Malawi’s appeal comes from its diversity of attractions: An abundance of undiscovered safari opportunities plays nicely alongside the diverse ecosystems surrounding the shining diamond of the country, Lake Malawi.
Despite its youth in the tourism industry, Malawi’s infrastructure offers a smooth-sailing experience for visitors thanks to a range of niche lodges that make traveling throughout the country logical and easy.
Consider this mock itinerary for a first-time visitor:
Arrival—Kumbali Country Lodge
No matter where you are coming from, the journey to Africa is an admirable one. When you arrive in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital, you’ll most likely want to rest. Large outdoor balconies and peaceful gardens at the Kumbali Country Lodge are just the ticket, only 15-minutes drive from the center of Lilongwe.
Arrive, enjoy dinner at the surprisingly good lodge restaurant, and relax for a good night’s rest. Arrange a half-day city tour of Malawi’s capital the next morning before catching an afternoon transfer to Lake Malawi.
Island Living—Blue Zebra Island Lodge
Lake Malawi is so big—360 miles long—that you can find a very diverse range of ecosystems and terrain beside its shores. Perhaps the most interesting of which is located beyond its shoreline on its offshore islands.
Nankoma Island is home to the Blue Zebra Island Lodge, named for the tropical, freshwater fish that inhabits the surrounding waters. A species of cichlid, the small, striped fish conjure images of a blue zebra, and you can get a firsthand look by snorkeling or scuba diving.
The Blue Zebra Island Lodge is essentially a safari lodge on an island, offering the large, opened-aired, nature-engulfed luxury tents one expects to find on the Serengeti or Masai Mara, only with a focus on the lake and the life it supports. Daily activities include kayaking, hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving, birding, and boat tours of the local waters (especially nice during the sunset for the obligatory African sundowner).
There’s no big game here – other than seasonal crocodiles—but don’t worry, a trip into the bush for the typical safari is soon to come.
Before that, it makes sense to make one more stop by the lake. Drive south from Nankoma Island along the lake’s eastern shore to the Makokola Retreat. It is here that you will, after the activity of Blue Zebra, catch your breath for a night.
Its nickname—Club Mak—tells you what it’s trying to be: An upscale, western-style resort. The long, white-sand beach and calm shoreline provide the setting for brand-new beach villas (opening 2019) and old-school, thatched roof, African contemporary beach rooms.
It’s not exactly a hopping scene, which adds to the serenity—an interesting look into a potential up and coming sector of Malawi travel. Next door to the Makokola is the retreat house for Malawi law enforcement officers, which, of course, speaks to the prestige and reputation of the location amongst locals.
Safari—Mvuu Wilderness Lodge
Liwonge National Park is two hours south of Club Mak, centered around the Shire river, which flows north and eventually feeds into Lake Malawi. Mvuu Wilderness Lodge, one of two lodges in the National Park, stakes its ground beside the river as a gateway to the game within the park: Hippos, crocs, warthog, baboons, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and—as of March 2018—lions. The latter was reintroduced as part of a country-wide effort to restore ecosystems and rehabilitate wildlife populations—evidence of a country on the verge of emerging.
Stay at least two nights—maybe even three or four—to ensure you have enough time to soak up the beauty of the riverside forests and savannahs via traditional game drives, walking safaris, and boat safaris.
You’ll also want to pencil in some serious downtime, as each luxury cabin comes with a balcony overlooking the marsh along the banks of the Shire. Settle in for a gin and tonic (with local gin) in the main lodge, where you don’t even have to get up from your chair to spot hippos, monkeys, and crocodiles.
No one likes to leave the bush and return to civilization. So when the time comes, you might consider easing yourself back into society.
In the countryside around Blantyre, amongst the sprawling fields that climb up the small mountains, is the Huntingdon House, a plantation inn on a third generation, family-owned tea and coffee estate.
Built in the 1930s, the Huntingdon House has nearly 90 years of history to its name (and its rooms, refurbished in 2009) and offers guests access to its sprawling grounds. Take a tour of the plantation by bike, taste tea and coffee, enjoy fresh, locally grown food (including vegetables, dairy, and milk produced on the plantation), and decompress before catching your departing flight out of nearby Blantyre.
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