HOW DOES A BEACH TO BUSH SAFARI SOUND TO YOU?
Widthwise, Malawi, formerly Nyasaland, is similar in shape to a spine about the size of Connecticut. Lengthwise, Great Britain would be a good comparison. It is called the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’ in Chichewa, one of the native languages of Malawi. You can make the locals smile with a ‘moni’ (hello, pronounced mo-nee, not money), and ‘Zikomo’ (thank you). It’s landlocked all right, and smack dab in the middle of surrounding Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique, but that doesn’t mean there’s nowhere to swim... We’ll expand on that further down. Back in the day, Malawi was a political tinderbox. Nowadays, Malawi is struggling with poverty levels at 52 %. Malawi’s geography is splendid. In a nutshell: high rolling hills, Lake Malawi and several gorgeous wildlife parks. It is also a place where Mother Nature has the last say. Some of the dry riverbeds can turn into raging torrents over just a few days. Even though Malawi is the little sister (size-wise) of the majority of African countries, you’ll witness incredible, bewitching scenes, such as a sole figure walking down a footpath with no one and nothing else around except nature. Or, maybe a sable antelope roams across the highland of Nyika Plateau. Tranquil scenes will play out in front of you wherever you cast your eyes. You have the chance to drink it all in. Can’t you already see yourself unwinding while on safari? AN INLAND SEA IN A LANDLOCKED COUNTRY Lake Malawi receives the bronze in the largest lake stakes in Africa; it’s the 12th largest on planet Earth. Malawi Tourism calls the lake ‘the gem of Africa,’ and it’s a very befitting name. It’s considered the crown jewel of the country’s tourist and safari-goer attractions. Essentially, it’s an inland sea in a landlocked country. Expect a vast body of crystal-clear freshwater and the most golden of sandy beaches. One of the first Europeans to ever set eyes on Lake Malawi – about 150 years or so ago – was the missionary-explorer Dr. David Livingstone. After seeing it, he coined it as the ‘Lake of Stars.’ From high up in the north to its most southern point, it stretches a total of 365 mi (587 km) long and 52 mi (84 km) broad. Do those numbers look familiar? No? Well look again. Yup, it’s the number of days and weeks per year. It’s no wonder it also has another nickname: Calendar Lake. Even better, twelve rivers flow into it. Lake Malawi is also surprisingly deep – 2,300 ft (700 m). That’s quite far below sea level and is indicative of the origin of the lake – the Earth’s faults that make up the Great Rift Valley. The Great Rift Valley is sometimes thought of as one of the planet’s greatest geographical wonders. It stretches from southwest Asia, through northeastern Africa, and down into Mozambique. It is a meeting place of the moving tectonic plates underneath the Earth’s surface, which create all kinds of amazing geographical features that we can visit and enjoy – mountains, rivers, lakes, valleys. The edge of the Rift Valley ascends steeply in some places and in other places, more gradually, creating some pretty spectacular scenery. A FISHY STORY The fish are plentiful in Lake Malawi, with one family that reigns supreme: large schools of African cichlids called ‘Mbuna.’ The name means ‘rockfish’ – quite appropriate – as they are to be found amongst the rocky shores of Lake Malawi. These cichlids are wonderfully colorful, and there are at least 850 species of them in Lake Malawi, many of which have not yet been studied. They are beautiful fish, making them high on the list of fish tank aficionados. With names like the bumblebee cichlid, red zebra cichlid, electric yellow cichlid, and blue zebra cichlid, it’s not hard to imagine why. Because of its opulent fish harvest, the lake plays an integral role in the country’s economy. Fishing villages are dotted along the shoreline, benefitting from this age-old industry, with its attractions, as well as from the great numbers of safari-goers and tourists that visit with a ‘learning about other cultures and ways of life’ point-of-view. You will find access to the lake along much of its length, but at times you’ll have to take a mini detour off the main roads to reach the beach of your choice. Even though there are villages, there are – amazingly – still lengthy stretches of completely uninhabited golden sand lakeshore. Oh, and don’t forget about the crystal-clear water, of course. (Excuse us here at TAG Safari if we seem to repeat ourselves, but that unique stretch of water must be on your bucket list!) A WATER WONDERLAND You can indulge in all sorts of water sports at Lake Malawi, and the activities expected of any tropical beach destination are offered. There are boats and boards aplenty, so get set to explore the waters, the islands and the beaches. Take your pick between a day of kayaking, breezy sailing or intrepid canoeing. There is also the compelling choice of taking on longer expeditions along the lakeshore. Some of the lodges have small sailing boats for personal use or bigger ones for a scenic cruise. If you prefer rather to kick back, boat trips range from the famous ‘MV Ilala,’ a 400-ton passenger vessel which has sailed the full length of the lake since what seems like the beginning of time, to tiny canoes. The Ilala’s total capacity is 450 passengers, and it offers cabin class, first, second, and economy class facilities, plus bars and restaurants. You can indulge in mesmerizing views of the fluctuating scenery on an ocean-going yacht if that floats your boat (see what we did there?). How does a cruise into the upper stretches of the great Shire River sound? DIVERS, AHOY! Calling all snorkelers! Just put on that mask and you’ll have instant access to a wonderful spectrum of tropical fish that call the lake home and feed from the rocks along its shore. You can even go deeper … there are plenty of registered dive schools along the lakeshore for scuba diving, and if you’re new to the game, take a full course to learn how to dive like a pro. WELCOME TO MULANJE MOUNTAIN FOREST RESERVE On approaching Mulanje you’ll notice a gigantic shape of dark rock that rises perpendicular for several thousand feet, only to withdraw somewhat, then rise spectacularly and magically again. Sheets of mist drift along its lower reaches that leave safari-goers awestruck. There is a deep tranquility about the place. Mulanje is not just a regular mountain, it is a massif, meaning it is a formation of many mountains that are all connected. It’s essentially a spread of plains, ravines, ridges, rivers, forests and sheet-rock cliffs dominated by some 20 massive grey peaks. One of your delights, should you choose to climb Mulanje (and we recommend you do), is the knowledge of the guides. Be it plants and wildflowers, birds, animals or landscape features you may never have noticed, your guides will have an encyclopedia of knowledge ready to share with you. With a keen sense of sight and the help of your guide, you might even spot a leopard! (They’re almost invisible in the tall grass…) MAJETE WILDLIFE RESERVE The Majete Wildlife Reserve can be found in the lower Shire Valley in the south west of Malawi. An extensive translocation of wildlife started in 2003, and by 2012 animals from fourteen different species had been reintroduced, including the ‘Big Five’: leopard, elephant, buffalo, black rhino and lion. Other mammals include eland, sable, waterbuck, nyala, hartebeest, impala, zebra, warthog and bush pig. And for the cherry on top, in 2018, Majete received its first-ever population of 13 giraffes! That number might have increased since then, we hope. THE MOST POPULAR OF ALL OF MALAWI’S GAME PARKS Liwonde National Park boasts an impressive riverine location and hordes of wildlife, offering you a thrilling safari in this 548 km² (212 mi²) area. It’s roughly 100 mi (160 km) north of the city of Blantyre, and wildlife viewing is the name of the game as the Shire River flows along its western border, allowing for boat safaris as well as guided walks. Or, if you just feel like moseying along in 4x4s, you can do that too. You’re in for a wildlife treat! You will spot large numbers of elephants and, of course, the river attracts its fair share of hippos and crocs. Lion and cheetah have also recently been reintroduced into Liwonde – it’s simply a splendid safari location. Wait, there’s more! Antelope include kudu, sable, and bushbuck. Leopards, hyaena and black rhino are also occasionally spotted. Birdlife is exceptionally varied. The river is a magnet for fish eagles – there is no sound like the fish eagle’s cry echoing through the African bush – and weaver birds build their nests in the thin woodland along the river banks. Old Pel’s fishing owls are frequently seen as the sun sets along the river’s edge. Beautiful sunsets, anyone? THE BEST TIME TO GO ON SAFARI IN MALAWI It’s the wet season from December to March, though the rains arrive slightly earlier and leave slightly later the further north you head. Do also keep in mind that Malawi's higher areas generally receive more rainfall. Most of the rain will have wrapped up by April or May, leaving a wonderfully green landscape which will slowly dry out. From June to August, the nights will be cooler, but the days are still sunny and crystal clear. Some places can get quite chilly, so remember to pack a warm and cozy safari jacket for early morning and night game drives. This is the peak season with frequent game sightings. In September and October, the heat is back on! As a middle child, November is a variable month; it can be hot or be the trailer for the season's first downpours. TO WRAP UP, HERE’S SOME MALAWIAN WISDOM A famous Malawi proverb goes as follows: “Don’t think there are no crocodiles just because the water is calm.” With wisdom such as this, imagine what lies in store for you, the safari-goer…
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