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Malawi

Malawi is a small country in southern Africa, and holidays to Malawi are very relaxed affairs. Malawi is a densely populated nation, with very famously friendly people. Malawi has few safari areas, none of which are very famous. Tourism is still relatively low in Malawi. Watching local children play around the lake, you’ll quickly understand why Malawi is promoted as the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’.

The main tourist attraction of the country is Lake Malawi, which stretches for over 300 miles and covers more than 20% of the country. These clear, mineral-rich waters teem with countless, brightly coloured cichlid fish, most of which are endemic. Away from the lake, there are some game reserves like Liwonde National Park, Nyika National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve which offer some unique wildlife safaris.

Likoma Island

Far offshore from Chintheche (Malawi), but only 7km from Mozambique, lies a small island covering an area of 17km², called Likoma Island.

The Island has a small town, Likoma Town, and (amazingly) here you will find St Peter’s Cathedral – the third largest cathedral in Central Africa! Built in 1903, this remarkable building is about the same size of Winchester Cathedral and is of real architectural and cultural interest. The inside does not only find a lovely working cathedral, but also a great deal of carved soapstone and stained-glass windows kept in perfect condition.

The island’s sandy beaches and secluded coves have some of the best snorkelling and diving in Malawi – and there’s just one lodge here called Kaya Mawa.

The Lakeshore of Lake Malawi

There are a various places to stay around Lake Malawi, including a number of lovely beachside retreats, in different areas of the lake. ‘Kayak Africa’ offers the opportunity to see the lake from your own kayak, whilst staying in lovely safari tents on small islands within Lake Malawi National Park. This is a perfect place for a laid-back holiday after a safari, or for a stand-alone beach trip with a strong African flavour?

Many of the lodges around the lake offer diving and snorkelling. The diving in Lake Malawi is not comparable to diving around exotic coral reefs; however it does offer you the unique experience of swimming in fresh water.

Looking along the lakeshore there are many places to stay. We have agreements and relationships with many operators who have set up lodges around the Lake. Most lodges are tucked into secluded coves, on rocky islands and along the lake’s golden beaches. These are perfect destinations in themselves, each offering a range of activities, or make thoroughly relaxing beach retreats after a safari holiday in neighbouring Zambia.

Liwonde National Park

Liwonde is a must for any Malawi safari; it’s the country’s most famous safari reserve. Come for 3-4 nights and you’ll find a lush, totally tropical park that lines the Shire River. Beside this languid waterway, two small safari lodges, Mvuu Wilderness Lodge and Mvuu Camp, make perfect spots from which to explore, or at which to relax.

Malawi doesn’t have the huge reserves full of big game that you’ll find elsewhere in Africa. However, if you feel like a couple of days of gentle game viewing close to the lake, then Liwonde National Park is ideal. It’s a very lush park and totally tropical in atmosphere.

At the heart of Liwonde National Park is the palm-lined Shire River, whose banks are home to numerous hippos and crocodiles, whilst the adjacent plains and forests harbour elephant, waterbuck, bushbuck, impala and beautiful sable antelope.

The park is also rich in birdlife and includes species from East and Southern Africa such as Boehm’s bee-eater, the palmnut vulture, Pel’s fishing owl and Livingstone’s flycatcher. So while Liwonde is not the biggest or most spectacular game park in Africa, it has a winning ambience and first-class birdwatching.

Nyika Plateau National Park

Nyika, a rolling plateau dotted with stunning mountain outcrops – perfect for walkers and keen riders is found in the northern end of Malawi. The Nyika National Park protects over 3,000km2 of this rich plateau; the place is noted for the endemic herbs and heathers found in its rolling, montane grasslands.

Nyika can be a relaxing start to a trip around Malawi or a cool, refreshing haven after a hot safari. Most visitors spend three or four nights here, and combine it with some time on Lake Malawi.

Large herds of roan, reedbuck, zebra and eland occur here, together with leopard, serval and spotted hyena. That said, Nyika is not primarily a destination for game; rather it is about the feeling of wilderness – the mountains, rolling hills, small streams and waterfalls. There are endemic chameleons, frogs and toads, several unique local birds, and a variety of butterflies that attract enthusiasts from afar.

Majete Wildlife Reserve

In southern Malawi, Majete Wildlife Reserve covers about 700km² of fairly rugged, hilly bush of the Lower Shire Valley – and has been intensively protected and re-stocked with game since about 2003. We visited the park first in 2011, and feel that it’s already vying to become the most interesting wildlife reserve in Malawi.

The eastern boundary of the park follows the wide, fast-flowing Shire River, which drains from Lake Malawi and flows south into the Zambezi River. Passing through Majete it tumbles over a series of rocky rapids – and visiting recently, we’ve never seen pods of hippos and large crocodiles in such fast-flowing water!

In July 2011 a new safari lodge was opened, beside the confluence of the Shire and Mkulumazi rivers: Mkulumadzi. It’s owned and built by Robin Pope Safaris who are best known for their Nkwali, Nsefu and Tena Tena in South Luangwa, but also run Pumulani on the lakeshore.

This lodge has eight very solidly constructed villas, all modern and large with great views over the river. Vegetated ‘green’ roofs together with a clever energy-saving air-conditioning system used to cool the bed, means that the lodge can run largely from solar power!

Combined trips to Zambia and Malawi

Meanwhile, remember that Malawi is particularly easy to combine with Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park; relaxing beside Lake Malawi makes a great end to a safari. Flying from the Luangwa’s Mfuwe Airport to Lilongwe takes around an hour. Contact us for more ideas on how best to combine a beach holiday in Malawi with a safari to Zambia.