In 2013 I embarked on a year round-the-world trip and spent six months travelling from Kenya down to Cape Town with my boyfriend. We travelled by getting a lot of local buses, boats, planes, canoes and so on to make it happen. As soon as we landed in Kenya we kept hearing all about how Malawi was the best country to visit so when we got there we weren’t disappointed. We ended up staying in Malawi for 3 months and spent the first month travelling around the country and the last two spontaneously helping a charity in Nkhata Bay.
Malawi is known as Africa for beginners because of it’s ease to travel around, tourist charm and local friendliness. A lot of people volunteer in Malawi from the American Peace Corps to your box standard NGO’s and doctors. I’ve decided to write a post on where to go in Malawi for those of you wondering whether it’s worth investing your travel or/and volunteer skills in this country.
1. Lilongwe – The Capital
If you are flying into Lilongwe, it’s the biggest city in Malawi and the place to stay as a traveller would be Mabuya Camp ran by a British family. We stayed at Longonots because it was cheaper for a double room and a bit nicer but Mabuya has a swimming pool and is more of a social place. There’s not a huge amount to do in Lilongwe but you’ll find yourself heading back there often. The best thing are are supermarkets where you can stock up on western foods. Shoprite and Game are the big ones and we even found a healthy cafe around the corner from Game which was MORE than exciting! You’ll see that this is a total luxury!!
A good place to go to after Lilongwe would be to jump on a bus north to Muzuzu which will take about 6 hours. Buses can be a bit dramatic as when you get a mini bus as you’ll often see about 20-30 people crammed into a 9 seater. Try to jump on one of th bigger buses if possible. If you want to stay the night in Mzuzu then I recommend Muzoozoozoo for great food and friendly little place. Mzuzu is brilliant for it’s brand new Shoprite and cracking clothes markets. I’ve found so many gems at these markets, from H&M to Levi’s, the list goes on. This is generally clothes donated from around the world which you’ll get for next to nothing. You’ll also find a lot of expats living here who are volunteering one way or another.
Clothes shopping in Muzoozoo
3. Nkhata Bay
Nkhata Bay is a huge place for travellers and volunteers. A lot of volunteers flock here from all over Malawi for a good break from their work in the country. From Muzoozoo, jump on a mini bus for 1 hour’s drive to Nkhata Bay which is a small town right on Lake Malawi. The two top places to stay are next door to each other called Myoka and Butterfly Space which are both right on the beach. I’ve stayed at both places and ended up coming back to Butterfly Space to live for two months to I volunteered for them.
Myoka is ran by a British woman and her South African husband. It’s a gem of a place and very well done up. It’s probably the best standard of accommodation I’ve seen in Malawi. We stayed in a bungalow right on the cliff, it was amazing and it’s a very sociable place to meet other travellers.
Our bungalow at Myoka Backpackers
Butterfly Space is ran by 2 women who are so passionate about Malawi. The met as backpackers and have been living in the country for 12 years now and run Butterfly as a backpackers but also have many community projects for volunteers to get involved in. We ended up staying there for 2 months to teach primary school kids for their on site school as well as building them a new website to help in the long term. We had the BEST time there and absolutely loved working for Alice & Josie. We also held a weekly pub quiz where most of the guests at Myoka’s came over. I would without a doubt recommend volunteering with Butterfly Space. Just remember to be careful when considering who to volunteer for as you’ll find out quickly that alot of the well known charities aren’t as amazing as you probably think they are. For more info on volunteering, click here for a detailed post.
View from our room at Butterfly Space, Nkhata Bay
Teaching the kids at Butterfly Space, Nkhata Bay
Circus Day at School
My Birthday at Butterfly Space bar, Nkhata Bay
Other top things to do in Nkhata Bay is to go cliff jumping. You can get a boat from either Myoka or Butterfly Space to take you over to the cliffs for a fun day of jumping. You’ll see the local kids will pop out from nowhere and will join in! On a Sunday there’s a beach party day in the town drawing in locals from Muzoozoo for a day of boozing on the beach. It’s definitely worth popping over to see how the locals party! You’ll also notice that the lake has the clearest waters you’ll probably ever come across. It’s the biggest fresh water lake in the world and you’ll often forget it’s not the ocean.
Lake Malawi, Nkhata Bay
Other things I recommend doing in Nkhata Bay is visiting local diving school Aqua Africa to learn to dive or going on a safari tour with South African, Bjorn and his tailored tours Go Bananaz Safaris. Bjorn is a great guy and customises his tours to a small group so they get the most out of their trip. You’ll be sleeping right in the bush so don’t expect luxury as this is for real adventurers!
Bjorn and his co pilot to take you on a safari you wont forget!
What to expect on your Safari with Go Bananaz
4. Kande Beach
A favourite with the overland tour buses, Kande beach literally looks like it’s been taken from Australia and put into Malawi. The beach is so beautiful we went there for the backpacker’s 20th Anniversary and had a great time. Horse riding into in the lake is a very popular option there too.
Kande Beach, Malawi
Horse Riding on Kande Beach
5. Zulunkhuni river lodge, Ruarwe
This is one of my big regrets as I didn’t make it there but I met the owner loads of times as he stayed at Butterfly Space every so often. He is a British guy who has the most beautiful lodge that’s only accessible by boat. If you are going to Malawi, make sure you head there as I’ve been told it’s paradise.
6. Mushroom Farm Eco Lodge, Livingstonia
This is another regret that everyone talked about how amazing this place was! I met the owners, a brother and sister from the US who also have a passion for Malawi. The views I’ve been told are spectacular which doesn’t suprise me when they are the below;
Mushroom Farm, Livingstonia
7. The Islands – Chizimooloo and Likoma Island
If you are wondering whether it’s worth jumping on the over night boat to the islands in the middle of the lake then yes, it’s definitely worth going to. We stopped off at Chizimooloo first (took about 3 hours on the boat) and stayed at Nick’s lodge. Nick himself is worth staying with as he’s a British guy who’s been there for 20 years and is a right character. He has an amazing bar with the clearest waters I saw in the whole of Malawi. It’s worth spending a few hours walking around the island as the locals are so friendly so I’d recommend 2 days is enough time to stay there.
The clearest waters in Chizimooloo
The famous bar at Nicks lodge
The boat ride from Nkhata Bay to Chizi
We then spent about five days on Likoma Island at Mango Drift. This place is without a doubt paradise. It’s just an amazing spot right on the beach with nothing to do but relax. All accom is also on the beach but spread out enough that you’ll have enough privacy. We absolutely loved it here. If you have time, definitely visit this place!
Sunset outside outside room at Mango Drift, Likoma Island
Our room at Mango Drift, Likoma Island
Getting a boat to the main boat, Likoma Island
Make sure you get first class on the boat meaning you get top deck
8. Cape Maclear
If you head to the islands then the last stop on the boat is Cape Maclear which will take a good 24 hours. I absolutely loved Cape Maclear. We stayed at Fat Monkeys and one of our highlights was hiring out a boat for the day between about 8 of us. It was so much fun and cost us $20 each including snorkel gear as well. We hired it from the diving shop on the beach.
Sunset in Cape Maclear
Boat ride Cape Maclear
9. Mount Mulange
If you need to get away from the heat then head to the Mountains in Southern Malawi. We spent a few days trekking around Mount Mulanje which was just beautiful. You can hire a guide which is probably the better option but we just did our own hikes around the tea plantations.
Tea plantations, Mount Mulanje
Trekking in the mountains, Mount Mulanje
10. Lake of Stars Festival
I went to this festival when it was called City of Stars based in Lilongwe. It’s basically a music festival for expats as $30 a ticket is too pricey for the average Malawian. It was really good and well put together and previous acts have included Foals, The Noisettes, MisterJam and so on which has been going for 11 Years. Now based in Mangochi, the festival will be taking place at the end of September this year. For more info click here.
Circus Performers at City of Stars Festival
City of Stars Festival, Lilongwe 2013
So there’s my top 10 places to visit in Malawi. Hope that helps any of you thinking about travelling over to visit or to volunteer. If you are wondering whether to do an overland trip or by yourself, here’s a more detailed post on that topic
Best of luck, Malawi is just a magical country!
Thanks for reading,