Malawi’s attractions are rooted in its topographical magnificence and the vast variety of wildlife and fauna. Both larger than life, Malawi’s elephants and giant baobab trees are the signature species in Africa, which can be seen in the country’s national parks and wilderness areas. On the same scale, the water of the massive and incredibly deep Lake Malawi fill hundreds of miles of the Great Rift Valley, attracting animals and human visitors alike to its refreshing shores.
One of the most laid back, relaxing destinations in Malawi is the little lakeside fishing village of Chembe on Cape Maclear. The cape, named by David Livingstone, is located inside a small national park of the same name bordering Lake Malawi’s southern shore, with the center of the village accessible via dirt road lined with dive shops and basic accommodations. Life here is very, very slow and the highlight is Mumbo Island, two miles offshore. The beaches and the lakeshore are small, sandy and rock-strewn, yet perfect for sunbathing and water spots, and a stay here will immediately immerse you in real Malawi life.
Address: southern Lake Malawi, Malawi
Monkey Bay’s azure waters lap golden sands at the southern tip of Lake Malawi, home to a quaint, lakeside harbor town of the same name. The Ilala steamboat ferry leaves from the pretty port to other waterfront destinations, and its arrival disgorges lively, colorful passengers and their goods onto the small quay. Spending a day or so wandering around the little streets and getting to know the friendly people makes an unforgettable, fascinating break from city life, and the water sports here are magical.
Address: southern Lake Malawi
This dramatic, soaring rock formation rises from the tea-growing region of the Chiradzulu Plains surrounding the city of Blantyre. About 13 miles wide and 16 miles long, the massif holds deep, forested ravines and high peaks, the tallest of which, Sapitwa, reaches over 9,000 feet. The spectacular natural landmark was the result of a massive surge of magma 130 million years ago, with its present appearance the result of erosion over countless millennia. The massif is part of the Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve, and hiking or climbing the steep slopes with a guide is permitted.
Address: south eastern Malawi
Liwonde National Park
Located at the southern end of lovely Lake Malombe, Liwonde National Park is smaller than Lake Malawi, but brimming with animals. It’s the most popular wildlife park in the country for its closeness to Lilongwe, and the four-hour drive is easy in the dry season. Liwonde is also a birder’s paradise and the best in southern or central Africa with over 650 species. A few of the wilderness trails are impassable in the rainy season, so plan your trip accordingly to ensure you see it all.
Address: Lake Malombe, Malawi
Likoma is the larger of Lake Malawi’s two inhabited offshore islands and belongs to Malawi even though it lies in Mozambican territorial waters. In spite of being home to over 9,000 inhabitants, it’s remarkably unspoiled, with a grassy interior supporting baobab and mango trees. The coastline varies from rocky cliffs to sandy bays and mangrove swamps and fishing is the islanders’ main occupation. Some of Malawi’s best diving and snorkeling is found here, as well as a magnificent 100-year old cathedral, the pride and joy of the original missionary community.
Address: Lake Malawi
Chongoni Rock Art Area
Located in the granite outcrops surrounding Dedza is the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Chongoni Rock Art Area. Natural shelters are home to Central Africa’s densest cluster of cave paintings, representing the rarely seen life of a tradition farmer and hunter-gatherer tribes from the Late Stone Age. Subject matters and symbols strongly favor women, and still enjoy cultural relevance amongst the local Chewa tribes using the sites for their ceremonies.
Address: near Dedza, Malawi
Located just 50 miles from Lilongwe, Dedza is the highest settlement in the country at 5,300 feet above sea level. Set in lush, green plains overlooked by rugged hills and Dedza Mountain, it’s famous for its distinctive pottery kilns. The handmade sculptures decorated with vibrant colors and local scenes make great souvenirs and are for sale at the factory shop.
Address: central Malawi
Vwaza Marsh Game Reserve
Nestled under the Nyika Plateau, this game reserve set in the wetlands and marshes along the edge of the Zambian border is the ultimate hidden gem. Migrant elephant and buffalo herds are frequent visitors, and impala, kudu and eland are plentiful, along with the occasional herd of hartebeest. If you’re camping at a private game lodge, expect bush babies as neighbors. The reserve is another spectacular place for bird-watching, with goliath herons and pearl-spotted owls on the list of species to find.
Address: Luangwa Valley, Malawi