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What captures visitors most about Malawi is its geographical diversity: the vast shimmering lakes, dramatic mountain peaks, and the roaming lions of Majete Wildlife Reserve.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Malawi.
This 1.1-sq-km wilderness area is Malawi's only sanctuary for orphaned, injured and rescued wild animals, and plays an active role in conservation. Local residents include a one-eyed lion rescued from Romania, a python, two cobras, baboons, duikers, servals, and blue and vervet monkeys. The entry fee includes a one-hour tour of the enclosures. This isn’t a zoo, so you aren’t guaranteed to see any animals on the tour, but you will get to walk through a lovely wilderness area and learn about the centre’s aims and animal conservation in Malawi. Alternatively, you can wander the woodland trails and use the playground, picnic area and cafe. The centre is considered by the UK-based Born Free Foundation, among others, to be a safe space for injured animals and those rescued from the bushmeat and wildlife trades, poorly kept zoos, and private collections. Its aim is to rehabilitate the animals for a life back in the wild, and it has a strict no-breeding, no-trade and no-non-essential-contact policy. It also runs an outreach program to schools. A project of the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, the centre is alongside the Lingadzi River, between City Centre and Old Town.
This museum, off the M1, celebrates the numerous fossil discoveries made in these parts, and the skeleton of the Malawisaurus (or a copy of it, anyway) takes pride of place. Visits take the form of a guided tour, with information panels in English adding detail. You’ll enjoy a whistle-stop journey through the history of the planet, with particular reference to the Karonga district, 'from dinosaurs to democracy' via milestones such as the rise of humans and Malawi’s fight for independence. Following the path of a giant snake along the museum floor, you'll encounter some fun exhibits along the way: a viewfinder you can look through to find a prehistoric human staring back at you; displays of late-19th-century warriors’ dress and smoking pipes; and colourful wall murals by local artists defining the themes of the museum's various sections – from a prehistoric family sitting by the lake to 'president for life' Hastings Banda waving his trademark fly whip.
To get up close to Malawi’s movers and shakers, head to the home of the national parliament. It moved in 1994 from Zomba to the ostentatious palace of former president Banda on the outskirts of Lilongwe and now occupies this shiny new building near Capital Hill. Apply for a free guided tour by filling in a form at the gate two days beforehand (and only on weekdays). Tours visit the offices, exterior and, when not in use, debating chamber; specify on the form if you would like to see the proceedings of parliament.
This marble and granite mausoleum is the final resting place of Malawi's 'president for life', Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Between four pillars bearing the initials of his most prized principles – unity, loyalty, obedience and discipline – is a wrinkled portrait of the 'lion of Malawi'. Guides at the entrance will show you around in exchange for a small tip. Banda ruled from 1961 to 1994 and died in 1997, aged almost 100. Construction of the mausoleum finished in 2006 at a cost of US$600,000.
Likoma's huge Anglican cathedral (1911), said to be the same size as Winchester Cathedral, should not be missed. Its stained-glass windows, crumbling masonry and sheer scale are testament to the zeal of its missionary creators' religious conviction. Climb the tower for spectacular views. If you’re lucky you might meet the charming verger, who’ll happily give you a tour, and you’re welcome to join in the vibrant service on Sunday morning. The cathedral is less than 500m inland (and uphill) from the ferry terminal.
The fascinating museum in Stone House (once the home of Livingstonia founder Dr Robert Laws, and now a national monument) tells the story of the European arrival in Malawi and the first missionaries. Here you can read Dr Laws’ letters and books, including the old laws of Nyasaland, and peruse black-and-white photos of early missionary life in Livingstonia. Also on display is a collection of original magic-lantern slides, an early anaesthesia machine, an old gramophone and the cloak that Dr Laws used when he was a moderator.
Growing tea since the late 19th century, this British-owned estate produces 12,500 tonnes of the quaffable leaf annually. With 3300 hectares of tea plantations and four factories, it also processes the tea of fair-trade-certified smallholder farmers, and was previously owned by Lyons, Brooke Bond and Unilever. Book in advance to go on a factory tour. You can stay in colonial splendour among lush gardens at the estate lodge, which sleeps eight people.
This impressive waterfall thunders 125m into the valley below, about 4km from Livingstonia (towards the lake). Follow a small path behind the falls and there’s a cave where, so the story goes, local people once hid from slave traders. From Livingstonia, allow an hour to walk down and 1½ hours to get back up. The waterfall is just off the Gorode; you can visit on the walk between Livingstonia and the two lodges at the top of the hairpin bends.
Dating from 1894, this mission church has a beautiful stained-glass window featuring David Livingstone with his sextant, his medicine chest and his two companions, with Lake Malawi in the background. You can climb the tower for a bird's-eye view of Livingstonia. Visitors to town are welcome to attend the three Sunday-morning services; the English service runs from 7.30am to 9.30am.