Discovering Livingstonia, Malawi


In 1875 a group of Scottish Missionaries set off for a region surrounding Malawi in Central Africa with one goal in mind; start a successful mission which will ultimately benefit the local population. This of course consisted of teaching Christian education and healthcare to rural village people, all the while spreading the word of God. They were commissioned by the Free Church of Scotland (a powerful entity at the time) to travel to Nyasaland near the Zambezi River to follow in the shoes of the famous Central African explorer David Livingstone.

The Scots first attempt at setting up the mission is in present day Cape Maclear, Malawi. It is a beautiful spot found at the southern tip of the inland lake, also home to Africa’s only fresh water national marine park.

Unfortunately this mission failed miserably as many died within the first few months of Malaria. Full stop. Time to switch up the location folks, this isn’t working so well.  The missionaries decided to move the location north to the current town of Bandawe (not much to see), also along Lake Malawi. Without the help of altitude, smoke and wind, mosquitos still seem to bother the ever annoyed soul. You know that incessant buzzing in your ear as you try to fall asleep. Unfortunately (again) the second mission spot was plagued by malarial deaths and the time came again to find a more suitable location to spread the word of God.

Enter current day Livingstonia, Malawi. The lost missionary’s village in the high hills of Central Africa and Northern Malawi. This place is quaint, quiet, picturesque, and beautiful. A gem.

In 1894 Dr. Robert Law, hiked for days into the high lands surrounding the northwest coast of Lake Malawi (Nyasa). He eventually came across a spot 1,500m above the lake and 15km distance from its shores. He camped one night, marked the spot and began to build. 52 years later, he left.

The town is small and quaint, with friendly inviting people who still base their lives on giving praise and thanks to God. Sunday is the day to visit, as the church fills with at the least 500 people all singing hymns in that spine chilling perfect African harmony. There is also a wonderful museum here full of relics from the time Dr Law was established here.

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SEE – Photos & Videos

WSE Travel - Livingstonia, Malawi - Cape Maclear Malawi

Cape Maclear Malawi

WSE Travel - Livingstonia, Malawi - Panorama Mountains

Livingstonia Panorama Mountains – Malawi

WSE Travel - Livingstonia, Malawi - Livingstonia Road

Livingstonia Road, Malawi

WSE Travel - Livingstonia, Malawi - Waterfall

Malawi Waterfall

WSE Travel - Livingstonia, Malawi - Church

Built in 1914 and still holding weekly services to this day

WSE Travel - Livingstonia, Malawi - Bakery

Livingstonia Bakery – Malawi

WSE Travel - Livingstonia, Malawi - road sign

Livingstonia road sign

WSE Travel - Livingstonia, Malawi - Panorama

Livingstonia Panorama

WSE Travel - Livingstonia, Malawi - School

Livingstonia School

WSE Travel - Livingstonia, Malawi - Monkey

Livingstonia, Malawi – Monkey

WSE Travel - Livingstonia - Lake Malawi Sunset Jump Shot

Lake Malawi Sunset Jump Shot

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GO – Getting There

The road into Livingstonia is bad… actually, it’s really bad. It took me 3 hours to hike the 15km trek up into town. There is no public transport available and it is impossible to drive the road without a 4×4 vehicle. This simple fact alone tends to keep the culture hungry crowds away and often deters many a tourist. In short, Livingstonia has been kept very much frozen in time. The 2,500 population is self-sufficient with a local hospital, elementary school, high school, bakery, small grocery shops, and a generally stable small economy. I was amazed to learn that some of the residents had never left the escarpment, and it makes sense really, with all services at your door step, why venture into the unknown. Unless you’re a traveller that is.

WSE Travel - Livingstonia, Malawi - Map

Livingstonia, Malawi – Map

View Where Sidewalks End in a larger map

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Do – Activities & Attractions

Coming Soon!

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Stay – Accommodation

There is only one guest house in town and it happens to be the old residence of Dr. Robert Law himself. It also serves as a restaurant, cafe and conveniently the local historical museum. Yes, you can stay in the doctors old guest rooms surrounded by 19th century antiques with a museum display and restaurant in the rooms next door. The house currently sleeps 18 people comfortably for the price of about $8USD per person, per night. Please check The Stone House, Livingstonia in advance for contact info and reservations. There are currently four cabins being built on the property to account for the growing number of tourists. This means that at capacity there would only be about 30 something visitors in the town at any given time.

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Eat – Restaurants

Coming Soon!

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Time – Seasonality & Schedules

Luckily Livingstonia lies high in the Nyasaland Hills and it not as affected by the Lake Malawi coastal weather. From what I gathered from my trip, there is no real better time to visit than whenever you are there which makes for an easy slot into any Africa backpacking journey. The location can get chilly at night do to the relative altitude, but it also detracts mosquitos which is amazing! I visited in August 2012 and it was great.

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Safety – Possible risks

Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.

Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.

Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).

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Pay – How much does it cost?

There is no public transport up to Livingstonia from the main highway. I walked the 15km uphill to visit the town. Luckily it was a beautiful day and the views made up for the trek up. There are private cars and trucks travelling up every so often and almost all will pick up hitchhikers often for a small fee. Once in town the costs are low, food and drink are relative to Malawian local standard and you can easily get by on $30 USD per day including accommodations.

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Responsible Travel – Best Practices

Coming Soon!

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Reality Check – Be Aware

Livingstonia is a must-see location for anyone travelling through Malawi and I am glad that I was able to witness the town as it is today, almost exactly as it was 100 years earlier.

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JOIN US! WSE Travel Packages

This sounds like quite the adventure, right? We thought so too! Though we realize it can be pretty intimidating to get out there into the world on your own, especially when travelling to some of these off the beaten path locations. We love it when our readers give it a shot and try it for themselves! In fact, please leave us feedback if you do!! If trying something ‘this’ adventurous on your own is just a bit outside of your comfort zone, WSE Travel is here to help!

Follow this link for our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Tours – packages that are highly personalized and tailored at your request.

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Have you ever been to an old colonial town that still embodied much of what was left from the days of its re-discovery? Where was it, and how had another civilization changed what was there prior?

Please feel free to share your stories and thoughts in the comment section below!

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WSE Travel - Livingstonia Road, Malawi

Livingstonia Road, Malawi