Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve Safari Guide
Nkhotakota is Malawi’s oldest and largest protected area. This huge, pristine wilderness has seen some heavy poaching, and wildlife numbers suffered. African Parks Foundation took over the management of the park in 2015 and has started an ambitious program to restore its former levels of biodiversity, most notably the translocation of 520 elephants to the park from Liwonde and Majete.
Pros & Cons
Great unexploited wilderness area
Two excellent lodges which cover most budgets
Camping is available
A chance to support a great conservation effort
Activities include game drives and walks, canoeing and fishing
Limited accommodation options in the park
Limited road network in the park
Wildlife viewing is difficult due to dense vegetation
Wildlife & Animals
After years of neglect, wildlife numbers are still low in Nkhotakota, but this is changing rapidly with the efforts of African Parks. Elephants are often found drinking in the Bua river, and other species can also be encountered including yellow baboon, vervet monkey, buffalo, zebra and warthog. Lion, leopard and hyena are present, but rarely seen.
Nkhotakota was the stage for the biggest translocation of elephants ever undertaken. A total of 520 elephants have been moved to the park from Majete and Liwonde, where their numbers had become more than these smaller parks could manage. Hopefully, Nkhotakota will once again soon be an important conservation area in Malawi.
With over 280 species recorded for the reserve, Nkhotakota is a great bird-watching destination. Raptors, such as palm-nut vultures and martial eagles, are especially well represented, and there is a good number of miombo specials, including miombo pied barbet and pale-billed hornbill. The evergreen forest on Mount Chipata has its own specials, such as moustached green tinkerbird and grey-olive greenbul. Guided walking is one of the main activities in the park, which is ideal from a bird-watcher’s perspective.
Best Time to Visit
The best months to view wildlife are from July to October (the latter half of the Dry season). This is due to water in the bush having dried up. Animals tend to gather around remaining water sources at this time, making them relatively easy to see. Be aware though that the heat in October can be punishing.
May to October – Dry Season
Best time for wildlife watching
Not much rain and plenty of sunshine
It never gets very busy
With few mosquitos to bother people, the malaria risk is low
High season rates are applicable from July to October
Skies are very hazy and the bush looks brittle and dry
October can be unbearably hot
Chilly mornings from May to September when the mercury plummets
November to April – Wet Season
Scenery is idyllic – green and fresh
There are few tourists and rates are lower
Best time for birders as migratory birds are present
Lots of newborn animals
Wildlife viewing is not as good as the Dry season
The weather is hot and muggy
Malaria is a bigger concern than in the Dry season
Rains can badly affect the roads
Weather & Climate
Nkhotakota has a warm climate and there is a Wet and Dry season. Although temperatures remain fairly constant, there is a notable increase in October, before the rains arrive. It gets quite cold at night in the Dry season (May to September).
Dry Season – May to October
There is very little rainfall in the Dry season. Animals are easier to spot as the bush dries out and wildlife gathers around the remaining water. It is hot during the day, but much cooler at night. Warm clothing for early morning game drives is recommended.
May – This is the start of the Dry season. The bush is beautiful and still lush and there is a lot of water around, although the rain has dropped off.
June & July – There is no rain and the bush is getting drier. Daytime temperatures will nudge 24°C/75°F, while nights are much cooler struggling to reach 12°C/54°F. Don’t forget warm clothing for early morning game drives.
August & September – The rain has ground to a complete halt and the bush is starting to look very dry. It is warming up, and September has a pleasant average daytime temperature of 26°C/79°F.
October – This is the time when temperatures can be brutal. Although the average is 30°C/86°F, temperatures peak much higher. Mornings are lovely, with temperatures around 19°C/66°F. The first rain sometimes falls this month, with the temperature mercifully dropping after the rain.
Wet Season – November to April
It tends to be very humid as well as warm during the Wet season. Afternoon showers are common, and thunderstorms are often dramatic. The sky is clear, and the bush looks green and healthy.
November – The rains usually start in November and conditions are hot and humid. The rain comes as a relief. During the day, temperatures are around 30°C/86°F. It doesn’t rain every day but when it does, it usually comes in afternoon thunderstorms.
December, January, February & March – The wettest months mean rain most days, but it usually doesn’t rain all day. Daytime temperatures average 27°C/81°F, while night and early morning temperatures average about 19°C/66°F.
April – A lovely time of the year as the rain is winding down but the landscape is lush and green.
Nkhotakota can easily be fitted in any tour itinerary or visited as a breakaway destination from Lilongwe or Blantyre.
You will probably fly into the country via Lilongwe International Airport (LLW). It is 26km/16mi from the capital, Lilongwe. Some international flights fly to Chileka International Airport (BLZ), which is 16km/10mi from Blantyre.
Nkhotakota is in central Malawi, about 200km/125mi from Lilongwe and 400km/250mi from Blantyre. The drive from Lilongwe takes about three hours and from Blantyre about 5½ hours.