The marketing tagline for Malawi is “The warm heart of Africa.” Normally, you just brush off these comments as marketing puff but not in this case. The country is warm, the people are warm and the experience you will enjoy will give off a warm glow.
A Lake Malawi Safari Review by the team of wanderers here at Uyaphi.com; Malawi is dominated by its eponymous lake. Lake Malawi is also known as the calendar lake being 365 miles long and 52 miles wide and it comprises over one-third of the mass of the country. Not surprisingly, most people travel to Malawi to be on the water and not for safari. Increasingly, however, you can combine the both in unusual and unique environments.
Sitting on the Shire River in the far south of the country in the magnificent Liwonde National Park is Mvuu Lodge. Mvuu in the local Chichewa means hippo. The comfortable tents and rondavels lie on a river bank and it is one of the few places where you can sip your gin and tonic looking at hippo and crocs and still enjoy going on drives and watching plains game during the day. This unique watery environment is also home to some of the most abundant bird life in southern and eastern Africa.
As the land rover flies about 4 hours away, still in the southern corner of the country, is Danforth Lodge and yachting. This is probably the best food you will eat in Malawi. The rooms are simple and unpretentious but comfortable. If you are into water sports activities, Danforth is the place whether it is kayaking, water skiing, scuba, windsurfing or boarding. Good food and water activities represent the diverse interests of the owners, Michelle and Howard who are the most gracious hosts. The cherry on the cake here is the “Mufasa,” the only ocean going catamaran on Lake Malawi and which has the capacity to sleep eight. Howard is the skipper and you can have overnight stays as well as full yacht charters.
My favourite place in the whole of Malawi is Kaya Mawa Lodge on Likoma Island. You can fly of course from Lilongwe to get there but if you want to treat yourself, sail on the Mufasa. You have to shake yourself mentally to remember that Lake Malawi is a lake and not a sea. Not that you want to do too much shaking as you lie on the netting looking somnolently at the horizon.
Arriving at Kaya Mawa from the Mufasa would be akin to Robinson Crusoe discovering dry land for the first time. The comparison with Robinson Crusoe is apt as the lodge is built on a rocky outcrop of the peninsula of the island with a sense of adventure and mystique. There the comparison ends as the lodge is pure luxury. I have lost count of the amount of Conde Nast travel prizes it has won but if you want to get away for a romantic break, and I mean really get away, look no further than here. The lodge is the perfect mix of luxury and simplicity. It is a fusion of influences from Zanzibar, Lamu, Morocco and Bali. Coupled with the laid back character of the local islanders, the danger here is that you become a lotus eater.
If you want to brace yourself for one last effort and go from one extreme to another, hop on the Cessna at the most unbusy airstrip and fly to the Scottish highlands. Well, not the real Scottish highlands, but as close as you will get anywhere outside of Scotland. The hour flight to the Nyika plateau (2300m) is the home of the eponymous national park. During the winter, it is a picture of heather and bracken and swirling mists. A Scottish gillie in a deerstalker would not be amiss but this particular gillie would find it surprising to see eland and zebra, elephant and duiker. The Highland influence does not end there as the main lodge of Chelinda is a collection of log cabins. It’s perhaps more Canadian Rockies but you get the idea. If you enjoy a unique African location and a sense of disorientation, you will feel right at home.
All the places I visited above are an enjoyable snapshot of possibilities in Malawi. It is a small country often overlooked by its larger and more celebrated neighbours but for my money, the most sublime place in the whole of Africa.