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Malawi

Map of Malawi

Malawi (also spelt Malaŵi) is in east Africa, bordered by Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique. This is a country known as ‘the warm heart of Africa’ - Malawians are known to be particularly friendly toward visitors.

Malawi is a long thin country that Nature-lovers adore with national parks and game reserves, mountain hiking and plateau trekking, providing a very beautiful and varied landscape.

Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in Africa and its beaches and tropical fish are breathtaking. The Lake with its immediate shoreline and the valley of the Shire River which drains it, lie within the Great Rift Valley of eastern Africa. Dominated by the Lake, as well as the Great Rift Valley that cuts through the country from north to south, a series of escarpments climb into the Central African Plateau. This undulating land is punctuated by hills and forests. The lake is home to the biggest variety of fish species - more than any other freshwater lake on earth. Most of the species of fish are protected within the Lake Malawi National Park (at its southern tip).

The Lake with its immediate shoreline and the valley of the Shire River which drains it, lie within the Great Rift Valley of eastern Africa.

The highest peaks in Malawi reach 10,000 ft/3000m while the lowlands are barely above sea level. These great contrasts help make the landscape of Malawi one of the most varied in all of Africa where one can see across countless miles of varied and magnificent surroundings. The forest reserves and uplands offer activities from climbing to trekking, mountain biking to bird-watching, or simple tranquillity in surroundings of incredible natural beauty.

local Malawian girl with fishImage courtesy of Robin Pope Safaris

History and Background
The Malawian people are without doubt the country’s greatest asset – friendly and welcoming!

With a population of a little more than 14 million, Malawi is one of the more densely populated countries of this part of Africa. Majority of the population live in rural, fascinating traditional villages. Many of today’s Malawians are descendants of the Bantu people who moved across Africa and into Malawi for hundreds of years up to the 15th century. The Chongoni Hills near Dedza have stone-age rock art and are another of Malawi’s World Heritage Sites.

Malawi grew from this migration and the wars of the early African tribes and kingdoms which flourished throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. The 19th century was the most significant in Malawi’s history, bringing with it inter-tribal skirmishes, the arrival of European traders and the horrific slave trade; followed by missionaries including Dr David Livingstone who vowed to end this appalling human tragedy. Ultimately, the arrival of British missionaries heralded the beginning of British colonial rule. Independence was finally granted in1964 with Dr Hastings Banda becoming the first prime minister of the then-named Nyasaland. Banda made himself President for Life of Malawi but his autocratic rule ended in 1993 when Malawians voted for a multi-party democracy in 1994 with Bakili Muluzi becoming the new president.

There is a rich cultural mix in Malawi with the Chewa being the most numerous tribe, followed by the Yao, Nyanja and the Maravi. The Tumbuka are prominent in the north. Each tribe has contributed to the current Malawian culture, whether be it in dress, dance or language. Masks are commonly used in various ceremonies and dance and these are usually tribe specific.

cultural ceremony

Safari Attractions in Malawi
The surface of Lake Malawi is 1550ft (470m) above sea level with spectacular mountains dropping into the lake in the north, while the south is less dramatic and enjoys long stretches of Golden beaches and crystal clear waters.

Lake Malawi is one of the cleanest fresh water lakes in the world and is safe for water-sports and swimming. While sports fishing is limited on the lake, there are in excess of 500 endemic cyclid fish which can easily be viewed around any rocks along the lakeshore. Most of the species of fish are protected within the Lake Malawi National Park (at its southern tip).

In the past lake Malawi, like many areas of fresh water in Africa, has received negative publicity for bilharzia. Though it has been recorded in areas of the lake, these have only been restricted to marshy areas and areas where rivers flown into the lake. The bulk of tourist resorts and lodges on the lakeshore regularly check their water and have found the areas safe for swimming. The lake is a special and spectacular area which should form a vital part of any itinerary to the area.

The islands of Chizumulu and Likoma are both fairly low-key places to unwind and take in the spare beauty of the surroundings in Lake Malawi. Likoma is the larger of the two. It's not exactly an island paradise, but it does have some excellent beaches and snorkelling, with baobab trees scattered about. It's a densely populated place, with 6000 people packed into 17 sq km. Although this northern island is in Mozambique waters, they are territorially Malawian. It is linked to the country by steamer, and is highly populated. The island is covered in plantations of cassava and rice.

The coastline is alternatively rocky, with a few sandy bays, as well as marshy in certain areas, and you need to watch out for crocodiles when swimming or snorkelling. It is best to ask the locals where the safe places are to swim. The market is an interesting and lively place, with huge baobabs. There is a dhow ferry running between Likoma Island and Chizumulu Island, which is a good place to spend a day snorkelling or diving.

Image courtesy of Robin Pope Safaris

Liwonde National Park is the best national park in the country, well-managed with a good stock of game and beautiful scenery. Lying south of Lake Malawi, it includes part of Lake Malombe and the Shire River. Thousands of hippos and crocodiles live in the Shire, and hundreds of elephants can be found in the park. There are several species of antelope and a pair of re-introduced rhinos. Most of the game can be seen in the northern part of the park. There's also great birdlife.

Much of the park closes In the wet season from November – April, much of the park is closed, though the main lodge and camp stay open – access is usually by boat. The park is located 205km southeast of Lilongwe. The main gate is 6km east of Liwonde, from where there's no public transport available to the park, but hitching is feasible, especially on weekends. Buses and trains run between the capital and Liwonde.

Mount Mulanje offers stunning scenery, easy access, clear paths and well-maintained huts, making it a fine hiking and trekking area. The mountain rises steeply and suddenly from the undulating plain to the highlands, surrounded by near-vertical cliffs of bare rock, many over 1000m high.

Mulanje peaks (including the highest in the country, Sapitwa, at just over 3000m) often just above the mist that frequently surrounds the upper slopes, giving the mountain one of its local names, 'Island in the Sky'.

You can reach most of the peaks without resorting to technical climbing. If you're thinking of visiting, be prepared for sudden downward shifts in temperature, rain and poor visibility at any time of year. Buses run between Blantyre and Mulanje town, which is located in the South Eastern corner of Malawi, about 290km southeast of Lilongwe.

In the southernmost tip of Malawi, Mwabvi Game Reserve is the country's smallest (under 350 sq km) and least-visited reserve. It's virtually a wilderness, with a hilly landscape of sandstone ridges, rocky gorges, fast-flowing streams and mopane woodland.

Cactus plant

The scenery is unlike any other part of Malawi, and there are spectacular views over the Shire and Zambezi Rivers. Sadly, the place has been neglected and has suffered from poaching, leaving little large wildlife. Getting there and away generally takes a car and great determination. The gate is reached from the main road between Chikwawa and Nsanje.

Most visitors head for the small, restful village at Cape Maclear with its offshore islands which are part of the park. Equally popular is the Nkhata Bay to the north, about 50 km from Mzuzu. This is Malawi’s most scenic lakeside town with its beaches and various water activities.

It is difficult to imagine that this beautiful town is not somewhere on the Indian Ocean with its beautiful stretches of white, sandy beaches lapped by the gentle waves of Lake Malawi. The Bay is actually a number of small bays, with winding dirt roads connecting them, and at each bay there are a number of different restaurants and hotels to give them all a very different feel.

Also along the length of the lakeshore are numerous traditional fishing villages, and the fishermen, in their dugout canoes, form a quintessential postcard silhouette against the spectacular golden sunset.

Lazy days can be spent lying on the beaches, and young traders will bring their wooden carved wares to you for bargaining.

Pumulani Lodge - ariel view

Image courtesy of Robin Pope Safaris

We have other Malawi Attractions that you might want to visit on your Malawi Safari. Please contact us for further details.