Popular Routes – Malawi

Ariadne van Zandbergen
Expert
By Ariadne van Zandbergen

Ariadne is a renowned Africa expert. She and her husband form a team who write and update many Bradt guides, including the guide to Malawi.

Ariadne is a renowned Africa expert. She and her husband form a team who write and update many Bradt guides, including the guide to Malawi.

Ariadne is a renowned Africa expert. She and her husband form a team who author the Bradt guide to Malawi.

Ariadne and her husband form a team who author the Bradt guide to Malawi.

Popular Routes in Malawi

Popular Routes Where Wildlife Viewing Is a Major Part of the Tour

Malawi is a small, narrow country bordering Lake Malawi for about two-thirds of its length. The country is a very popular backpacker destination and there are several locations on the lake catering to this market. To see most of the highlights, a self-drive package or a custom tour is recommended.

Due to the geography of Malawi, the obvious two circuits are those centered on the south and the north, as described below. It is, however, easy to combine some elements of both and make a longer trip covering the whole country. In which case, it would make sense to book at least one flight to avoid too much backtracking.

Malawi’s South (1.5 to 2 weeks)

After arriving at Lilongwe International Airport (LLW), you head south where Malawi’s most exciting wildlife and hiking destinations are found.

Destinations:

  • Liwonde National Park (2 to 3 days) is one of Malawi’s best parks. With many activities on offer, it is easy to spend a few days here. The boat trip on the Shire river is an iconic African experience, and rhino tracking is not to be missed either.
  • Zomba Plateau (2 to 3 days) is a great walking destination offering fantastic views of the plains below. Horse riding is also a popular activity here.
  • Mount Mulanje (2 to 3 days) is Malawi’s tallest mountain. Active adventure-seekers can go on the famous three-day trek across Malawi’s highest peak. Alternatively, stay in one of the old colonial houses in a tea estate in the foothills, and admire the mountain from below. There are many day hikes you can do from this location.
  • Majete Wildlife Reserve (2 to 3 days) is Malawi’s only Big Five reserve. There is a choice in accommodation: a down-to-earth community-owned tented camp or a luxurious lodge in a private concession.
  • Cape Maclear (2 to 5 days), in Lake Malawi National Park, is a great base for relaxing on the beach. A snorkeling trip is a must, to see the amazing array of colorful fish in the lake. Scuba-diving is offered as well, and this is a popular spot to sign up for a course. From here, you can return to Lilongwe for your flight home.


Popular add-ons:
  • Nyika National Park for unique mountain scenery and the chance to see a leopard
  • Mumbo Island for great kayaking and an exclusive lake experience
  • Likoma Island for serenity and historical interest

Malawi’s North (1.5 to 2 weeks)

After arriving in Lilongwe International Airport (LLW) you head east to the lake.

Destinations:

  • Senga Bay (2 to 3 days) is a great place to relax at the lake, but there are lots of activities on offer for those who like to stay busy.
  • Kuti Wildlife Reserve (0.5 to 1 day) can be visited overnight or on a day trip from Senga Bay. This community project is a good introduction to Malawi’s wildlife.
  • Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve (2 to 3 days) offers a true wilderness experience. Elephants can often be seen at the lodge, and activities include canoeing and fishing.
  • Nkhata Bay (2 to 5 days) is a vibrant popular village at the lake. This is a great place for chilling out, snorkeling, diving – and maybe even a diving course.
  • Nyika National Park (2 to 3 days) is a unique, high-altitude park and is very different from the parks and reserves in the south. Although not a Big Five destination, it is the best place in Malawi to see a leopard.

Having come all the way to the north of the country, you could take a charter flight back to Lilongwe directly, or via Liwonde National Park or Majete Wildlife Reserve for some top-quality wildlife viewing. If you are driving back south, you can break the trip at one of the resort areas on the lake, in Chinteche for example.

Popular add-ons:
  • Liwonde National Park for the iconic boat trip on the Shire river and elephant encounters
  • Majete Wildlife Reserve for a great Big Five safari experience
  • Likoma Island for serenity and historical interest

Malawi’s Flying Safari (1 week)

Ulendo Airlink offers scheduled flights to some of the top destinations and lodges in the country. If time is a constraint and budget allows, this is a very productive way to see Malawi’s highlights. Malawi is a small country so all hops will be short and can be done in any order depending on the flight schedules. The destinations covered by this service are Lilongwe, Likoma Island, Majete Wildlife Reserve, Liwonde National Park and the southern lakeshore. Ulendo Airlink also offers a scheduled flight to South Luangwa in Zambia as part of this circuit. On top of this scheduled circuit they also offer non-scheduled chartered flights to Nyika National Park and Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, which makes these easy destinations to add on.

Destinations:

  • Likoma Island on Lake Malawi is steeped in history dating back to Livingstone’s mission in the 1880s, and offers remote-island vibes
  • Majete Wildlife Reserve is arguably Malawi’s top wildlife reserve, with all of the Big Five present
  • Liwonde National Park is Malawi’s most established safari destination. It is particularly scenic, and the boat trip on the Shire river is not to be missed.
  • The southern shore of Lake Malawi has several places to relax on the beach for a few days before heading back home.


Popular add-ons:
  • Luangwa Valley in Zambia for a top quality wildlife experience
  • Nyika National Park for unique mountain scenery and the chance to see a leopard
  • Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve for a true wilderness experience

Want to Visit Malawi?