Most international visitors to Malawi arrive at Lilongwe, the capital; hence their first view of the country is the Central Region. It gives easy access to the rest of the country, including Lake Malawi, as well as being an exciting region in its own right. Gently undulating landscapes give the area the appearance of a plain, but it is actually part of the Central African Plateau at an altitude of some 4000ft (1200m). Only in the east, close to the Lake, where the plateau’s escarpments descend into the Rift Valley, do its occasionally steep sides reveal the truth.
The Central African Plateau is crossed by numerous rivers making their separate ways to the Lake and, here and there, isolated hills, called inselbergs, punctuate the gentle landscapes. Though not quite as high or dramatic as in other regions, Central Malawi has its fair share of highlands and forests. Dzalanyama Forest Reserve lies west of Lilongwe and is known for its birdlife. The Dedza Highlands, Dedza-Salima Forest Reserve, Thuma Forest Reserve, Dowa Highlands and Ntchisi Forest Reserve to the east of the capital stretch south-north along the edge of the Rift Valley.
North of Ntchisi is the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, a genuine wilderness area of miombo woodland on the Rift Valley escarpment cut by the magnificent Bua River. Just beginning to open up, it is also home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna, including a number of large mammal species. Central Malawi’s other protected area is the Kasungu National Park. A large area of woodland, bush and grassland and once Malawi’s main National Park, poaching and general neglect have seen animal numbers reduce.
Senga Bay is the closest point on Lake Malawi to Lilongwe, just an hour and half’s drive from the airport. It has a range of hotels & lodges overlooking lovely beaches, and a small forest reserve. It is also the place from which to gain access to the Marelli Islands, the 3 northernmost islands of the Lake Malawi National Park which are a 15 minute boat journey away. Further north, the beaches continue, though Nkhotakota is known more for its history as a centre for the slave trade whilst Dwangwa has grown as a result of the giant sugar estate here.
If it doesn’t quite have the natural diversity to match the other regions, in cultural terms, it is perhaps the most interesting region. Lilongwe, the nation’s capital, is a 20th Century creation of modern office blocks in a garden setting, though with a distinct, vibrant Old Town. But to the south-east is evidence of Malawi’s inhabitants from centuries past at the Chongoni Rock Art Area – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the densest cluster of stone age rock art found in central Africa. Nearby is Dedza, a pleasant forestry town overlooked by Dedza Mountain and home to the Dedza Pottery, where today’s artists and craftsmen can be viewed producing a variety of items then found all round Malawi or sold for export. Artistic skill is also on display at Mua Mission, almost directly down the escarpment from Dedza. Mua is a mission station whose students create the finest wood carvings in the country, if not the whole of Africa, and is also home to a fascinating cultural museum.
Places in Central Malawi
In the forested granite hills around Dedza is the Chongoni Rock Art Area, a UNESCO World Heritage SIte. this is the densest cluster of ancient rock art found in central Africa.
Dedza is a town of interest for a variety of reasons. At 1600m (5300ft) it is the highest town in the country and sits in a beautiful landscape of forests and highlands.
Thirty miles north of Nkhotakota is the settlement of Dwangwa, a useful place to stock up and refuel when travelling up and down the lakeshore.
Dzalanyama is approximately 40 km from Lilongwe and covers the steep range of hills which bear the same name. It's a beautiful natural environment to explore and enjoy.
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.
Lilongwe is Malawi’s capital. The Old Town is distinct and has the appearance of a traditional African settlement, whilst the City has much in common with other twentieth century urban developments around the world.
The Marelli Islands group, consist of three uninhabited islands that are protected as part of the Lake Malawi National Park. They are 3 km from the Senga Bay shore.
Mua Mission is famous for the quality of the wood carvings produced and sold there. The standards are superb and the prices very reasonable.
Often, but confusingly, described as the largest traditional village in Africa, Nkhotakota is rich in history. Visited by Dr Livingstone in 1863, it was then a major centre for the slave trade.
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.
Ntchisi Forest Reserve contains some of the last remaining indigenous rainforest in Malawi. Some trees tower thirty metres overhead.
Salima is an important service and trading centre set back from Lake Malawi whilst Senga Bay has a stretch of sandy beach with a range of hotels, lodges and campsites.
Accommodation in Central Malawi
Africa House Malawi is a stylish contemporary lodge that has been created from a unique blend of African designs, furniture, fabrics and personal collectables, set in the heart of Lilongwe.
Blue Waters is an elegant getaway for the discerning traveler to enjoy world-class service amidst tranquil surroundings. Situated on Senga bay, in the lakeside town of Salima along the shores of Lake Malawi.
Blue Zebra Island Lodge is situated in the Lake Malawi National Park on Nankoma Island, offering 9 exclusive tented en-suite chalets each overlooking the lake with some of the chalets boasting private lake access.
Bua River Lodge is a small and unique, owner-managed lodge located inside Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, where you are sure to feel at home and relaxation is guaranteed.
Dzalanyama Forest Lodge overlooks the Makata Stream, set amongst brachystegia trees, which attract a wide variety of birds and butterflies that frequent this habitat.
Heuglin’s Lodge is situated in the leafy residential suburbs of Lilongwe, just minutes away from the city centre, and is named after the robin, which is often seen in its gardens.
Kachenga Bush Camp consists of 3 chalets and is centrally located in Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, in a tranquil setting, with views out to Kasukusuku mountain.
Kambiri Beach is an exclusive resort, consisting of 67 rooms elegantly renovated, situated on the shores of Lake Malawi, in the picturesque town of Salima in the Senga Bay area.
Located in the capital city of Lilongwe, Korea Garden Lodge offers a range of accommodation at very competitive rates. The Lodge is on Tsiranana Avenue, close to the Lilongwe Golf Club.
Kumbali Country Lodge, is an exclusive and private lodge with conference centre only 10 minutes from Lilongwe City Centre and 25 minutes from the International airport.
Kumbali Lake Retreat is an eco-friendly lodge on the beautiful shores of Lake Malawi. Owned and run by the same family who own Kumbali Country Lodge in Lilongwe.
Kuwona Cottage is a private beachside cottage, run by 1 2 Travel Africa, situated on the beautiful shores of Lake Malawi. Enjoy spectacular views of the lake from your own private beach.
Mafumu Hotel is located in the unique ‘Old Town’ of Lilongwe, Malawi and is privately owned hotel with conference facilities. Situated only 30 minutes from the main airport.
Mitengo House is a new modern contemporarily lodge situated in a well recommended residential area of Lilongwe.
At Ngala you will be welcomed by friendly personalised service. Our beautiful lodge has stunning views of both the lake and mountains. You can see the sunrise and the sunset over the water at Ngala Lodge.
Rafiki Safari Camp is the perfect family comfortable safari getaway with double/twin or family Luxury Safari Units, located right by Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve.
Safari Beach Lodge is an eco lodge directly on the shore of Lake Malawi located in the secluded Senga Bay Forest Reserve. It has its own private beach, a swimming pool, a beautiful platform bar and a lush forest garden with views over Leopard Bay.
Tongole Wilderness Retreat is a luxury eco-lodge set deep within the rugged and breathtakingly beautiful miombo woodland of the 1,800 sqkm Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve.
North Malawi has so much to offer the visitor. Less well known than the rest of the country and with a lower population density, it is a region for those who wish to experience Africa at its most unspoilt.
Most international visitors to Malawi arrive at Lilongwe, the capital; hence their first view of the country is the Central Region. It gives easy access to the rest of the country, including the Lake, as well as being an exciting region in its own right.
The southern third of the country is the most populated and the most developed area of Malawi. Economically dominated by Blantyre and physically by the great Shire Valley and Mulanje Mountain, there is great diversity in South Malawi.