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Spit into two areas, the Old Town and the City Centre, Lilongwe is the capital city of Malawi, and has a pleasant, comfortable climate, and is friendly, personal and full of interesting contrasts; gardens of maize grow within sight of Parliament, hyenas can be heard laughing at night in most parts of the city, and people from the most rural of areas cycle through the busy traffic with huge bundles of produce on their backs, ready to sell at market.
The city is located on the banks of the Lilongwe River, and the most picturesque area, Old Town, can be found in this location. The Old Town is the main business and shopping area, with plenty of shops and services including two mosques and a minibus rank. This section is separated from the City Centre by a large area of brachystegia woodland that forms the Lilognwe Nature Sanctuary; here most of the embassies and airline offices are found.
There are lots of excellent cafés and restaurants to eat at, including most types of international food for a good price and excellent quality. There are several bars and nightclubs to visit, with most serving good food and featuring regular dance and karaoke nights that are an enjoyable way to spend an evening. Lilongwe has a lively population, and the locals are friendly and enjoyable to spend an evening chatting with.
The city is the perfect place to pamper yourself; there are plenty of hairdressers, nail and beauty salons, and the people who work in them are just as good as Western hairdressers and beauticians. The prices are a fraction of those elsewhere, and this is an inexpensive way to make sure you feel at your best.
Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary is a good place to visit, with a small zoo that is a prelude to the trails that run through the reserve, and give you a few hours of happy hunting in perfect safety to look for hyena, otter, porcupine, grey duiker and bushbuck. Vervet monkeys and crocodile are also there in large numbers. The main attraction, however, is the birding, with more than 150 species of birds identified including three types of kingfisher, brown snake eagle, weavers, finches and many more.
The cities Mausoleum that has been recently rebuilt is an interesting place to visit, with an enlarged memorial to the HE Dr Kamuzu Hastings Banda, the ‘life president’ of Malawi of particular interest.
One of the main Malawian crops is tobacco, and a good many of the tobacco farmers can be seen on a night out in the bars and clubs. More interesting than talking to them, however, is a visit to the tobacco auction floors where 10,000 bales of tobacco are sold every morning. It can be mesmerising to spend a day here as buyers, sellers and auctioneers go through the towers of 100 kg bales as they are swiftly shifted.
Outside the city there are places to visit that make good day trips; the Tuma Forest Reserve spans the Rift Valley Escarpment, and protects habitats from brachystegia woodland to bamboo forest to evergreen forest. The largest attraction here is the opportunity to track large mammals on foot. There are plenty of these in the reserve, including buffalo, elephant, baboon and a variety of antelope species.
The Nkoma Mountain and Nkoma Mission is an hour southeast of Lilongwe, and has amazing Dutch Cape architecture and a small craft shop which are notable for the wonderful atmosphere of the hospital/mission/church. Nkoma Mountain is a huge mountain that is a good challenge for any hiker.
Dedza Pottery, Nkhotakota Pottery and Nyanja Art Studio are all excellent places to see traditional pottery being made, learn about the techniques being used and even design your own pottery to make and take away.