The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi, Africa’s third largest (and the world’s ninth largest) lake, is so vast in size that it borders three countries; Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. Also known as “Lake Nyasa” in Tanzania and “Lago Niassa” in Mozambique, this incredible body of water and continuous source of life covers a total surface area of 11,400 square miles. Located right at the southern end of the lake sits Lake Malawi National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a natural gem which makes home to Malawi’s flourishing wildlife including hundreds and hundreds of fish species, many of which are endemic to the region and can’t be found anywhere else in the world. It goes without saying that the ecosystem of Lake Malawi is utterly unique. And with such a large area of land encircling Africa’s third largest lake, every travel experience here will be utterly unique too. Here is the ultimate guide to visiting Lake Malawi at any time of year.

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This incredible lake is just one of the many wonders in Southeastern Africa and in recent years, Lake Malawi has received deserving recognition under the spotlight; what has been historically overlooked by the travel industry, has finally come to be a desirable safari destination. Voted as one of the Top 10 Places to Visit by Lonely Planet and named “Africa’s next go-to destination” by CNN Travel, Malawi is set to be an up and coming hotspot for 2016 and beyond. Stretching almost 365 miles in length (580km), reaching 47 miles (75km) wide at its thickest point and plunging 2,300 feet below sea level, Lake Malawi is much more than just an ordinary body of water; it’s a whole deep water world and a planet within our planet just waiting to be unravelled by explorers.

Cited as “the lake of the stars” by explorer Dr David Livingstone, Lake Malawi is as peaceful as it is thriving; bursting with life yet as tranquil as can be. A visit to the lake, wherever you may meet it along its perimeter will offer plenty of relaxation and splendid scenery to go along with your adventures. Expect beaches with golden sands, swimming and watersports, snorkelling and diving opportunities, sailing and kayaking, game safaris, birdwatching opportunities, and access to some of the most beautiful, traditional fishing villages.

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There are so many reasons to visit Lake Malawi; it’s an up and coming destination and a refreshing experience even for the most seasoned safari experts. From its kind and welcoming people to the impressive wildlife, here’s why you should consider Malawi for your next African safari trip.

Beat the Crowds

Malawi has always been a bit of a safari underdog so the good news is that you can beat the crowds. No matter what time of year you travel, you will have the pleasure of discovering this place without the heavy tourist footfall following closely behind you. This means that you won’t have to jostle for reservations when it comes to booking accommodation, booking a table at a restaurant or visiting a game park.

A Relaxed Atmosphere

Whilst Malawi’s commercial capital of Blantyre gets very busy, most of the country remains pretty sleepy and relaxed. Even the official capital Lilongwe boasts a chilled-out kind of vibe, and with such few cars and motor vehicles compared to other African destinations, you’ll never feel overwhelmed with traffic.

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The Locals are Friendly

It’s a reoccurring theme in Africa; locals are always very friendly and they are mostly welcoming of tourists, holidaymakers and travellers. But in Malawi, this kind of warmth and hospitality is amplified; nicknamed the “Warm Heart of Africa” in their native language, Malawi is a country where people greet you with open arms. Children are particularly friendly and will come and say “hello” whilst it’s common for adult natives to wave at you when passing. Acting like they know you is just ‘their way’.

Beautiful Beaches

Visit Lake Malawi in Malawi and you will get the opportunity to enjoy the best of both worlds; safari exploration and postcard-perfect beaches. The beaches feature soft, golden sand and unblemished panoramic views of the water, with nothing but a few traditional boats floating on the lake to obstruct your view. A beach holiday in Malawi truly is a paradise experience.

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Largest Number of Fish Species

The lake is an important source of life for so many of the country’s animals. The lake alone is home to hundreds and hundreds of endemic fish species (the largest in the world for lakes) – which otherwise would not exist without Lake Malawi – and the water also attracts hippos, baboons, warthogs, many species of birds, and occasionally even elephants.

Perfect Conditions for Diving

Due to the clear freshwater in the lake, the conditions are absolutely perfect for diving. For safe and enjoyable deep lake exploration, Lake Malawi is a dream. And for those who are unqualified or just don’t have the confidence to dive, snorkelling opportunities are just as exciting – with so much to see just from the water’s surface.

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Game Rehabilitation

Whilst tourism can be a double edged sword, visiting Malawi and its rehabilitation game parks and reserves can help to support their important work. Poaching was once a serious problem in Malawi but today, the government works together with non-profit organisations to repopulate and rehabilitate endangered animals. There are also many eco-friendly camps and hotels, all designed to help preserve and protect the country’s wildlife.

See the “Big Five” in Malawi

Game enthusiasts will be pleased to know that the “Big Five” in safari animals can all be seen in Malawi’s parks; this includes the elephant, the rhino, the lion, the leopard and the buffalo. Whilst Malawi doesn’t claim to be the best game spotting destination in Africa, the rehabilitation work conducted at Majete National Park aims to change that in the future. So this really is an up and coming African destination for spotting animals.

Malawi is a Safe Place to Travel

It’s very safe to travel to Malawi and the country has never experienced any civil unrest; so in terms of political tensions, Malawi is free from problems. The country offers a very easy going vibe and is generally free from traffic jams so it’s a great place to bring the kids if you are looking to plan a family safari holiday.

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The best time to visit Malawi can really depend on a lot of different factors; such as what you would like to do/see, whether you’re looking for mild weather conditions, what your travel budget is, or whether you would like to combine your visit to Malawi with other countries surrounding the famous lake. Here is a breakdown of the months and some guidelines according to climate.

December to February (Mid-Summer Months)

This is the height of summer and temperatures can get uncomfortably hot around January and February. Rainfall is at its highest too so you can expect high levels of humidity. Although some travellers still like to travel during this time, we don’t recommend it if you’re not a fan of extreme temperatures! If you travel during these hot, sticky months, mesh clothing with moisture wicking properties and breathable footwear / outerwear is highly recommended. The humid weather also attracts mosquitos so pack plenty of repellent.

March to April

Whilst temperatures remain high, rainfall drops significantly in March and drops even more dramatically when April arrives. This would be a much more comfortable time to visit Malawi and you will get a great opportunity to see the wildlife in and around Lake Malawi.

April to July

These four months offer a fantastic window of opportunity for safari goers. The weather is glorious at this time, with warm days perfect for the beach and cool evenings ideal for night time activities. It’s also a fantastic time to go game spotting; as rainfall is at a limit, animals can often be seen by following their predictable patterns of gathering around sources of water. So head to the lakes, rivers and streams for guaranteed sightings.

August to November

In August and September, the temperature starts to rise again (great months for a beach holiday) and as we approach October and November, the weather will reach 30°C and higher. October and November are definitely the best months for a game safari but just remember that the weather gets very, very hot so appropriate eyewear and sun protection will be paramount.

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Here at Signature Safaris, we have a number of different camps that can cater to your needs and preferences; whether you are travelling as a couple, in a group or as a family with children, there are plenty of well-managed, luxury camps for you to choose from. Our safari camps cover 5 key areas of Malawi, including the shores of Lake Malawi.

Lake Shore

The lake can be easily reached from other camp areas but if you’re looking to stay by the lake, we have three featured camps that could interest you. The Chintheche Inn is a family friendly beach front resort with large sized family rooms to accommodate the whole gang; the hotel also offers guided walks, birdwatching, snorkelling/diving, fishing and watersports. Alternatively, we also recommend Kaya Mawa, a luxury lodge which has been highly rated by Conde Naste and Tatler Magazine.

Liwonde National Park

Covering over 340 square miles, this is one of the most spectacular wildlife areas in Malawi and a great place to make your base during your visit. Within the park, you will get the chance to spot hippos, crocodiles, elephants and various species of antelopes (such as impala, waterbuck, reedbuck and bushbuck). Our camps include Mvuu Camp which is set on the beautiful banks of the Shire River and Mvuu Lodge which features a small handful of stylish and spacious tents (including twin family units).

Majete Wildlife Reserve

The Majete Wildlife Reserve is a fantastic destination for those who are looking to spot game in Malawi. The outstanding rehabilitation and repopulation work done here at Majete Wildlife Reserve has made it one of the most popular wildlife areas in the country. The restoration of the reserve continues and the “Big Five” can now be seen here. Mass translocation began in 2003 and by 2012, it was reported that there were thirteen species of over 2,500 animals including elephants, rhinos, buffalo, leopards, antelopes and zebra. Lions were also introduced later that year and today, the Majete Wildlife Reserve continues to thrive thanks to the non-profit organisations who manage it. To visit the Majete, we recommend staying at the luxury Mkulumadzi Lodge which boasts 8 exclusive chalets, all with their own living quarters and outdoor game-viewing terraces; guests can use the outdoor pool and family suites are also available.

Nyika National Park

Nyika National Park is Malawi’s largest national park, almost 2,000 square miles in size. If you want an off the beaten path safari experience, Nyika National Park is a superb destination; ideal for seasoned safari goers in want of something a little bit different. This stunning park is untouched by tourist footfall and offers some of the most spectacular, rugged landscapes. It’s the only big game Afro-montane area in this part of Africa and not only will you be able to spot game but there are also exquisite flower and plant species to be spotted too (including 11 orchid species found only in Malawi). To book your stay here, we can help you find accommodation at Chelinda Lodge, where wildlife sightings happen regularly or Chelinda Camp, which is best option for private groups.

Zomba Plateau

The Zomba Plateau is a must, and to visit Malawi and omit the Zomba would be sacrilege for any well-travelled safari goer. With the tall peaks of the Zomba Massif serving as a backdrop and surrounded by cedar and pine forests, this place is truly unique with an interesting mix of vegetation and plantlife. The Zomba is a great place to come for birdwatching, game spotting and butterfly spotting and there are plenty of activities in this area including hiking, game drives, fly-fishing or even horseriding. Our top featured camp is the Ku Chawe Inn which sits high up above the Zomba Plateau giving you unobstructed views.


 

We can offer help and advice on visiting Lake Malawi and other areas in Malawi, and we can advise on all of the locations / camps / resorts mentioned above. To find out more, call our team on 01342 811787 (US TOLL FREE 1-855-413-6422) or email info@signaturesafaris.com.