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Exploring Tourism in Malawi
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Malawi Popular Places to Visit

Chimwenya Game Park

Chimwenya Game Park is a serene, beautiful and privately owned 500 acre game park, home to the impressive Game Haven Lodge. The park is one of the last remaining indigenous forests and grasslands of the Shire Highlands of Southern Malawi. It lies at Bvumbwe, approximately 20 km south-east of Blantyre shortly before the Thyolo Tea Estates and on the way to Mount Mulanje.

Visitors to Chimwenya can experience exceptional viewing of wildlife which include giraffe, zebra, the ‘big 6′ antelopes: kudu, eland, roan, sable, nyala and waterbuck, and for birdwatchers, prolific birdlife.

As well as the wildlife and beautiful scenery, within the park is the internationally designed and constructed Peter Matkovich 9 hole golf course, which combines the amazing natural environment with a challenging course. The Mbawa Country Club offers a sports bar for post-game refreshment and Chimwenya also has a large children’s’ playground. Lake Bvumbwe lies entirely within the park and is well stocked for fishing.

Chimwenya Game Park, Malawi

Kuti Wildlife Reserve

Kuti is a community-owned wildlife reserve. Thirty percent of all revenue raised is used for projects such as tree planting, rehabilitation of boreholes, and clinics and seedling production to help the surrounding villages. There is a good variety of mammals and bird watchers are in for a treat. As there are no dangerous animals, visitors are free to walk, cycle and drive themselves, though guides are available as well.

Kuti Wildlife Reserve, Malawi

Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve

Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve is located at the southernmost tip of Malawi in the Lower Shire Valley. At 135 km2 it is the smallest of Malawi’s reserves, and also the least accessible. Nevertheless it boasts a variety of habitats and, because of its remoteness, a wilderness atmosphere that is redolent of the old Africa of Livingstone and Stanley. The landscape includes some scenic rocky outcrops and rivers cut through impressive gorges. There is a variety of vegetation from grass to woodland. and even some quite dense forest. It is beautiful at all times of the year though travel through the park is only possible with a 4×4, or on foot.

As something of a forgotten reserve in a remote part of the country, sadly, game sightings have been on the decline in recent years, though it does benefit from its position close to the border with Mozambique, from where occasional large mammals roam.

Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve, Malawi

Lengwe National Park

Lengwe National Park is 350 sq miles (900 sq km) in area and lies to the south of Majete Wildlife Reserve and 50 miles (80km) from Blantyre, in Malawi’s Lower Shire Valley. The vegetation is thicket, with some deciduous woodland and more dense tree growth along the stream courses. The eastern area is quite flat, allowing for a good and well marked network of driveable tracks. To the west the level rises and low hills, outcrops of sandstone, break the skyline.

Lengwe is quite arid outside the rainy season and many of the water courses become dry sandy channels. This aids game viewing because it forces the animals to use the few pools that are permanent supplies of water. There are hides and man-made pools in the eastern area of the park just a short distance from the main gate. The advantages of the hides is that one may see a mix of wildlife together at the water-hole. Though there are predators in the park in the form of leopards and hyena, it is antelope which will be more often seen. These include what is rare for Malawi, the very beautiful nyala. This part if Malawi is the most northerly places in the world to see these magnificent antelope. Impressive kudu also roam the park as do common duiker, the small Livingstone’s suni, bushbuck and impala. Baboon, monkey, warthog, bushpig and some strong buffalo herds are also seen in the park. The birdlife of Lengwe is attractive with about 300 or so species recorded. These include some fairly rare birds and some seen nowhere else in Malawi.

At the gate of the park is a heritage centre – Tisunge! (which is the Chi Chewa for ‘Let us preserve!’) – Lower Shire Heritage Centre – boasting a small museum, an arts & craft shop, a library, an education and manager’s office, an open plan meeting area and an ablution block. There are plans for a children’s club, a repository and a weaving area.

The government tourist lodge was renovated and refurbished in 2003 and now operates as Nyala Lodge. Lengwe can also make a good one-day excursion from Blantyre.

Lengwe National Park, Malawi

Kasungu National Park

In the west of Central Malawi, and bordering Zambia, is Kasungu National Park, an 800 sq mile (2100 sq km) area of natural woodland and bush with occasional stretches of more open grass. At one time, Kasungu was Malawi’s main game park, closest to Lilongwe and favoured by the country’s first President, Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. But it has been long overtaken by Liwonde and  now majete in the south, as well as Nyika in the north. And even in Central Malawi, Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, now being managed and developed by African Parks, is the first choice of most visitors to this region keen to go on safari.

Poaching has reduced the number of some species of animals in Kasungu but there is still wildlife to be seen. Elephants and a variety of antelope are common, as are small herds of buffalo and zebra. Predators include leopards, hyenas, servals and jackals.  There is a significant number of hippos in the lake at Lifupa and, as elsewhere in Malawi, the birdwatching is excellent.

This is a park which is relatively easy to drive around. There is a lodge at Lifupa as well as good camping nearby. Kasungui is relatively easy to reach from Lilongwe (approx. 100 miles/160 km).

Kasungu National Park, Malawi

Salima

Set back from the shore of Lake Malawi in Central Malawi is an important service and trading centre, the town of Salima. Close to the junction of the M14 road to Lilongwe and the lakeshore highway (M5), the town is 10 miles (16 km) inland from Senga Bay. This is a very busy little town with an interesting market and all the usual services.

To the east of Salima town is Senga Bay. This beautiful bay is the closest point on Lake Malawi to the country’s capital, just one and a half hours’ drive due east from Lilongwe. A broad stretch of sandy beach is host to a range of hotels, extending from the luxurious to small lodges and campsites. The two Serendib properties, Blue Waters by Serendib and Kambiri Beach by Serendib are amongst the most popular in Senga Bay, with plenty of facilities and activities for its guests. Off shore on its own deserted island in the Marelli Archipelago (part of the Lake Malawi National Park) is the wonderful Blue Zebra Highland Lodge.

Round the northern headland of Senga Bay lies Leopard Bay, which is home to more accommodation options. Partly sited on the wooded headland separating the bays is Safari Beach Lodge, a charming lodge that has gained an excellent reputation over many years. Further north, alongside the next headland, is currently the area’s newest, Kumbali Lake Retreat – a rustic eco lodge run by the same owners as the highly regarded Kumbali Country Lodge in Lilongwe. In the heart of Leopard Bay, an exciting new development, and a first for Malawi,  the 5 star luxury Malo Resort is being built. It is due to open in late 2021 and, in the meantime, offers investment opportunities.

Salima, Malawi

Ntchisi

Ntchisi Forest Reserve covers approximately 75 sq km and is surrounded on all sides by rolling hills covered by subsistence farming and dotted with traditional villages. It is an untouched paradise, undiscovered by mass tourism.

Before it became a protected area, the forest was used as a refuge by the local Chewa tribe against attacks by the warring Ngonis in the 19th Century. Because the forest proved so vital as a shelter for people, it largely escaped the deforestation for firewood that has unfortunately decimated so much of Africa’s indigenous woodlands. It later became a designated Forest Reserve.

Ntchisi Forest Reserve contains some of the last remaining indigenous rainforest in Malawi. Some trees tower thirty metres overhead while lianas and strangler figs compete for the sunlight.

The lush vegetation is home to a plethora of orchids, as well as an abundant bird life, troops of samango monkey, baboons, hyenas and the odd bushbuck and bush pig. A black leopard has been sighted on the mountain near the lodge. The rainforest offers finds of strange fruits and colourful seed pods. In the rainy season it provides delicious mushrooms for guests’ dinner and pickles made from wild figs.

Montane forest and grassland provides a contrasting habitat of open forest and bush. It is excellent hiking and mountain biking territory and gives a stunning display of wildflowers each year when the rains start.

Accommodation is available at the Ntchisi Forest Lodge, developed for international visitors and gaining an excellent reputation. The lodge has great connections with the local communities it supports, and offers plenty of opportunities for cultural interaction and volunteering.

 

Ntchisi, Malawi

Nkhata Bay

Nkhata Bay is at the most northerly point on Lake Malawi reached by David Livingstone during his expeditions through Africa over 150 years ago. Its small sheltered harbour is a focus for the Lake’s fishing industry but it is also becoming increasingly important as a tourist centre. As a vibrant port town in the north of Malawi, it is often referred to as the gateway to the islands. It has a wonderful craft market and a bustling (almost Caribbean) feel to the town. With plenty of small shops and a bank / ATM as well as internet cafes, restaurants and bars, and a highly reputed and long established dive school, Nkhata Bay, despite its size, has a lot on offer. Just a 3 minutes drive away from the town centre is a beautiful sand beach, Chikale, where there is a choice of simple lodges.

There is a variety of accommodation on offer at Nkhata Bay, most in the form of camping sites and small lodges. Safari Cottage offers self catering accommodation comprising 3 bedrooms, kitchen, living room, dining room and a verandah overlooking Lake Malawi.

The famous Ilala Lake ferry stops in Nkhata Bay as part of its weekly schedule up and down Lake Malawi. The Ilala can be used to access Likoma Island and there are also now an increasing number of smaller boats offering access to Likoma.

Nkhata Bay, Malawi

Mzuzu

The capital of North Malawi is Mzuzu, a settlement standing at the junction of the lakeshore road (M5) and Malawi’s main north-south highway (M1). The town has a pleasant feel to it and has grown very rapidly in recent years, having only become the northern capital in 1960. It is very conveniently located, in a shallow depression at the northern limits of the Viphya Highland, just a short drive from Nkhata Bay on the shores of Lake Malawi, and is a useful starting point for excursions further north to highlights such as the Nyika National Park and the Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve.

Mzuzu works well as a service centre for the more remote areas in the north of Malawi and has all necessary facilities such as banks, petrol stations, supermarkets, post office, etc. There is a good, bustling market that is well worth a visit and Mzuzu’s location on the main route to Tanzania, means there can be a wider range of goods available than one might otherwise expect.

The venerable Mzuzu Club offers a round of golf, but beyond that, the market and use of the shops and services, there is little to detain visitors who are usually only in need of an overnight stay in the town at most.

There are a few simple hotels and lodges in Mzuzu and there is an airport on the edge of town. Malawi Airlines doesn’t currently fly there, though Ulendo Airlink began using Mzuzu in 2019.

Mzuzu, Malawi

Monkey Bay

On the southern shore of Lake Malawi is the evocatively named Monkey Bay, but visitors are just as likely to see signs of industry as they are monkeys. It is a small town with a population little over 15,000, with its main purpose being as a construction and repair centre for the Lake’s small shipping operation. Monkey Bay is considered to be one of Malawi’s main lake ports, and is where the famous Ilala Fery docks and begins its weekly sojourn up and down the Lake.  It’s a useful service centre, though, sitting on the Nankumba Peninsula, it is a fair few miles off the main road that tracks the lakeshore northwards. There are some sandy beaches and rocky headlands to explore but it is more town than resort. Most tourists looking for leisure or relaxation head to the Lake Malawi National Park at Cape Maclear round the headland with its greater choice of lodges, deserted islands, beautiful beaches and water activities.

There are a few small and inexpensive lodges at Monkey Bay but, as well as those across the peninsula, better options lie to the south. The Norman Carr Cottage is a unique lodge not far south from Monkey Bay, nestled under a canopy of large indigenous trees. With its own beach access to the water front the cottage makes for a lovely and relaxing stop if wanting to some lake activities.

 

Monkey Bay, Malawi