Malawi: One of the poorest countries in the world, facing a HIV/AIDs epidemic, where hunger and malnutrition is widespread.
Malawi: The warm heart of Africa, No. 5 in Lonely Planet’s ‘Best in Travel 2014’ – a list of the world’s most unmissable destinations and host of ‘the world’s most spectacular festival’ (The Guardian).
It is hard to believe that both sentences refer to the same place. The appeal of volunteering for most people comes from being able to use their skills to make a difference and seeing that happen. Students set aside their holiday time to gain valuable experience in a different setting and give something back. Professionals save up their holiday time to go and share their skills and to learn more about their profession in a different context. However Malawi is a shining example of how a working holiday does not have to be just that.
It is a country that has so much more to offer, whilst most people get excited about the prospect of being immersed in community work alone, at the weekends there is something else to be excited about – volunteers also have a chance to explore and see more of what this beautiful country has to offer. Western media often focuses on negative images of Africa – hardship, poverty and war. Malawi couldn’t be a better place to disperse these negative images. Volunteers are welcomed to the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’ a well deserved nickname that describes its climate, but mostly reflects on the warm and welcoming attitude of people in the country towards those visiting.
We receive volunteers of all different ages, backgrounds and interests and Malawi boasts a travel experience that is diverse enough to offer something for everyone. Whether wildlife viewing, relaxing on beaches or hiking in mountains appeal to you, you will have fantastic opportunities to do them here.
This landlocked country is defined by Lake Malawi, an expansive Lake with unique marine life that covers a significant part of the country. Many people base their livelihoods around it and rely on it for a source of work and food. For people travelling from outside the country, it offers miles and miles of stunning ‘coast’, beautiful beaches and the opportunity for boat trips, water sports, wildlife viewing and sunbathing.
As our volunteer house is based right on the lakeshore we have easy access to activities, with a favourite destination amongst travellers – Cape Maclear – just 45 minutes away and easily accessible for weekend trips. Off the coast of Cape Maclear two unpopulated islands offer stunning weekend getaways. Domwe Island offers remote camping and Mumbo Island hosts an eco lodge that has been named amongst the Top 100 Hotels in the World (Sunday Times Travel Magazine).
For those who want to see the Africa of story books – open planes, big game wildlife and awe inspiring sunsets Malawi is an ideal destination. Malawi’s national parks offer game viewing with a difference, in a far more low key setting to neighbouring countries, those visiting feel privileged to be able to observe elephants, hippos and buffalo without being surrounded by lots of others doing the same, making the experience even more special.
This year Malawi welcomes back a music festival that attracts people from around the globe. With no mud, no queues and no rain, Lake of Stars has been hailed as ‘simply the finest festival in the world’ (Q magazine). A celebration of African art and culture, it is the biggest event in the tourism calendar and it will be hosted on a beach just half an hour from our volunteer cottage.
Asides from the main attractions of the lake and wildlife, there are many other landscapes to visit and activities to take part in. Mountainous and forested regions offer hiking, cycling and horse-riding amongst beautiful scenery. Each weekend offers a chance to see something different. Even better is that by travelling and putting money into the economy, volunteers are contributing to Malawi’s growth and development. This blog is to share a different side to Malawi, there is a lot of work to be done and volunteering here is incredibly rewarding, but it has so much more to offer and it should be seen as a destination in itself.