One of the classic overland routes across Africa is from the thunderous Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe to the big hitting wildlife meccas of the Masai Mara and Serengeti in Kenya and Tanzania, with the paradise island of Zanzibar and the tranquil Lake Malawi en route. Each of those destinations are world-class experiences that are must sees in their own right. Combined, you have one of the world’s great travel experiences with the added benefit of seeing the wonderful African landscape in-between
That being said, the experience isn’t for everyone. These overland tours are often done in an overland truck which is fantastic for the elevated views with its large windows and their ability to go off-road, but they are not a luxury, comfortable coach or a private 4×4. There is a lot of driving – roughly 80 hours in the truck in total, which also means that you’re hoping that you get a good group of people to enjoy the trip with (typically 20 or so will be on the tour). And of course, there is the camping which, whilst there will naturally be a few nights when you stay in rooms with beds, will form the majority of your evenings. Looking back, it is a truly amazing experience, and I’d highly recommend it for those with heaps of energy for an adventure and maybe a little tight on money . . . dare I say a younger traveler? But I think it all really depends on the individual – we saw a couple in their 70s who embraced it and loved the experience, in comparison there were a group in their 20s who struggled. Looking back, the long hours sat in the truck, a few breakdowns and the camping might just push me over the edge! At the time though, in my late 20s, it was fantastic
To shorten, I’d consider flying from Tanzania to Victoria Falls. The major highlights are really in Kenya (the Masai Mara), Tanzania (The Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Zanzibar) and Victoria Falls. You’ll be doing a lot of driving, so the big stretch between Tanzania / Lake Malawi to Victoria Falls you could maybe skip
In 1875, Christian missionaries tried to create a utopian town in what at the time must have felt like the heart of the African continent. Naming it Livingstonia after David Livingston, the embodiment of the pioneer African coloniser, they originally settled at Cape Maclear on the south shores of Lake Malawi, but were forced to abandon the settlement because of malaria and instead looked for a spot further up in the mountains. The spot they found not only avoided malaria, but, because it was up in the mountains on a plain that had a different climate, provided farming opportunities. The missionaries had indeed found the right sight for their vision of Livingstonia utopia
Today, Livingstonia still has that vibe with its tree-lined streets, cooler climate, former colonial buildings such as the church and museum, and separation from the main road that hugs the west shore of Lake Malawi. More than anything, it just feels like a trip to what another future of Africa could have looked like, and a very pleasant detour from the usual spots in Malawi
To get there – you’ve basically got the option of walking from the lake (15km / 9.5miles, will take around 3.5hours and an elevation gain of 850m / 2800ft) or driving up the very windy and bumpy road (takes around an hour). My suggestion is to do a combo of both – get a ride up to the Mushroom Farm Ecolodge, which breaks up the ascent so you only have 7km / 4.5miles and 1.5hours with 220m / 720ft of incline to get to Livingstonia. From here, you can check out the views, the waterfall and the farmland around you without the uphill slog – bear in mind it gets very hot in Malawi!
Where to stay – the Mushroom Farm Ecolodge is the obvious option as it could break up your journey to Livingstonia, but I’d also highly recommend staying by the lake in one of the various campsites nearby. We camped for 2 nights there and you also have the option of rooms available at places like the Hakuna Matata Hostel. It felt quite magical being able to wake up and kayak around this quiet section of lake and a bit of a must if heading up to Livingstonia
Lake Malawi, with its clear waters, beautiful beaches and sheer size (580km / 360miles long and 84km / 52miles wide), is the jewel in the crown for Malawi. There are many ways to experience it, such as one of the high-end private resorts or the hostel scene of Cape Maclear, but a more natural, peaceful and cheaper option is to camp by the beach in the Chitimba area. this area has the advantage of being at the foot walk that leads up to the mystical village of Livingstonia (see here for details on this wonderful experience – Hiking up to the former utopia of Livingstonia from Lake Malawi). Its also a great spot for jumping in a kayak and heading to one of the nearby small islands for snorkelling and general adventuring