Malawi fully deserves its reputation as ‘the warm heart of Africa’. Technically in Central Africa, rather than southern Africa, it feels distinctly tropical thanks to its red soils and lush vegetation.

The biggest draw here – other than the welcoming smiles of everyone you’ll meet – is the lake that takes up a very significant proportion of the country. At around 350 miles in length and around 50 miles wide, Lake Malawi exerts a magnetic appeal on travelers to this rewarding country.

The lake is a great water sports destination, and you can skim over its surface in a yacht or – at a more modest pace – in a traditional fishing boat. There are several islands in the lake, some of which you can stay on. At night, the only lights you’ll see will be from fishing boats (the fishermen use them to attract their quarry to the surface).

This has given the lake its popular name – the ‘lake of stars’. This is also the name of a popular music and cultural festival that takes place each September. The best way to explore the lake is to jump overboard – the combination of warm, clear freshwater and unique fish species (the famous cichlids) makes Lake Malawi a superb spot for snorkeling and diving.

The beaches which ring the lake offer plenty of excuses for relaxing, or you can head away from the shore to discover some of Malawi’s other attractions. These include the high ground of the Nyika Plateau, where you can encounter wildlife whilst mountain biking or horse riding. For a different challenge, tackle the climb up Mount Mulanje. It’s a mysterious massif with giant plants and – when the mist clears – unique views.

Wherever you go in Malawi, be sure to make time for the people. They’ll certainly make time for you – there aren’t many places where you’ll be made to feel as welcome as in Malawi, so slow down things and spend some time chatting. You’ll find you probably have more in common with people here than you might imagine. Don’t worry if communicating seems a little difficult – a smile is worth a thousand words!

Gateway city: Lilongwe

Best time to travel: May to October

Highlights: Lake Malawi, Mumbo Island, Nyika Plateau, Liwonde

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