There has been lots of great media coverage recently about Malawi’s impressive hiking opportunities so we thought we should share this blog by Sarah Kingdom giving an inspirational run down of Malawi’s Top 8 Hiking Spots.
Malawi is a hidden gem for walking and hiking enthusiasts. With its stunning and diverse landscapes, this tiny African nation is perfect for those looking for some action and adventurers on their holidays. From the shimmering shores of Lake Malawi to serene forests, roaming zebras and ancient rock art, trace the Rift Valley’s escarpment or ascend the towering heights of Mount Mulanje’s soaring peaks, Malawi’s trails cater to all levels, from tranquil strolls to thrilling climbs. So, lace up your boots, embrace the spirit of adventure and let’s explore.
1. Mount Mulanje – The Highest Mountain in Malawi.
Height: 9,850ft Estimated Hiking Time: 3 Hours to 3 Days (depending on route)
Mount Mulanje is Malawi’s answer to Kilimanjaro – off the beaten track, with fewer crowds, unspoiled nature, a cheaper price tag, unique wildlife and endless surprises.
At 9,850ft high, Mount Mulanje is Malawi’s highest mountain and the third-highest mountain in Africa. Known locally as “chilumba mu mlengalenga” or ‘island in the sky’, on misty days the mountain is shrouded in haze and its peak, Sapitwa, pokes through the clouds.
Located just 40 miles from Blantyre, the Mulanje Massif rises dramatically from the plains, but despite its stark appearance, the mountain surprises with valleys, grasslands, wooded plateaus, and forested valleys, as well as breathtaking sunset views over southern Malawi. Whether you’re a seasoned mountaineer or a casual explorer, with six major trailheads and ten mountain lodges, as well as some great rock-climbing opportunities, Mount Mulanje has a diverse range of adventures that can be tailored to your interests and available time. Routes range from a 2.5-mile stroll to Likhubula Falls to the 8-hour Porter’s Race Loop. The Chambe Basin 7.5-mile hike is a good one for aspiring mountaineers alternatively, there’s a testing 3-day hike through gullies and past caves to reach jagged Chaguru Peak. The ultimate challenge is the Grand Traverse, a 5-day trek across the full length of Mulanje Massif. Embark on a guided adventure with a company like Adventures With Colby, where you’ll be well-fed and well looked after or, for the more intrepid, guides and porters, from the Guides and Porters Association of Mt Mulanje, can be arranged at the trailheads. Whatever you choose this is guaranteed to be an unforgettable adventure.
To learn more read Crafted Africa’s blog post about a 5-day hike on Mulanje.
2. Nyika Plateau – Walking amongst Wildlife
Height: 8,530ft Estimated Hiking Time: 1 – 5 Days (depending on the route)
Located in northern Malawi, Nyika National Park covers an area of 1,250 square miles. This is the largest national park in Malawi as well as its oldest. Almost the entire Nyika Plateau is designated as a national park, and the landscape of rolling hills, grasslands and flowers is stunning. The name Nyika means ‘where the water comes from’ and the plateau is Malawi’s most important catchment area. It is also home to nearly 100 species of mammal, 400 species of bird and the richest orchid population in south-central Africa, with more than 200 species (27 endemic) in bloom during the rainy season. Walking at Nyika Plateau is undeniably one of the best ways to explore this unique and wildlife-rich wilderness. There are marked trails for those keen to hike and camp for a few days. Best of all is the three-day hike from Nyika to Livingstonia Trail (25 miles). This challenging trek expedition connects Chelinda Lodge on the Nyika Plateau with Livingstonia, perched high on an escarpment overlooking Lake Malawi. Livingstonia was established by missionaries from the Free Church of Scotland back in 1894. You can hike in either direction, arranging guides and tented accommodations either with a Mushroom Farm Eco Lodge or through Chelinda Lodge. (Mountain bikes can also be hired at the lodge).
3. Zomba Plateau – Experience the Most Spectacular Scenery
Height: 6,847ft Estimated Hiking Time: 1 – 8 Hours (depending on route)
Zomba Plateau, approximately 50 miles north of Blantyre, rises from the surrounding plain and is an oasis of beauty and calm, and is easier to access (if less wild) than Mulanje. The plateau extends behind the sleepy and attractive Zomba Town (Malawi’s first capital until 1974). The plateau is a huge mountain of about 80 square miles, with its highest point, Malombe Peak, 6,847ft above sea level. It’s an excellent place for walking and hiking, with a number of easily followed roads and trails. The view from the top of Malombe is so beautiful it was known as ‘the best in the British Empire’ during the colonial period. Forests, hills and streams, serval cats, bushbuck, samango monkeys, giant butterflies and baboons; the plateau has pine plantations, rolling grasslands, forests, scrub and woodland and numerous spots to take in the views.
Zomba town offers good accommodation, restaurants, and British colonial architecture such as the Governor General’s residence and the Old Parliament buildings. Spend at least one night in the area and explore some of the many historical sites. Walkers can contact the Zomba Tour Guide Association for expert guidance.
4. Senga Hills (Senga Bay, Salima) – Magnificent View of Lake Malawi from the Top
Height: 1,600 ft Estimated Hiking Time: 1.5 to 5 Hours (depending on route)
About 70 miles from Lilongwe, Senga Hills rises from the lakeshore at Senga Bay in Salima District. Senga Bay is popular as the closest beach resort to Lilongwe, but it is also nice to see the lake from the top of the hills. There are seven hills here, within the Senga Hills Forest Reserve, all of which offer wonderful views of Lake Malawi – there are not many places that offer a panoramic view of Lake Malawi from the top of a mountain like the Senga Hills. The most popular trail takes you to the top of all seven hills and takes about 5 hours to hike. But if you’re short on time a 90-minute round trip to the top of the first hill will also be a great experience. The starting point is just before the entrance to the Sunbird Livingstonia Hotel, turn left. Some of the hills are a bit steep and first-time hikers should take a guide, as it can be difficult to find the route.
5. Viphya Plateau (Mzimba) – Discover the Largest Man-made Forest in Africa
Height: 2,050m Estimated Hiking Time: 3 Hours to 3 Days (depending on route)
Rising from the shore of Lake Malawi to 5,577ft, the Viphya plateau is home to the Viphya Forest Reserve, which covers an area of 347 square miles and is the largest planted forest in Africa. This is a lovely highland wilderness with several beautiful rivers flowing through it and into Lake Malawi. There are excellent hiking trails around Luwawa Forest Lodge, with marked paths (the lodge provides guided hikes). The area is also great for birdwatching, with more than 280 species to see. The most popular walk takes three days, beginning at Kawandama Hills, passing through the Viphya Forest wilderness, descending the steep slopes of the Rift Valley and finishing near the Kande Beach Resort on the shores of Lake Malawi.
This is also one of the best places in Malawi for mountain biking in the country. The 32-mile Luwawa International Mountain Bike Marathon has been held every June since the first edition in 2004.
6. Dzalanyama Forest Reserve (Lilongwe) – Hiking with More Than 300 Bird Species
Height: 1,650m Estimated Hiking Time: 3 Hours
Dzalanyama Forest Reserve is only 35 miles from Lilongwe, and is a popular hiking (and mountain biking) destination for both local and international tourists. There are 7 trekking trails that start from Dzalanyama Forest Lodge. Although the trails vary in length and difficulty, from easy walks to thrilling hikes, they are well-signposted. You can take a day trip from Lilongwe or stay at Dzalanyama Forest Lodge for the weekend to enjoy the hikes.
7. Blue Zebra Island (Lake Malawi) – Exploring a Remote and Beautiful Island Paradise
Estimated Hiking Time: 1 Hour
Blue Zebra Island Lodge is on Nankoma Island in the Marelli Archipelago. Access to the island is via a 20-minute boat ride across the lake. Lake Malawi is known for its water-based activities. But on Nankoma Island you’ll also find a 1.5 mile nature trail that circles the island, passing through old fig trees and giant baobab trees. The walk is leisurely, but a steep slope leads up to the summit, where a breathtaking panoramic view awaits. If you set out in the early morning you might be fortunate enough to see duikers and bushbuck on your walk.
8. Shire River Trail – Best hike for wildlife
Estimated Hiking Time: 3 days
This 23.6 mile adventure is organized by Central African Wilderness Safaris and starts from Mvuu Camp in Liwonde National Park. Day one starts at the foot of the Nafiulu Hills and leads to the banks of the Mwalasi River. On day two, you’ll reach the Shire. On day three, you’ll walk along the Shire back to Mvuu across wide open flood plains. This is an interactive bush walk, led by experienced guides. In addition to wildlife spotting, you’ll learn to identify tracks, understand habitats, and identify birds and animals. Accommodation is in tented camps, and walkers only have to carry a day pack with them.
The cooler months from April to September are ideal for hiking in Malawi, whether it’s clambering over boulders or taking a serene stroll. For those looking for an active Malawi holiday, Crafted Africa has an 11-day Walk Malawi itinerary that includes Mount Mulanje, nature trails in the Zomba Forest, walking safaris in Liwonde National Park, and island walks on Nankoma Island.
For further inspiration on hiking in Malawi, head over to our Walking & Trekking page here.
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