Bordering Tanzania and Mozambique, Malawi is a relatively small country in southeastern Africa. However, it is actually home the fourth largest freshwater lake in the world (by volume), Lake Malawi. Lake Malawi is home to more species of fish than any other lake in the world, and Liwonde National Park in the southern part of the country is home to lots of wildlife as well, including: elephants, hippos, lions and black rhinos, which are a member of the endangered species list.
Every year, the founders of We Are Travel Girls, take a group of 12 women to Malawi for their annual Malawi Safari & Charity Trip. We Are Travel Girls is a global travel community that started with the intention to “inspire, connect, educate and empower female travelers around the world”. The organization shares travel tips and tricks via its popular travel website and collection of social media channels, amongst other resources. I spoke with founders, Becky van Dijk and Vanessa Rivers about why they have fallen in love with the country and why they keep going back. Here are six reasons you need to visit Malawi according to the founders of We Are Travel Girls.
1) GOING ON A RIVER SAFARI IN LIWONDE NATIONAL PARK
Liwonde National Park is located southeast of the capital, Lilongwe, near the Mozambique border. The Shire River runs alongside the park and serves as a watering hole for elephants, hippos, black rhinos, crocodiles, leopards, antelopes, and more. Taking a river safari here is like stepping into the Lion King. Becky and Vanessa describe seeing elephants, warthogs, meerkats, and baboons gather at the river’s banks as a “once in a lifetime experience.” “Seeing such an array of creatures come together to drink water, play and hunt for food is out of this world. And doing so from the river itself is a much nicer experience than from a noisy jeep.”
2) DRINKING GIN & TONICS
Most African Safaris usually end with a “sundowner” and those in Malawi are no different. “In Malawi, we discovered how incredibly tasty Malawi Gin is, and that it of course pairs very nicely with tonic and a magical African sunset! Malawi Gin has long had something of a cult following among British tourists. They’d return home from vacations to the former British Colony raving about the local gin and once we tried it, we could easily understand why!” Becky and Vanessa added. “If you are doing a river or land safari in Liwonde National Park make sure to request that your safari guide brings along Malawi Gin & Tonics so you can enjoy a special G&T sundowner from your safari vehicle or boat overlooking the Shire River.”
3) MEETING THE WARM PEOPLE OF MALAWI
Frequently referred to as ‘The Warm Heart of Africa,’ Malawi is known for its welcoming people. Their hospitality makes visitors feel at home as soon as they step off the plane. According to Becky and Vanessa, “Their wealth of happiness is infectious. The value they put on family and relationships makes it an amazing place to return to year after year.”
4) EXPLORING MUMBO ISLAND ON LAKE MALAWI
For the luxury traveler looking for an untouched paradise, Mumbo Island in the middle of Lake Malawi is the place to go. Named one of the Sunday Times’ Top 100 Places to Stay in 2017, this private island is a must. The island is only a half a mile in diameter and has never been inhabited by a population. It is a pristine, natural, oasis offering visitors a luxurious and sustainable travel experience. If you are truly looking to unplug, Mumbo has no cell service or electricity so you can truly get that digital detox we all need. You’ll arrive on Mumbo Island, turn off your devices, leave them in your room and start connecting with nature. The wooden stilted cabins overlooking the turquoise water of Lake Malawi are the definition of rustic luxury. “We recommend leaving the doors to the balcony open and so you can wake up to the incredible sunrise and the birdsong of the island.” Becky and Vanessa mentioned. “On our Malawi Safari & Charity Trip our guests love taking advantage of the delicious meals, kayaking, yoga, hiking, sunset boat rides and evening campfires (with wine of course!).”
5) VISITING THE SATEMWA TEA ESTATES
Tea is a major crop in Malawi. Tea estates like Satemwa, which is a third-generation family-owned business offers tours and tastings.
Founded in 1923, Satemwa is one of the last family-owned tea estates in the region, as most have been purchased by large corporations. Guests can spend the night at Satemwa and enjoy sundowners overlooking the rolling tea fields, estate tours, and private tea tastings.
6) GIVING BACK THROUGH RESPONSIBLE TOURISM
While Malawi is a country full of beauty and amazing people, it is also important to remember that the average person in Malawi struggles to live on less than $1 a day. Tourism is a significant part of the economy and as it is still a hidden gem, foreign dollars can stretch far here. However, it is crucial when visiting developing countries such as Malawi to ensure being a respectful visitor. “We Are Travel Girls strives to work with tour companies that give back to the communities we visit so we are proud to have partnered with The Responsible Safari Company to show our guests the best of Malawi during our annual Malawi Safari & Charity Trip.” Says Becky and Vanessa. “The Responsible Safari Company is committed to creating sustainable growth [in Malawi] through social enterprise, reducing dependence on foreign aid and driving tourism that generates income for rural communities in Africa.”
A portion of the proceeds from the Malawi Safari & Charity Trip are donated to Malawi to go towards local resources and infrastructure. Becky and Vanesa have also worked to raise through their, “Travel Girls Giving Program” over $15,000 for school children in need in Malawi.
Story by J.Q Louise for Forbes