Malawi has a massive diversity of beautiful landscapes. The highest peaks in Malawi touch 10 000ft (3 000m) while the lowest point is barely above sea level. This range of altitudes in a small area help to make the landscape of Malawi one of the most varied in all Africa. It is generally a green, lush country, with plateau, highlands, forests, mountains, plains, escarpments and dramatic river valleys. The variety of scenery is a major attraction to visitors and many of the highland areas and forest reserves have good accommodation options, and plenty of outdoor activities available. Malawi is blessed with a rich diversity of flora and fauna and has no less than nine National Parks or Wildlife Reserves. Whilst it may not have quite the sheer numbers of large mammals (particularly predators) as some of its better known neighbours, it makes up for this in other ways. Malawi provides intensive and exclusive wildlife viewing in unspoilt areas of genuine wilderness.
The Malawian people are, without doubt, its greatest asset: friendly and welcoming to a fault. Every visitor is met with a smile and the warmth of the welcome is genuine and long-lasting. With a population of a little more than 14 million, Malawi is one of the more densely peopled countries of this part of Africa. Most of the population is rural, living largely in 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 fifteenth century.
Malawi is considered a safe country for tourists and Malawians are rightfully known for their friendliness. However, the usual precautions should be taken as would be advised for tourists anywhere.
Jan 1, 15; March 3; May 1; June 14; July 6; 2nd Monday in October; Dec 25, 26. Also: Good Friday and Easter Sunday. If a holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, then the next Monday becomes a holiday. Muslim festivals may also be celebrated in some areas.
Snorkelling & Diving
The clear, calm, warm, shark-free and tideless waters with abundant fish populations (over 600 species), and fascinating rock formations make Lake Malawi an excellent place to dive. It is widely recognised as one of the best freshwater diving locations in the world. Visibility can reach 30m at the best times of year (August to December). Even simple snorkelling gives good results in the right places. Swimming with the fish is a favourite pastime in Lake Malawi.
Kayaking & Sailing
Kayaking and sailing can range from an hour or so on the water to a full kayaking expedition or to living aboard a luxury yacht as it sails the length of the lake. Kayaking is proving increasingly popular, particularly in the Lake Malawi National Park. Sea-going kayaks are used to paddle to eco-camps on two deserted islands in the park (Mumbo and Domwe). Canoe expeditions are also on offer at Nkwichi Lodge in the Manda Wilderness Community Reserve
For a simple organised pleasure trip of up to a few hours there is a choice of destinations – places of interest along the shore, or small islands just offshore. Traditional wooden boats or modern fibreglass speed boats are available. Some trips will include snorkelling or fishing along the way.
Thankfully, Lake Malawi is not awash with speedboats, but at some of the lodges it is possible to water-ski. Where this is available, there are also sometimes a variety of other objects that guests can sit or stand on whilst being dragged behind a boat!
Most of the lakeshore lodges will have a sailboard or two for guests to use. Winds are rarely very high, but with the size of the lake, there will always be a breeze.
There’s a wide choice of safari. You can use the customary 4×4 vehicle (most are open) for your game drives or you can really get to know the country and its wildlife on a walking safari. Other options include boat safaris along the Shire river. This is a wonderful way to see the animals close-up as they seem unfrightened by people in a boat. You can float close to the hundreds of hippos and watch the elephants drink just a few metres away. Other close encounters can be had, for example, when tracking elephant in Majete. The famous horseback safaris are back in 2010, an opportunity to ride alongside the antelope and zebra.
Climbing & Abseiling
Rock climbing is largely restricted to the Mulanje Massif where a number of little-used routes up the great granite faces offer experienced climbers a variety of challenges. There are also opportunities for climbing on the Viphya Highlands and escarpments of the Northern Lakeshore. And where there is climbing, there is also abseiling.
Walking & Trekking
Malawi has such beautiful and varied scenery throughout, that walking and trekking is popular at pretty much any location, even along the laekshore. Walks through all of the national parks and wildlife reserves are popular for game viewing but trekking is generally through the cooler, shady forests on the hills and plateaux.
There are a few places around Malawi where horse riding can be enjoyed – scenic locations that can be leisurely explored on horseback. Beginners are welcome and rides will be adapted to suit ability. There is a stables between Chintheche and Dwangw offering rides into the bush and along the beach. All the lodges there offer rides to their guests.
Cycling & Mountain Biking
The change in scene over relatively short distances, and the varied terrain, make Malawi a good country for cycling. The generally good tar of the main roads allow for cycling tours over a few days, for example, along the lakeshore.More challenging mountain biking is provided in the forests and on the plateaux. Many of the newly privatised forest lodges offer mountain bikes for hire and there is an increasing number of trails to explore.
As well as Lake Malawi, rivers and smaller lakes and reservoirs provide varied fishing opportunities. Light tackle will cover most situations and some equipment may be available for hire at the resorts, though it’s always best to bring your own.
Quad Bikes & 4×4 Trips
With rugged terrain and some ‘challenging’ tracks once off the main highways, quad bikes and larger off-road vehicles offer a motorised way or reaching places otherwise only accessible on foot. Quad bikes are few and far between – currently only on Likoma Island and at the Tyholo Tea Estaes. 4×4 trips are available across some of the forested highland areas.
Although Likoma lies just off Mozambique, the island remains the property of Malawi, its coastline- dotted with lone baobabs alongside crystal waters– taking on the flavour of the motherland. The sandy 17km square island, with its mango trees and rugged mountain peaks, is flat and unprepossessing, but its lanquid beaches are lapped by clear waters. Lying in splendid isolation off the mountain-backed beach of Mozambique’s mainland, Likoma can be difficult to reach and the only proper-albeit rather unreliable-way to reach the island is via the MV Llala II, the dilapidated but enchanting old lake steamer that once a week ferries passenger between Likoma and Mozambique. The island itself is tranquil and laid back and, apart from the weekly performance of the malipenga dancers pandering almost exclusively to a tourist audience, there are few notable landmarks. The most significant is the cavernous St Peter’s Cathedral, built along the lines of Winchester Cathedral by Anglican missionaries in the early 1900s. St Peter’s remains the focal point of the island today, with many locals working virtually all year every year on maintaining the colossal remnant of Likoma’s colonial past.
Known as Lake Nyassa or Lago Niassa, depending on what bank you are standing, the 23 000km square Lake Malawi is the third –largest inland body of water in Africa and covers more than a half of Malawi’s territory. The 585 km of its length along the southern Rift Valley comprises a diversity of habitats for array of wildlife. As a result the waters of the lake- encircled by mountain slopes- have formed the mainstay of Malawi’s economy and nucleus of its tourism industry. Blessed with tranquil beaches the most important settlement along the shore is the fishing community at Chember, who depend on Lake Malawi for the livelihood. Numerous dug-out vessels ply the lake surface, netting fish that forms the staple diet of Malawi. The lake has one of the richest populations of freshwater fish in the world and most species found here in the lake are endemic. Casual angling is forbidden in areas, including Cape Maclear National Park, and surrounding islands, although water-based leisure activities are encouraged.