Malawi lies at the southern end of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. It’s a densely populated country with green productive land, lots of small traditional farms and famously friendly people. Watching local children play around the lake, you’ll quickly understand why Malawi is promoted as the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’.
The physical and spiritual backbone of the country is Lake Malawi, stretching for over 300 miles and covering more than 20% of the country in water. These clear, mineral-rich waters teem with countless, brightly coloured cichlid fish, many of which are endemic. Away from the lake, Zomba and Mulanje are two plateaux which tower above rolling farmlands and offer gentle hiking amongst moorlands and forests. Meanwhile Liwonde National Park and the new Majete Wildlife Reserve both offer interesting safaris in contrasting environments.
160 | MALAWI
There are many small beach lodges along the lakeshore, but most aren’t terribly impressive. Here we’ve concentrated on just a few, which shine.
Situated on the southern shore of Lake Malawi, within the forested Lake Malawi National Park, Pumulani is carving itself a really good reputation. It is a smooth and luxurious beach lodge, set on the slopes of a hill leading down to a largely private beach. (Being on a hillside, note that Pumulani has lots of outside steps.) Owned and run by the professional team from Zambia’s Robin Pope Safaris (see page 144), it offers very good service throughout.
At the top of the hill is Pumulani’s main dining room, with inside and outside space, and a full bar. The outside deck shares great views with the large infinity swimming pool on the deck below it. Much further down, on the lakeshore, there’s a beach bar with a great atmosphere that serves light snacks as well as drinks.
Each of Pumulani’s ten modern villas occupies its own space on the hill and incorporates a large bedroom, a comfortable sitting area and an en-suite bathroom. Sliding glass doors lead out onto a big raised deck. Most of the villas have woodland around them, and their roofs are grassed over to blend in. Activities at Pumulani include snorkelling, kayaking,
waterskiing, wake-boarding, sailing, fishing and scuba diving. Also on offer are village walks and birdwatching, accompanied by a guide. The lodge also has its own very impressive dhow, built in Malawi, for sunset cruises.
Much further north, Chintheche Inn is a quiet and simple lodge. It has a large central area, a bar, a curio shop and, close by, a restaurant which spills out onto the lawn beside a remote beach and a large swimming pool. Each of Chintheche’s ten comfortable, en-suite rooms has a beachfront veranda. Activities from here include snorkelling, fishing, scuba diving, boat trips to nearby islands, guided walks, fascinating village visits, mountain-bike trails, horseriding from nearby Kande Beach and cultural trips.
Close to the town of Mangochi, Makokola Retreat (formerly Club Makokola) is a thatched resort built beside a very open 600m-long golden beach on the lake’s southern shores. It has 56 comfortable rooms, including some suites and family rooms, spread around extensive tropical gardens. This is a lively place, with a good line in tasty Italian cuisine, and activities that include sailing, boating and scuba diving. Makokola Retreat has two swimming pools, as well as facilities for tennis and squash, and a nine-hole golf course scattered with baobabs.
The lawns at Chinteche overlook the lake