Beach Malawi

Travelling with Atelier Africa Safaris, Travel Story:

The magic of Malawi

The perfect combination between ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Only in the world’.
A trip around the world in just one holiday? It’s possible in Malawi, where you’ll encounter surreal blue
lakes, vast tea plantations and the big five within a few hours’ drive. Those looking for a versatile holiday
destination can already book their ticket.

The magic of Malawi

In our busy world, authentic travel destinations are becoming increasingly rare. Those who want to visit iconic landscapes, dying species or historic buildings often do so in the company of many fellow tourists. Not so in Malawi, a pearl of a place where the modern-day tourist has not yet started his conquest. I fly into the country via the capital Lilogwe, the political center of the country that surpasses the rest in terms of population. There is a pleasant activity on the street that points to the economic importance of the city. Ideal for a short introduction. For our first night we head for Kumbali Country Lodge, a hotel about forty minutes’ drive from the airport. Kumbali means ‘out of town’ and that is exactly the feeling that prevails here. Both the spacious bungalows and the large dining area have a terrace that overlooks a large lawn and an orchard where dogs are happily and freely jumping around. Instant holiday feeling: check.

Malawi trafic

In the footsteps of Madonna

That feeling is only strengthened as soon as I sit down at the table. The menu features dishes with local ingredients that almost seem to melt on your tongue. After dessert, I treat myself to a cocktail to finish the first evening right. If that also turns out to be a hit, I am completely convinced. This is the perfect place to relax and unwind for one or two days. No wonder Madonna comes down here to take a  break. Fully relaxed, we leave the next morning for the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, a three-hour drive from the capital. This park has had a turbulent history. Mismanagement, famine and poaching almost killed the wildlife, but at present Nkhotakota is primarily the model of the largest and most successful reallocation project in African history. There are around 500 elephants walking around that were successfully relocated from Liwonde and Majete. The animal population will be further restored in the coming years. However, that does not mean that you have to wait so long: there is also a lot to experience now. For example, you can enjoy morning safaris in a canoe, hike up the hill or fish for a few days in the Bua River. You have plenty of possibilities here, but you don’t have to. A true relief.

Dinner in the sky

In the park itself I sleep in Tongole Wilderness Lodge, the only luxury location in the area. The bungalows overlook the Bua River, where you can see thousands of birds pass from your terrace in addition to elephants. You can have breakfast and dinner in the stylish main building, which looks a lot like the upgraded tree house that I dreamed of as a child. Incidentally, romantic dining is literally and figuratively raised to a higher level: a kind of raised platform has been built for a stylish tête à tête with your travel partner. “Alone in the world” meets “Indiana Jones.”

For The Big Five you have to go to the Liwonde National Park in Malawi. The park itself is not very large and that is practical: you don’t have to drive for hours to spot some interesting things. We sleep there at Mvuu Camp in the middle of the park. Elephants, monkeys and warthogs parading in between the bungalows, as if they are in charge here. The latter is confirmed once again when one of the fat male monkeys runs away with my piece of bread in a moment of inattention. To the delight of the rest of the guests.

Mvuu Camp organises both boat and jeep safaris. There are nine rhinos living in the park, so anyone who wants to increase their chances of spotting one should book a boat trip. I myself opt for the classic jeep safari to see as much of the park as possible. Along the way we pass a lot of ‘small game’, such as zebras, buffalo and pigs, before we arrive at the big guns: a family of cheetahs that is cosily warming up in the morning sun. We park our car at a safe distance and enjoy the playing animals in silence, who clearly have not lost their wild character yet.

Moderne Robinson Crusoe

That lovely scene could have been the highlight of my trip, were it not for the fact that I still have two spectacular stops on my list. The first is Mumbo Island, a remote island in the spectacular blue Lake Malawi. To get there I sit on a noisy old motorboat for about 45 minutes. The silence that comes over me as soon as the engine stops is therefore twice as intense.

“The silence that strikes me as soon as the engine stops is therefore twice as intense.”

Mumbo Island is one of the best eco lodges in the world and has managed to minimise its ecological footprint. Yet you never have the feeling that you have to lose out on luxury. On the contrary: when I look out of my private cabin at the clear blue water, the adjacent private beach and the star-studded sky, I feel like a spoiled Robinson Crusoe. This must be the most beautiful place on earth, I contemplate before I fall asleep satisfied.

Mumbo Island

Fifty shades of orange

Yet the remote nature is not the only reason why people come here. You can snorkel, canoe, hike and dive on the island. The lodge itself also organises boat trips. I let myself be tempted by the sunset cruise. With a small motor boat I sail a long way away from the island with some other guests, so that we are almost only surrounded by water. With a fresh gin and tonic in our hands we watch breathlessly how everything around us changes colour from blue to orange. Even a small tear appears in the corner of my eye. Damn, life can be beautiful.

After a night on the island you never want to leave. The regret I feel when my feet touch the mainland, soon makes way for curiosity about the next destination. That is, the stylish Huntington House in the middle of the tea plantations, both equally spectacular. The building itself was completely built in the British style of the 1930s, when the Maclean family moved in. Although renovation work has been done in the meantime, every effort has been made to retain its authentic character. This also applies to the rooms, which have largely retained the style of the original occupant. This may be taken in the wrong way, but believe me: father and mother Maclean were a lot more stylish than the average Flemish couple.

There is plenty to do in the Huntington House area to keep you busy for a few days. Those who have completed a hectic journey can relax in the private garden with a cup of Malawian fair trade tea. Those who fancy a little more action can go for a walk between the tea plantations, visit the tea factories or go mountain biking. However, I choose to show myself from my most lazy side and opt for a jeep ride to the top of the tea plantations. A small picnic table has been installed there, where I see the African sun setting for the last time with a cocktail in my hand. I could not have dreamed of a better end to this wonderful journey.

Malawian girl carrying milk