Malawi is known as the Warm of Heart of Africa, renowned for it’s stunning shores and warm tropical waters of Lake Malawi and the friendly nature of its people. Today, the country is becoming a hot safari destination due to Africa Parks revitalizing many depleted reserves. The capital, Lilongwe, is often overlooked by the grandiose of the lake and the unique flora and fauna of its parks. Lilongwe, however, is a rustic and unique town and certainly worth a visit, even if only for 24 hours.
The origins of Lilongwe lie in a small fishing village on the banks of the Lilongwe River that existed for centuries. Due to its close proximity to Zambia and Mozambique it is an important transportation hub for central Malawi. During British colonial rule, Lilongwe became a strategic administrative centre and after independence, the country’s past leader, Hastings Kamuzu Banda who established Lilongwe as the capital city in 1975, encouraged the city’s growth. Today, the city holds much of its buildings from the past and with an influx of people it is steadily growing. Through some insider knowledge from African Fusion Travel, Lilongwe opens up as a friendly and laid-back city with a wide range of things to do and see.
Lilongwe is divided into two contrasting parts, the modern Capital City and the streets and markets of the Old Town. In the new side of town, stands a WWI memorial, known to locals as the “clock tower”. The tower is a memorial to the soldiers who fought for the British in the First World War. Adjacent to the tower is a statue of Dr Kamuzu Banda who brought Independence to Malawi. The setting offers a rich history and is surrounded by dense indigenous bush that provides great walking trails. If you’re lucky enough, from time to time, you’re allowed to climb to the top of the tower where you can see great city views and a chance to catch the sunset.
Lilongwe today, is a large multicultural hub and therefore boasts an impressive amount of places to eat and drink with authentic and diverse laid-back cafés and restaurants. You can eat your heart out at great Italian spots – Mamma Mia and Mediterraneo. Or if you’re in the mood for Indian cuisine, try a delicious curry at Bombay Palace. Lark café is definitely a stand out with delicious artisan food for all your breakfast and lunch needs and is a popular coffee and teahouse championing local produce from across the country. The recently refurbished, Latitude 13° is a stylish and chic hotel come bar and restaurant. The stunning decor from around Africa alongside a beautiful pool and calming surrounds is a fantastic spot day or night. Finally, for more of an authentic Malawian food experience, visit the market in the Old Town. The market is often busy and chaotic, yet there are fascinating things to find and see. Freshly caught fish from Lake Malawi are delivered at dawn and other food traders bring a selection of exotic African produce.
If shopping is on your list, Old Town Mall is a small and calm setting with pop-up shops, a gallery and African Habitat, a shop which houses exquisite handmade crafts and local art. In addition, Four Seasons is a stunning garden centre that has something for everyone. The grounds have some of the best places to eat and drink accompanied by charming shops. If you’re lucky enough to be in Lilongwe on a Sunday, Four Seasons hosts a jazz night where guests can enjoy a sundowner on the lush lawns listening to local artists.
Lilongwe has many bustling markets to get lost in. For a bit of an adrenaline rush, grab a ‘tuk-tuk’ to skirt around town and beat the crowds on the small bumpy streets. The small vehicles give a unique perspective to the bustling city life and are quite the story to tell. Though not for the faint hearted, the market in Area 2 is one of the best. Here you can find a great bargain on many interesting items and the market is full of impressive curios and the iconic Chitenge cloth.
For an active day out, situated on the outskirts of Old Town is the Lilongwe Golf Club. The grounds are set within well-tended gardens and feature an 18-hole championship golf course. Framed by century old trees, the fairways and greens offer a quiet escape from the city and more often than not a chance for great bird sightings. In addition there are tennis and squash courts, a cricket pitch and a swimming pool. For those in need of a little practice, there is also a driving range and putting green and the caddies are excellent and more than willing to give you tips to your game. After a strenuous round of golf, you can sit and enjoy the scenery over a cold drink at the Hazard Bar.
Within the heart of Lilongwe, just off Kenyata Road, The Lilongwe Wildlife Centre provides a sanctuary to injured and orphaned animals. Set in 180 hectares of beautiful woodland, the Centre is Malawi’s only wildlife sanctuary and renowned across Africa. It currently homes on average 200 rescued wild animals and the country’s largest environmental education facility and protects an important urban wildlife reserve. The Centre offers guided walking safaris through wilderness trails that are home to monkeys, duiker, bush pigs and even wild hyena. The area is well known for its prolific birdlife and has an abundance of indigenous plants. There is over 6km of trails running alongside the Lingadzi River and through the dense bush where you are welcome to cycle or bring a picnic. Within the shady and tranquil environs of the Centre, there is also a small café and a quirky and ethnic bar that hosts a “Thirsty Thursday” event on the last Thursday of every month supporting local charities and bands.
Although relatively small, Lilongwe has a unique spirit and lots of hidden gems when you look a little closer. So next time you’re travelling be sure to give Lilongwe a quick visit, you won’t be disappointed.
By Eddie Royle – Marketing Executive at African Fusion Travel