If you've heard of Malawi or done a bit of research on it, you'll know a few of the highlights of this little country.
It's landlocked between Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique.
It's got just over 19 million people residing in just over 118,000sq km.
You might know that out of the 118,000sq km - nearly 30,000sq km is made up of Lake Malawi. The fifth largest fresh water lake in the world and home to around 700 species of cichlids, many endemic to Lake Malawi.
You might know that Malawi runs the length of the Great Rift Valley, and with this, geographically, is home to a wide spectrum of habitats in a very small area.
You might know a lot more about Malawi, but what are some of its best kept secrets?
We'll start from North to South...
The North of Malawi is far more remote than the southern and central regions, its dense forests, limited road network and fewer people mean its home to a number of secret and often overlooked locations.
Places like Karonga, just a few short hours drive from the Tanzania border, Karonga is the largest Northern city in Malawi and home to Malawi's own dinosaur and centre for historical and cultural research and education.
A long term study of Malawi's rift started in the 1980's and continues in the Hominid Corridor Research Project conducting Paleontological surveys across the Karonga region.
Karonga Museum provides a fascinating introduction to human history and Karonga's natural and cultural history.
This is the perfect addition to a northern Malawi exploration or for the bespoke traveler focusing on history and geography, or just stopping off en-route to to the Tanzania border.
As we travel South from Karonga, we find ourselves amongst the hills of Livingstonia. Although you're limited when it comes to accommodation it's one of the best regions for hiking and trekking.
A variety of day and overnight treks across the mountains, or from Nyika down to the lakeshore, around cascading waterfalls and through dense forests are on offer here.
Once a Scottish Mission, Livingstonia still maintains historical buildings and landmarks and truly highlights the beauty of Northern Malawi and the Rift Valley Scenery.
Another perfect location to stop over en-route northwards, or for a focussed trekking expedition, or again for that bespoke traveler particularly keen on history.
Nyika & The Orchids
Although many people know of Nyika Plateau and the beautiful rolling hills dotted with roan and eland, dense forests cutting valleys and an incredibly cool climate. Many don't know that it comes to life during Malawi's quiet season.
That dreaded word that makes all the holidaymakers turn and run. But that's Malawi's biggest secret. It keeps all the special things for the rainy season.
Nyika Plateau erupts into a rainbow of colour during January, with lists claiming up to 205 different species found across this grassland, many being endemic to Nyika. During the Green Season, the lush, high-altitude grasslands yield an endless array of alpine flowers, ranging from rare, localized orchid species, to exquisite dieramas, gladioli, protea and kniphofia.- And with the added benefit of safari activities, walking, cycling and fishing, it's no wonder that it's one of our favourite places. Even during the rains!
Nyika is very easy to slot into an itinerary and create a northern Malawi expedition loop, even in the rains.
You'll need a 4x4 and experience in muddy terrain to self drive up, but that all adds to the fun and adventure. And if you aren't particularly keen to go it yourself, our guides do it often!
The Northern Lakeshore & The Flies!
First thing I'm sure when it comes to your mind is, not flies! Why on earth would we be talking about flies?
The Lake Fly phenomenon on the northern parts of the lake are truly a draw dropping spectacle.
Plumes of what look like black smoke rise in columns and move like clouds across the water.
Larvae of the lake fly feed on zooplankton at the bottom of the lake and when they pupate, they float to the surface of the water and transform into adult flies, these plumes of smoke create a mating ritual that attracts large groups of fish, fishermen and surrounding villagers.
The surrounding communities make a very sought after cake/ bread with these adult flies that has a high protein base and is a must try if you see them on the road!
Just 75sq km of pristine indigenous rainforest habitat. Ntchisi Forest is often overlooked for the larger forest reserves surrounding it. But just a short distance from Lilongwe, this little piece of paradise is a hidden treasure for hikers, birders and flora enthusiasts.
Ntchisi is home to the samango monkey, troops of baboons, hyenas, bushbuck a wide range of bird life and a plethora of orchids.
A forest bathers paradise and ideal for both hiking and biking. Ntchisi is the perfect layover between Lilongwe and Mzuzu, and nestled amongst manicured lawns and beautiful views, is the only accommodation in the area - Ntchisi Forest Lodge.
The Straw Coloured Fruit Bats of Lilongwe
Maula Parish, Located just around the corner from our Lilongwe offices, annually accommodates part of the great Straw Coloured Fruit Bat Migration that makes the Zambian, Kasanka National Park famous for.
From October and November, Lilongwe skies are filled with chatters and masses of bats, foraging fruit from peoples gardens.
We often head across to the Parish after work hours and wait for the hundreds of bats to start to wake, leaving their roosting trees and flooding the Capital city skies.
The African Bat Conservation Team in Malawi annually monitor these bat numbers, migration routes and feeding habits. And it's always a special addition to a tour in Malawi to learn more about this species and their incredible colony ranges across Central Africa.
So if you're in Lilongwe between October and December, stick around at our Land and Lake offices and join us to watch part of the largest Mammal Migration in the world.
These incredible sandstone structures located just outside of Liwonde, in the Machinga District in Southern Malawi.
Also known by locals as "Malape Pillars" or the Malawi Canyon.
Here comes with its own colonial stories and folklore, and its certainly a beautifully sculpted area that is not found on many, if any, tourist maps of Malawi.
If you're in the area and in a 4x4 car - This makes the perfect picnic stop!
Malawi is made up of a range of experiences, opportunities and locations that can keep a regular visitor entertained for hours on end.
Highlights like taking the train from Limbe to Liwonde, or taking a food tour of Lilongwe, crafting wooden toys on the Golomoti Pass, or even taking a bicycle taxi into town are all additional little experiences that are overlooked when it comes to creating the perfect Malawi expedition.
Including some of these secret little locations or activities can truly make the difference in your holiday, making it less generic and more Malawian!
Spend some time on your travels this year by experiencing something not many people do, or that maybe many other people overlook.
If anything, it'll give you an incredible story afterwards.