Malawi’s national parks and reserves are less well known and visited than many and safaris here are free of crowds and provide excellent wildlife encounters in pristine surroundings.
We had so many memorable moments… wading across the Mkulumadzi river with our boots tied round our neck while keeping an eye open for the resident wildlife, seeing the thick-tailed bushbaby at the lodge and watching 12 different species of mammal coming and going in broad daylight at the waterhole.
The combination of plentiful wildlife and unspoilt landscapes is a winning one and that is just what Malawi provides. The country has nine national parks and reserves for big game safaris and a huge number of forest reserves where smaller animals and birds thrive. Here are a few of our favourites.
- Liwonde National Park: The Shire River is a natural water source which boosts the wildlife populations of this popular park and provides the means for boat safaris which supplement game drives and bush walks to provide a comprehensive safari experience. See more details in the Liwonde National Park place to go.
- Majete Wildlife Reserve: With the introduction of leopards and lions. In 2012 Majete became Malawi’s first and only Big 5 destination. Giraffe and cheetah are among other species recently introduced and the elephant population has been boosted so safaris here, made up of 4x4, walking and seasonal boating, are never short of sightings.
- Lengwe National Park: This park is known for nyala antelope and large herds of buffalo. Walking is not permitted and with no rivers safaris are traditional game drives involving stops at waterholes where animals gather which provide great sightings and photographs. There are over 300 species of birds including the beautiful Boehm’s bee-eater to please ornithologists.
- Lake Malawi National Park: This freshwater park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is located at Cape Maclear in the south of the lake. Although it includes land around the lake, the focus is on marine life, with diving, snorkelling and kayaking among the most popular activities. Possibly as many 700 species of cichlid fish in various sizes and colours are the main draw and there are chances to spot fish eagles, cormorants and kingfishers.
- Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve: This is the oldest and largest of Malawi’s game reserves and, after years of poaching, from 2015 populations of elephant and game have been introduced so now you can expect to find buffalo, sable, kudu, lion and leopard as well as elephant. Walking safaris let you experience the bush in a more immediate way than game drive though these are also offered and canoeing is a popular option.
- Nyika National Park: The biggest of the country’s national parks Nyika and covers almost the entire Nyika Plateau which consists of wildflower grasslands and hilly woodland slopes. Take a game drive to observe zebra, eland, reedbuck, bushbuck and, with luck, the oft-elusive leopard, of which Nyika has the largest population in the country.
- Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve: Explore the lowland wetlands and woodlands which are home to four of the Big 5, rhinos being the absentee, plus pods of hippos, crocodile, kudu and impala at Lake Kazuni and almost 300 species of birds. It has an unfenced border with Zambia’ South Luangwa allowing wildlife to move between the two. Nature walks and game drives are available.
- Forest Reserves: Primarily created to protect flora, Malawi’s dozens of forest reserves shelter many animals and birds. In the rainforest of Ntchisi you can hope to see small antelope, monkeys and bush pigs, trekking at Mount Mulanje may be rewarded with sightings of black eagle and buzzard while in Thuma, unusually for a forest reserve, there are larger mammals such as elephant, buffalo and leopard.