“On Likoma Island they told us about Elton’s first visit. Then we realized they were talking about a Brit who came in 1877 looking for Dr. Livingstone (we presume).”

  • Bathing elephants at a watering hole, Malawi
  • Lounge at the beach, Malawi
  • Hippos in a waterhole, Malawi
  • Nyika landscape of Malawi
  • Buffalo at Majete Wildlife Reserve in Malawi

Discover Malawi

There are those who’d argue that the arrival of Madonna, pen in hand to autograph adoption papers, was the best thing that ever happened to Malawi – at least in terms of raising its international profile. But for admirers of this landlocked country sandwiched between Mozambique and Zambia, it didn’t require a cone-brassiered latter-day Kabbalist to shine a light on “the warm heart of Africa.”

The country’s central feature is Lake Malawi, the third largest in Africa and the eighth in the world, which Malawi shares with Mozambique and Tanzania. David Livingstone reached its shores in 1859 and proceeded to christen it Lake Nyasa – not realizing that the name he’d chosen meant simply “Lake Lake.” In a more lyrical mood (we presume) he referred to it as “the lake of stars,” inspired by the fishermen’s lanterns bobbing on its waters. It’s a nighttime activity that continues today. 

Lake Malawi was also the scene of Britain’s first naval victory of the First World War, when the SS Gwendolen sank the German ship Hermann von Wissmann with a single cannon shot from 2,000 yards. Today, thankfully, the fishermen show more restraint, contenting themselves with throwing nets and the occasional unattractive fish. 

If you had to pick one spot to explore in depth, we’d suggest Likoma Island. The journey by chartered plane from Lilongwe takes around 45 minutes, flying low over the lake until you make a long, swooping turn over golden beaches lined with baobab trees. The island is only five miles from the shores of Mozambique and home to just 9,000 people (give or take). The Likoma locals’ livelihoods rely heavily on the waters, so they’re expertly placed to guide you to secret kayaking spots in the mangrove swamps, where you may spot a fish eagle’s nest. 

But it’s beneath the waves where the lake really reveals itself, whether you’re snorkelling or scuba diving. If you feel you’ve plunged into a fish tank, you’re not far off: the inevitable arrays of multi-hued cichlids that used to fill aquariums in children’s bedrooms and doctors’ waiting rooms were typically liberated from Lake Malawi. But far better to plunge in among them from your own private launch spot. 

Back on land, count on wonderful game viewing from your private tented camp in Liwonde National Park. Along the Shire River, hippos spend their days snorting and belching (always a crowd-pleaser), and there’s abundant birdlife in the reed beds. Perhaps you’ll charter a plane and head to North or South Luangwa in Zambia for an even richer wildlife experience – your bespoke vacation in Malawi can easily expand into a multi-destination adventure. 

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