The landlocked southeast Africa nation of Malawi, that used to be called Nyasaland, is 45,000 square miles of contradiction. On the one hand you've got a country where life expectancy isn't even 50 years old; while on the other you've got a country that offers everything from a mountain vacation to lounging leisurely along the shores of Lake Malawi.

Found in the Great Rift Valley, Malawi might not have one of the best infrastructures, but it is trying. Start at the capital city of Lilongwe where you'll find a wonderful crafts market--just remember that it can get mighty hot & humid during its rainy season (November-April).

It might be OK to complain about the weather, you should be aware that a lot of speech is censored here--and human rights issues are common, right down to imprisonment for perceived homosexuality.

You should also be aware that you'll need a vaccination for Yellow Fever, but one against Hepititis A & B, Typhoid, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), and Tetanus are also a good idea. With your health concerns out of the way you're free to enjoy all the activities found along the shores of Lake Malawi, that runs almost the entire eastern border of the country.

Many locals come to the lake for the Christmas holidays, but you're welcome anytime at the many resorts to snorkel, SCUBA dive, waterski, or sail. Fishing enthusiasts will certainly appreciate the 1000 species of chichlids, as well as catfish, snails, and other fishes.

History and culture lovers will appreciate the Lake Malawi National Park, that's a UNESCO site; as is the Chongoni Rock Art Area.

If its museums you want, then head to Blantyre to the Chichiri Museum--a history & culture museum. A stop to the 19th century St. Michael & All Angels Church is a must too. True nature lovers will no doubt fall for the Viphya Forest, a man-made forest that's wonderful for bird watching. Nyika National Park is another stunning nature area that's also perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding.

All the wonderful sites of Malawi are easily accessible by train from neighboring Mozambique, as well as flights from many international destinations to its airport in Lilongwe. And getting around is relatively simple with buses in all major cities, although taxis are limited. True backpackers will take Malawi's rail system, albeit a very slow and crowded way to travel.

Don't worry about any language barrier, English is the official language--a throwback to the days when Malawi belonged to the British.

When you're ready to go back home make sure you take home some locally made basketry or mask carvings--plus all the memories of your time in a country that's known as tyhe Warm Heart of Africa.

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