Malawi Travel Guide

© Justin Fox

Malawi is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa with 171 persons per sq. km of arable land. The main ethnic groups are the Chewa, Tumbuka, Yao and Ngoni. English is the official and business language in Malawi.

Chechewe is the national language and is widely spoken throughout the country, although Chitumbuka is the dominant language in the northern region. Malawi has a varied religious make-up comprising of traditional religions and Christianity (Catholic, Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, Anglican) with Hindu and Muslim minorities.

Malawi lies in the Great African Rift Valley system. Lake Malawi, 360 miles long and about 1,500 ft above sea level, Lake Malawi is the county's centrepiece. Like an inland sea, it has endless palm-fringed beaches, enclosed by sheer mountains, making it undeniably the focal point for Malawi's tourists. Malawi is a landlocked country located in southeastern Africa. It is bordered in the North and East by Tanzania, on the east, south and southwest by Mozambique and to the west by Zambia.

Much of the land surface is plateau and elevations rise of over 2,440 m in the Nyika Plateau in the north and in the regions of Mt. Mulanje 3,050 metre (10006.5 feet), and Mt. Zomba 2,135 metre (7004.5 feet). The Shire highlands in the south are lower. To the north, there are rugged highlands with rolling hills in the Nyika and Vwanza plateaux, whilst in the South, traversing the escarpment that forms part of the Great African Rift Valley, lie the lowlands of the Shire Valley.

More than 300 bird species have been recorded in the Nyika Plateau, including the Den Ham's bustard, the Malachite Sunbird and Red-Winged Francolin all found in the grassland area, whilst the Cinnamon Dove, Bartailed Trogon and Starred Robin is found high in the forest canopy, particularly the Chowo forest near the Zambian Resthouse.

Four birds found on the Nyika plateau that has not been recorded anywhere else in Malawi, the yellow Mountain Warbler, Churring Cisticola, Cracking Cloud Cisticola and Mountain Marsh Widow. It also contains three butterfly species and one species each of Chameleon, Frog and Toad which are found nowhere else.

Kasungu National Park

The Kasungu National Park is Malawi's second-largest (over 2,000km2) lying at approximately 1000 metre (3280.8) feet above sea level. It is situated in the Central Region. The park's vegetation consists mainly of Miombo woodland broken up by grassy river channels, known locally as Dambos.

A number of rivers flow through the park, the most important of which are the Dwanga and the Lingadzi, A tributary of the Lingadzi, the Lifupa, dams as Lifupa Lodge which creates the spot for game viewing within the park, especially to see the resident hippos. Kasungu is famed for its population of Elephants, though poaching is, even today, a big problem.

Just as Elephants it also boasts a large variety of buck, including Sable, Roan, Kudu, Impala and Hartebeest as well as Buffalo and Zebra. Predators in the Park include Hyena, Wild Dog and Serval.

Nkhotakota Reserve

Nkhotakota Reserve is situated 115km (71.4 miles) to the North East of Lilongwe, on top of the Rift Valley escarpment above the lake. It is the oldest established reserve in Malawi. The Bua River cuts through the middle on route to the lake and provides an excellent spot for a bit of fishing for Mpasa and Lake Salmon (permits are required). There are no open plains but Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, Leopard and Hyena can all be found in this area. Birdwatching is especially rewarding with more than 300 species being recorded, including Pel's Fishing Owl and Palmnut Vulture.

Lake Malawi National Marine Park

Lake Malawi National Park was only designated a National Park in 1980 was established at the southern end of the Lake to protect the unique diversity of tropical fish living there, some not found anywhere else on earth. The National Park is the most important freshwater fish sanctuary in Africa and it was the first park in the world to give protection to the marine life of a tropical deep water, Rift Valley Lake.

The Nankhumba Peninsula, forms the centrepiece of a miniature archipelago of twelve islands, and encompasses Cape Maclear, where scuba diving and snorkeling are popular activities. The underwater game viewing experience matches anything that the land has to offer. The natural habitats has resulted in an extraordinary concentration of different species of plants, animals and birds, quite asides from the hundreds of species of fish that can be found in the region, the most famous of which is the Mbuna Chichlids.

Geography and Climate

Malawi is a landlocked country located in southern central Africa along the western side of part of the Great Rift Valley of Africa. Covering a total area of 118,484 sq. km, it stretches some 900 kilometres north to south and between 90 and 161 kilometres east to west. Around one-fifth of the country is inland water. Malawi is bordered by Tanzania to the north and north west, Mozambique to the east, south and south west, and Zambia to the west.

Lake Malawi is the largest of the five lakes in the country, and is the third largest in Africa, covering a total area of 23,310 sq. km. High plateaus rise up from the shores of the lake to the west, north and south, the highest point being Mount Mulanje, near Blantyre in the southern part of the country. Varies from cool in the highlands to warm around Lake Malawi. Winter (May to July) is dry and nights can be chilly, particularly in the highlands. The rainy season runs from November to March. Around Lake Malawi, in winter, the climate is particularly dry with pleasant cooling breezes.

The climate is generally subtropical. From May to August it is cool and dry, with July being the coldest month. Temperatures range from 15.5 to 18 degrees Celsius (59.90 F to 64.40 F) in the plateau regions and from 20 to 24.5 C (68 to 76.10 F) in the rift valley areas. September to November is hot and dry with temperatures ranging from 22 to 25 C (71.60 to 77 F), and 27 to 30 degrees Celsius (80.60 to 86 F) in the plateau and Rift valley respectively.

From mid-November to April it is hot and wet with 90 percent of the annual rainfall occurring during this time. December and January are the wettest months. Total annual rainfall averages between 760 and 1,015mm with some areas in the plateau recording more than 1,500mm each year.

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