bay
3. Lake Ilala ferry service
4. Lake of Stars music festival
5. NkhotakotaWelcome to what is allegedly Africas biggest village south of Sahara! Nkhotakota (Chichewa for "Corner Corner") is both a town and one of the districts in the Central Region of Malawi. It is on the shore of Lake Malawi and one of the ports of call for M/S Ilala. Nkhotakota is a great place to get a feel of real Malawian everyday life. The population of the town feels like 5,000 but is actually estimated to be closer to 50,000. The town is my Malawian hometown, and where I travel for business. It has several uncrowded jewels that are waiting to be explored by you. Just to stay, observe and take part in daily life at the market, the beach or a local pub will make your day. I promise. You will experience great vibes and most people are up for a chat.
Nkhotakota Youth Organization is a superb source for further exploration. They run a Cultural Centre, a vocational skills school and a rural electrification company where you can volunteer for shorter or longer periods. They have a pleasant outdoor restaurant where they arrange concerts and the occasional music festival. They will also arrange tours in the district for you. Such as sending you off to Bua River Lodge, a good place inside the game reserve to chill out while waiting for crocodiles and elephants. Beach bums should head for beach side lodge Fish Eagle Bay where you can relax, kayak or simply down a MGT (Malawi Gin with Tonic) or two.
In Liwonde National park you can for instance get a 2 hour boat safari for less than 20 USD. Last time I saw plenty of large animals like hippos, crocodiles, antelopes and elephants. There are also all sorts of animals at Nkhotakota game reserve, but they are harder to spot as the the vegetation makes for some pretty good hiding places. This also makes for spectacular and exciting walking safaris with some of the wildlife rangers. Both Tongole Wilderness Lodge and Bua River Lodge offer quality accommodation in locations that make you feel like you are further from rest of the world than ever.
So why visit Malawi?
And I am pretty certain that a trip to Malawi will inspire you to share more smiles and pay more attention to the people around you than to the overflow of social media updates. At least for a short while. It won't take long until you will want to go back again, either. Enjoy!
Getting there and around
|Øystein in Lake Malawi.|
Public transportation is poor, crowded and irregular. I would recommend renting a car, or getting the lodge where you will stay to arrange for a pick up from the airport. Most are more than willing to combine a visit to town with meeting a guest.
You can go - and make a change for 1001 familiesBut how about experiencing Malawi in a totally different way? I’m involved in a non-profit company that provides solar energy solutions to locals and businesses in one of the poorest regions in Malawi. Less than 3 percent of the households there have access to electricity. Within the next year we aim to provide lights to 1001 new households in the poorest areas of villages. To help us achieve our goal, please consider contributing to our crowd-funding campaign. One of the bonuses is the possibility to sign up for a trip to the country in October, 2015. 2,700 USD will include flights (economy class) from a European capital city and accommodation in a double room during ten exciting days. We will bring you to Nkhotakota to learn more about our projects, you will relax by the lake, go on a safari and really get a good feel of the real Malawi. But the best bit is that that you will support installation of lights to several poor families.
For more details of this trip and other ways to support, please visit our crowd funding site.
Relevant linksNkhotakota Youth Organisation
Fish Eagle Bay, Nkhotakota
Bua River Lodge
Tongole Wilderness Lodge
Hippo View Lodge, Liwonde National Park
Cool Runnings, Senga Bay
Ilala Ferry timetable (from May 2015)
Lake of Stars Music Festival
List of companies doing Safaris in Malawi