The southern third of Malawi is the most populated and the most developed economically. Dominated by Blantyre and physically by the great Shire Valley and Mulanje Mountain, as well as being home to a number of National Parks and Wildlife Reserves, including the Lake Malawi National Park, there is great variety to be experienced in South Malawi.
Snaking through the region, the Shire River (pronounced ‘Shri-ee’) drains Lake Malawi, and follows the Rift Valley southwards. The Lower Shire Valley is broad and flat as the river flows out to Mozambique in the extreme south of the country. This is the lowest point in the country, yet only just over 100km away is Malawi’s highest peak, the great Mount Mulanje which towers to over 3000 metres (9850 feet) – the highest mountain in the whole of central Africa. It is actually a massif of peaks and basins, a huge forested ‘island in the sky’ accessible only on foot. The area between Mulanje and Blantyre is dominated by tea estates. Full of beautiful scenery and great colonial character, the estates at Thyolo are easy to visit. To the west of Mulanje is the region’s other massif, Zomba Plateau. This is a table-like mountain rising to over 2080 metres (6800 feet) with sheer scarp-like edges. It’s possible to drive the top of the plateau to explore the forested interior and take in the stunning views from the edges.
South Malawi has more National Parks & Wildlife Reserves than any other region. Three of them are in the low lying Lower Shire Valley, home to vast sugar estates and accessed by descending the dramatic Thyolo Escarpment south –west of Blantyre. Majete Wildlife Reserve stretches west from the Shire River and is currently being re-stocked as a ‘Big 5’ destination. Lengwe National Park has a good variety of antelope, including the beautiful nyala, and is easy to explore on driveable tracks and using hides at waterholes. Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve is the most remote and sadly largely neglected and rarely visited. The area furthest south in the Lower Shire Valley is Elephant Marsh – notable now for its birdlife. Further north and on the upper reaches of the Shire River, is Liwonde National Park, Malawi’s premier game park, which offers boat safaris as in addition to the usual walking and 4×4 safaris.
The last of South Malawi’s National Parks is the Lake Malawi National Park at Cape Maclear. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the waters and fish are protected, making the Lake here a veritable aquarium of tropical fish. Between the port of Monkey Bay and the historic Mangochi is Lake Malawi’s greatest concentration of hotels and lodges, with a long line of wonderful sandy beaches backed by a variety of accommodation options. This is known as the Mangochi Lakeshore. South Malawi has two other lakes of note, Malombe, which is a broadening of the Shire River shortly after it leaves Lake Malawi, and Lake Chilwa, a wetland area of international importance.
Blantyre is the regional capital and the country’s commercial heart. Sitting in the Shire Highlands, surrounded by peaks, it has modern shops and a number of interesting historical buildings. Zomba was the capital in colonial times and that legacy remains today with a gymkhana club, war memorials and colonial buildings to be visited. Sitting in the shadow of the Zomba Plateau, it’s also a great place to witness a modern-day African market. On the Lake, Mangochi is a point of historical interest and Monkey Bay is the largest port and home to the famous mv Ilala lake ferry.
Places in South Malawi
The largest urban area in Malawi, the conurbation of Blantyre & Limbe, is the country’s commercial capital.
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.
Elephant Marsh is part of the flood plain of the River Shire. Though now devoid of elephants it is still home to a fantastic array of birdlife.
Lake Chilwa is Malawi’s second biggest lake, home to unique fishing villages and a designated wetland of international importance because of the huge bird populations it supports.
Lake Malawi National Park is the world's first freshwater national park and world heritage site, situated at Cape Maclear.
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.
Mangochi is sited between Lakes Malawi and Malombe and has a number of historical monuments dating back to the beginning of the twentieth century.
The Mangochi Lakeshore is a strip of southern Lake Malawi where many popular hotels and resorts offer beachside accommodation.
Monkey Bay is considered to be one of Malawi's main lake ports, and is where the famous Ilala ferry docks and begins its weekly sojourn up and down the Lake
Mount Mulanje is Malawi's highest peak. At 10000ft (3000m), Mulanje dwarfs all that surrounds it. It lies to the east of Blantyre and is easily accessible.
Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve is little neglected in terms of wildlife but the landscape includes scenic rocky outcrops and rivers cutting through impressive gorges.
Tea has been grown at Thyolo, south-east of Blantyre, since 1908 and the primly trimmed bushes (strictly, trees) give the whole area the appearance of a neatly kept but vast garden.
Known for its views, Zomba Plateau is a great slab of a mountain with vast tracts of cedar, pine and cypress and criss-crossed by streams with tumbling waterfalls and still lakes.
Zomba Town is in a beautiful setting below the plateau of the same name. This was the original capital of Malawi and the first settlement of the colonial administration.
Accommodation in South Malawi
AfricaWildTruck Camp and Lodge in Mulanje is an eco friendy lodge and camp located at the base of Mount Mulanje.
Sited on the slopes of Thyolo Mountain, this historic tea planter’s bungalow is a relaxed, family friendly retreat surrounded by lush subtropical rainforest on Satemwa Estate.
Chimwala Bush Camp at Liwonde National Park is an excellent opportunity to experience the beauty of Malawi’s Wildlife in a small and safe place.
Domwe Island offers visitors a unique combination of island and African bush environments, run by Kayak Africa.
Fisherman's Rest is short 20 minute drive to the south-west of Blantyre with magnificent views over the Great Rift Valley and Shire river.
Game Haven Lodge lies within the beautiful 500 acre Chimwenya Game Park, part of the Shire Highlands and one of Malawi's last remaining indigenous rainforests.
Originally the family home built by Maclean Kay in 1928, Huntingdon House exudes a colonial charm and unique character that cannot be recreated, deep within the Satemwa Tea Estate.
Kuthengo Camp is a stunning new safari lodge located on a large open plain stretching towards the Shire River in Liwonde National Park.
The Majete Game Capture Camp is a brand-new campsite located in the wilderness of the Majete Wildlife Reserve. Guests can participate in game viewing activities such as game drives, boat and walking safaris.
Located on a private concession within Majete Wildlife Reserve, Mkulumadzi offers guests a chic and contemporary retreat set amidst rugged and untouched bush land.
Mumbo Island Camp offers an exclusive escape on an otherwise-deserted island in Lake Malawi National Park.
Mvuu Camp is located in Liwonde National Park offering an excellent camp option for guests who want to enjoy the ultimate bush experience in a comfortable and relaxed setting.
Mvuu Lodge offers a luxurious stay and an intimate getaway in a secluded setting in Liwonde National Park, right by the Shire River.
Ng’ona Lodge is an oasis in the African bush. It is in a tranquil environment on the banks of the Shire River just outside the entrance to Majete Wildlife Reserve.
Norman Carr Cottage situated alongside the sandy beaches on the southern shores of Lake Malawi, nestles under a canopy of large indigenous trees.
Pumulani is situated on the west side of Nankumba Peninsula at the southern end of Lake Malawi, exclusively nestled within the Lake Malawi National Park.
Situated in Majete Wildlife Reserve, in the Lower Shire Valley, one hour drive from Blantyre, Thawale Camp provides excellent accommodation for visitors wishing to enjoy game viewing in the newly re-stocked reserve.
The Makokola Retreat a large resort with stunning gardens and lakeside villas on the white sands of the Mangochi Lakeshore.
The Warm Heart Adventure Lodge is based in Chembe Village, Cape Maclear and is along side the Lake Malawi National Park.
Villa 33 is the perfect location for business and independent travellers who need short to medium term accommodation in Blantyre. The lodge is set in 1.7 acres of beautiful tropical gardens.
Zomba Forest Lodge is a cosy and intimate guest house nestled in 20 acres of mixed woodland. A perfect forest retreat where relaxation is guaranteed.
Zua Safari Lodge, located just 2km from the entrance of Majete, is a captivating retreat that harmonizes the modern comforts of a luxury lodge with the untamed allure of Africa’s wilderness.
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.