Malawi: The Warm Heart of Africa
People and Culture
The republic of Malawi, formerly known as Nyasaland, is one of Africa’s smallest countries in terms of land mass. A landlocked nation, Malawi is bordered by Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. With a population of over 14 million, Malawi has several ethnic groups including Chewa, Lomwe, Yao, Ngoni and Tumbuka. There are six local languages in Malawi, the most widely spoken being Chichewa, and the official language is English. Majority of the population are Christians, a smaller percentage are Muslims, and a few practice other religion such as Hinduism and traditional African religions.
Malawians are largely warm, gentle and peace-loving. Mostly conservative in outlook, the people of Malawi are, nevertheless, pleasant and accommodating to visitors, accepting the differences of others while holding fast to their own ways. With their infectious vibrancy and enthusiasm for life, Malawians are one of Africa’s friendliest peoples.
Major Cities and Towns
Lilongwe, capital of Malawi since 1975, is one of the country’s urban centres. Lilongwe offers a blend of ancient and modern, the Old Town representing the historical, with the appearance of a traditional African village, and the new Capital City representing the contemporary. In the Capital City you will find modern stores and malls, while the Old Town has street markets and stalls. Also in Lilongwe are quality arts and crafts stores, galleries and bookshops.
Named after the birthplace in Scotland of medical missionary and explorer, David Livingstone, Blantyre is Malawi’s commercial and industrial centre. With its new modern shopping precincts, galleries and craft shops, Blantyre has much to offer. Blantyre also has a number of interesting historical buildings including St Michael and All Angels Church, the original town hall (known as Old Boma) and Mandala House.
Zomba lies forty miles north of Blantyre and was formerly the capital of Malawi. Zomba is the country’s university town, home to the University of Malawi. Interesting buildings and monuments in the town include the Cobbe Barracks and the Gymkhana club.
Best Time to Visit
The beauty and pleasures of Malawi can be enjoyed all year round. However, certain sights and activities are best suited to specific periods within the year. Malawi is cooler between the months of May to August/September, and this might be a more comfortable time for travellers from temperate regions to visit. The warmer months of November to April bring lush, green summers that are a sight to behold. The months of May and June tend to combine both the coolness of the more temperate months with the vibrancy of summer.
Getting to Malawi
Airlines offering flights to and fro Malawi, from Europe and North America, include Ethiopian Airlines, KLM and South Africa Airways. Within Africa, travellers can choose to fly Air Malawi, Air Zimbabwe, South African Airways, Kenya Airways or Ethiopian Airlines. International flights most often land at Lilongwe, the capital city, while several others land in Blantyre, the nation’s commercial centre. For overland travel to Malawi, coach services are offered from Johannesburg and Harare.
Visitors to Malawi require visas, except for nationals of Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Scandinavia, Spain, the USA, and most Commonwealth countries.
Places to Stay
Countless lodging options exist in Malawi, from international luxury franchises like Protea, to the Barefoot Safari Lodge, with its earthy, almost rustic ambience, and several others in between. The wide range of options ensures that travellers and visitors will find a place suitable to their needs and within their budgets.
Places to Visit
Lake Malawi and Lake Malawi National Park
Lake Malawi (formerly known as Lake Nyassa) is one of the nation’s most remarkable features. A source of immense beauty, Lake Malawi was called ‘ The Lake of Stars’ by medical missionary and explorer David Livingstone, who was entranced by it. The shores of Lake Malawi are a favourite relaxation spot. Water sports, like yachting, parasailing and water skiing, are on offer on the lake.
There is a national park located at the southern end of the lake i.e Lake Malawi National Park where the aquatic and human population is most dense. The park, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was established to protect and preserve aquatic life, particularly the cichlid fish. With its array of aquatic life and its amazingly pure water, Lake Malawi is perfect for snorkeling. The park also has an abundance of birdlife, as well as baboons, antelope and hyrax.
At over 3,000 metres, this massif is awe-inspiring, dominating the surrounding landscape. At the top of Mulanje, the climate is harsh and can be lethal to the careless. The mountain’s summit, called ‘Sapitwa’ is said to mean ‘Don’t go there!’ Climbing Mount Mulanje is a challenge unsuited for the fainthearted. However, the less adventurous can still enjoy stunning views across tea plantations, glades and gullies laced with waterfalls.
About an hour from the commercial centre, Blantyre, the Zomba plateau offers heart-stopping views of Mount Mulanje and the Phalombe plains. In the town of Zomba, which is Malawi’s university town, you will find the Mtenga-tenga Postal Museum. Art lovers can engage in some retail therapy by visiting roadside stalls that specialise in hand-made clay pots.
Nyika National Park
Nyika National Park is Malawi’s largest and lies in one of the highest parts of the country. Nyika National Park is a botanist’s fantasy with a wide variety of flora: ground orchids, proteas, irises, aloes and several others. The wall of the Rift Valley is formed by the eastern edge of the Nyika Plateau. Ideal for hiking, the Nyika Plateau offers unforgettable sights.
Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve
Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve is the smallest in Malawi. Its remote location makes it difficult to reach. However, Mwabvi is possibly the most beautiful of Malawi’s wildlife reserves, and so should not to be overlooked. With its hilly landscape, rocky gorges and rivers running through, Mwabvi is well worth a visit.
Things to Do
With its mountain peaks, vast plateaus and plains, Malawi is a delight for nature lovers. Hiking and rock climbing are common activities for tourists and visitors. Malawi also offers game viewing and safari experiences that diverge from the conventional, affording the visitor a close encounter with nature. The urban centres have a variety of shopping and relaxation options, from high end stores to craft and souvenir shops, restaurants, bars and art galleries.
Malawi is home to a number of festivals and tournaments that have attracted an increasing number of visitors. The Lake of Stars Music Festival, which was first held in 2004, now runs annually between September and October, and attendance has grown over the years to up to 3000. The festival presents a perfect occasion to sample Malawian culture, cuisine and art. The Lake Malawi Yachting Marathon, covering a distance of over 500km, is often described as the longest freshwater yachting race in the world and takes place each year in July. The annual Mount Mulanje Porters’ Race – which was once only open to exceptionally fit porters and guides, but is now open to adults 18 and over – is a gruelling 25km mountain race only for the adventurous and brave of heart.
It is impossible to cover the myriad pleasures that Malawi has to offer in a few hundred words. Why not see Malawi for yourself, in all its glory, and fall in love with the landscape, flora and fauna and, most of all, its people. You will come to the realization of why Malawi is called ‘the warm heart of Africa’.