Malawi: the underrated Safari destination you may have never head of
We have done many trips as a family but this was my first solo trip with mom, just us girls, and it was to my favorite continent. She has been to South Africa, but that was a five star luxury trip. I wanted to show her how real, raw and beautiful mama Africa is - we did it my way.
I took her to a hidden corner of Africa that few people venture into. Couldn’t be more proud of her for leaving her comfort zone, experiencing long layovers and sleeping in airports, enjoying the local veggie food and soaking up everything this continent offers in abundance.
Malawi doesn’t often make it to the list of top safari destinations but that’s exactly why you need to go here. It’s a quintessential off beat Southern African country without any of the incessant honking from a hundred other cars to rush to catch the Big 5. The safari was the main focus of our trip and it didn’t disappoint.
Day 1: Lake Malawi
Day 2-4: Liwonde National Park Safari
Day 5-7: Zomba Plateau or Dedza
At the time of writing this, you need a vaccination to enter.
Flights, Visa and Immigration (if traveling with an Indian passport from Dubai)
We flew with Ethiopian Airlines and this was a long trip with multiple layovers - close to 15 hours before we reached Malawi.
Visa is simple and can be done online over here, The visa costs $50 person BUT you will need an invitation letter from a local agent or a hotel confirming you are going to be doing an organized tour and/or are staying in resorts. You also need to upload confirmed return tickets. The visa took less than 48 hours and was emailed to us.
Immigration asks for yellow fever certificate, just be patient as the process is going to be slow.
Like most places in Africa, English is not an issue anywhere in the city.
Best time to visit The dry season between May to October is the best time to visit this country. We went in March and it the end of rainy - we did end up having all places to ourselves and most places had a great discount running as well. However, this comes with a risk of cyclone, so choose wisely.
Since this was a week long trip, we carried dollars and that was ok since we had a driver with us.
I hired the services of a local driver. We did not need a guide for teh safari as our lodge was providing these services for us. You can get in touch with Anake Taxi Services by whatsapp. The owner is friendly and quick to response. He can also provide budget-friendly hotels and guides.
For a 5 day trip with this itinerary, you can expect to pay between $450-$500 for the driver + car; not per person but per car.
How much time to spend in the country?
You can spend 10 days or more. We chose to focus on the mountains and the safari, so 6-7 days is ideal for this.
Where we stayed?
We stayed in three places over the week.
We stayed at a cozy eco-friendly cottage called Norman Carr Cottage just by the beach. Woke up to the sounds of waves crashing, palm trees swaying and birds chirping. In good season, you can kayak, sail and dive here. The breakfast and dinner were both catered to our vegetarian needs.
If you have been following me for a while, you already know that I love to pick places which are completely immersed in the natural environment.
This fantastic solar-powered lodge sits on the banks of the shire river and inside the national park. These luxurious safari tents come with an outdoor and indoor bath & a massive balcony perfect for bird-watching.
A special mention to the chef who catered to our vegetarian diet - each meal was a treat, one of the best foods we have had on a Safari trip in Africa. Don't miss out on the super cute hot cocoa and cookie mid-afternoon treat.
What I loved about it was that there are no fences, which means you will find hippos, elephants casually wandering the grounds.
On one night, we watched as an elephant walked right past our tent. If you make it to Malawi, don’t miss staying here for an opportunity to immerse yourselves in nature and spend a few nights gazing at the stars.
Annavilla7 Lilongwe Aparthotel. A simple apartment/hotel with air-conditioning. wifi and hot food that you can order.
It is one of the three largest lakes in Africa. Located in the south, the lake is massive & deep with clear waters. With a mountain backdrop and many hundreds species of fish, said to be endemic to the country, this place is paradise for anyone who loves a good beach.
Liwonde National Park
The highlight of our trip to Malawi was the three day Safari we did in Liwonde National Park.
Unfortunately for us, we got hit by Cyclone Freddy right in the middle of our trip but the rain didn’t deter our spirits.
It was my first safari in a forest, and the leering clouds over the jungle stole a big chunk of my heart It was also baby season - we saw so many little baby elephants, zebras, impalas, and even the elusive Sable Antelope.
There is no rush in Malawi, you simply drive for hours, appreciating the tiniest details from miniscule tracks to unusual flora, and if luck’s with you, you will enjoy sightings of Africa’s most beautiful creatures completely undetected.
Like I said, this isn’t a place where you rush through things. If you love an authentic wildlife experience, pick Liwonde and fall in love with the natural world - it is a beauty. A safari in Malawi doesn’t always make it to many (or any) African bucket list. That was the main attraction for me - the lack of any tourist crowds.
I can do a hundred safaris and not get bored. Half the joy of wildlife watching is the element of surprise: the cliffhanger as you wait for a shy sable antelope to burst out from behind the bush and make a run as he spots you. Or the wonder of turning a corner and seeing a family of elephants rustling through the trees with their babies. Often, hearing the hair-raising lion roar, or the screech of an eagle just out of sight, or spotting hippo prints on a riverbank is almost as exciting as actually seeing them.
Our original plan was to hike up the Zomba plateau but owing to the cyclone on that side, we changed plans for the last few days of our trip. The last stop in Malawi was the spectacular Dedza, one of the highest hillside towns in Malawi.
Here we found the Dedza Pottery & Cafe, a must-see on the way back to the capital. The shop/cafe is in peaceful gardens with outstanding views to boot. We stopped at the pottery shop to meet local artisans, and mom picked up a few handmade souvenirs.
The cafe served up fantastic coffee, vegetarian food. I highly recommend saving room for their decadent (and somewhat famous!) cheesecake. It’s the perfect place to pick up a memento to take away from your Malawian adventure.
Road tripping through the Malawian countryside is a treat for anyone who loves scenic green views. It reminded me of our road trip in Lesotho. Malawi lies on Africa’s Great Rift Valley, hence it offers a diverse natural terrain from plateau, highlands, forests, mountains to vast plains.
Being a landlocked country means that, these road trips are not easy to do but expect to find a myriad of human interactions from maize grinding, to cattle grazing to roadside cooking. The journey is breathtaking, picturesque and never dull. If you’re planning on self-driving, then the best drive to do is to start by covering the country from the Shire River to the zigzag route to Livingstonia in the north. It’s just hard to describe the grandeur of the views as you descend from the verdant green mountains. Behind you, you will see distant views of the Majete Wildlife reserve. Don’t rush through it, savor every minute of your drive - it offers so much
Where did my affection for Africa began, I wonder? Was it when we first set foot in Kenya back in 2017? Was it when I returned post-pandemic to Tanzania? Or was it when I laid eyes and stood a mere 100 meters from the adorable wild gorilla babies? I don’t know. What I do know is that my love for the continent is because it is home to some of the world’s greatest animals. I still distinctly remember our trip to Masai Mara. Within a matter of hours being out in the bush, I was hooked. Barely any wifi, no television, just a complete disconnect from the world as I knew it. I loved hearing from local conservationists who dedicated their lives to finding the most sustainable ways for animals and humans to live in harmony. Not to mention the rangers who protect these helpless targets from poachers. What respect these people deserve!🏽A trip to Africa is revitalizing. I know I will be surrounded by a world that doesn’t care about designer dresses, the latest gadget or whether some ridiculous reel went viral. If you have been to Africa, go again. If you’ve never been, I urge you to go. As I sat in our jeep, watching the world’s mightiest animals bonding under a tree, listening to our guide tell us stories of the bush, I knew these are memories I can’t create anywhere else in the world. Africa, is simply the most extraordinary continent of them all.
Like many other countries on the continent, Malawi is underrated and filled with stellar diverse landscapes minus any of the tourist crowds. Right up my alley. So chuffed mom got to see Africa my way. Traveling on these wildlife trips brings me unparalleled happiness. It is the one trip I can repeat on loop. As our incredible guides from Mvuu Lodge shed light on the animal behavior unfolding in front of our eyes, I remembered that more often than not, by choosing places so less-frequently visited, I could be supporting conservation projects and people who work hard to keep these scenes playing out for years to come. So choose Malawi. Rain or shine, animals come out to play. It is nature that is the true star of the show.
Thanks for reading. Drop your comments and questions here below.
Lots of love,