In central east Africa is Malawi, an absolute gem of a country and a major highlight for many travellers (with good reason). Bordered by Zambia, Mozambique, and Tanzania, Malawi is a scenic and richly diverse destination, home to some 15 million people with a vibrant culture, rolling hills and lush forests, classic African wildlife, and above all, one giant biologically unique lake making up almost the entire eastern side of the country.

Rural Malawi.

Once known as Nyasaland, Malawi has a complex history. It was a central trading route during the brutal African slave trade, where captives would be forced to the lake and ferried across, then marched over 1,000km (621 mi) through Tanzania (lion country) to the coast of the Indian Ocean before being sold and shipped all over the world.

David Livingstone was one of the early foreign explorers in the area and a champion for the abolition of the slave trade. Throughout his years in central Africa, he travelled from the northern reaches of the Kalahari Desert to the coast of Mozambique, from the interior of Zambia to the coast of Tanzania and the island of Zanzibar. He put Nyasaland and Lake Malawi on the international map and set the stage for the first of many people to follow in his footsteps.

Looking out the Lake Malawi.

I travelled through Malawi in August of 2012 on an amazing overland route from the north and the Tanzanian border all the way down the length of the Lake, then back up and west to the capital Lilongwe and eventually further afield and into Zambia. I was especially taken with some of its awesome travel highlights.

There are these amazing little fishing villages located all along the shores of the lake, each with its own flavour and smiling faces of seemingly content villagers. A few in the north are conveniently located close to the quaint colonial town of Livingstonia, high up in the forested hills. On my third day in Malawi, I awoke at daybreak to begin the hike up to Livingstonia (16km [10 mi]). It was a long day, but well worth the effort, with stunning views over the lake and the warm African sun at my back. I highly suggest checking it out if you have time. A huge bonus is a sweet little coffee shop at the top.

This coffee shop was well worth the trek.
A waterfall along the way to Livingstonia.

Once back from the hills it was time to hit the water. Lake Malawi is known to have good scuba diving and a wide array of unique biodiversity in its waters. It is also home to the only fresh water national marine park in all of Africa. This is because the lake plays host to numerous species of small endemic tropical fresh water fish. These fish are a wonder to watch and very interesting in their individual descriptions. One kind was particularly memorable because the mother fish had dozens of its offspring hiding in her mouth. It is (I believe) one of the only fish species on the planet to allow its babies to feed freely nearby, then when there is some sense of danger, the entire clan goes rushing into the jaws of mom for safety. Amazing! The diving was well worth it and is another huge recommendation.

One of the crew from our dive out on the lake.
On the lake about to go diving.

After a number of days chilling in the sun and lapping up the fresh water lake vibes I moved on to the bustling capital of Lilongwe. There was a very good traveller scene in Malawi’s capital and I was happy to reassess my travels and reflect on the days spent exploring the eastern side of the country, meet some new people, share stories of places been and gain advice on where to go next.

Malawi has a great reputation for being an intriguing country to explore. I enjoyed my trip there and left with only good things to say. It’s got friendly people, great scenery, fun activities, an interesting past, and a bright future.

I enjoyed my trip to Malawi and left with only good things to say.