From the moment one lands in the capital Lilongwe, you know you are in the warm heart of Africa, in a country with some of the friendliest people on the continent…and wonderful attractions largely centred on the great Lake Malawi.
But while the central feature most often associated with this African country is Lake Malawi with its crystal clear waters, boulder-strewn bays and pristine white beaches, the country has tons more to offer: from historical sites to cultural villages, varying landscapes and scenery, highlands, forests, mountains, national parks, superb lodges, island getaways, kayaking, steamboat cruises, abundant wildlife, over 650 recorded bird species, small but bustling cities, pre-historic archaeological sites, arts and crafts, boat and 4X4 safaris, ancient rock art, and so much more.
Malawi offers visitors the unparalleled combination of one of Africa’s most beautiful lakes, magnificent landscape teeming with wildlife, a choice of no less than nine national parks or wildlife reserves, and a captivating culture. The country is also close and on connecting flight routes to other favourite African destinations such as Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia (with which it shares borders), and Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Strangely enough, despite a quarter of Malawi’s total surface area being covered by the tranquil waters of Lake Malawi that also demarcates over 20% of its borderline, the country is landlocked. Lake Malawi is the third largest and second deepest lake in Africa, and is also the ninth largest in the world. The lake is one of the African Great Lakes and the southernmost in a chain of large lakes in the East African Rift Valley system. The temperate climate of the mountainous northern highlands gives way to subtropical conditions and rolling plains below the escarpment.
For easy reference for tourists visiting the country, Malawi is divided into the North, Central and South Malawi regions. While the northern and central regions are dominated by Lake Malawi, the south has its very own large, but lesser known water body, Lake Chilwa.
The vast freshwater body of Lake Malawi with its clear, clean waters is fringed by beaches of golden sand, with fishing villages and excellent hotels and lodges dotted along its shoreline, as well as several islands just waiting to be discovered. It is a favourite for swimming, kayaking, boat cruises, snorkelling and scuba diving, fishing, or just lazing away the days on the sun-baked sands.
Lake Malawi is home to more species of fish than any other lake and it has about 1,000 species of cichlids, colourful schools of tiny fish that are a favourite with divers and owners of home aquariums. The Mozambique portion of the lake is a reserve, while a portion of the Malawian side of the lake is included in Lake Malawi National Park.
For an unusual adventure several islands can be reached by kayak, small boat or steam boats where eco-camps and lodges offer a total getaway from the rest of the world, some being uninhabited and some even without cell phone connections or electricity. These islands are completely off-grid and some of Africa’s most unspoilt jewels. Among them are Chizumulu Island, Likoma Island, Mumbo Island, and Domwe Island.
Likoma Island is the larger of the two inhabited islands in Lake Malawi, the other being Chizumulu. Both islands lie just a few kilometres from Mozambique and are entirely surrounded by Mozambican territorial waters, but both belong to Malawi. In 1880 missionaries responded to a plea by David Livingstone and established their headquarters on Likoma Island where the magnificent St Peter’s cathedral, the size of Winchester Cathedral in the UK, today serves the local faithful and visiting tourists alike.
But it is the friendly people of Malawi who will make the most lasting impression on any visitor. Some nine major ethnic groups forming a population of over 15 million provide a feast of cultural diversity, with various other foreign cultural influences also present.
The largest concentrations of urban populations are found in the capital Lilongwe in Central Malawi, the seat of government, commerce and industry.
Significant highlands and forests are also found in Central Malawi, including the Dzalanyama Forest Reserve known for its birdlife, the Dedza Highlands, Dedza-Salima Forest Reserve, Thuma Forest Reserve, Dowa Highlands and Ntchisi Forest Reserve. Here you also find the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve and the Kasungu National Park.
The closest point of Lake Malawi to Lilongwe is Senga Bay, an hour and half’s drive from the airport and boasting a range of hotels and lodges overlooking lovely beaches. Further north lies the lakeside town of Nkhotakota, once a centre for the slave trade, whilst around the town of Dwangwa a giant sugar estate covers most of the area. South-east of Lilongwe is the ancient Chongoni Rock Art Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the densest cluster of stone-age rock art found in central Africa. Nearby is Dedza, a pleasant forestry town that is home to a thriving arts and crafts industry.
The Southern Malawi region is the country’s most populous and is dominated economically by the old colonial town, Blantyre, with its modern shops and a number of interesting historical buildings. Zomba was the capital in colonial times and here you still find a gymkhana club, war memorials and colonial buildings that are all worth a visit.
In terms of scenery the area is dominated by the great Shire Valley, through which the Shire River drains Lake Malawi as it snakes southwards to Mozambique and the sea. And while the region is Malawi’s lowest point, just over a hundred kilometres away is Malawi’s highest mountain peak, the great Mount Mulanje which towers over 3000 metres high.
Southern Malawi has more national parks and wildlife reserves than any other region of the country. They include Majete Wildlife Reserve which is currently being re-stocked to become a ‘Big 5’ destination; Lengwe National Park with its variety of antelope, including the beautiful nyala; Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve which is now being developed under a community-based conservation project; the Elephant Marsh notable for its birdlife; Liwonde National Park, Malawi’s premier game park, which offers boat safaris in addition to the usual walking and 4X4 safaris; and Lake Malawi National Park at Cape Maclear.
Lake Malawi National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also in this area, between the port of Monkey Bay and historic Mangochi you’ll find the greatest concentration of hotels and lodges, dotted along a shoreline of wonderful sandy beaches known as the Mangochi Lakeshore.
Mzuzu is the regional capital of Northern Malawi, a small but rapidly growing town. The north is characterised by its great highlands, plateaus and mountains forming a forested spine running from Central Malawi to Tanzania. Within this area is Nyika National Park, the largest in Malawi covering some 3,200km2.
These northern Malawian highlands are also the cause of some of the most dramatic shoreline along the lake, with fishing villages nestling at the base of cliff-like escarpments accessible almost only by boat. Here you will find Chintheche, with some of the most beautiful of Lake Malawi’s beaches. Another town is Nkhata Bay, a bustling lake port that is important to the fishing industry. Livingstonia, set back a little from the lake shore, is a mission settlement high on a plateau overlooking the lake. It has a fascinating history dating back to 1894.
Those who are fascinated by archaeology will be delighted with a visit to the most northerly lakeshore town, Karonga. It is an important archaeological centre with a museum, where the skeletal remains of the Malawisaurus dinosaur have been unearthed nearby, as well as the oldest human remains in the country.
If you want to feel the warm heart of Africa’s beat, coupled to a sense of adventure mixed in with some of the most unspoilt natural scenery in Africa, Malawi should surely be your next destination.
Languages – English (official); Chichewa (common)
Capital – Lilongwe
Climate – Sub-tropical; rainy season (November to May); dry season (May to November)
Time Zone – GMT + 2
Currency – Kwacha (divided into 100 tambala).
Airlines – British Airways and KLM via Nairobi, Kenya, and South African Airways, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airways fly directly to Malawi.
Airports – Lilongwe International Airport, Lilongwe; and 13 local airports, including Chileka Airport, Blantyre.
Entry Requirements – All visitors require a valid passport. No visas required for tourist visits by citizens of most Commonwealth countries, the USA, Japan, most European Union countries and certain other countries.
Health Requirements – Immunisation against polio, tetanus, typhoid and hepatitis A is recommended. Yellow fever immunisation may be required only by visitors entering from a yellow fever zone.
Useful Contact Information
- Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Culture – Tel: +265 (0) 1 775 702 or (0) 1 775 499 or (0) 1 772 702 or (0) 1 775 494; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
- Malawi Tourism Association – Tel: +265 (0)1 770 010; Tel/Fax: +265 (0)1 770 131; Cell: +265 (0) 888 865 250; Email: or firstname.lastname@example.org; Website: www.malawi-tourism-association.org.mw.
- Malawi Tourism Guide – Tel: (UK): 0115 972 7250; Email: email@example.com
- Air Malawi – +265 (0)1 772 132 or 773 680