Nyika National Park Safari Guide
This vast national park on a high-altitude plateau is very different from all other parks and reserves in the country. The mountain scenery is a big attraction of the park – walking and mountain biking are popular activities, in addition to game drives. Although this isn’t a Big Five destination, there is a good amount of wildlife on the plateau.
Pros & Cons
Beautiful mountain scenery
Well organized lodge and attractive cottages
Camping is available
Activities include game drives, walks, mountain biking and fishing
Limited accommodation options in the park
Not many big safari animals
Very cold in winter
Wildlife & Animals
There is a good variety of wildlife on Nyika Plateau, but a lot of the big safari animals, including lion, are missing. Buffalo and elephant are present on the lower slopes in the forest areas of the park, but this is not accessible to tourists. Due to poaching, wildlife numbers are generally low outside of the area around the lodge.
Nyika has the highest density of leopards in Malawi. Although shy, they can often be spotted on night drives. Some seem to have taken residence in the forest behind the lodge, and can sometimes be seen drinking at the Chelinda dam. Crawshay's zebra, a localized sub-species of Burchell’s zebra, is common around Chelinda as are eland, roan antelope, common reedbuck, bushbuck and duiker.
Nyika is a key birding destination in Africa, offering many birds in restricted ranges. Varied habitats including forest patches, high-altitude grassland and miombo woodland are home to some 400 species. The internationally endangered wattled crane is very common in the grassland around Chelinda. Denham’s bustard is also resident on the plateau with occasional sightings of groups of over 20. Four birds found at Nyika don’t occur anywhere else in Malawi: mountain yellow warbler, chirping cisticola, wing-snapping cisticola and mountain marsh widowbird.
Best Time to Visit
Nyika National Park doesn’t follow the same pattern in terms of the best months to visit as other parks in the region. The wet summer months from November to May are the best months for wildlife viewing on the plateau as the weather is fair, and less cold for visitors. There tend to be more animals on the plateau at this time (some descend to lower altitudes as it gets colder).
May to October – Dry Season
Lots of sunshine and clear skies
The park never gets very busy
High season rates apply from July to October
The sky is very hazy and the grass is yellow
It is very cold at night and in the morning
November to April – Wet Season
Wildlife viewing is at its best
The scenery is green and fresh
There are many wildflowers
There are few tourists and rates are lower
The best birding time as migratory birds are in the park
There are many newborn animals
Temperatures are pleasant
The roads become bad and a 4x4 might be necessary
Weather & Climate
Nyika has a temperate climate with Wet and Dry seasons corresponding with summer and winter (which occur at opposite times to the northern hemisphere). The average temperature is fairly constant, although there is a definite increase in October. It gets very cold at night in the Dry season, from May to September.
Dry Season – May to October
There is almost no rain in the Dry season. As it gets colder, some of the wildlife move to lower altitudes. It is pleasant during the day, but very cold at night.
May – This is the beginning of the Dry season. The grass is still green and there is still a lot of water around, but precipitation has become minimal.
June & July – Little rain and the bush is drying out. These are the coldest months with daytime temperatures struggling to reach 20°C/68°F. Nighttime is cold with average temperatures around 8°C/47°F. Warm clothing for early morning and night drives is essential.
August & September – It doesn’t rain at all. The grass is yellow. It is warming up and September has an average daytime temperature of 24°C/75°F. Mornings are thankfully getting less cold.
October – Daytime temperatures keep increasing to an average of 26°C/79°F. The first rain might fall at the end of this month, but it’s difficult to predict.
Wet Season – November to April
The Wet season is summer. The higher temperatures are pleasant and, due to the altitude, it never gets too hot. Afternoon showers are common and thunderstorms are often spectacular. The sky is clear and there are a lot of wildflowers.
November – The rains usually start in November. When it comes, it’s a relief because the bush is badly in need of a long drink. The average daytime temperature is 26°C/79°F. It doesn’t rain every day, mostly falling in afternoon thunderstorms.
December, January, February & March – The wettest months bring rain most days, but not usually for the whole day. Daytime temperatures average 23°C/73°F while night and early morning temperatures average about 14°C/57°F.
April – A lovely month. The rain eases off but everything remains green and lush.
Nyika is one of Malawi’s top attractions and features on many tour itineraries. Most people fly to Nyika, but it is possible to drive out there too.
Most international visitors arrive at Lilongwe International Airport (LLW), located about 26km/16mi from the capital, Lilongwe. Some international flights fly to Chileka International Airport (BLZ), 16km/10mi from Blantyre.
Nyika is located in northern Malawi, about 500km/310mi from Lilongwe and 750km/470mi from Blantyre. The drive from Lilongwe takes about seven hours and from Blantyre about 11 hours.
The road to Nyika is bumpy, quite bad at times, and usually requires a 4x4. Most people choose to fly to Nyika.