Africa Safari Wildlife

Malawi travel tips: 6 perfect spots for a road trip through the Warm Heart of Africa

Malawi is a beautiful and diverse destination, but one almost completely ignored by global tourism. As one of Africa’s best-kept secrets, it offers everything from mesmerizing safari tours and deep cultural experiences, to beach holidays rivaling the Mediterranean. Trot Op! took a three-week trip through the country, just to be able to present you with the biggest attractions and the best accommodation.

Visser bij Lake Malawi

Ah, a trip to Africa: now that’s an adventure. The exhilaration that comes with discovering old and unknown cultures; the pleasure of marveling at one otherworldly landscape after another; the adrenaline pumping through your veins while getting chased by some rabid animal and the joy of having to get your shots after you narrowly escaped: it’s always an experience. It was therefore with some pride I started telling everyone I knew I was going to spend the majority of May in Malawi this year. Me and my factor 50 sunscreen would be taking pictures for the tourism office while visiting the whole country.


Malawi travel tips: 6 perfect spots for a road trip through the Warm Heart of Africa

I was therefore quite surprised when exactly none of my friends knew what a Malawi was and where they could find one. I was headed to a fairly undiscovered country it seemed, and it showed on arrival. My flight to the tiny airport of Malawian capital Lilongwe was mainly filled with home comers, volunteers and self-proclaimed missionaries. Unknown and unloved, and that’s a shame. After all: Malawi is an extraordinarily beautiful country that, like a hen that doesn’t know it just laid an egg, is sitting on a bunch of great assets.

“Malawi is an extraordinarily beautiful country: ideal for both adventurous road trips and safaris, as well as relaxing beach holidays.”

Malawi, first of all, is safe and stable, and English is commonly spoken. Many people you’ll meet along the way are almost unbelievably friendly and invested, and for a relatively small country there are incredibly diverse landscapes to explore. Safari parks are available in all shapes and sizes, and in recent years they’ve (finally) been managed professionally. And then of course there is the lake. Lake Malawi is incomparable to any other location on the planet, and raises the whole country from a fun destination to a completely unique experience. Time to go and take a look for yourself I say. To visit these six magnificent highlights, for example.


1. Lake Malawi: swim through whole schools of African Cichlids

wat te doen in Malawi: Cichliden in Lake Malawi

In primary school I had a friend I used to visit, to – as a first careful step towards psychopathy – throw GI Joe action figures down the stairs with. His father had whole walls of fish tanks in his living room, and Malawi was his dream destination. There was one simple reason for this: there are more different species of fish in Lake Malawi than there are on the entire American and European continent combined. Most of the 850 species that were already discovered are so called African cichlids. These are fish in all sorts of bright colours who protect their young by lovingly stuffing them into their own mouths. Think about that for a second, next time you give your sweet old mother a kiss.

“There are more species of fish in Lake Malawi than there are on the entire European and American continents combined. Most of them are colourful African cichlids: just about the most popular fish in the aquarium hobby.”

Jump off the boat in the right spot and you’ll swim through whole schools of dozens of different species: a snorkelling experience without equal in fresh water. The lake is so large – it’s about the size of Belgium – that in some areas you can’t see the shoreline, and on windy days the waves can be surprisingly high. It sometimes feels like the Mediterranean. You’ll see everything from white sandy beaches to deserted islands and lush jungles full of ugly baboons and two-meter-long monitor lizards. Every sunset is a painting and every evening a fleet of local fishermen will go out onto the lake to spend the night there in self-made canoes. The starry sky then appears to be mirrored in the water by the lamps they take to brighten the darkness. It would be quite the romantic sight to enjoy with your arm around a local beauty, were it not for the little flies that are literally everywhere at night. Well, even paradise wasn’t perfect, or we’d still be there.


Wat te doen in Malawi: vissers op Lake Malawi
Wat te doen in Malawi: visarend op Lake Malawi
Wat te doen in Malawi: Domwe Island Lake Malawi
Wat te doen in Malawi: Cocktails drinken in Blue Zebra Lodge Lake Malawi


2. Safari in Malawi: Majete Wildlife Reserve

Wat te doen in Malawi: op safari in Majete Wildlife Reserve

In the early 2000s, Majete Wildlife Reserve was a place with lots of trees but barely any animals. Everything on two or more legs had been poached or butchered, and the odd remaining monkey was deemed too sad to eat. All this changed dramatically in 2003, when the reserve was taken over by African Parks. That same year, armed rangers were hired and rhinos were transferred into the park. Three years later a whole bunch of elephants followed, and in 2012 a pride of lions was introduced. Today, populations are humping each other silly in such astonishing rates, they have to transfer some of the offspring to other parks in an effort to prevent overgrazing.

“Twenty years ago, there was no such thing as going on a safari in Malawi. Every animal on two or more legs had been poached or eaten. Today however, the parks are thriving like never before.”

Majete Wildlife Reserve consists mostly of dense African bush, with the Shire River running through it like a silver ribbon. This thick foliage is not only fun to drive through singing the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang theme, but it also allows the big five to hide themselves quite easily – especially in the rainy season. I spent the entire first day fruitlessly looking for elephants with a guide, just to have four of them walk right past my bedroom window after leaving the camera at the restaurant. The river cruises organised here are great fun too. They’ll take you to a sandy sunset spot along the water where you can have some beers while you enjoy the day winding down. A couple of weeks before I arrived, a raging lioness burst out of the bushes right when they were preparing the picnic. “Make yourself look big, don’t panic, and for God’s sake don’t run away!” the guide yelled, but when he looked over his shoulder, he saw everyone else had already ran straight back to the boat. Never flee from a charging lion kids, unless you’re absolutely positive there’s at least one person dumb enough to stand in place. #lifehacks

Wat te doen in Malawi: uitkijkpunt in Majete Wildlife Reserve
Wat te doen in Malawi: kudu in Majete Wildlife Reserve
Op Safari in Malawi: Wrattenzwijn


3. More safari in Malawi: Liwonde National Park

Mcloud in Liwonde National Park

Liwonde National Park wasn’t doing too well either before it entered the African Parks portfolio in 2015. On the average walk you’d find more snares than animals, and because it wasn’t fenced, locals ran the risk of getting trampled by angry elephants. Just four years later the entire park was electrically fenced, more than 30,000 (!!) snares were removed and 336 excess elephants were given permanent leave to other parks. Today, Liwonde is a gorgeous reserve. The Shire runs its course through this one as well, but the river is much wider and calmer here. Sit down in front of your hut by the water and you’ll see half a zoo worth of animals passing by: from chubby hippos with weird birds on their heads to roving gangs of monkeys and ridiculously large Nile crocodiles.

“Sit down in front of your hut in Liwonde National Park and you’ll see half a zoo worth of animals passing by: from chubby hippos with weird birds on their heads to roving gangs of monkeys and ridiculously large Nile crocodiles.”

Sunset is the most beautiful moment to see the park. You can crack open a cold one with your guide along the river and watch the sun bleed out over a landscape full of termite mounds and antelopes, while a dozen hippos grunt happily in the water just meters from your folding chair. You’d be hard pressed finding a more essential African scene anywhere else. I’d belt out the Lion King opening theme to go with it but I guess it would scare away the animals. It would also be kind of offensive.

Olifant in Liwonde National Park
Wat te doen in Malawi: riviercruise in Liwonde National Park
Wat te doen in Malawi: kudde waterbokken in Liwonde National Park
Wat te doen in Malawi: nijlkrokodil in Liwonde National Park


4. The Zomba Plateau: ride a horse next to dazzling cliffs

Wat te doen in Malawi: Zonsondergang in Zomba Forest Lodge op het Zomba Plateau

In times gone by, Zomba was Malawi’s capital, and apparently one of the nicest looking colonial cities in British Africa. Today it’s a dusty town with a typical African market and many cheerful little shops with funny names. The surrounding landscape is more interesting: vast plains as far as the eye can see, with the occasional rugged monolith piercing the horizon. The Zomba Plateau is one of these, and it towers above the entire city. On top you’ll find beautiful grasslands perfect for horseback riding, and dizzying cliffs allowing views over what seems like half the country. Somewhere halfway up the plateau – only accessible by a bumpy dirt road – lies the Zomba Forest Lodge: one of the nicest places I spent the night at in Malawi.

“The Zomba Forest Lodge is one of the most unique accommodations in Malawi: a colorful old house in a little rain forest, with only four guest rooms and no electricity. But what you do get, is what’s possibly the best food in the whole country.”

The Zomba Forest Lodge is a colourful old house with just four guest rooms, run by Tom and Petal: a very friendly and very British couple.  There is no electricity available on the premises, which means the nights are darker than the hole in your soul and everything has to be lit with candles and solar powered lanterns. On a clear night you can see the entire Milky Way passing over the roof. You’ll enjoy the best food in Malawi twice a day during your stay, and in the eight hectares of protected forest around the property, hundreds of dazzling little birds fly from flower to flower. Spending a few days here, in a hammock with a gin & tonic on your belly, is a form of therapy the world’s best psychiatrist can’t prescribe. Having no means of connecting to the outside world means you can’t worry about it either.

Wat te doen in Malawi: Samango Monkey in Zomba Forest Lodge
Wat te doen in Malawi: Zomba plateau
Wat te doen in Malawi: Waterval rond Zomba Forest Lodge
Wat te doen in Malawi: Bijeneter in Zomba Forest Lodge


5. Mount Mulanje: adventurous trekking in Malawi

Wat te doen in Malawi: vrouw plukt thee met Mount Mulanje in de achtergrond

Mount Mulanje is a gigantic granite slab of rock in the south of Malawi: the bigger version of Cape Town’s already impressive Table Mountain. It’s a plateau with an approximate altitude of 2,000m, and it has a number of higher peaks on top. This makes it the ideal place for a brisk mountain hike. There are even some chalets available up top to enjoy an overnight stay in. Around the mountain are endless tea plantations on gorgeously rolling hills – also a sight to behold. The people living around Mulanje are generally a bit more superstitious than the rest of the country: live in the shadow of a monstrous mist-shrouded mountain for a thousand years and you’ll start seeing stuff as well. There are many legends told of the mythical things lurking near the summit. One of them tells about a one-eyed, one-legged monster floating around in the thin mountain air – hopping about would indeed look a little silly – that’ll make you disappear forever if you dare and look it in the eye. Eerily familiar to the women who seem to suddenly go up in smoke as soon as I give them my most endearing smile on a Saturday night at the bar. One more gin & tonic please.


6. Accommodation in Malawi: the best hotels, safari lodges and resorts

Accommodatie in Malawi - Mkulumadzi Lodge Majete
Accommodatie in Malawi - Fisherman's Rest
Accommodatie in Malawi - Fisherman's Rest
Accommodatie in Malawi - Mkulumadzi Lodge Majete

Fisherman’s Rest: this is an old colonial house close to Blantyre, in the middle of a gorgeous domain full of bungalows and gazelles. It’s the brainchild of one British man who sold everything in the UK to start a new life here. He’s done more for the local population than the government. Through Fisherman’s rest, several schools and libraries have been built, reforestation projects are underway, locals are being employed, bricks and even reusable sanitary pads are being made (so that girls can continue going to school while on their period) and they’re helping the surrounding villages to cook in a more ecological way. Wonderful place.

Mkulumadzi Lodge: this is the most luxurious safari lodge in Majete Wildlife Reserve. The lodges are gigantic and come with a bathtub overlooking the wilderness. The camp is located right next to the river, so animals can be seen almost constantly, and a large campfire is lit every evening. Of course, safari tours are offered here throughout the day. You can even spend the night in a bed out in the wilderness (surrounded by a sturdy wooden fence, no worries).

Accommodatie in Malawi - Zomba Forest Lodge
Accommodatie in Malawi - Game Haven
Accommodatie in Malawi - Game Haven
Accommodatie in Malawi - Zomba Forest Lodge

Game Haven Lodge: this is a golf resort located on a gigantic property near the town of Blantyre. You can walk around the domain freely, and will encounter herds of antelopes, wildebeest, zebras and the occasional giraffe along the way. These animals graze on the actual golf course all day long, and in the evening they come and eat the ivy covering your bungalow.

Zomba Forest Lodge: an old mansion in a piece of rain forest on the Zomba Plateau. As mentioned, they don’t have electricity here, but they do have some of the best food in the country. Fantastic place to unwind for a few days, and horse riding is offered (in collaboration with the nearby riding school) for the more sporty guests.

Accommodatie in Malawi - Mvuu Lodge Liwonde NP
Accommodatie in Malawi - Mvuu Lodge Liwonde NP
Accommodatie in Malawi - Mvuu Lodge Liwonde NP
Accommodatie in Malawi - Kuthengo Camp Liwonde NP

Mvuu Lodge: this is one of the most popular safari lodges in Liwonde National Park. The luxury tents are set up next to a jetty that runs along a marshy inlet of the river, so you’ll see animals foraging for food all day long. Baboons were once a pest here – ransacking the kitchen every time they saw an opportunity. This is why they lured the boldest males into a cage and released them on the opposite side of the very wide and crocodile infested river. An hour later, one of them popped right back up, raiding the kitchen with a newfound air of superiority. They gave up and started calling him Chambari: the local word for plate. A short walk away is Mvuu Camp: a larger but slightly less luxurious safari lodge, where you can pitch your own tent as well if you want to.

Kuthengo Camp: this is another small but very luxurious lodge in Liwonde National Park. There are only four (very nice) tents available, and they’re quite far apart from each other. It will sometimes feel like you’re all by yourself. Each tent has a wooden terrace on jetties overlooking the water. As a result, you’ll sometimes see hippos grazing a few meters from your bed. Another great location.

Accommodatie in Malawi - Mumbo Island Lake Malawi
Accommodatie in Malawi - Blue Zebra Island Lodge Lake Malawi
Accommodatie in Malawi - Domwe Island Lake Malawi
vijgenBoom bij blue zebra lodge Lake Malawi

Pumulani Lodge: this is beautiful resort on a large domain with a private beach along the shores of Lake Malawi. The lodges here are gigantic and offer every comfort, and the restaurant is top notch. Speedboat tours are offered here every day, so you can see the fish eagles in action and swim among the cichlids yourself.

Mumbo Island: this is a tiny paradise island in the middle of Lake Malawi. All the little wooden huts are set up high above the rocks with the door facing the lake – including a hammock to doze in. There is no electricity here either, but everything else you need for a relaxing holiday is available. Go snorkelling near the little beach in front of the restaurant, and you’ll see fish all around. Don’t mind the croc-sized monitor lizards sunbathing. They won’t eat you if you don’t bother them.

Domwe Island: this is a somewhat larger island near Mumbo, belonging to the same organisation. This one offers more basic accommodation for budget travelers. Here you’ll stay in a nice tent in the forest. There’s a general meeting place for food and games, and there’s a beach nearby. You can go for a number of great hikes here, passing a couple of fabulous viewpoints. Between the rocks at the foot of the camp lives a family of dassies – strange but incredibly cute rodents closely related to the African elephant. The only other place I’ve ever seen them was on top of Table Mountain.

Blue Zebra Island Lodge: this is a more extensive lodge on yet another island in Lake Malawi. The boat ride there can be a bit rough and your suitcase may not be completely dry when you arrive, but the island itself is wonderful and lush. There are thousand-year-old fig trees here, with gnarly roots you can shelter under while standing, and all kinds of water activities are on offer. There’s a bush baby living in the restaurant roof. It comes down to beg the waiters for pieces of banana every evening.


Do you have any more questions about Malawi? Did I forget your favorite spot? Leave your comments down below. Looking for more information on safaris in Malawi? Click here. Fancy some other African adventures? Then read my articles about Eswatini, Nairobi, Dakar and São Tomé.



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  • Reply
    Kelly Thunde
    June 11, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    So well written and gorgeous photos! Thank you so much for featuring our beloved Malawi….as you said, undiscovered beauty. This article has done my heart well. We haven’t been able to get back to visit for nearly 10 years to see our family there but our hearts still long for the day we get to the Warm Heart of Africa once again.

    • Reply
      Jonathan Ramael
      June 11, 2019 at 1:12 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind words. A gorgeous country indeed, and I wasn’t even able to visit the whole north (which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful parts).

  • Reply
    Ramael Marc
    June 12, 2019 at 8:34 am

    Hey Jonathan , terwijl ik jouw reisverslag over Malawi lees is het alsof ik er zelf ben . Het is alsof ik de vogels en de dieren kan horen , de bloemen kan ruiken , de op en ondergaande zon met mijn eigen ogen kan zien ! Hopelijk kan je zo nog vele reizen maken en le lezers en volgers begeesteren met je onwijs grappige reisverhalen .

    • Reply
      Jonathan Ramael
      June 12, 2019 at 10:06 pm

      Merci Merci, zelf eens gaan he, dan moet ge ni alleen naar de foto’s kijken. 😉

  • Reply
    Kelly White
    June 12, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    Hi Jonathan. We were SO pleased that you were able to visit Malawi and were very excited to see all of your amazing images (which we will very happily be using to help promote the country for years to come!) Your entertaining and amusing blogs are so well written and an added bonus of the trip. Wonderful!

    • Reply
      Jonathan Ramael
      June 12, 2019 at 10:04 pm

      Thank you so much for making it happen Kelly, it was an experience I won’t soon forget. Good to hear that you’re happy with the results. So which other countries are in your portfolio still? :p

  • Reply
    Pemphero khruzs
    June 12, 2019 at 10:34 pm

    This is a good article, its exciting to see how the country is viewed from outside. Am proud to be a part of the people of this undiscovered country.

    • Reply
      Jonathan Ramael
      June 12, 2019 at 10:39 pm

      Thank you so much! Hopefully it will get a bit more discovered by some more tourists soon. 🙂

  • Reply
    June 13, 2019 at 5:28 am

    Hahaha I’m Malawian and came across your blog thanks to the invasive algorithms of Facebook. You write well and enjoyed the humour and/or sarcasm sprinkled all over it. When you visit again make an effort to also see the dramatic landscapes of Northern Malawi, with whole mountains dropping themselves into the deeper reaches of the lake, zebra reigned grasslands, bird-controlled marshy reserves and stuff. On Zomba, I hoped you had gone a kilometer higher to Ku Chawe Inn, Chingwe’s hole, The Emperor’s View and the magnificent Mulungu Dam. All in all thanks for your post. Next time you come, inform us in good time so you do not miss the one eyed one legged character in season!

    • Reply
      Jonathan Ramael
      June 13, 2019 at 11:12 am

      I was taking pictures for the tourism consortium, so my itinerary was fixed, but that does sound pretty alluring. 🙂

  • Reply
    Art Shaw
    June 16, 2019 at 7:45 pm

    Jonathan, thanks for the great article on Malawi. My daughter has lived there for three years, and I cannot get her because of her love of the Malawian people. She now speaks the language and has met her fiancé there. We visited and saw three of your five sites – Zomba where she lives, Majente and swam in Lake Malawi. And did not bring back any parasite!
    Thanks for telling others about this country.

    • Reply
      Jonathan Ramael
      June 16, 2019 at 11:13 pm

      Thank you for reading! Hope you get to visit many more times Art! 🙂 And Zomba is not a bad place to live. She should go and eat in the Forest Lodge. 😉

  • Reply
    June 19, 2019 at 10:59 am

    Great article about Malawi its the sheer diversity and product offering that make it exciting. Malawi is a gem tucked away among the giants and a visit is worth the while

    • Reply
      Jonathan Ramael
      June 20, 2019 at 12:49 pm

      Hopefully more people will discover it soon. A bit more tourism would help the local communities as well if done right. 🙂

  • Reply
    Tobias Kumwenda
    July 17, 2019 at 2:21 am

    Jonathan Ramael, you speak words ‘Well’ explained.

    I see lots of sense weaved in this whole write up.

    Good for detailing Malawi – The Warm Heart of Africa so perfectly.

    • Reply
      Jonathan Ramael
      July 17, 2019 at 11:03 am

      Thanks Tobias, appreciate the comments! 🙂
      You have a wonderful country.

  • Reply
    NyaMpo (Masiya)
    August 13, 2019 at 1:15 am

    Home sweet home.

  • Reply
    Jonathan Ramael
    August 13, 2019 at 1:32 am

    Thanks for reading!

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