Every week, Inside Africa takes its viewers on a journey across Africa, exploring the true diversity and depth of different cultures, countries and regions.
Lilongwe, Malawi (CNN) — Malawi may not pull in the same number of tourists as its safari-toting neighbors. But that doesn’t make the country any less special. Nicknamed the “Warm heart of Africa” for its friendly locals and temperate weather, Malawi has a wealth of offerings that make it an attractive travel destination in its own right.
Flames of fire
Malawi means “flames of fire” in the local language — a term that partly refers to the country’s stunning sunsets.
“Describing a sunset is like asking you to describe humanity, because it comes in so many forms,” says Howard Massey-Hicks, owner of local yacht-rental company Danforth Yachting.
One day you can look at it, and it seems sad. The next day, it’s happy. The next day, intense. The next day, it’s slow. A lot of the time, it’s very romantic,” he adds.
Malawi’s many natural wonders — from the azure waters of Monkey Bay to the dramatic rock formations of Mulanje Massif — are made more picturesque when bathed crimson with the help of the setting sun. One thing’s for sure: your travel pics will look amazing.
Though Malawi is landlocked, its namesake river makes up more than three-quarters of the country’s eastern border. At nearly 30,000 square kilometers, Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in Africa, and the ninth biggest in the world. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is also home to over 1,000 species of fish — 99% of them unique to the region.
It’s like an evolutionist’s holy grail, because a lot of the species have sort of evolved over the years from a single species into various different sub-species,” says Massey-Hicks. He notes that the lake makes for an incredibly popular enclave with scuba divers and snorkelers.
“There’s a dive site just north of here called Zimbawe Rock, and it’s an incredible dive. You can dive there 50 times and not do the same dive twice,” he says.
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Catching the ‘big five’
Malawi only recently got in the game of introducing visitors to the “big five” (the Majete Wildlife Reserve became the first safari park in 2012 after a nine-year and $2.5 million drive to restock the park with big game). While it has yet to draw the level of numbers seen in nearby Zambia and Tanzania, this just makes for a more tranquil safari experience.
“We have over 2,000 hippos just in this area and 360 species of birds,” says Danger Chipino, a wilderness safari guide at Liwonde National Park. The park, a protected area, also houses more than 500 elephants.
Paging Dr. Livingstone
One of Malawi’s great claims to fame is its connection to Scottish explorer David Livingston, who in the mid-1800s led the legendary Zambezi Expedition through the area. Today, visitors can follow in his footsteps.
“The Shire River is very special to Dr. Livingstone’s history. When we read the histories, we find he sailed through this river to Lake Malawi,” says Chipino.
Visitors curious about Livingstone’s history can also visit the Livingstonia Mission — founded by one of the doctor’s disciples. The site offers beautiful views of Lake Malawi, and is perched near a scenic eco-lodge.
Living La Vita Rural
Compared to other, similarly scenic travel destinations, Malawi has remained relatively undeveloped. Of the 15 million people that call the country home, 85% live in rural areas. In many of Malawi’s more isolated villages, life assumes a more traditional track. Many villagers live in huts constructed from brick, mud and grass, and agriculture makes up much of the day-to-day.
In addition to growing tobacco, tea, coffee and sugar, Malawians also grow maize, which makes up a large part of their diet. It is also the main ingredient in entoba, or sweet beer.
“In the village, it’s expensive to buy Coke, so instead we make our own here,” explains Enoch Chidothi, leader of Ligangwa Village.
“It’s sweet, just like soda.”