From the lively cities with markets, restaurants, bars and nightlife to the shores of Lake Malaw, incredibly varied topography and stunning scenery, historic, colonial towns and nine national parks teeming with wildlife, Malawi offers visitors a treasure trove of things to do. Even for Africa, this Malwai is a unique experience, made even more so by its hospitable, friendly people.

Trips into the wilderness and wildlife-watching safaris are easily arranged by a number of reputable tour companies, and the shores of Lake Malawi are home to picturesque fishing villages and vacation resorts happy to arrange cruises along the lake and Shire River, well-known for its hippos, elephants and rich bird life. Most popular water sports are available at the lakeside beaches, but for those yearning for a deserted, sandy bay, Lake Malawi won’t disappoint.

The green Garden City and capital of Lilongwe are divided into the Old and New Towns, with the New Town the political heart of the country ornamented by parks and grassy spaces. Between the two is the Lilongwe Wildlife Center, a rescue and rehabilitation facility with a wilderness area containing a wide selection of native fauna. In the Old Town, the Kumbali Cultural Center offers displays of traditional drumming and dancing to a background of live tribal music with a Malawian dinner thrown in. Kiboko Safaris offers half-day tours of the city, while the Wildlife Center provides guided tours of wonders.

The most popular tourist destination is Lake Malawi, part of the Great Rift Valley escarpment which bisects central Africa. Its national park of the same name, set in the southern tip, is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its seminal importance to the study of human evolution. With the lake’s exceptional natural beauty, vast diversity of fish species, islands, rugged landscapes and global biodiversity, it’s an essential attraction. Of course, it’s also a vacation paradise for its warm, ultra-clear water and wide variety of water sports including snorkeling, diving, kayaking, sailing, boat cruises, fishing, waterskiing, and sail boarding. Eco Africa offers several tours here including an eight-day castaway experience on an island if you want to channel your inner Tom Hanks.

Safaris have been the classic way to see African wildlife for over 100 years, although trophy-hunting has, thankfully, been replaced by photography as a means to amaze your friends and family back home. Safaris in Malawi can be anything from a one-day guided tour outside the cities to luxury packages in lodges lasting several weeks. Eyes on Africa creates customized itineraries at different price points, while Wilderness Safaris based in Liwonde National Park, is one of the country’s finest wildlife-viewing regions.

For history buffs interested in Africa's colonial past, a visit to Nikhoakota on the vast inland sea of Lake Malawi is a must. The sleepy port town originated as a group of 19th century tribal villages heavily involved in the Arab slave trade and was the location of a meeting between explorer and missionary David Livingstone, the local headman and the slave traders. The tree under which the confrontation took place can still be seen, and Nikhoakota with its Arab/Swahili influence, is the largest traditional African town in Malawi. Audley Tours can arrange tailor-made visits to the area and Nikhoakota National Park.

The city of Zomba is famous for its British colonial architecture and dramatic Zomba Plateau overlooking the cityscape. The British capital and the first capital of Malawi, Zomba and its traditional market are worth exploring before you set off for a challenging hike across the plateau, with streams, lakes and waterfalls. The view from the highest point some 6,000 feet above sea level is breathtaking, reaching to northerly Lake Chilwa, the Shire River in the west and Mount Mulanje to the southeast. Malawian Style offers guided treks and sightseeing tours based in Zomba.