Mount Mulanje: Island in the Sky
As if you needed another reason to visit Malawi… This beautiful backpacking gem is a serious must visit. It has the most gorgeous lake in the entire world, kind locals, and super cheap prices. And if you can plan your trip to arrive in July, you’ll be just in time for the Mount Mulanje Porters Race.
Mount Mulanje, also known as the Island in the Sky, is around 40 miles (65 km) east of Blantyre. It’s the highest mountain in south central Africa, and is home to plant life not found anywhere else. It’s even said that the scenery from, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, is inspired from Mulanje– although no one knows for sure if JRR Tolkien ever visited it.
The Mount Mulanje Porters Race
The competition began in 1996. Originally it was only for porters (the men you can hire to carry your travel gear up the mountain) and tourist guides. Over the years, it began attracting national athletes, professional runners, and now is open to anyone.
The course is treacherous. You’re running up a mountain for goodness sake. It’s rocky. The path is small. And you definitely don’t want to trip.
The trail starts at the base of the mountain at Likhubula Valley. Runners follow up the path until they reach Chambe Plateau (2500 meters about sea level) then run next to Lichenya Plateau before making their descent. When you finally get off the mountain you’re greeted at a huge finish line and can enjoy music, food, and cultural events the rest of the day.
And in case you still haven’t gotten the idea, this is a hard race. The fact that so many porters run it (men who have climbed this mountain daily for years and years!) should give you a clue. This “extreme sporting event” is truly extreme.
At the same time, there are backpackers and travelers from all over the world who particpate too. Not all of them are great runners. Some do it just for fun. They might not be first down the finish line, but they have a great time. If you know anything about Malawi, you know the locals are warm, kind, and like to have a good time. That’s the spirt of the day.
Will Jameson, who has run it twice says, “It hurts! But it’s worth it-an incredible experience awaits all those brave enough to take on the Island in the Sky.”
Jameson also points out some important health tips including,
Mount Mulanje Race
Whether you’re a serious runner or just a backpacker passing through, make sure you sign up for the Porters Race. There’s a small fee, but the experience is well worth it.
Personally, I don’t think you have to volunteer in Africa. Just traveling is an incredible experience for you and very beneficial for locals. But if you want to run for a cause, check out FOMO which helps support over 5000 orphans in the Mulanje area.