Two of the great attractions of Malawi’s national parks and wildlife reserves are their completely unspoilt wilderness and the absence of mass tourism. You really do feel you’re looking at a scene that David Livingstone would recognize. There’s a real touch of the Garden of Eden about them. You discover the animals, they’re not lined up for your viewing as though in a theme park.
There’s a wide choice of safari. You can use the customary 4x4 vehicle (most are open) for your game drives or you can really get to know the country and its wildlife on a walking safari. Other options include boat safaris along the Shire river. This is a wonderful way to see the animals close-up as they seem unfrightened by people in a boat. You can float close to the hundreds of hippos and watch the elephants drink just a few metres away. Other close encounters can be had, for example, when tracking elephant in Majete. The famous horseback safaris are back in 2010, an opportunity to ride alongside the antelope and zebra.
It is difficult to find many countries that can approach Malawi as a destination for birdwatching. Few indeed will get close to the range of species that can be seen and even fewer have such ease of viewing.
Malawi’s nine national parks and wildlife reserves cover a great variety of landscape and vegetation types, and include areas of genuine unspoilt wilderness. In the north are the unique Nyika Plateau and Vwaza Wildlife Reserve: one a highland, the other a lowland area. The central region has two vast game areas: Kasungu National Park in the west and Nkhotakota Reserve in the east. The latter is currently being developed to accept tourists. In the south, the best known national park is Liwonde, along the River Shire, but there are also three game areas further south: Lengwe National Park and the wildlife reserves of Majete (recently restocked) and Mwabvi. Near the southern limits of Lake Malawi is the world’s first freshwater national park at Cape Maclear. This is one of Malawi’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The big five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino) can be seen in Malawi as well as a splendid range of antelope and the smaller cats such as caracel and serval. Hippos are to be found in large numbers, so much so that they are almost symbolic of Malawi’s wildlife. A safari in Malawi is about memorable experiences, not tick lists, plenty of game in beautiful surroundings but no convoys of vehicles characteristic of some African game parks. Visitors are relatively few in number, giving everyone the opportunity to experience all types of safari: in a 4x4, by boat, on horseback or on foot, in peaceful privacy.
Malawi is truly an ornithologist’s paradise. Few countries in the whole of Africa can rival Malawi’s range of bird species coupled with the relative ease of birdwatching. Around 650 species have been identified with over ten per cent not being seen in other parts of southern Africa. Best known is the fish eagle to be seen at the Lake and along the River Shire but, as with the Lake’s fish, the range of species is breathtaking.
The variety of fish, over 600 species, to be seen in the Lake Malawi National Park is unequalled anywhere else in the world.