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Malawi is emerging as a destination that offers quiet beauty in the southern
end of the Great Rift Valley landscapes and unspoiled forests. It's a densely
populated country, with green productive land, lots of small traditional farms
and famously friendly people. Lake Malawi is the physical and spiritual
backbone of the country, stretching for over 300 miles and covering more than
20% of the country in water. It is the southernmost of Africa’s great lakes; is a
clear lake which is mineral rich and teeming with countless, brightly coloured
cichlid fish, most of which are endemic. It contains more than 500 species of
fish, the largest number of any lake in the world.
Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in Africa. Its approximate dimensions are
590km north to south and 85 km broad. It drains an area larger than Malawi
itself yet, surprisingly, only one river, the Shire flows from it. Eventually, the
water spills into the Indian Ocean via the River Zambezi.
The surface of the Lake is 470m above sea level. In the north it is quite
extraordinarily deep: 700m, plunging well below sea level. This reflects the
enormity of the natural faulting of the Great Rift Valley which is the origin of the
For much of the year the Lake is placid, a gentle giant, but, especially when
strong winds blow north or south, it can become quite choppy. Because of its
potentially rich harvest of fish, the Lake plays an important part in the country’s
economy. Fishing villages are scattered along the length of the lakeshore and
the traditional industry and practices are an attraction to visitors.
This small country is also a bird-watcher’s paradise, with some 650 recorded
species. Malawi’s strategic location between east and southern Africa allows
travelers the opportunity to see a unique combination of species from both
regions in a single setting. Travellers can follow the route of Dr. Livingstone
through the town of Blantyre, named for his hometown in Scotland, to the
savanna woodlands of Lengwe National Park, an important refuge for many
rare species. Away from the lake, three high plateaux, Nyika, Zomba and
Mulanje, tower above rolling farmlands; all offer gentle hiking in a rich
wilderness of moorlands and forests – and opportunities for some unique
Malawi provides plenty of opportunities for many types of activities. The lake is a
haven for boat activities and watersports, as well as having some of the best
freshwater diving sites in the world. Eight land-based national parks and
wildlife reserves offer all type of safaris in a wide variety of natural wilderness
environments. The mixed terrain and varied landscapes also provide for
excellent trekking and mountain biking opportunities, particularly in the
Malawi is blessed with no less than nine national parks and wildlife reserves.
In the north are the unique Nyika Plateau and the Vwasa Reserve. These
complement each other, one a highland, the other a lowland marsh area. The
central region has two vast game areas; Kasungu National Park in the west
and Nkhotakota Reserve in the east, near the Lake. To the south, the best
known national park is Liwonde, along the River Shire, but there are also three
game areas further south in the Shire Lowlands: Lengwe National Park and the
wildlife reserves of Majete and Mwabvi. Near the southern end of Lake Malawi
is the world’s first freshwater national park at Cape Maclear.
The big five can be seen in Malawi as well as a splendid range of antelope and
other smaller cats such as caracel and serval. Hippos are to be found in large
numbers, so much so that they are almost symbolic of Malawi’s prolific wildlife.
Malawi has a number of places of particular cultural and historical interest
across its regions, including original mission stations and centres of
excellence for handicrafts. Of the towns, Blantyre, Zomba and Mangochi have a
number of historical buildings, monuments and museums.
The best time to visit Malawi overall is in the dry season, which lasts from late
April to October or November. If you're coming to see wildlife, make it late in the
dry season, when animals converge at water holes. But beware, the heat can
be unpleasant, especially in the lowlands. The landscape is much more
attractive and conditions less oppressive from May to July, but there are fewer
animals about. The early dry season is the best time for bird watching; it's also
exceedingly hot, exceptionally wet or both.
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