The tiny landlocked country of Malawi in southeastern Africa is surrounded by neighboring Tanzania, Zambia, and Mozambique. Self-described as the “Warm Heart of Africa,” Malawi offers visitors diverse activities in a welcoming environment. Take a Jeep or boat safari in Liwonde National Park, enjoy beach life and watersports on popular Lake Malawi, or learn drumming and dancing at the Kumbali Cultural Village. From the awe-inspiring sight of a lion in the wild to the heartbreak of the Leper Tree, travelers to Malawi will witness unspeakable beauty and tragedy alike. These 25 things to do in Malawi will convince any visitor that they truly are in the warm heart of Africa.
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Lake Malawi is the country’s biggest tourist attraction. It was humorously dubbed the “Calendar Lake: because of its 365-mile length from north to south and 52-mile width. This freshwater lake is ringed with golden sand beaches, providing travelers with plenty of popular and remote places to sunbathe and swim the clear blue waters. Kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, and sailing are a few ways visitors can enjoy the lake. To get a broader view of the lake, there is the Ilala Ferry, which makes a 300-mile, two-night journey across the lake from Nkhata Bay to Monkey Bay. A sailing yacht provides travelers with another option for exploring the lake. There is abundant fishing on Lake Malawi.
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Likoma Island is located on the eastern side of Likoma Lake in Mozambique. Malawi retained ownership of the island after the lake was divvied up following World War II. That was due to the island’s University Mission to Central Africa, founded by British explorer David Livingstone, who was an influential figure in Malawian history. St. Peter’s Church, a cathedral built by the UMCA, is another must-see attraction, with its carved soapstone details and stained-glass windows. Likoma Island is also home to beautiful beaches and lively communities. Getting to the island means arriving by chartered plane or taking one of several boats from Nkhata Bay.
3.National Herbarium and Botanic Gardens of Malawi
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The National Herbarium and Botanic Gardens of Malawi are the premier authority on Malawi botanical concerns. Its stated goals are botanical research, conservation, and education. The herbarium has over 90,000 plants from across Malawi and grows, curates, identifies, and classifies them in support of the country’s biological diversity. Its vast library of 970 items is open to the public for study, and visitors can peruse the endangered and rare plants at the three botanic gardens the herbarium oversees. They are the one in Zomba plus the Lilongwe Botanic Garden near Capital Hill Offices and Mzuzu Botanic Garden in the Lunyangwa Forest Reserve West.
Zomba, Malawi, Phone: +26-55-23-38-88
4.Cultural & Museum Centre Karonga
© Cultural & Museum Centre Karonga
The leaders of the Karonga wanted a museum that could teach community members about the past, their present, and the possible future. The eye-pleasing design of the museum, the wide windows, and even the unique roofline are a tribute to local paleontology. Inside, wall paintings depict local history, from dinosaurs to present day Karonga. Even children can understand the progression of time through the paintings. Following the path that snakes along the museum floor, visitors will encounter numerous exhibits on such themes as prehistoric humans, warriors’ dress, fossils, and a copy of a Malawisaurus, a local dinosaur remains. The museum amphitheater can accommodate over 1,000 people for community entertainment and civic discourse.
M1, Karonga, Malawi, Phone: +265-01-36-25-74
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Elephant Marsh, with its ever-changing boundaries depending on the season, sits at the confluence of the Shire and Ruo rivers. Originally, the marshy wetland was named Elephant Marsh because of the herds of elephants that used to live here, up to 800 at a time. Now, because of poaching, the elephants have all but disappeared. It’s still home to abundant wildlife, including crocodiles, hippos, fish, heron, kingfishers, eagles, and storks. Visitors can anticipate activities like birdwatching, cultural experiences, and boat trips. Malawi has named Elephant Marsh a Wetland of International Importance – the country’s second.
S151 Southeast of SUCOMA Sugar Estate to Chiromo, Malawi, Phone: +26-51-75-98-31
6.King’s African Rifles Monument
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The King’s African Rifles Monument is an imposing brick monument memorializing the King’s African Rifles (KAR) army, which protected Malawi and served around the world from 1890 to 1945. First informally created in 1888 to combat the slave trade, it was formalized when the country became a British Protectorate. They served in numerous campaigns across Africa as well as in World Wars I and II. Besides offering military expertise and security, the KAR also participated in civic duties such as building bridges and roads and administering justice at home. Enlistment was compulsory, which should not be overlooked. After gaining independence in 1964, they became the Malawian Army and today carry out peacekeeping missions. Visitors will find the monument in Zomba.
Zomba, Malawi, Phone: +26-51-77-54-99
7.Kumbali Cultural Village
© Kumbali Cultural Village
The Kumbali Cultural Village is located close to the Kumbali Country Lodge in Lilongwe. It is dedicated to educating visitors about the culture and traditions of Malawi. Visitors will experience traditional Malawian foods like nsima (a corn flour staple), beans with onion/tomato relish, pumpkin leaves, amaranth leaves, and mandazi – a dough fried and drizzled with honey. The Kumbali Band provides visitors with entertainment at the fire pit with traditional drumming, dancing, and singing. Travelers are encouraged to join in and learn dancing and drumming. The relaxed and playful entertainment also includes popular international songs. Accommodations are available in 12 village huts.
Capital Hill Dairy Farm, Plot 9 & 11, Area 44, Lilongwe, Malawi, Phone: +265-09-99-96-34-02
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In 1997, Lake Chilwa was given the designation of Wetland of International Importance by the Malawian government. What was once two contiguous lakes – Chiuta and Chilwa – it is far smaller and shallower today. In fact, it used to be 19 miles longer and four times as deep. Fluctuating seasonal rainfall determines the size and characteristics of Lake Chilwa, where swamps and the sandy lake bottom are often exposed. The Thongwe Islands and Chisi Island in the lake are inhabited by remote communities that are largely off limits to travelers. Lake Chilwa is excellent for birdwatching. The best time to visit is November and December, when there is the greatest variety of birds and their plumage is the most colorful.
9.Lilongwe Wildlife Center
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Lilongwe Wildlife Center, which opened in 2008, is situated on 445 acres of urban woodlands. The wildlife sanctuary is widely known as one of Africa’s best. It is also the only one of its kind in Malawi. On any given day, there are as many as 200 wild animals at the center, either injured or orphaned, that have been rescued and are being cared for. Also a dedicated education center, visitors are encouraged to explore their volunteer program. Guided tours are offered hourly every day. Travelers can also walk the wilderness trails independently, where they may encounter monkeys, bushpigs, and other wild animals. Lilongwe is also a premier birdwatching venue. Other amenities include a restaurant, bar, children’s playground, and souvenir shop.
Kenyatta Drive near Lingadzi Bridge, Lilongwe, Malawi, Phone: +26-59-93-80-02-89
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Livingstonia Mission was founded by Robert Laws, a follower of David Livingstone, in 1894. It sits high in the mountains overlooking Lake Malawi. From its 300-foot perch, visitors will have spectacular views of the lake and of Tanzania. Like most houses in the area, the church is built with red bricks and has a European design. Stained-glass windows illustrate the travels of David Livingstone. Another must-see is the Stonehouse Museum, which was once the home of founder Robert Laws. Part museum and part guest house, it depicts life at the mission station in the late 1800s. There is also a university, coffee shop, and gift shop on the property. The area is popular for abseiling.
Chitipa, Malawi, Phone: +265-38-23-21
11.Liwonde National Park
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Liwonde National Park is Malawi’s most popular big game safari park. At 220 square miles, what it lacks in size, it makes up for in grandeur. Visitors can explore the park either by boat safari along the Shire River or on a Jeep safari through the park. It’s common to encounter elephants, hippos, antelope, leopards, hyenas, and crocodiles. It’s also possible to see black rhino, which have been recently re-introduced to the park, and Pel’s fishing owls, which hunt near the river at dusk. Other activities include birdwatching, abseiling, mountain biking, and trekking. Luxury accommodations at Mvuu Lodge and camping at Mvuu Camp are both located inside the park for multi-day safaris.
S131, Malawi, Phone: +26-58-88-62-23-77
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A visit to Lilongwe must include a market experience, and there are many on offer. Lizulu Market is one of the biggest, busiest, and most popular of these open-air markets. Located in the heart of the Old Town, Lizulu Market is split in two by the Lilongwe River. On one side, travelers will find sections of fruits, vegetables, chicken, fish, and other foods, herbs, and spices. Foreigners accompanied by a local or a guide may get better prices. Visitors make their way across bamboo footbridges over the river to the clothing side of the market. Many of the items, including clothing, bedding, towels, and other essentials are second-hand – donations from other countries.
Corner of Sharrar Road and Kenyatta Road, Lilongwe, Malawi, Phone: +26-51-77-54-99
13.Lower Shire Valley
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The Lower Shire Valley is at the lowest altitude (below sea level) in Malawi. Nature lovers will appreciate this vast floodplain with three national parks and active sugar plantations contributing to epic views from the Thyolo Escarpment. Visitors can arrange to view big game at Majete Wildlife Reserve, Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve, or Lengwe National Park. At the entrance to Lengwe, travelers have an opportunity to learn about Lower Shire Valley culture at Tisunge! Lower Shire Heritage Center. An arts and crafts shop, museum, and library provide traditional local artifacts and archaeological objects on display. Locally woven cloth can be purchased at the arts and crafts shop. Guided tours of Tisunge! are available at Nyala Lodge.
South M1 to Thyolo Escarpment, outside Blantyre, Malawi, Phone: +26-51-62-18-66
14.Majete Wildlife Reserve
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Majete Wildlife Reserve is located in the Lower Shire Valley in southwestern Malawi. A little over a decade ago, the reserve was decimated by poachers. There were no more lions, elephants, rhinos, or other big game. In concert with African Parks, the Malawi Department of National Parks has restored it to a Big Five reserve with the reintroduction of lions, rhinos, elephants, leopards, and buffalo in significant numbers. Tourism is now an important economic contributor to the local economy. Visitors can go on Big Five game drives, take guided walks through the reserve, explore on bushwalks and bird walks, or catch a behind-the-scenes tour.
Department of National Parks & Wildlife, Lilongwe 3, Malawi, Phone: +26-51-75-98-31
15.Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve
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Located at the southern edge of Malawi in the Lower Shire Valley, Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve is the smallest and most remote of Malawi’s reserves. Its remoteness contributes to its off-the-beaten-path wild habitat. The once bare reserve has recovered under the direction of Project African Wilderness. Now, travelers can explore the reserve on foot, by Jeep, on guided game drives, and on guided game walks. Visitors can expect to see buffalo, antelope, kudu, impala, and a vast array of birdlife. Accommodations are available at Chipembere Camp, a dormitory-style setting outside the park, Migudu Campsite for camping inside the reserve, and Njati Lodge, which is an upscale eco-lodge.
Department of National Parks & Wildlife, Lilongwe 3, Malawi, Phone: +26-51-75-98-31
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Nkhata Bay is a port town on Lake Malawi’s western shore. The small sheltered bay and rocky promontory create the perfect spot for the hub of Lake Malawi’s active fishing industry. Often called the “Gateway to the Islands,” Nkhata Bay is also home to the Ilaha Ferry, which transports visitors from town to the secluded beaches of Chizumulu Island and Likoma Island. Nkhata Bay has a Rastafarian vibe that is simultaneously lively and laidback. Visitors will appreciate the bevy of shops, restaurants, bars, internet cafés, and the only bank with an ATM. Days are characterized by fish barbecues and reggae, forest walks, scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and a relaxed beach lifestyle.
Nkhata Bay, Lake Malawi, Malawi, Phone: +26-51-75-54-99
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Nkhoma Mountain can easily be spotted from Lilongwe on a clear day although it’s an hour’s drive away. The reward for making the challenging 6.8-mile-long round-trip hike to the top is, of course, and amazing view of Malawi. The main trailhead is located behind the Nkhoma Mission Hospital. While the first part of the trek up to the guest house is moderate, the last leg from the guest house to the summit is more rigorous. Some may opt to simply hike to the guest house and back. For those who forge on to the top, the trail picks up behind the guest house and is narrow, steep, and often overgrown.
18.Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve
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Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve sits in the shadow of Chipata Mountain among a network of waterways. Characterized by dense forests of miombo trees, it is on track to be the newest Malawian sanctuary for translocated elephants, kudus, buffalo, impalas, and warthogs. Timber harvesting and poaching had decimated the reserve, which is only now recovering. Highlights for visitors are the stunning scenery and the lack of tourists. It’s still relatively off the beaten path. The unspoiled wilderness area has received 500 elephants and over 1,500 game animals. It’s also home to over 280 species of birds. A hike up Chipata Mountain affords visitors majestic views.
M5 to Bua Gate, Nkhotakota, Malawi, Phone: +26-51-75-54-99
19.Nyika National Park
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Nyika National Park is an enchanting expanse of rolling grasslands abundant with orchids, wildflowers, trout pools, an ancient rock shelter, and various waterfalls like the Chisanga Falls. The Nyika Plateau is home to numerous wildlife herds and more leopards than anywhere else in Central Africa. There are zebras, antelope, warthogs, and bushpigs galore. Visitors can take Jeep excursions into the park, trek, or mountain bike. Birdwatchers will delight at discovering that there are over 400 bird species recorded here. Accommodations are few. Chelinda Lodge offers six two-story log cabins, and Chelinda Camp offers four two-bedroom chalets and six rooms that have en suites and a shared common area.
20.The Leper Tree
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The Leper Tree is located in beautiful Liwonde National Park. With all that this wildlife reserve has to offer, it also has a shadowy side. Chinguni Hill, a conspicuous landmark, has a dirt road that encircles it and a nearby baobab tree. This tree marks the tragic history of Liwonde. During the 1950s, a local tribe suffered an outbreak of leprosy. They feared contaminating the Earth by burying the bodies of the deceased, so they tied together everyone showing symptoms – living and dead – and pushed them inside the massive tree to die. The Leper Tree still stands today, and visitors can step inside the tree to see the skeletal remains of the victims.
Liwonde National Park, S131, Malawi, Phone: +26-58-88-62-23-77
21.The Society of Malawi Library
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The Society of Malawi Library is just one part of all the society has to offer. The library is located in the Mandala House in Blantyre. It is a reference library with holdings in excess of 3,000 books and 10,000 historical images preserved in an electronic archive. Researchers will also find a historical document archive that includes newspapers from nearly the entire 20th century. This is the perfect venue for visitors interested in the history of Malawi. The library holds every issue of the Society of Malawi Journal since its first publication in 1948. The Mandala House and the Transport Museum are also overseen by the Society of Malawi.
Mandala House, Blantyre, Malawi, Phone: +265-01-87-26-17
22.Thyolo Tea Estates
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Thyolo is a fascinating area ecotour. Also known as Satemwa Tea and Coffee Estate, it’s located between Blantyre and Mulanje. The century-old estate has been producing tea since 1908. Travelers can make arrangements to visit the impeccably kept estate for tours and tastings. Visitors will learn about the operation of a tea plantation, beginning with a short video followed by tastings at its factory. Tastings include up to 20 teas grown on the estate, including a white tea known for its health benefits. Huntingdon House, also on the estate, is a 1928 home turned guest house where visitors can stay for dinner or the night.
M2 North of Blantyre, Malawi, Phone: +26-51-47-35-00
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The Viphya Plateau is a mountainous ecosystem that provides a spectacular natural landscape and an escape to solitude. Viphya meets the needs of meditative types looking for a place to commune with nature and contemplate life, as well as adventurous types hoping to explore the stunning surroundings. Visitors will find undulating grasslands, mountain peaks, deep forests, river valleys, and pine plantations. Luwawa Forest Lodge, situated in the Viphya Forest, offers guests a range of activities that include trekking, mountain biking, fishing, camping, bird watching, horseback riding, and dozens of other outdoor activities through their adventure tourism.
Mzuzu, Malawi, Phone: +26-51-75-98-31
24.Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve
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The Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve is located along the Zambian border north of Mzuzu, Malawi. It is 400 square miles of plain and marsh broken up by the occasional rocky outcrop. The mixture of woodland, grassland, and marsh makes this the perfect habitat for a wildly diverse range of animal and bird life. There are herds of elephants, buffalo, hippos, and close to 300 varieties of birds in addition to numerous small mammals. The only nearby accommodation is a budget lodge in Vwaza called MEOF Safari Lodge & Camp. Otherwise, travelers are encouraged to explore the area with a qualified mobile safari company.
Zambian Border north of Mzuzu, Malawi, Phone: +26-51-75-98-31
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The Zomba Plateau is located in southern Malawi near the town of Zomba. This mountainous plateau sits at an altitude of 6,000 feet. A mix of cedar, cypress, and pine trees fill the fresh air with crisp scents. There are mountain streams, cascading waterfalls, and deep alpine lakes. Rustic mountain roads encircle the top, providing visitors with epic views. Local wildlife includes leopards, long-crested eagles, giant butterflies, and baboons. Those wanting to spend a night or more can find accommodations at either the Sunbird Ku Chawe luxury hotel or the rustic Zomba Forest Lodge. Outdoor activities include trekking, horseback riding, trout fishing, and mountain biking.
Zomba, Malawi, Phone: +26-51-75-98-31
25 Best Things to Do in Malawi
- Lake Malawi, Photo: Courtesy of erichon - Fotolia.com
- Likoma Island, Photo: Courtesy of Wollwerth Imagery - Fotolia.com
- National Herbarium and Botanic Gardens of Malawi, Photo: Courtesy of nattaponsa - Fotolia.com
- Cultural & Museum Centre Karonga, Photo: Cultural & Museum Centre Karonga
- Elephant Marsh, Photo: Courtesy of Pascale Gueret - Fotolia.com
- King’s African Rifles Monument, Photo: Courtesy of eugenesergeev - Fotolia.com
- Kumbali Cultural Village, Photo: Kumbali Cultural Village
- Lake Chilwa, Photo: Courtesy of Earnest Tse - Fotolia.com
- Lilongwe Wildlife Center, Photo: Courtesy of mdorrington - Fotolia.com
- Livingstonia Mission, Photo: Courtesy of Aleksandrs - Fotolia.com
- Liwonde National Park, Photo: Courtesy of tiero - Fotolia.com
- Lizulu Market, Photo: Courtesy of Dunc - Fotolia.com
- Lower Shire Valley, Photo: Courtesy of Aliaksei - Fotolia.com
- Majete Wildlife Reserve, Photo: Courtesy of davemontreuil - Fotolia.com
- Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve, Photo: Courtesy of Cline - Fotolia.com
- Nkhata Bay, Photo: Courtesy of LMspencer - Fotolia.com
- Nkhoma Mountain, Photo: Courtesy of picturist - Fotolia.com
- Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, Photo: Courtesy of mdorrington - Fotolia.com
- Nyika National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Jacek - Fotolia.com
- The Leper Tree, Photo: Courtesy of visualcortex - Fotolia.com
- The Society of Malawi Library, Photo: Courtesy of jakkapan - Fotolia.com
- Thyolo Tea Estates, Photo: Courtesy of Ryan - Fotolia.com
- Viphya Plateau, Photo: Courtesy of Marcus - Fotolia.com
- Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve, Photo: Courtesy of sabino.parente - Fotolia.com
- Zomba Plateau, Photo: Courtesy of Radek - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of yurybirukov - Fotolia.com