Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

5 reasons Malawi is Africa's next go-to destination

updated 8:58 PM EST, Mon January 6, 2014
You'll find smooths sands on the beaches of Lake Malawi.
You'll find smooths sands on the beaches of Lake Malawi.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Malawi was named one of the top 10 places to visit in 2014 by Lonely Planet
  • It's noted for its wildlife and beaches
  • Malawi has friendly people, an easygoing vibe, Lake Malawi and good game parks

Lilongwe, Malawi (CNN) -- Despite a majestic lake stretching through its eastern border that gives way to beautiful beaches, Malawi is the African country less-traveled.

But it's the place to be if you want to enjoy a natural paradise without everybody else.

Though it hasn't become a booming destination like Tanzania, Kenya or South Africa, Malawi has numerous attractions.

Named one of the top 10 places to go in 2014 by Lonely Planet, Malawi is one of the lesser known destinations on the travel guide's annual list, which includes Brazil, Sweden and the Seychelles. The country is touted for its wildlife and beaches.

But there's more to Malawi than animal parks, warm sands and Madonna's adoptions.

1. The locals are friendly

Called the "Warm Heart of Africa," in the native language, Malawi locals exude friendliness.

It's common for strangers to wave and greet visitors as if they know them.

Smiles and waves are commonplace.
Smiles and waves are commonplace.

And it's easy to make them smile with a "moni" (pronounced mo-nee, not money), which means hello in Chichewa, the local language, and "Zikomo" (thank you).

Curious kids often come by to say hi and see what you're up to.

The refrain I heard repeatedly was, "Welcome. You are welcome."

Although overt friendliness often arouses suspicion in the world traveler, especially when someone's trying to sell you tchotckes, there's hardly any hawking or selling of tacky souvenirs in Malawi -- the people are genuinely friendly.

Founded in 1964, Malawi has never experienced a civil war.

2. It's not crowded

You can enjoy the pristine views of massive Lake Malawi -- known locally as Lake Nyasa, it's the ninth largest lake in the world -- without having your perfect day wrecked by a bunch of vacationers blasting horrible music.

Instead, you'll hear restaurants jamming 1990s pop music such as the Backstreet Boys -- can't win them all.

Makokola Retreat Hotel.
Makokola Retreat Hotel.

Another perk: you won't have to jostle for reservations at hotels, restaurants or game parks.

Most of the travelers you'll likely encounter in Malawi are tobacco businessmen or NGO workers -- nary a tourist in sight.

Even the capital of Lilongwe has the relaxed vibe of a garden.

There are few cars and you can walk to places without feeling overwhelmed or fearful of getting run over. (The country's commercial capital of Blantyre is much busier.)

You can go from the high life of the Kumbali Country Lodge, where Madonna stays, or sleep in more budget accommodations.

3. Lake Malawi is spectacular

Secret lives of Malawi's Chewa people
Why is Malawi importing lions?
Unraveling secrets of the Chewa culture
Ancestral spirits of the Chewa

Although Malawi is landlocked, its giant, freshwater lake is its life blood.

The sunny beaches of Lake Malawi are golden and the waters are nearly empty except for a few boats.

Lake Malawi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's home to the largest number of fish species of any lake in the world, thought to be between 500 and 1,000, according to UNESCO.

It's perfect for freshwater snorkeling and diving in clear water.

The lake draws in a variety of bird species, as well as hippos, warthogs, baboons and occasional elephants. Not bad company to enjoy the water with (maybe not the hippos).

4. Rehabilitated game parks and natural reserves

Tour companies offer safaris in parks and reserves that include eco-friendly trips, mountain biking, horseback riding and traditional housing stays.

One of the best known parks is Majete Wildlife Reserve, which became a target for poaching that continued into the 1990s.

By the 2000s, thanks to a partnership between the government and a non-profit organization, the park was repopulated and rehabilitated.

The Big Five (elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, buffalo) can be viewed here.

"Malawi is not a wildlife destination, it's not Masai Mara, but that's changing," says Rob McConaghy of Ulendo, a travel group operating in Malawi. "Majete National Park is run as a private park and has reintroduced so much game, you can see the Big Five now."

5. Easygoing vibe
Malawi is, in large part, a place of peace and quiet, without the traffic jams and hassles of city life.

The country is largely rural; only 15.7% of the population live in urban areas.

Clear skies and bright stars make it thrilling for star gazers.

The trend is toward self-drive holidays -- visitors rent cars and drive themselves through the country.

"As a country, people perceive Malawi being safe, stable and peaceful," says McConaghy. "It gives an impression of a nice, warm friendly country to travel in."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:49 PM EDT, Wed April 2, 2014
As the new season of "Game of Thrones" approaches, we pick out 20 stunning spots in one of its most oft-used locations.
updated 5:40 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
They're hot, they're popular, they're stylish. Now they're your tour guides to Italy's fashion capital.
updated 12:10 AM EDT, Tue April 8, 2014
A quarter of the year's flown by, it's time to plan a vacation. TripAdvisor's list of Top Destinations should help.
updated 1:23 AM EDT, Tue April 8, 2014
You may not have those $10 Heinekens and $6 bags of M&M's to kick around anymore. Happy now?
updated 3:25 AM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
Japan isn't a country to which you just show up and wing it. Here's how to arrive prepared.
updated 10:02 AM EDT, Thu April 3, 2014
The Economist is latest to dogpile on the reputation of U.S. airports; one industry leader says he knows why.
updated 2:23 AM EDT, Fri April 4, 2014
Laojun Mountain Natural Reserve gave out bags of mountain air to Chinese residents. After seeing these photos, you'll want some too.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Wed April 2, 2014
Forget space. Our very own planet is ripe for investigation. Here are some of the spots we know least about.
updated 2:51 AM EDT, Mon March 31, 2014
A colossal empire of little houses stacked on top of each other, connected by staircases snaking under dangling wires -- Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong.
updated 9:41 PM EDT, Tue April 1, 2014
Move to squeeze in extra passengers brings dose of economic reality to dreams of luxuriously pimped aircraft.
updated 4:03 AM EDT, Tue April 1, 2014
British sound engineer wants you to ditch the camera and open your ears to "sound tourism."
updated 6:56 PM EDT, Sun March 30, 2014
Think bouncing on the end of an elastic rope is tough? Try jumping off a wooden tower with only a vine tied to your ankle.
updated 1:38 AM EDT, Fri March 28, 2014
Decimated by poaching, black rhino numbers are starting to increase again, thanks, in part, to on-foot tracking tours for tourists.
updated 10:59 PM EDT, Thu March 27, 2014
Singapore Changi Airport has been crowned the best in the world for the second year in a row at the World Airport Awards.
updated 6:02 PM EDT, Mon March 24, 2014
What do you get when you combine 60,000 photos, eight-hour cliff treks and months of patient processing? One of the year's great time-lapse videos.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT