Malawi Destination Guide
Although Malawi is a small country, it holds an amazing variety of attractions to explore, with scenic landscapes, wildlife and a wealth of adventure activities. The main attraction is definitely the fabulous Lake Malawi with its crystal clear waters, beaches, multihued and varied fish life, and sporting opportunities. Boating on the lake is a popular activity, be it short trips or cruises lasting days. Though not a big game destination like some its neighbours, Malawi has nine very beautiful game reserves and national parks, all special in their own way.
The game reserves and national parks in Malawi offer excellent hiking and trekking. Some are great for horse riding, still others are better explored on boats or on foot, most offer great views and all are known for their unspoilt wilderness and the variety of animal life.
Use our Malawi Destination Guide below to find out what there is to see and do in this fascinating country. You should also take a look at our Malawi tours, which help you explore the diverse landscape and rich culture. If you would like general information for your holiday in Malawi, visit our Malawi Country Guide.
Things to See & Do in Malawi
Follow the links to the right or scroll further down the page for details on some of the many interesting tourist attractions in Malawi:
The country's most famous highlight is its spectacular Lake running across 600kms, almost the entire length of the country, and is a must see attraction for all visitors to the country. The only freshwater UNESCO World Heritage Site in the world due to its population of over 850 different species of Cyclid fish, it holds more species than all the lakes in America combined and more species of vertebrates than any other lake in the world. With its clear blue waters and fine sand beaches it is Africa's most beautiful inland lake providing some spectacular diving and snorkelling experiences and some beautiful opportunities to relax at the end of a safari.
The park's inland areas are home to an array of wildlife including the vervet monkey, hyena, baboon, leopard, bushbuck, klipspringer and even the elephant. Waders, fish eagle and black eagle are commonly spotted birds. Good accommodation, including lakeside lodges and island retreats, is available within the park at Cape Maclear, Chembe village, Mumbo Island and Domwe Island.
Liwonde National Park is the country's most prolific wildlife park and is quintessentially African evoking every romantic notion of untamed Africa. Fed by the Shire River running along its western border it provides a year round life source to the park's healthy population of wildlife species including Elephant, Rhino, Hippo, Buffalo, Hyena, Zebra, Eland, Waterbuck, Impala, Sable, Warthog, Crocodiles and numerous smaller species of antelope and bird. The Shire River offers wonderful boat safaris to observe the wildlife and an ideal backdrop for a sundowner during your afternoon safari. The best time to visit is in the dry season from August to December. Best places to stay within the park are the market Mvuu Camp and Mvuu Lodge or the rustic camp at Bushmans Baobab.
Nyika National Park in the north of the country is arguably the country's most famous National Park offering vast tracts of land to explore with unique wildlife and outstanding scenery that rivals anywhere on the continent. Established in 1965 Nyika covers about 3,134square kilometers and stretches as far as the border of Zambia. It has the most interesting and attractive montane scenery in Malawi including a plateau which lies at its center which is the main water catchment area for Lake Malawi. Nyika National Park is estimated to have about 100 animal species with game viewing all year round. Some of the animals found include: Burchell's zebra, leopard, and about 40 altitude-loving Elephants. The park is also home to the the majestic roan antelopes, reedbuck, bushbuck, eland and buffalo. Nyika is a bird watchers haven with over 400 bird species. Accommodation is offered in the recently renovated luxury of Chlinda Lodge or the more affordable Chelinda Camp.
The majestic Mulanje Mountain situated in the very south of the country and bordering Mozambique, stands as the highest mountain in Central Africa and provides spectacular climbing experiences and a chance to look down across the ceiling of Africa and over the rolling plains of the country's low lying areas. Accommodation is offered at the stunning self catering cottage, Lujeri Lodge, or the base camp for many climbing routes, Likhubula Hostel.
Thyolo Tea Estates in the south of the country offers visitors a unique chance to experience colonial Africa at its very best with original 19th century tea and coffee estates and beautifully restored colonial mansions evident amidst sprawling tea fields. Nights can be spent inside Satemwa Fairtrade Tea Estate at the beautifully renovated Huntingdon House or the self catering cottage at Chawani.
Kasungu National Park is the second largest National Park in Malawi. With wonderful views and landscape it also has interesting historical sites including cave paintings, an iron-smelting kiln and fortified walls which were once part of an old village can be seen within the park. Mammals include: warthog, zebra, kudu, leopard, reedbuck, civet cat, oribi and bird species like egyptian goose. Many bird species can be found at Kasungu including the yellow-billed duck, osprey, herons, saddle billed stork, wattled cranes and black storks.
Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve is located in one of the main distritcs effected by the past slave trade. Seeped in history, Nkhotakota was once visited by Dr. David Livingstone in 1863 who attempted to convince its ruler (Jumbe) to abandon slave trade and the tree where Dr. David Livingstone and Jumbe met still stands for vistiors to see today. The wetter lands of the reserve make it ideal for visitors all year round. Although better for birdwatchers (the reserve is estimated to have about 130 bird species), the wild nature of the reserve is great to explore on foot and if you are lucky you may spot some mammals including; elephants, kudu, sable antelope, eland, buffalo, leopards and hippos.Accommodation options within the reserve range from the upmarket Tongole Lodge to the midrange bush wilderness lodge on the banks of the Bua River.
Majete Game Reserve was severely poached in the 1980s but now it is considered as the most inspiring conservation area in Malawi. Recently taken over by African Parks wildlife is now growing in numbers and visitors can enjoy wonderful game drives in this scenically beautiful park. Herds of elphants can be tracked on foot and the resident two rhinos can often be seen at the camp waterhole. Other wildlife include kudu, bushbuck, buffalo and zebra.
Lengwe lies in the Shire Valley along the western Mozambican border. A high population of Nyala Antelope are found in Lengwe aswell as samago and vervet monkeys, impala, wathorg, bushbuck and baboons. Lengwe is a birdwatchers paradised with thousands of species including the wooly necked stalked, yellow spotted nectar, boehm's bee-eater and the trumpeter hornbill. Stay at Nyala Lodge.
Vwaza Marsh is located along the Zambian border in northern Malawi. The park is naturally flat leading to large areas of wetland. The park offers excellent game viewing and it is an amazing place to explore on a walking safari. Home to large herds of elephants and Buffalo as well as a variety of antelope such as roan, kudu, impala, puku, eland and Liechtenstein's hertebeest, the best game viewing can be seen around Lake Kazuni near the entrance to the park. The lake provides an all round water source for the thousands of hippos and crocodiles as well as over 50 species of birds including; water fowl, stork, waders, osprey, fish eagle, palm nut vulture, trumpeter hornbill, carp's black tit and Hueglin's robin.
Viphya Plateau lies parallel to the Great Rift Valley and has a series of maginficent inselbergs including the well known elephant rock. The plateau is largely a wilderness area; giving visitors an opportunity to witness a truly natural experience of nature. The plateau has a large pine plantation which provides a natural habitat for birdlife and mammals including; bushbuck, duiker, monkeys, baboons, porcupine, leopard, civet, mongooses and hyenas. Luwawa Forest Lodge is a perfect base to explore the area.
Zomba Plateau is found in the Zomba District. Once the capital city of Malawi, until 1975, Zomba has a rugged history seen today by the many colonial buildings dotted around the winding road up to the plateau. The plateau rises up to 2,085m and it offers a good spot for hiking, walking, riding and birdwatching. Zomba Plateau has the oldest forest reserve in Malawi and now houses a large dam which was constructed as a water reservoir in 1999. Above all this plateau is well known for its amazing natural features and prolific bird life including: black saw-wing swallow, mountain wag-tail, Bertram's weaver and the white tailed crested flycatcher. Mammals include: startled mongooses, vervet and samago Monkeys and baboons. Fishing can also be done in the many dams and streams running down the plateau. There are two main accommodation options on Zomba Plateau; Zomba Forest Lodge and the larger Ku Chawe Inn.
The oldest mission centre in Malawi is renowned for its passion for the preservation of Malawian culture. The outer walls of this mission and the poles supporting its roof were designed in such a way that they all tell the history of Malawi. Visiting the mission offers an opportunity to witness the magical skills of local artists through woodcarving, pottery and painting. The mission work ensures that the skills and cultural ideas are transferred to the younger generation of Malawians.
Situated near Mozambique on the east side of the Lake, Likoma Island is stunningly picturesque with beautiful beaches and grasslands. It is a haven for swimming and observing marine life. The island was colonised in late 19th century by Anglican missionaries and the Anglican Cathedral built in 1903 is now a big attraction. Guest houses and other accommodation are available on the island including the luxurious Kaya Mawa Lodge.
Located on Ntchisi Mountain in central Malawi, the Ntchisi Forest Reserve is a splendid tropical rainforest, one of the last in southern Africa. A habitat of several bird species, it is also home to monkeys, antelopes and many types of cats. It offers panoramic views of the valley below, Lake Malawi and on clear days all the way across to the hills of Mozambique. Fantastic little lodge where guests can truly explore the area and volunteer within local communities, Ntchisi Forest Lodge.
Leisure cruises can be arranged on Lake Malawi on a choice of boats including sail boats, canoes and larger boats with onboard cabins. Short trips or days long cruises up and down the lake are available. The Ilala ferry service offers three day long trips covering the length of the lake stopping at villages and tourist spots along the way.
Boating on the Shire River through Liwonde National Park is a wonderful way to take in the wildlife and the scenery.
The waters of Lake Malawi are clear, calm and tideless, making it ideal for swimming, diving, and snorkelling. Numerous colourful fish species makes the waters even more interesting and fun. Sailboarding, kayaking and waterskiing are other popular activities.
Hiking, Trekking and Climbing
Hiking, walking and climbing trails on offer in Malawi is unmatched. The ideal way to explore many of the game parks, reserves and highlands is on foot. Nyika Park, Zomba Plateau, Ntchisi forest, Viphya highlands and Mulanje mountains all have marked trails and paths regularly used by tourists, adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts. Guides are easily available at most places. Rock climbing is best on Mt Mulanje though the place is prone to unpredictable weather conditions such as sudden downpours.
Malawi offers an extraordinarily rich diversity of activities, many of which are only recently becoming known to the main stream market. Visitors can enjoy pottery making at Dedza, a visit to the country's oldest mission at Mua, a dinosaur skeleton unearthed in Karonga, elephant tracking in Majete, dugout canoe (makoro) safaris in Elephant Marsh, fishing in Nkhotakota or cyclid scuba diving in Lake Malawi.
As well as the more mainstream activities of bird-watching, botany, horse riding and mountain biking etc. visitors can explore Malawi's past with visits to ancient rock art in Dedza, David Livingstone's missions in Livingstonia & slave trade tours in Salima as well as delving into the production of the country's agricultural trade with tours to sugar factories, tea and coffee estates, tobacco auctions and beer factories. However, for those seeking something a little more special a visit into Malawi's present day way of life is a must see experience. Visits to local villages and communities, talking with local chiefs, learning about the modern day developments, integrating with local families and taking part in the day to day methods of living within rural villages will provide some extraordinary experiences and some truly educational insights into Africa's past, present & future. Read more.