10 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Malawi

Jul 22, 2021

The sight of lush, green, tropical Malawi is what most people expect from the name "Malawi" (formerly the British protectorate of Nyasaland). But visitors shouldn't be disappointed when they arrive. Malawi is more than "green and pleasant land." Indeed, the combination of fascinating history, beautiful scenery, friendly people, and fascinating wildlife make the country one of Africa's hidden gems.

At the end of WWII, British colonial administrator Chief Minister Michael Kamuzu Banda seized power. He instituted democracy and industrialized the country through social reforms. By the 1970s, Malawi was one of Africa's fastest-growing economies. Many areas of the country still retain their traditional architecture and lifestyle. It is a time-capsule back to the 1950s, when Malawi was still a British protectorate and its laws were modeled on those of the mother country.

Learn about Malawi's historical landmarks and sites while you're in the area with our list of the top tourist attractions in Malawi.

Lake Malawi

Photo of Lake Malawi
Lake Malawi: en.wikipedia.org

A paradise for backpackers, Lake Malawi is a region of lush tropical forest where hundreds of islands and other headlands jut out into clear blue waters. Birds are abundant and also fly through the air to arrive in the region. In and around the lake, jungle hikes are great ways to see the wildlife and get out of the village atmosphere, with more of the world's most remote, enchanting landscapes and people. Travel to the region, which is best accessed by boat, by air from Lilongwe or from the southern part of the country. More people than ever before are exploring the beauty of the lakeshore, and that has made more luxurious, eco-friendly lodges the norm.

Blantyre

Photo of Blantyre
Blantyre: en.wikipedia.org

Blantyre is the capital and largest city of the Malawi and has been the centre of Malawian culture since it was founded in the 1850s. The city is easy to get to from Zomba and Lilongwe in neighbouring Malawi and is home to two universities. Many travellers base themselves in Blantyre and explore nearby Mzuzu, the commercial capital of the southern region, which is home to banks and ATMs and has a small museum on the outskirts of town. Also nearby is the beautiful Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, a popular destination for safaris. Blantyre is a melting pot of ethnic groups including the Bakhita, Yao, Chewa, and a number of smaller groups. The well-preserved Salisbury Cathedral was originally built in 1865 as the resting place of the missionary Robert Moffat. The city has a variety of budget and luxury hotels. You can catch flights from all major international airports.

Lilongwe

Photo of Lilongwe
Lilongwe: en.wikipedia.org

Malawi's capital, Lilongwe, is an old trading town at the heart of the country's southern agricultural zone. One of Africa's main port cities, Lilongwe lies some 90 km from the Indian Ocean coast at Monkey Bay on the world's largest natural harbour at Livingstonia. The distance between the two is filled with peaceful green hills, affording a fine view of the deep blue waters of the Indian Ocean and endless lush vegetation. It is in the Lilongwe that the fabulous Kalambo Falls, close to Livingstonia on the coastal road, is located, at 1,619 meters the highest waterfall in southern Africa. Lilongwe has some large government buildings and the small Central Technical Institute of Malawi (CITM), situated on a large open playing field, as well as the Malawi Commercial Bank.

Karonga

Photo of Karonga
Karonga: en.wikipedia.org

Karonga is a well-heeled village in the southeast of Malawi. Surrounded by beautiful rolling tea plantations, the area is home to an indigenous people (the Yao), traditional elephants, zebras, buffaloes and the occasional lion, leopard or rhino. The culture is an island one of isolation, though the place still retains a lot of its beauty and offers travelers the opportunity to get away from the well-trodden paths of the safari circuit. It's remote, relaxing and quiet, the pace of life less frenetic than in nearby Nkhata Bay or Livingstone and better for wildlife and the environment.

Zomba

Photo of Zomba, Malawi
Zomba, Malawi: en.wikipedia.org

The tiny country of Malawi, in the southern hemisphere, is in the process of making the transition from a one-party, authoritarian state to a multi-party democracy. But there are still problems in the country, including high levels of poverty. The capital city, Blantyre, is a relatively modern, sprawly city; the former colonial capital, Zomba, has some very attractive historic buildings and is the center of Malawi's economy. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998, Zomba and its surrounding parks and hills provide pleasant hiking and sightseeing. Popular activities include viewing game animals in the Malawian bush, swimming in the country's many rivers, visiting the country's Banda and Nsanje (Nkhata Bay) national parks, and bird-watching on the vast plains near the lakeside town of Kasungu.

Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve

Photo of Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve
Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve: en.wikipedia.org

Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve is located in the southwest of Malawi, 90 miles from Lilongwe and borders Tanzania. This beautiful, peaceful reserve is home to one of Africa's most famous and endangered wildlife and plant species, the Nkhotakota (big cat) Leopard. A game reserve and conservation area, Nkhotakota was formerly a hunting reserve. It became a fully protected area in 1971, and in 1982 the Nkhotakota Leopard was declared the most endangered carnivore on earth. Although rare and shy, the Nkhotakota Leopard is considered relatively tame and will even cross roads. All visitors to Nkhotakota are required to visit the ticket office before they set off on their safari.

Mpanda

Photo of Lake Malawi National Park
Lake Malawi National Park: en.wikipedia.org

Located about 400 kilometers (250 miles) northeast of the country's capital, Lilongwe, is Mpanda. Its green hillsides cascade down to the Zambezi River. The primary attraction is the high-grade gold mining here that began in the 1930s. The local Mpanda Reserve, or Luamala, was established by President Kaunda and houses more than 3,000 head of animals that are used in the area's rural development efforts. While Mpanda has several hotels, you'll want to stay at the camp Mpanda Mountain Lodge, which offers an outdoor pool, small but varied game viewing, and hiking. To get there, follow the dirt road from Mpanda to Chikhundu, and then head northeast on the main road that leads up to the camp.

Mzuzu

Mzuzu (Mvuzu) is the capital and commercial hub of the southern region of Malawi, situated at an altitude of 2,227 meters. The town is home to the sprawling University of Malawi, the country's major university. In Mzuzu, attractions include the Princely College of Mzuzu which offers an exciting and unique three-day history festival, the Mzuzu Museum which showcases the diversity of Malawi's history, a number of quiet villages, and plenty of fresh local vegetables from the surrounding vegetable gardens and farmers' markets. It's not just the city itself that makes Mzuzu worth visiting. The Umalimela Safari Lodge and Reserve is a great example of a lodge in a conservation area that's also a protected National Park. There are two lodges in the reserve, the other is Olinda Lodge, which is located on the banks of the Bua River in the south.

Nkhotakota

Photo of Nkhotakota
Nkhotakota: en.wikipedia.org

Nkhotakota is a quiet tourist area around 100 km north of Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. Several hotels can be found in the area and there are no supermarkets, but the area is cheap and there are plenty of low-cost eateries if you want to grab something to eat on your visit. A number of the buildings and old mission churches have been restored and have colourful traditional Malawi furnishings, including colourful designs, carved wood doors, ornaments and more. For a quiet countryside experience visit Nkhotakota Vineyard in the Chilika River Valley. Nkhotakota has a relaxed feel and is a good base for those who want to see the river and lake reserves, plus hiking and birding trips.

Liwonde National Park

Photo of Liwonde National Park
Liwonde National Park: en.wikipedia.org

Liwonde National Park is set in lowland mopane savanna with trees, including the characteristic acacia-dominated dry woodland. These acacias can form a thick, impenetrable wall of foliage to the sun-filled southern-facing slopes, with a spectacular backdrop of montane forest on the north and east. The park was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000 due to its "the highest density and distribution of mature forest in the Southern Hemisphere." In some parts of the park, vegetation reaches about 400 meters and the average rainfall is approximately 1250 millimeters. Wildlife includes herds of buffalo and zebra, elephant and African bush elephant, spotted and black wild dogs, yellow baboons, servals, mongooses and over 400 bird species. Fishing is popular here, along with hiking. Visitors are expected to respect the environment by, for example, disposing of rubbish properly.