What we loved…
The Lake – Running the length of the entire country, the Lake is easily the biggest draw, and rightfully so. It’s the home of a large variety of cichlid fish – the type of fish we see in fish tanks all over the world. Lake Malawi is the backdrop to much of the country’s top activities and destinations – some of the best freshwater scuba diving in the world, remote islands, affordable beach bungalows, etc. Its shores even host one of Africa’s biggest music festivals – Lake of Stars.
Perfect English – Malawians speak the best English of any non-English speaking country we’ve been to. They speak with a perfect North American accent, which, of course, makes getting around and really chatting with the locals so much easier.
Unique Accommodation – From our cliffside campsite in Livingstonia to our beach side campgrounds in Nkhata Bay and Likoma Island, Malawi had some of the most spectacular accommodations we’ve encountered. The Mushroom Farm Eco Lodge is a destination in and of itself. It offers a wide range of accommodation from pitching your own tent to luxury safari tents. They grow all their own herbs and veggies, serve up delicious meals, and have all kinds of colorful hammocks, swings, and lounge chairs to relax in. Overlooking Lake Malawi from atop a mountain, its Afro-chic decor only adds to it’s whimsical charm. As for our beach side campsites – we would wake up and walk 50 feet straight into the lake for a morning dip. What else can you ask for when traveling Malawi?
What we didn’t love…
Getting Anywhere – This is a running theme across Africa, but somehow traveling Malawi is extra difficult. The crowded buses that never leave on time barely make it up the mountain passes. Fat chance on air conditioning, and they are only slightly better than the van taxis. You will have to sit 5 across…with all your stuff on your lap. Good luck scratching an itch or readjusting in anyway. As if the conditions for the all-day rides aren’t bad enough, there are immigration checkpoints every few miles. Everyone piles off, waits for everyone to check out, then everyone piles back in. It’s like opening Uncle Buck’s closet over and over again, only you’re part of what’s getting crammed in.
Culture Hidden from Tourists – Any rich culture or unique traditions are kept pretty separated from any tourist areas. You can chat with locals about the villages they grew up in, but there’s no real way to visit them. The tourist areas are all pretty generically westernized with western malls, big box stores and chain restaurants.
Obvious Corruption – It’s a pretty well known fact that both cops and governments are pretty corrupt in a lot of African countries, but nobody puts it on display quite like Malawi. Cops line the highways pulling everyone over; literally every car. “You were speeding”, “your seatbelt wasn’t on”, “your break light is out”, “your headlights were on”, “your headlights weren’t on”. Then begins the negotiations over what really happened and how much the fine will be. No citations written (i.e. no paperwork), just cash exchanged. None of it is true, but it’s easier to pay than deal with pissing off a cop. As if traveling Malawi wasn’t difficult enough!