Formerly known as 'Nyasaland', Malawi gained its independence from British colonial rule in 1964. A country whose landscape is dominated by the Great Rift Valley and the magnificent Lake Malawi that lies within it. The lake contains over 700 species of fish, the majority of which are endemic cichlids descended from a single common ancestor, and offers fantastic snorkelling opportunities. Dotted all the way along its edge are traditional villages that actively encourage the culturally inquisitive tourist to witness and partake in their daily affairs.
Malawians are a famously peace-loving, conservative and artistic people – their love of music and dancing a crucial part of their cultural expression, as is their consummate skill in woodcarving. It is possible to find some of the finest examples of African masks, chairs and other furniture not only in the village markets, but everywhere you look, from the shoreline to the roadside.
Although not as famous as some of the bigger reserves found elsewhere in Africa, Malawi's many national parks should not be overlooked. In a country historically dependent on foreign aid and still reliant on its agricultural exports, of which tobacco, tea, coffee and sugar form a large part, the government is aware of the importance of preserving and developing the country's natural resources.
Liwonde National Park in the south has excellent game viewing, and the rapidly emerging Majete Wildlife Reserve is currently being re-stocked to become a 'Big Five' location. What Malawi's national parks lack in scale, they make up for in authenticity – nowhere else do you get such a sense of being in the untamed and unspoilt wilderness of the bush.
In this respect Malawi is a country best appreciated 'on foot'. The hiking opportunities on the verdant rolling plateau of the Nyika National Park in the north, or the Zomba Plateau and Mulanje Massif in the south are second to none.