I want to get off the beaten track and away from anywhere really touristy, I'm concerned about safety and want to go somewhere I can get about relatively easily, either by public transport or hire car. Do you have any suggestions?
Malawi is a gentle introduction to Africa
I have the opportunity to take a three-week holiday from work in the next two months and I would like to use the time to visit a place I have never been before. I have travelled fairly extensively in the Middle East, Asia and Europe, so I'm considering an African country. However, while I want to get off the beaten track and away from anywhere really touristy, I'm concerned about safety and want to go somewhere I can get about relatively easily, either by public transport or hire car. Do you have any suggestions?
A place attracting much attention this year is Malawi, a relatively small and undeveloped country and one of the safest in Africa. The current season is cool and dry so this is the ideal time to travel there; three weeks will also be enough time to see a lot of the country at a pace which will allow you to unwind. While occasional theft occurs from lodgings, robberies and violent crime against tourists is extremely rare. The country is now used to tourists without being touristy; in recent years many travellers have returned with positive reports about their experiences in the country, which, while poor, is relatively easy to get around and it may even send you home questioning some of your previously held values and opinions.
Malawi has a number of worthwhile sites including Lake Malawi, which contains over 500 species of fish and is a popular place for snorkellers and divers, most of whom base themselves at Cape Maclear, which has a laid-back collection of travellers' accommodation on a beautiful promontory at the lake's southern end. There are several national parks and nature reserves which offer magnificent landsapes and good opportunities for hiking and wildlife-watching. While it's not a traditional safari destination, it is a good place for birdwatching; you can also find elephants, hippos, antelopes, zebras, buffaloes and occasionally, leopards.
You can get around either in an organised tour or by public transport, or you can hire a car. A network of fast buses operates between major towns and slower buses between the smaller places. Main roads are of good quality, while rural roads are often potholed. If you are in a group, it may be worth hiring a car from a company such as Avis (www.avis.com), which has offices in the capital Lilongwe and Blantyre. Domestic flights with Air Malawi (www.airmalawi.com) are cheap. Hotel accomodation, particularly in rural areas, tends towards the basic, although in the main towns you will find small, attractive hotels and guest houses with modern facilities from US$50 (Dh184) per night. Credit cards are not widely accepted outside of the main cities so it is advisable to take a supply of cash and/or travellers' cheques. You will also need to check with your doctor to see what inoculations you require.
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