Malawi Travel Guide

safarigo   Malawi  

Malawi’s main tourist attraction is enormous Lake Malawi, with its beaches and water-based activities. The country also offers a range of safari options. Lovely Liwonde National Park has a winding river ideal for boat trips and seeing lots of elephants. Majete Wildlife Reserve is Malawi’s top Big Five destination. The rolling green hills of Nyika National Park are ideal for walking.



Best Time to Visit

July to October are the best wildlife viewing months (from the middle to the end of the Dry season) as all water in the bush has dried up, and animals congregate around permanent water sources. Keep in mind, however, that October is extremely hot. The exception is Nyika Plateau, which gets very cold in the dry winter months. In Nyika, a more pleasant time is from November to May.

May to October –Winter – Dry Season

Wildlife viewing is at its best due to less vegetation and animals gathering around waterholes
There is virtually no rain, skies are clear, and there are fewer mosquitoes
Although it is high season, most of the parks won’t be crowded
October can get very hot
Morning game drives will be cold; pack warm clothing


November to April– Summer – Wet Season

The scenery is green and lush
It is low season, meaning lower rates
You can see newborn animals
Best time for bird watching, with migratory birds present
Rains are mostly short showers late in the afternoon
Most camps stay open throughout the year
Wildlife is harder to see as vegetation is thick and there's an abundance of water
Some dirt roads become impassable; using a 4x4 is recommended across the country
Malaria is a bigger concern than in the Dry season


Weather & Climate

Malawi is situated in the tropics and receives good rainfall. It has a Dry season from May to the end of October, and a Wet season from November to April. In the Wet season, many roads deteriorate and a 4x4 is essential. In October, at the end of the Dry season, temperatures rise and relief comes only when the rains start.

Dry Season – May to October – Winter

There is little to no rainfall during the entire dry season and humidity is very low. Animals will congregate around waterholes and other permanent water sources.

May – This is the end of summer and the rain has stopped. Temperatures are relatively cool, typically 16°C/61°F in the morning and 26°C/79°F in the afternoon. Nighttime temperatures start to drop.


June, July & August – The average morning temperature is 14°C/57°F. Bring warm clothing for the cold morning game drives in open vehicles. Afternoons will be more pleasant, with temperatures around 25°C/77°F. Nyika Plateau with its high altitude is much colder.
September & October – The heat gradually builds, and the first rains bring relief from very dry conditions. Daytime temperatures will be around 29°C/84°F in September and 31°C/88°F in October, the latter being the hottest month. Peak temperatures can be much higher.


Wet Season – November to April – Summer View Photos

November – This month is unpredictable – the rain starts in the afternoons. Temperatures are between 20°C/68°F in the morning and 31°C/88°F in the afternoon.
December, January, February & March – These are the wettest months, characterized by torrential downpours in the afternoon. Afternoon temperatures are around 29°C/84°F and the humidity is high.


April – Rain is dwindling and so are the temperatures. Daytime temperatures still reach 27°C/81°F but evenings and early mornings can be chilly.

Popular Routes

Malawi is a small, narrow state encompassing 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)


Arriving at Chileka International Airport in Blantyre (BLZ), you’re in striking distance of Malawi’s most exciting wildlife and hiking destinations.

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. A boat trip on the hippo-rich 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, and the third highest in Africa. Active adventure-seekers can go on the famous three-day trek across the peak, overnighting in rustic huts. 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 make from this location.
Majete Wildlife Reserve (2 to 3 days) is Malawi’s main 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 Blantyre or travel on 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), 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 lodges, and activities include canoeing and fishing.
Nkhata Bay (2 to 5 days) is a vibrant and popular small town on the lake shore. 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, with a very different feel to the reserves in the south. Although not a Big Five destination, it is the best place in Malawi to see a leopard, and the pristine landscapes are outstanding.


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, break the trip at one of the resort areas on the lake, in Chintheche for example.

Popular add-ons:

Liwonde National Park for an 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 lake shore. Ulendo Airlink also offers a scheduled flight to Lukuzi in South Luangwa, 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 make 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 lush, and a boat trip on the Shire river is not to be missed.
The southern shore of Lake Malawi offers several low-key resorts where you can 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


Getting There

Malawi's main airport is Lilongwe International Airport (LLW), located 26km/16mi from the capital, Lilongwe. Some international flights arrive at Chileka International Airport (BLZ), 16km/10mi from Blantyre.

Onward travel is by either small aircraft or car. Self-drive is a viable option. If you’re on a package tour, your local tour operator will arrange pick-up from the airport and all further transportation as part of the tour.