Guest post and photos by Jenny Lynn, TravelLynn Family
Open any guidebook to Malawi and, within a few pages, it’s almost guaranteed to mention how friendly the people are. Couple this with how much natural beauty is packed into a relatively small area, it’s surprising that more families aren’t visiting!
We are currently overlanding Africa in a Land Rover Defender with our two boys (aged 2 and 4), and have recently spent three amazing weeks travelling around Malawi. The poor condition of some of the roads can make it tough going at times (especially at the end of the wet season), but for those families willing to take on the challenge, you will perhaps be rewarded with your best adventure yet.
On my blog, you can find our itinerary for overlanding Malawi with kids, but I thought I’d share here our top 5 things to do when visiting Malawi with kids.
1. Swim & sail Lake Malawi
A visit to the lake is a must for anyone visiting Malawi. Our favourite spot was Chambe Eagles Nest, Cape Maclear. Here the water is calm and clear, perfect for the little ones. It also affords stunning views out to the nearby islands. I also thoroughly recommend taking a sunset catamaran cruise. The lake at Cape Maclear is beautifully still, so you don’t need to worry about anyone getting sea sick, and your skipper will throw fish into the lake to encourage fish eagles to swoop down in front of you.
However, like many lakes and rivers in the tropics, bilharzia is present, spread by tiny snails in the water. One choice would be to avoid the water altogether. But if your kids are like mine, it will be difficult keeping them out! Following advice from expats living in Malawi, we bought medication from the local pharmacy. It was just £5.00 for all the family and the amount you take depends on your size. So for our boys, it’s just one pill each, and there are no real side effects.
2. Take a game walk
There are very few places in Africa where you can take young kids on a game walk. However, at Game Haven Lodge all resident guests are invited on a free game walk with a ranger, as there are no seriously dangerous animals nearby (such as leopards and lions).
On our walk we spotted zebra, wildebeest, eland, impala and giraffe (including a baby giraffe!) Watching the boys have such close encounters with these wild animals was so very special – we were only a few metres away! Plus, it was just us, no other tourists, which not only makes it intimate but means you don’t have to worry about your little ones slowing the group down whilst they muse over every pile of dung on the footpath.
After your game walk, enjoy a play in the fantastic playground with climbing wall, or have a dip in the swimming pool, before enjoying a sundowner from the restaurant as you watch the sun set behind the local game residence grazing on the grass.
3. See the Big 5 on a game drive
Majete National Park and Liwonde National Park are also wonderful places for seeing wild animals. Liwonde is great for seeing hippos and crocodiles on a river cruise, whereas at Majete it is possible to spot the big five on a game drive.
We took the self-drive option at Majete, and although we didn’t see an lions, we did see lots of zebra, elephants, hippos, eland and warthogs. Plus there are so few visitors to the park, that any encounter with an animal felt intimate. In fact, the warthogs joined us at our campsite (thankfully we sleep in roof tents and apparently these warthogs are friendly…) The vegetation around the park is rather thick, especially during the wet season, so drive slowly as you never know what’s round the next corner!
4. Hike to a waterfall on Mount Mulanje
Majestic Mount Mulanje rises from the tea plantations in the south and many visitors come to take on the multi-day trek to its summit. We felt this a bit much for our boys and instead settled on the superb trek to a hidden waterfall from the CCAP at Likhubala (the CCAP is a community centre that has a few rooms and a small camping area for travellers). The round trip took us about three hours with little legs (it will be much quicker with older kids) but the views and refreshing dip were the perfect reward. You will need a guide to take you and this can be arranged at the CCAP.
5. Make friends with the locals
More than anything though, it was Malawi’s people and the everyday interactions full of warmth and kindness that made our visit so incredible. One of our most memorable experiences was organised through the Responsible Safari Company. With them we attended a Sunday Mass in a small village outside Zomba; I will never forget the rich tones of the female a cappella voices harmonising, and the sheer faith of the parishioners hanging on to every word of the sermon. Do bear in mind that a full service generally last three hours, so you may want to arrange to visit only part of the service. Afterwards, you can take part in maize pounding, brick making, traditional dancing or even experience a homestay.
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Jenny is a family travel blogger from the UK and is on a mission to dispel the myth that adventure has to wait till the kids are older. Her two boys (aged 2 and 4) have hiked to 3120m in the Nepalese Himalayas, meditated with monks in Thailand, ridden tuk-tuks across Sri Lanka and after a year living in India, they are now embarking on a four-month overland adventure through Africa in a Land Rover Defender.