Two of the great attractions of Malawi’s national parks and wildlife reserves are their completely unspoilt wilderness and the absence of mass tourism. When you take a safari in Malawi you really do feel you’re looking at a scene that David Livingstone would recognise from 150 years ago. There’s a real touch of the Garden of Eden about the parks. You discover the animals on your safari, they are not lined up for your viewing as though in a theme park.
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 caracal 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 animals 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.
And there is a wide choice of safari types. You can use the customary 4×4 vehicle (most are open) for your game drives or you can really get to know the country and its wildlife on a walking safari. In some parks the walking safari is taken to the next level by allowing guests to focus on tracking particular animals on foot, especially rhino. Other options include boat safaris along the Shire river when in Liwonde or Majete. This is a wonderful way to see the animals close-up as they seem unperturbed by people in a boat. You can float close to the hundreds of hippos and watch the elephants drink just a few metres away. Canoe safaris are also offered in Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. Encounters with animals in the river here are less frequent, but the thick bush either side is rich with wildlife.
Malawi’s nine national parks and wildlife reserves are the places to go on safari and they cover a great diversity of landscape and vegetation types, so enhancing the variety of the safaris on offer across the country. With highlands, escarpments, forests, plains, grasslands, lowlands, riverine floodplains and many areas of genuine unspoilt wilderness, no two locations or safaris give the same experience.
In the north are the unique Nyika Plateau and Vwaza Wildlife Reserve: one a highland, the other a lower lying area. The central region has two vast game areas: Kasungu National Park in the west and Nkhotakota Reserve in the east. The latter is now developing very rapidly. 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 (a huge conservation success story and now a Big 5 reserve) and Mwabvi, as well as the private Chimwenya Game Park near Blantyre. 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 and a great site for anyone interested in an aquatic safari!
Beyond the safaris to see ‘big game’, 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. And for those looking for a more ‘hands on’ approach than a simple safari allows, there are opportunities to engage in Conservation Volunteer Projects.
Places offering Safaris
Chimwenya Game Park is a serene, beautiful and privately owned 500 acre game park, in one of the last remaining indigenous forests inteh Shire HIghlands.
Kasungu National Park is an 800 sq mile area of natural woodland and bush with stretches of open grass. Poaching has reduced numbers but there is still wildlife to be seen.
Lengwe National Park is 350 sq miles of dense vegetation with good birdlife and a number of mammal species to be seen. It is only an hour or so from Blantyre.
Liwonde is perhaps the most popular of all of Malawi's game parks. The River Shire flows along its western border, allowing boat safaris to discover the Big 5 and an array of birdlife.
The Lower Shire Valley is an extension of the Rift Valley and home to no less than three national parks/wildlife reserves.
Majete Wildlife Reserve is a unique conservation and tourist destination for all visitors. An amazing success story of recovery and restoration, and now home to the Big 5.
Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve is little neglected in terms of wildlife but the landscape includes scenic rocky outcrops and rivers cutting through impressive gorges.
Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve is one of the two large wildlife areas in Central Malawi. A true wilderness, it has a promising future after recent mass restocking.
Nyika is Malawi’s largest park. Superb wildlife and landscapes in one, it offers breathtaking, unique, scenery combined with wonderful safaris.
Volunteering with wildlife is a becoming more common as Malawi continues to be at the forefront of wildlife conservation in Africa.
Game viewing from a boat can be extremely successful as many animals are less concerned about what's close to them on the water than what's close to them on the land.
Malawi's varied terrains and environments create a birdwatcher's paradise. Around 650 different species have been identified and birds can be seen in the reserves and all across the country.