Malawi will leave you mesmerised

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Wondering where to head on your hols in 2014? Make for Malawi. Here’s everything you need to know about the ‘warm heart of Africa’

Population 15.4 million
✪✪ Foreign visitors per year 750,000
✪✪ Capital Lilongwe
✪✪ Languages Chichewa, English
✪✪ Major industries Tobacco, sugar, tea
✪✪ Unit of currency Malawian kwacha (MK)
✪✪ Cost index Bottle of Kuche Kuche beer MK250 (US$0.75), tent site at Majete Community Campsite/cabin at Mkulumadzi Camp MK3250 (US$10)/MK120,000 (US$370) in Majete Wildlife Reserve, PADI Open Water Diver course at Lake Malawi MK127,000 (US$390)

 

Why Go In 2014? The Big Five & Beach Life Without the Crowds
Picture this: mere hours after touching down in Malawi’s second-largest city, Blantyre, you check into superluxe digs (or pitch your tent)at the Majete Wildlife Reserve, which only 10 years ago lay decimated by poaching, but last year gained Big Five status thanks to a wildlife relocation project. You get up close to the aforementioned elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo without the pesky 4WD scrum so common in Africa’s best-known parks. Then perhaps it’s off to Lake Malawi for a spot of high-visibility snorkelling through fluttering clouds of multicoloured fish – think Maldives without the threat of sharks or all-inclusive buffets. Or head for Mt Mulanje (currently under consideration by Unesco for a World Heritage Site designation) for a hike over hazy peaks in an otherworldly moonscape. And there’s always the Viphya Plateau, a haunting wilderness of grasslands and whaleback hills that feels downright prehistoric. Best get in there quick. Once the preserve of backpackers and gap-year volunteers, this slip of a country has so far escaped the safari-suited ‘bush and beach’ crowd that flocks to Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. But international media attention has been rolling in of late, spurred on by the country’s revitalised parks and reserves, the beauty and diversity of the lake and the ever-increasing range of lodgings aimed at wallets both big and small.

 

Life-Changing Experiences
✪✪Travelling down Lake Malawi on the creaking Ilala ferry, sleeping in a cosy cabin or out on deck and stopping at fishing villages and islands along the way.
✪✪Following in the footsteps of Malawi’s early missionaries and hiking to Livingstonia in the north – the Rift Valley unfurls endlessly below you at this
beautifully preserved colonial hilltop town.
✪✪Gliding scarily close to hippos and crocodiles by boat on the Shire River in Liwonde National Park.
Hot Topic of the Day
Joyce Banda, who became the second female leader in Africa in 2012, has made headlines for her fierce defence of women’s rights, her devaluation of the national currency and her pledge to overturn the country’s ban on homosexuality. A much-publicised email lambasting pop queen Madonna (who has adopted two children from Malawi) for her starry behaviour, her bullying of Malawian officials and her failure to perform ‘decent music’ turned out to have been written by Banda’s press officer.

Random Facts
✪✪ In the 1800s the lakeside town of Nkhotakota was home to a huge slave market from which thousands were shipped annually across the lake to Tanzania.
✪✪ Lake Malawi is home to more than 600 species of fish – more than any other inland body of water in the world.
✪✪ There are nine national parks and reserves in Malawi, all small by African standards – the largest, Nyika National Park, is 3000 sq km and home to antelope and lots of leopards.
✪✪ On sleepy Likoma Island sits a massive Anglican cathedral said to be the same size as England’s Winchester Cathedral.
✪✪ Malawi’s longest-ruling leader was the authoritarian Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who presided over Malawi and its predecessor state, Nyasaland, from 1963 to 1994.
✪✪ The staple food of Malawi is nsima, a thick starchy porridge made from corn, cassava or other starch flour.
✪✪  Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world – more than 70% of the population lives on less than US$1 a day.
Most Bizarre Sight
It’s a crisp spring morning and you’re in the mist-soaked Scottish Highlands, skipping past glistening lakes and carpets of wildflowers. Oh wait! There’s a zebra. And is that a leopard lurking in the trees? Turns out you’re in Malawi’s Nyika National Park – a 3200-sq-km wilderness area that’s part Scotland, part Yorkshire moors, but with more exotic wildlife thrown in.

 

Festivals & Events
✪✪ In July the Mount Mulanje Porters’ Race enters its 18th year. It started as a friendly contest between the area’s hardworking porters and guides, but now anyone can attempt the gruelling 25km route across the country’s highest peak. The fastest hit the finish line in just over two hours.

This is an extract from Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2014, the annual collection of the hottest travel trends, destinations and experiences for the year ahead. Find out more at http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations.

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