It’s no secret that women rule the travel industry. Research shows that they make up 64 per cent of all travellers and make 80 per cent of all travel decisions.
In a recent survey, 70 per cent of travel agents stated that women are more likely to travel solo than men. In 2016, 68% of all women travellers were solo female travellers. And in case you didn’t know, they’re doing it with their own money; 54% of well-to-do travellers (earning over $250K) are women.
A quick Google Search will tell you that Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with over 73% of its population living on less than $1.90 per day. But somehow this tiny, landlocked, Southern African country beat over 200 countries/territories for a spot on Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Countries in 2014 and 2022!
It has been featured on Forbes, CNN Travel, and National Geographic as a great travel destination.
So what is its secret?
Well…there are 5: It’s very safe, very small, very geographically diverse, very rich in culture, and very cheap.
Malawi has the same Global Peace Index (GPI) score as France. Under the “Peace and Security” component, it is the third-safest country in Africa and ranked higher than America. Unlike many poor countries, Malawi has not been ravaged by conflict and crime is not spiralling out of control. Quite the contrary, Malawi is known as “the warm heart of Africa”–really! As a serial traveller and viral YouTuber, Drew Binsky points out, “Malawi is full of genuine smiles, genuine laughter and genuine happiness”.
In addition to being very safe, Malawi is also quite small, making it perfect for first-time travellers to Africa. This is why it is so common to see conspicuously foreign backpackers lugging their bags between cities. The tarred inter-city roads make it easy to zoom between the country’s many and very diverse tourist attractions (see the next section). Does that mean you won’t come across a city neighbourhood riddled with potholes or a difficult village road? Not on your life, but it does mean that you can reach most travel destinations quickly and comfortably.
Malawi has an unbelievably diverse geographic landscape offering a plethora of different holiday experiences. Want to go on a Safari? A challenging mountain climb? A chilled tropical island retreat? A mesmerising scuba dive? A trip to ancient history? Malawi has something for you.
Malawi’s Safari destinations make for some truly remarkable game-viewing experiences. As a poorer African country, its marketing budget is negligible compared to some other powerhouses like South Africa and Kenya.
Like most hidden gem experiences this means that you can experience its attractions without the crowds and overcommercialization so you can enjoy your driving, walking, or boating safaris in peace.
Majete Wildlife Reserve and Liwonde National Park host the Big Five (elephants, lions, rhinos, lions, leopards, and buffalo) cheetahs, painted wolves, hippos, crocodiles, sable antelope, and many other large animals. Not to mention this tiny nation is home to over 650 species of birds.
A big reason why Malawi’s wildlife is thriving is the amazing job that African Parks has done managing the reserves and national parks. They have introduced over 5,000 animals of 17 species, conducted both the largest black rhino and the largest elephant translocations in history, and they have established one of the most effective ranger forces in the region using the most effective technology to remove more than 40,000 snares.
They have also done a great job in engaging the local communities supporting schools, and community health centres and implementing projects like a chilli farming project which has drastically reduced human-wildlife conflict by deterring elephants and enriching local farmers.
Malawi is also a great destination for avid hikers. There are many options but the three most popular are Mount Mulanje, Zomba Plateau (Zomba Massif), and Nyika Plateau. boasting 3 main attractions which offer unique flora and fauna, dense forestry, and freshwater streams and waterfalls to swim in and even drink from. Regardless of your skill level, there is an enchanting trail that is perfect for you in Malawi.
Mount Mulanje, which stands at over 3,000 metres tall, hosts spectacular and historic tea and coffee estates that wrap around its base, seamlessly blending into the surrounding forestry. The Mulanje Massif offers 20 peaks above 2,500 metres and the landscape is scattered with rivers, gorges, waterfalls and unique vegetation.
The Zomba Plateau (Zomba Massif) has a raised forested area of 140 square kilometres standing over 1,800 metres high. Its steep edges offer viewpoints that used to be described as “the best views in the British Empire”. Its fauna includes giant butterflies, baboons and large numbers of birds. Leopards have also occasionally been sighted there.
Nyika plateau has a raised area of over 3,200 square kilometres standing at around 2,500 metres tall. It makes up Malawi’s largest national park and is home to the largest concentration of orchids in Southern Africa–over 200 types. As a critical mountain water catchment area it attracts several animals including zebra, roan antelope, eland, and the highest concentration of leopards in Malawi.
Lake Malawi contains 7% of the world’s available surface freshwater and is home to over 1,000 unique species of fish–most of which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. This UNESCO World Heritage Site makes for an amazing holiday destination. With palm trees, sandy beaches, and little tropical islands, it’s easy to think you’re at sea…until the water hits your eyes and it doesn’t sting. Popular activities on the lake include diving, snorkelling, horse riding, feeding sea eagles, sailing, and many more beach activities.
Lake Malawi is also home to several unique island resorts. Blue Zebra, named after a colourful cichlid (fish), is just 2 hours from Lilongwe International Airport. It is nestled on the unspoilt Nankoma Island which offers wild island flora and fauna in addition to the bustling freshwater habitat. Mumbo Island is an unpopulated paradise covered in thick miombo woodland and ancient fig and giant baobab trees. The off-grid, eco-friendly, Island Camp sleeps 14 and offers a barefoot luxury experience. Kaya Mawa is Malawi’s most luxurious island getaway located on the historically-rich Likoma Island. The lodge has been featured in Forbes Magazine for marrying luxury, social responsibility, and environmentalism in its business model.
One of Malawi’s best cultural attractions is the mystic secret society of masked men known as the Gule Wamkulu, which was established in the 17th century. Their elaborate costumes and masks made of wood and straw represent a wide variety of characters including, wild animals, spirits of the dead, slavers, and even objects such as motorbikes and helicopters. It is no wonder they are listed on UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The Chongoni Rock Art, created by Batwa hunter-gatherers in the llate Stone Ages are also a must-see. The 127 sites are a UNESCO World Heritage Site that represents one of the richest concentrations of stone art in Africa. History buffs can also view the Malawisaurus dinosaur at Karonga Museum.
Malawi has a lively entertainment scene as the host of Lake of Stars, which is one of Africa’s largest Arts Festivals held on the glistening beaches of Lake Malawi. There is also the Tumaini Arts Festival, a free arts festival highlighting the multitude of cultures inside Malawi’s largest refugee camp, Dzaleka. Some newer addition to the scene is Art in the Park, held in the capital city Lilongwe to highlight various art forms and talents in the country; and the annual Wine Festival hosted by our sister company, Wines & Wings. There is no limit to the popularity of the arts in Malawi, which is even home to a grammy-nominated prison band made up of inmates.
As a poor country, Malawi has a very low cost of living and is able to offer magical experiences at a fraction of what it would cost in neighbouring countries. But as wonderful as Malawi and its people are, it is a place in need. Cyclone Freddy recently exposed the highly vulnerable situation that the Malawians living in rural areas find themselves in.
Fortunately, it is very easy for tourists to make positive contributions. In fact, just visiting Malawi makes a huge difference. Tourism accounts for 7 per cent of employment and the government considers it to be a “key driver for sustainable growth and economic development.”
Of course, this doesn’t mean that your money will automatically trickle down to those who need it, but by asking a few questions you can easily create a great itinerary that also helps the communities through which you’re travelling. But the Malawian tourism sector provides many opportunities to support initiatives which blend women’s economic empowerment, environmental protection and wildlife conservation.
The former owner of Kaya Mawa established the Katundu project which empowers women through artisanal training and ethical employment. Their unique and exquisite handcrafted pieces make up a big part of the lodge’s interior design.
Zumba Forest Lodge started the TREEZ conservation project to protect, rehabilitate and enhance the environment and ecosystem of the Zomba Plateau. They sponsor local football and netball teams and enlist their help in tree planting and fire prevention, they sponsor concerts and community activities to raise environmental awareness, and they provide financial support to the Zomba Forestry Department.
So there you have it. Malawi is truly a hidden gem destination and it’s obvious why it’s such a hit with women adventure travellers. Interested in finding out more about what your trip would look like? Check out our Malawian Adventure itinerary.