Malawi gets its first name, “the Warm Heart of Africa”, because its tropical climate, lush vegetation, laid-back attitudes, and friendly people make the country “warm” weather-wise, geographically, and culturally. Malawi gets its second name “the Land of the Lake” because 15% of the country’s surface area is actually comprised of one Lake – Lake Malawi – which happens to be the most beautiful of Africa’s great lakes and the center of Malawi’s tourism industry. Finally, it is known as “Africa for Beginners” because unlike other African nations, Malawi is relatively safe and enjoys more modern infrastructure than many of its continental brothers.
Located in southeast Africa and bordered by Zambia in the northwest, Tanzania in the northeast, and Mozambique in the south, southeast, and southwest, Malawi is a beautiful tapestry of high mountains, lush green fields, and sparkling lakes. Part of the Great Rift Valley runs through this country north to south. The plateaus tower on both sides of the deep trough of Lake Malawi, providing a majestic sight.
Malawi’s most popular attraction is Lake Malawi. However, Malawi is also becoming increasingly well-known for its national parks and wildlife reserves. Many of them are uncrowded and unspoilt, unlike the more popular ones in Kenya and Tanzania. And many of the parks and reserves are also centered around beautiful natural landscapes that can be trekked or toured via a jeep or four-wheel drive vehicle.
Malawi’s tourism is centered around Lake Malawi. This vast lake lies on a deep trough-like rift valley and stretches from the north all the way to Mangochi in the south. It contains more species of fish than any other lake in the world. Some have estimated the number at more than 1,000. Some of the rarest tropical fish are found in Lake Malawi, which is also a habitat of numerous birds such as the fish eagle, kingfisher, tern, black eagle, and others. The lake offers various water sports opportunities, including scuba-diving, snorkeling, swimming, sailing, kayaking, and waterskiing. Scuba-diving and snorkeling are particularly popular, as many visitors enjoy the brilliant colors of the underwater fishes. Be sure to try taking one of the cruises offered on the lake, which takes passengers between Karonga and Monkey Bay – mountain scenery and great food awaits. The best time to visit Lake Malawi may well be in July when the world’s longest freshwater sailing race takes place. Be careful not to contract bilharzia. The resort areas, however, are typically bilharzia-free.
Lake Malawi National Park
At the southern extremity of the lake close to Monkey Bay, you’ll find Lake Malawi National Park. It opened in 1980. This is the best place to snorkel and scuba dive. You’ll find numerous tropical fishes, as well as various wildlife, including specialties like the vervet monkey, klipspringer, and bushbuck. There are excellent camps, luxury guest houses, and hotels along the lakeshore and on the two deserted islands.
Liwonde National Park
Liwonde National Park is the most popular of the national parks in Malawi. It is just south of Lake Malawi. Flowing along the eastern border of the park is the River Shire, which is floated by boat safaris. The river is the habitat of hippos, crocodiles, and elephants. Other game you’ll see in the park include rhinos, antelopes, lions, leopards, buffalos, cheetahs, and one of the greatest set of birdlife in Africa. Accommodations include safari lodges, luxury cabins, and camping sites. Boats and vehicles can be rented. Alternatively, visitors can choose to hike and trek the park.
Nyika National Park
Nyika National Park is located in the far north of Malawi and sits at an altitude of about 8,200 feet atop the Nyika Plateau and grasslands. Rolling hills, deep valleys, natural forests, patches of green, and rushing streams decorate the park. Many rare game, birds, butterflies, flowers, and orchids are found in Nyika, which is facilitated by lodges, camps, and luxury cabins. Most of the accommodations are set high up on the edge of the forest overlooking a series of lakes teeming with trout. Be prepared to see zebras, leopards, elephants, hyenas, and antelopes and also try out the horse safaris.
Kasungu National Park
The Kasungu National Park is located in the northwest of Malawi about 100 miles away from Lilongwe. The park is dominated by woodlands and has herds of elephants; they typically appear during the mornings and evenings to drink from the river channels. You’ll also be able to spot large herds of buffalos, antelopes, reedbucks, and kudus in the grasslands, as well as predators such as lions and leopards. The park is facilitated by luxury lodges and self-catered camp sites.
Lengwe National Park
Lengwe National Park is located in the Lower Shire Valley and features rare Nyala antelopes. Other rare antelopes include the diminutive Suni. You’ll also find rare Blue or Samango monkeys.
Vwasa Marsh Wildlife Reserve
Vwasa Marsh Wildlife Reserve overlooks Lake Kazuni and offers the sight of elephants, hippos, buffalos, and different bird species. The reserve is set in open woodlands, grasslands, and marsh and is absolutely pristine. Visitors can stay at the luxury reed huts that have been set up.
Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve
Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve is another wildlife viewing area, but it is largely undeveloped. The game at this reserve includes lions and elephants. Accommodations are set up along the lakeshore.
Malawi has several lakes, forests, beaches, and other natural settings that provide visitors with opportunities to embrace the outdoors. Cape Maclear near Monkey Bay, for example, is a beautiful sandy beach in Lake Malawi National Park that is popular among tourists. The lake is great for fishing. World-class accommodations line the beach. And kayaks and luxury yachts are often seen dabbling in and around the lake and its islands.
Another lakeshore resort is Senga Bay, which is near Salima. The lake features an offshore island known as Lizard Island, which has a variety of eagles and lizards.
The Nkhotakota is another lake destination popular for water sports. There is a beautiful strip known as Chintheche that is lined with excellent accommodations.
Likoma Island near the Mozambique shore is also worth a visit. It offers excellent swimming off the beaches and is facilitated by luxury lodges.
Fishing is best done on the southern lakeshores of Lake Malawi. You’ll find yellow fish, lake tigers, and lake salmon. Anglers should visit Chelinda on Nyika Plateau, known for its trout. The rivers of the Nkhotakota Game Reserve, on the other hand, are better known more for its lake salmon.
Rock climbers and mountain trekkers should visit the Mulanje Massif, a block of mountains that rise as high as 10,000 feet at Sapitwa. The Massif is accessible and you can hire guides. Forest huts are scattered throughout.
The Nyika Plateau is great for walking, trekking, climbing, and horseback riding. Excellent trails lead to Zomba and Viphya Plateaux, and along the way are climbing spots. Some of the challenging slopes include Dedza, Ndirande, Chiradzulu, and Michiru. Safari on horseback is popular on the Nyika Plateau as well. There is a dressage school on the Zomba Plateau, which itself features vast forests, waterfalls, and campsites and picnic areas.