Most visitors to Malawi head straight for the lake and, given the wealth of activities and range of accommodation available there, we’d certainly recommend spending a good part of your holiday on its welcoming shores. However, when planning where to go in Malawi don’t limit yourself to Lake Malawi as there are plenty of other places of interest worth leaving your hammock for - our top picks include Liwonde National Park with its elephants, hippos and crocodiles, and the rolling grasslands of the little-visited Nyika Plateau.
Lake Malawi: lazy beach life, snorkelling & kayaking
Taking up a full fifth of the country, Lake Malawi has lovely sand beaches and calm clear water filled with so many colourful fish that it often feels like you're swimming in a giant aquarium. Snorkelling, diving, sailing or kayaking top the list of activities but life on the lakeshore moves at such a leisurely pace that many visitors simply enjoy a “laze and gaze” holiday – staring at the water’s shimmering surface over the pages of a novel.
Stay close to a local fishing village in a beach lodge in Cape Maclear or on Likoma Island; alternatively, opt for somewhere completely private and exclusive such as tiny Mumbo Island or Nkwichi Lodge on the lake’s remote Mozambican shore.
Liwonde National Park: Malawi's best game viewing
Liwonde National Park is where to go for the best game viewing in Malawi. You have a good chance of seeing large herds of elephant, different species of antelope and an incredible variety of birds. That said, a safari in Liwonde is less about checklists and more about a well-rounded wildlife experience: stay at Mvuu Lodge and go on early morning bush walks with friendly and knowledgeable guides, enjoy boat safaris on the croc-and-hippo-dotted Shire River, and in the evenings watch wildlife at the water’s edge from the comfort of your viewing deck.
Majete Wildlife Reserve: Big 5 country
Only 70 km south-west of Blantyre, Malawi's commercial capital, this 70 000 hectare conservation area sits in the Lower Shire Valley and has recently added lions to its already impressive list of large mammals. The little-visited reserve now boasts the Big 5 as well as zebra, hippo, crocodile and many species of antelope, and when you throw in well over 300 bird species you have a destination that is well worth a visit, especially in combination with the dazzling lake.
There are just two lodges in this Majete - our top pick is Mkulumadzi, known for its luxurious chalets and first-rate service. Enjoy guided nature walks, game drives and sunset boat safaris in a beautiful and tranquil wilderness far from the safari crowds.
Mount Mulanje: Malawi's hiking region
At just over 3 000m, Mount Mulanje is Central Africa’s highest peak. This granite mountain range is where to go in Malawi for fantastic hiking with a network of trails winding through tea plantations and cedar tree forests to spectacular waterfalls tumbling into icy rock pools – perfect for a refreshing dip! The hiking is quite challenging so you’ll need a reasonable level of fitness and decent walking shoes.
Blantyre: logistical hub for southern Malawi
Malawi’s main commercial centre, Blantyre is a vibrant African city of a manageable size with one of the country’s two international airports - the other being in Lilongwe. Apart from acting as the springboard for travel in southern Malawi, Blantyre holds little of any interest for international visitors. If, however, you do need to spend a night or two here you’ll find that the city has a decent nightlife (by Malawi standards) and a few good restaurants – try the 21 Grill at the Protea Hotel Ryalls.
Lilongwe: markets & restaurants in Malawi’s capital
Malawi’s capital Lilongwe is a well laid out city divided into New Town (to the north) and Old Town (to the south): the former has smart hotels, embassies and offices while the latter has the central market, outdoor cafés and lively restaurants, making it the more interesting area to explore. Most visitors to Malawi only have a brief glimpse of the city while flying into or out of the country but a day in Lilongwe can be worthwhile. Visit the market on Malangalanga Rd or look into some of the Indian spice and cloth shops for a bargain or two. Between the two towns is an interesting wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre and there are good sporting facilities at the Lilongwe Golf Club.
Nyika National Park: unique grassland habitat
Nyika National Park is Malawi’s biggest reserve and offers a unique landscape of high rolling grasslands and forested valleys. Day and night game drives give visitors the chance to see herds of roan antelope, eland and zebra as well as nocturnal creatures such as hyena, jackal and serval. The park also offers hiking and mountain biking as a great way to take in the magnificent views and appreciate the solitude and space.
Zomba Plateau: forest trails & phenomenal views
Zomba, the former capital of Malawi, has a bustling town centre and grand old buildings – their corners now softened by moss and ferns. The colourful city market is worth a morning’s browse but Zomba’s real beauty lies further up the slopes on the Zomba Plateau: a forested table-top mountain criss-crossed by streams and woodland trails. Walk to the regally-named lookout points of Queen’s View and Emperor’s View or simply sit back and enjoy afternoon tea on the terrace of the Ku-Chawe Hotel, perched on the edge of the plateau. Either way you’ll be rewarded with views so impressive they were described in colonial times as "the best in the British Empire".