Need to retreat, recharge and connect with nature? Or maybe you’re game for a thrilling backpack through the mountainous region around Malawi’s Rift Valley? The Mushroom Farm is an Eco-Lodge nestled cliffside overlooking the beautiful Lake Malawi, Nyika National Park, the Rift Valley, and Tanzania's Mountain Range. Serving unique travelers who find this incredible gem, The Mushroom Farm offers backpackers an unforgettable opportunity to relax and unwind with breathtaking views from their own balconies, hammocks or place at the bar! Check out former owner Maddy McAllister’s cheerful video showing off some of this unique landscape.
No ordinary accommodation to be found in this eco retreat! Your choices include lodging that varies from a small house made from natural building materials such as subsoil, stone, water and straw, to a cliffside wooden cabin perched on stone pillars, whose interior windows have you gazing directly over the Valley. There’s a three-sided A-frame with an open wall that allows you to wake up to sunrise views over Lake Malawi from your bed. There are a couple of yurt options with grass-thatched roofs, comfy beds and wooden decks with your own fantastic views. With a nod to the international appeal of travel’s ability to discover new friends, the Mini and Big Dorms have multiple single beds, perfect for individual travelers happy to get to know each other. Not to be forgotten are the variety of campsites that The Mushroom Farm offers. Our favorite is the wooden platform built into the tree canopy at the edge of the cliff that sits waiting for you to pitch your tent!
Current owners Paul and Katlyn came to Malawi as Peace Corps Volunteers in 2014. After serving two years in their host communities they moved to Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. They worked here for a year and a half before heading back home to the United States. In March 2020 they moved back to Malawi to buy an eco-lodge set high in the hills overlooking Lake Malawi: The Mushroom Farm, in Manchewe Village, near Livingstonia.
Their goal: create a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future for travelers! This they’ve done, and more.
Every step in the creation of The Mushroom Farm Eco-Lodge echoes a passion for positive impact on the environment. Embodying the foundations of sustainable travel, Paul and Katlyn work directly with the communities of Manchewe and Livingstonia. They provide equitable and sustaining salaries to their team of local staff. Despite the global pandemic’s profound effect on travel, they have been able to keep all 19 members of their team employed.
The Eco-Lodge is a social enterprise. In 2020 The Mushroom Farm began to sponsor a student from the surrounding area to attend the University of Livingstonia and pursue a degree in Education. Historically the Lodge puts back a percentage of its profits into the community every year. In previous years The Mushroom Farm has funded adult literacy groups, secondary school fees for students in Manchewe Village, and a number of projects with women’s groups. The staff love to share this part of The Mushroom Farm’s story with visitors.
When travelers stay at The Farm they take part in a unique ecosystem that strives for self-sufficiency and to become part of the thriving environment within which it exists. The Mushroom Farm operates on 100% solar energy, water is sourced from a natural spring, and composting methods feed their on-site permaculture gardens. The covered, open air cliffside restaurant offers farm to table locally sourced ingredients (and a fully stocked bar).
The Mushroom Farm faces the challenges of running an eco-lodge head on. It is continually finding ways to make their business more eco-friendly. Whether this means researching alternative building methods, finding ways to reduce and recycle waste, or buying more locally (and reducing transport) Katlyn and Paul are constantly reflecting on how they can be kinder to the Earth. The easiest option isn’t always the one that’s environmentally conscious. The Farm works to be creative and intentional with the space and with the community they are building and contributing to. Having the least negative impact on the surroundings and inspiring their visitors to be part of this same goal, is woven into every part of their process.
The ‘eco' in Eco-Lodge is a big part of the operations at The Mushroom Farm! It's permaculture gardens are run by garden manager, Alick Msiska. Around 3 hectares they include many vegetable beds, a green house, fruit orchard, composting boxes, four water harvesting ponds, pig pen, and a wild area for indigenous growing trees. The layout is based on permaculture zones. The gardens have been designed on a slope, with terraced keyhole beds and raised beds. Everything is watered using the Farm’s natural spring which keeps the ponds filled. Using a gravity system and hose piping, it is easy to keep the beds watered – even during the dry season. The Eco-Lodge makes its own natural fertilizer – a mixture of food scraps, pig manure, ashes, dead leaves, green leaves and more.
Remember that Eco-Lodge cliffside restaurant we mentioned earlier? The one that offers you breathtaking views with your meal and evening cocktail? Well, all of the salads and herbs served here are harvested from these gardens. Homegrown fruits and vegetables contribute to the menu as well, and what isn’t grown directly on the property is bought locally whenever possible. Wonder what grows at The Mushroom Farm in the hills of Malawi? Tomatoes, onions, leeks, chives, carrots, green peppers, eggplants, green beans, oregano, basil, mint, chamomile, lavender, bay leaf, curry, beetroot, radish, coriander, pumpkin, many varieties of lettuces, hibiscus, asparagus, guavas, pineapple, coffee, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, lychee, coconut, bananas, cocoyams, chili peppers, pear, grapes, fennel, parsley, dill, peaches, tangerines, and yes, of course … mushrooms.
What’s it like to live and operate an Eco-Lodge that sits high in the hills on the edge of a cliff, deep in the warm heart of Africa? The natural elements play a daily role in life, moment by moment. Sun, rain, wind, fog, monkeys, termites – The Farm’s caretakers and guests experience it all, live and work with, through and around the ever-present influence of nature. It’s an undeniable privilege to have some of the best views in Malawi as part of your daily experience. Almost constantly you are looking down at Chihanga Village and across Lake Malawi to the stunning mountains of Tanzania. It’s a gift Paul and Katlyn and the entire Mushroom Farm team love to share with the travelers who spend time with them, and something they don’t take for granted.
The Mushroom Farm Eco-Lodge gets all kinds of visitors on the mountain. From backpackers on a shoe-string budget who cook their own food and camp in tents, to local Malawians looking to stay in en-suite rooms, be well-dined, and order fancy cocktails! The Lodge can and does cater to everyone, whether they’re exploring, adventuring, or resting and rejuvenating. It's an eco retreat with wide appeal.
There are few unique travel experiences that will inject you so intimately and directly into nature, such as this one. A visit to The Mushroom Farm Eco-Lodge in Malawi will enrich your soul and also give you the opportunity to play a part in enriching the cultural and economic lives of local people. Until you can visit in person, follow and engage with them on social media. Until then, Maulendo otetezeka! Safe travels!