Malawi map & highlights

Aside from the boats that tack between shore and islands on Lake Malawi, travel in Malawi is by road and road alone. By African standards, the roads are good; they’re tarmacked, but potholes, people and animals may slow you down, so don’t expect speedy progress. Moving between the wildlife parks of the south and Lake Malawi involves travel times of between two and six hours. Small group adventures of two weeks or more often combine Malawi with a mix of neighbouring countries – Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique – travelling overland to scoop up a huge gulp of southeastern Africa.
Kuti Wildlife Reserve

1. Kuti Wildlife Reserve

This 2,000 hectare community owned reserve just outside the town of Salima is a patchwork of diverse habitat, with woodland and grasslands, wetlands and marshes. It’s home to a good range of large mammals, including giraffes, wildebeest, impala and zebra, and its herds of sable antelope can number 100 or more. Take an afternoon game drive, walk or hop on your bike to explore.
Lake Malawi

2. Lake Malawi

An iridescent inland sea fringed by a shoreline of golden sand, Lake Malawi puts you instantly in mind of the Caribbean – minus the crowds. Peppered with gorgeous wooden lodges tucked away along the tree line, Lake Malawi is often where people go post-safari to really relax, though kayaking, scuba diving and snorkelling are just a few of the watersports that energetic travellers can pursue.
Likoma Island

3. Likoma Island

Lying off the eastern shore of Lake Malawi, Likoma Island is an intriguing little slice of Malawian territory just 7km from Mozambique. A natural nirvana of white sand, transparent turquoise water and swaying palms, it is the larger of two neighbouring inhabited islands and has a sizeable cathedral decorated beautifully with stained glass and carved soapstone.

4. Lilongwe

Malawi’s capital doesn’t feature heavily on tours, which usually just stop here to stock up on supplies before heading on to Lake Malawi, but any time spent here will immerse you in a sprawling and slightly chaotic city, busy with markets and commerce. Malawi’s only wildlife sanctuary lies right at the city’s heart, where you can volunteer, learning about rehabilitation techniques and caring for resident animals.
Liwonde National Park

5. Liwonde National Park

Egrets resting on the backs of hippos; families of elephants bathing in the river; and countless crocodiles camouflaged against the banks – you will see all of these spine-tingling safari moments at Liwonde National Park, plus loads more. Packed with wildlife including leopards, black rhino and exceptional birdlife, you can safari on foot, on a dawn or dusk game drive, or by boat.
Mount Mulanje

6. Mount Mulanje

A bare mass of dark rock, rising to 3,000m, Mount Mulanje is crowned with clouds and influences rain patterns in the area. It looks like some sort of mystical, hooded soothsayer – apt, as there are many spiritual beliefs about the mountain entwined in local folklore. Drive, walk, or climb your way around it to find plateaus and valleys within which rivers rage.
Nyika National Park

7. Nyika National Park

Sat some 2,500m above sea level in Malawi’s north, Nyika National Park is especially atmospheric: vast, rolling scenery of lush grasslands, forested valleys and shimmering trout pools. You can choose a trekking, mountain biking or horse riding safari to explore the verdant landscape and it’s a birder’s Arcadia too with over 400 species being spotted including the endemic red-winged francolin.
Shire Highlands

8. Shire Highlands

The Shire Highlands of southern Malawi are home to a range of somewhat unsung attractions, including Game Haven, a park where giraffe, zebra, numerous antelopes and loads of birdlife live amongst indigenous forests and grasslands. Malawi’s second city, Blantyre, is here, too, founded by Scottish settlers in 1876 and named in honour of Blantyre in South Lanarkshire.

9. Thyolo

This district in the southeast forms the heart of Malawi’s tea producing region with rolling hills of immaculately cultivated, emerald green plantations and some of the oldest estates in the country. The Satemwa Tea estate was founded here in the 1920s by Scotsman Maclean Kay and you can take a tea tasting workshop. Nearby is Thyolo Mountain, a twitcher’s paradise with excellent views of the lower Shire Valley.
Zomba Plateau

10. Zomba Plateau

Underrated and really quite quirky, Malawi’s former capital, Zomba, is all at once a haunting throwback to colonial times – all disused dusty buildings including a decrepit cricket club – and very intriguing, with a lively market and welcoming, wide streets to explore. The Zomba Plateau is a great swathe of mountain criss-crossed by drivable, forested tracts alongside lakes and waterfalls.
Travel Team
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Travel times in Malawi

The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in Malawi.

South Luangwa National Park, Zambia – Lilongwe: 4.5 hours Lilongwe – Cape Maclear, Lake Malawi: 3.5 hours Lilongwe – Kuti Wildlife Reserve: 1.5 hours Kuti Wildlife Reserve – Mount Mulanje: 5 hours Mount Mulanje – Liwonde National Park: 2.5 hours Liwonde National Park – Cape Maclear, Lake Malawi: 2.5 hours
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: BarryTuck] [Kuti Wildlife Reserve: Greg Chimitris] [Lake Malawi: JackyR] [Likoma Island: fffriendly] [Lilongwe: neiljs] [Liwonde National Park: Stephen Luke] [Mount Mulanje: David Davies] [Nyika National Park: Dr. Thomas Wagner] [Shire Highlands: Francesco Veronesi] [Thyolo: Marcel.blankenstein] [Zomba Plateau: Felefuchs]