Malawi Travel Guide to National Parks and Reserves

Safari by boat in LiwondeSafari by boat in Liwonde
Explore the beautiful Malawi National Parks and Wildlife Reserves with their diverse landscape, including: scenic highlands, rolling hills, deep forests, steep valleys and wide lakes filled with unique fish. Enjoy untouched wilderness areas, beautiful scenery, wild animals and water sports. The famous Lake Malawi even boasts a World Heritage Site at Cape Maclear, a very busy and popular resort with little islands which are home to some animals. Go snorkelling or canoeing and see the Big Five, or listen out for the African Fish Eagle on a game walk or drive in Malawi's fascinating parks and reserves.

Majete Wildlife Reserve

Majete elephantsSituated just south of Blantyre in the Lower Shire Valley in Malawi, Majete has taken on a new lease of life since a management change in 2003 and is well on its way to becoming a Big Five reserve. Large translocations of game to this 70 000 hectare Reserve have boosted the animal stocks considerably. Black Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo, Zebra, Hartebeest and many antelope species including Kudu and Roan can be found here.

Many more ambitious projects are underway. Fencing has been put in place and other translocations planned to further increase the existing animal stock. Recently 8 Leopards were re-located from the Kruger National Park in South Africa and Lion are to be reintroduced soon.

The aim is to restore Majete to the state that it was before human intervention making it a premier Big Five safari destination in Malawi. Leopards were the first to be reintroduced as they have less of an impact on prey populations. Another major attraction of Majete is the Kapichira Falls, with stunning views and rock formations worn and created over thousands of years. There is a luxury tented camp and a community campsite with various activities now available. See Majete Wildlife Reserve accommodation.

Nyika National Park

Nyika PlateauRising like a large granite dome in the north of Malawi, the Nyika Plateau is a unique upland which provides a natural environment unlike any other. The National Park covers the whole plateau, and consists of rolling grassy hills, sheer escarpments and forested valleys. The grasslands are rich with wildflowers and in the rainy season many types of orchids can be seen.

This is the largest and oldest National Park in Malawi. Most parts lie about 2 000 metres above sea level. The plateau is perfect for game drives and horseback safaris, as well as walks through the long grass. One of the most popular ways to see the region is to set out on a ten day Malawi Horse Safari.

The plateau is an important water catchment area in Malawi. The streams and dams are stocked with trout and visitors can enjoy fishing, see waterfalls and even take a trip to a magic lake. While the park is not home to the Big Five, animals that can be seen include Eland, Zebra, Roan, Waterbuck and smaller antelope as well.

This area is reputed to have the highest concentration of Leopard in Central Africa. Elephant and Rhino live on the lower ground; however this area is not easily accessible. On night drives various animals can be seen, including Hyena, Jackal and Owls or maybe even a shy Leopard.

There is a small airstrip near Chelinda Camp for access by air, otherwise the drive from Rumphi is uncomplicated, although it is mostly on dirt roads which are very rough, and a 4x4 vehicle is a must during the rainy season.

See Nyika National Park accommodation.

Liwonde National Park

Safari in LiwondeLocated in the south of Malawi with the Shire River on its border, Liwonde National Park is considered to be Malawi's premier park, and is a must for visitors. This Malawi National Park has fabulous scenery and is well managed. Animal stocks include large numbers of interesting animals such as a great many Hippos and Crocodiles, herds (in their hundreds) of Elephant, Zebra and other antelope which come down to the water to drink.

There are only 2 types of accommodation in Liwonde National Park, a camp and a lodge, and visitors should be aware that Hippos often come up onto the lawns to feed at night. Expert guides take visitors on guided walks, boat trips and also night drives. The guides are extremely knowledgeable, and their bush lore is fascinating, as they give guests an insight into the lives of many animals.

Poor roads in the rainy season make the accommodation hard to access, but arriving by boat is the way to go, visitors can park near the jetty on the opposite side, raise the red flag provided and staff from the camp will come across the water to make the transfer.

Lake Malawi National Park

Diving at Mumbo IslandThe Lake Malawi National Park incorporates the beautiful Cape Maclear, a World Heritage Site. The park lies in the south of the country, and is the world's first freshwater park. It includes the land area around the cape and bay, as well as the Lake and islands as far as 100 metres offshore.

These waters are an absolute delight for snorkelling enthusiasts. There is also boating and canoeing on offer. There are 600 species of the colourful Malawi Cichlids, which are endemic here. This diversity of freshwater fish is unequalled in the entire world. The abundant freshwater fish will feed directly from your hand while snorkelling in Lake Malawi.

In the surrounding areas, various animals and birds can be found, including Baboons, antelope, Hyrax, Fish eagles, Hamerkops and Cormorants. There are a number of excellent places to stay, all of which offer many exciting activities. There are even some beautiful romantic island hideaways.

Kasungu National Park

Kasungu is Malawi's second largest National Park after Nyika, and is located in the central region of the country. The landscape covers 2 000km (1243 miles) and consists of woodland and bush, grassland and rolling hills, with a small lake and a wide marshy river course. Hippos are established at the lake and an estimated 300 Elephant remain after serious poaching in the past.

Buffalo, Zebra, Leopard, Jackal, Serval and antelope are all present here, as well as a wide variety of birds. Due to recent efforts, animal stocks and the accessibility of the Park have been improved, and it can now be toured in regular vehicles. There is a lodge in the Park offering game drives and guided walks. Kasungu is only 160km (100 miles) from Lilongwe. The park also has many important Iron Age archaeological sites. The Park is Generally closed in March, as it is inaccessible due to the wet weather.

Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve

Vwaza MarshThe government camp here closed down in 2007, and this may be the reason the reserve is not more popular, but it is a rewarding experience because of the stunning scenery and high concentration of game. There are private lodges nearby where guests can stay. This reserve lies in the north of the country on the Zambian border, and is a backpacker's delight. It is very accessible from Rumphi by car or public transport.

There are wonderful walks around Lake Kazuni (you must be accompanied by a game ranger) as well as 4x4 trails around the reserve. Animals resident around the lake include: many Hippos, Elephant and Buffalo. Many other smaller animals can also be seen, and the birdlife is excellent, with around 300 species recorded in the reserve.

Lengwe National Park

Situated in the south, 75km (47 miles) from Blantyre, this is the most southern of all the parks. This area is ideal for sugar cane production and much of the surrounding area has been taken over by plantations. The Park has wonderful scenery; the waterholes are great places to spend some time bird watching and also taking walks in the bush. The park has large herds of Nyala as well as many smaller antelope. Baboons, Leopard and Hyena also reside here but are seen less often. There is only one place to stay in the reserve Nyala Safari Lodge.

Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve

Baobab AlleyThis is Malawi's smallest reserve, located on the most southern tip of the country. It is remote and can only be accessed with a 4x4 vehicles or on foot; nonetheless, it has a variety of habitats not seen in the larger reserves and an untouched feel about it. Game rangers can arrange guided walks and hikes, and the Mwabvi Rivers attractive rocky banks provide lovely spots from which to admire the scenery. A conservation project is underway to restore the reserve, a joint partnership between government and local communities to put various plans in place to uplift the region though eco-tourism.

Nkhotakota Game Reserve

Located in the central region, this is the largest game reserve in Malawi. Unfortunately the roads are just about inaccessible, but excellent walking safaris are possible with the services of a ranger or guide. There are plans to improve the facilities and game management, which in the past have been left to their own devices. Currently facilities in the reserve are limited to camping, but lodges along Lake Malawi shore offer accommodation and can organise day trips into the reserve.
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