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The Warm Heart of Africa

I have just returned yesterday from the most fantastic holiday journey around Malawi and Zambia and I’m pleased to report that both countries are just as friendly, warm and beautiful as ever. What a combination of countries – I don’t think you can beat it and there really is something for everyone, whether it’s a first time visit to Africa or someone who has been to Africa on safari many times and is looking for something really different, and something “real”.

I first visited Malawi as a backpacker in 1994 and out of all the countries I have travelled around in Africa I can still safely say that nothing much has changed here and it has not been disturbed by too much concrete and development which is not often the case when revisiting much loved places these days. I also worked in the remote island location of Kaya Mawa in the north of the lake on Likoma Island in 2006 and I got the chance to see a bit more of Malawi then which was great.

Having revisited in the last two weeks the island is as friendly and relaxed as ever and I can whole heartedly recommend it to any beach lover. There are not many places in Africa where you can go off on your own on a quad bike, mountain bike or just on foot to go and explore an island and meet some of the local fishermen and their families who are so welcoming and smiley. It’s not called the Warm Heart of Africa for nothing. And the Flintstones-style rooms have been refurbed to the highest degree offering much more space and direct access to the lake.

The Lake is just the most wonderful place for anyone whether young, old or honeymooners – likewise for those wanting to completely relax on holiday or for those bursting to do lots of fun activities! But I do also feel that it is very important as a great family destination – and a gentle place to perhaps introduce young ones to the joys of the underwater world whether just snorkelling through the lovely crystal clear fresh water or trying their hand at diving.

The water visibility is just so clear and there is always some point in the day when the water is as flat as a pancake and just completely inviting… somewhat more so than jumping off the side of a boat in the ocean to swallow salty water and feel slightly overwhelmed on a first time dip into the underwater activities! No sharks or sea urchins to worry about here and I had never really appreciated the difference in snorkelling in fresh water as opposed to salt water, it is much easier and more pleasant for learners in particular!

I also managed to do some wonderful safari in Malawi too – I visited the wonderful new Robin Pope Safaris Mkulumadzi Camp in the Majete Wildlife Reserve and see how that is shaping up and it was just stunning looking over the river in total luxury!

We saw plenty of elephants from the hide having our sundowner and there is a good chance of seeing rhino too – and they had just had two leopard reintroduced from the Kruger National Park so an exciting development there. At the well established Mvuu Lodge in the Liwonde National Park as well, we had great hippo and elephant sightings by boat particularly (100 crossing the river at one stage) and it is a birder’s paradise.

There were more properties that I had the pleasure of visiting in Malawi too and it was certainly all very active with lots of kayaking, swimming, walking, biking, numerous village and project visits and a great chance to immerse yourself in the local culture.

Zambia was just as impressive and raw as ever – having worked in the South Luangwa National Park it was great to revisit and to get straight out in to the deep bush camps of Norman Carr Safaris where the focus in on walking. We stayed in three very different camps here and the reeded rooms made a welcome change from being in a tent and allowed a lovely breeze on some very hot October nights.

The wildlife experience is just as thrilling as ever here and we did not see a single other car or tourist for a few days which is pretty impressive in any African National Park, let alone one where the game is so good – we were miles away from the main gate which is somewhere where you can see a few more cars. The carmine bee eaters were busy in their bankside colonies and you can’t beat the thrill of seeing a lion on foot – luckily a safe enough distance away to not feel threatened! Again, elephants everywhere.

We ended with possibly the thing I’m most proud of – I managed to get myself into the Devil’s Pool on the very edge of Vic Falls on Livingstone Island. No mean feat for someone who suffers from paralysing vertigo and had anxiously studied all the You Tube clips in advance! But I was not going to miss out on this and it was the perfect time of year to do it as the Falls are relatively low at the end of the dry season so how could I refuse. It is one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life and one that I would recommend to anyone! The guides on Livingstone island were just fantastic and have been there for many years standing on the edge of the pool, centimetres from the edge of the Falls taking photos of us thrill seekers and I felt 100% secure with them.

Whilst the area is busy due to the mighty Falls and the many adrenalin activities related to them, you can still get away from the crowds and justify a good few nights in the area whether you go for an intimate island experience at Sindabezi or a trip into the area’s fascinating history at The River Club where the owner Peter Jones will educate you in such a fun and interesting way with stories from the past.

Amongst other things, we had lovely sundowners on the river in the evening where we saw buffalo, kudu, many birds, hippos, crocodiles on the Zimbabwe side of the Zambezi and alfresco eating all the way and there are so many activities on offer in the area that I felt I needed a week there alone. I came to the conclusion that if you were short on time for a holiday to Africa you could actually just go there for a week’s half-term or something as you can do day trips into Botswana’s Chobe National Park, or game drives into Mosi Oa Tunya Natioanal Park for your game fix and then there are all these other activities on offer too. Do a few nights at The River Club and then a few nights at Sindabezi Island and mix it all up a bit.

I could go on and on, but please do call me if you think that you might want more information on either country – you can’t fail to enjoy a trip to either country. Fantastic guiding and hosting all the way through it and the most wonderful chance to interact with the friendly locals.