The Republic of Malawi is a small country located south of the equator in eastern Africa. Malawi is bordered by Tanzania to the north, Zambia to the west and Mozambique to the south and east and is one of the smallest countries in eastern Africa. Malawi occupies only about 46,000 square miles, making it approximately the size of Cuba. Malawi is a land locked country; however, about one fifth of the country’s area is covered by rivers and lakes, mainly Lake Malawi, Africa’s third largest lake. The rift valley is the dominant feature, providing the vast chasm that Lake Malawi fills, and extending south in the country following the Shire River. The flatter areas of the rift valley in South Malawi are home to some important wetlands, such as the Elephant Marsh.
Lake Malawi, well know for its high biodiversity, is believed to contain the greatest number of freshwater fish species of any lake in the world. In the tropical fish trade, Lake Malawi(previously called Lake Nyasa) is well known among aquarists for its beautiful rift lake cichlids, whose bright colors rival those of many marine aquarium fishes.
The Republic of Malawi can be divided into three regions running north to south within the rift valley that surrounds Lake Malawi. North Malawi is the least populated of Malawi’s three regions and on average, it has the highest altitudes of the different regions. The north is characterized by highland areas and dramatic lake shorelines. The Viphya Highlands are undulating hills swathed in evergreen forests that stretch north to south in north Malawi reaching the edge of the rift valley. North Malawi also has the Nyika Plateau, a rolling whaleback grassland plateau unique in Africa and home to Nyika National Park, Malawi’s largest national park. Just south of Nyika National Park lies Vwasa Wildlife Reserve, a wonderful mixture of forest, grassland, and marsh habitats.
Central Malawi is home to the country’s capital, and the most common point of entry, Lilongwe. Most international visitors to Malawi arrive at Lilongwe since it gives easy access to the rest of the country, including Lake Malawi. Gently undulating landscapes give Central Malawi the appearance of a plain; however, it is actually part of the Central African Plateau at an altitude of 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) above sea level. In the east, the plateau’s escarpments descend into the rift valley and down to Lake Malawi and here steep sides reveal the plateau’s height. This plateau is crossed by many rivers making their way to Lake Malawi. Dzalanyama Forest Reserve lies west of Lilongwe and is well known to international birdwatchers. Northeast of Lilongwe is the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, a wilderness area of miombo woodlands on the rift valley escarpment cut by the magnificent Bua River. It is home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna. Central Malawi’s other protected area is the Kasungu National Park, a large area of woodland, bush and grassland habitats.
South Malawi is the most populated and developed region of the country, with a wide variety of landscapes, including Malawi’s highest and lowest points in the country. Blantyre, the commercial capital of the country, and Zomba, the old colonial capital, are both found in the south. This region contains three national parks and two wildlife reserves, including the Lake Malawi National Park, Lengwe National Park, Liwonde National Park, Majete Wildlife Reserve, and Mwabvi Wildlife Reserve. The southern part of Malawi is also known for its highlands. Mulanje Massif is a massive wilderness plateau of granite rising from the Phalombe Plains. It has a number of peaks, including the highest peak in Malawi and the whole of central Africa, Sapitwa, which rises approximately 10,000 feet (3000 meters) above sea level. Beautiful tea estates stretch west of Mulanje to Thyolo in these highlands.
Altitude moderates what would otherwise be an equatorial climate for Malawi. The low-lying areas in Malawi’s south have a warm tropical climate, while the mountainous sections of Malawi surrounding the Rift Valley are temperate. The wet season, with its equatorial rains and thunderstorms, occurs between November and April and the temperature is warm. After March, the rainfall rapidly diminishes and in this dry season, between May and September, there is almost no rainfall.
Formerly a British territory, known as Nyasaland, the country’s name was changed to the Republic of Malawi in 1964 when the country became independent. Malawi is currently one of the least developed and most densely populated countries in the world. The economy is based almost entirely upon agriculture, primarily tobacco, sugarcane, cotton, tea, corn, potatoes, sorghum, cattle and goats. Nearly 85 percent of Malawi’s population live in rural areas, with two thirds of Malawi’s population living in the south.
Malawi has a great potential for tourism and since the 1970s tourism has been growing in Malawi with the support of the Malawian government. Travel and tourism in Malawi has grown over the years to become one of the nation’s significant sources of foreign exchange. The National Statistical Office of Malawi reports that tourism has increased by an average of 12% per annum over the last decade. The country has been attracting visitors from around the world to enjoy its beautiful scenery, amazing wildlife and unrivalled natural history. The Malawian government identified travel and tourism as an industry to help build the country’s economy and has adopted a tourism policy designed to maintain the true essence of the African experience for the future. For these reasons, tourism is expected to play an important role in the development of Malawi’s future economic growth. Malawi will continue to attract tourists with its striking natural beauty, biodiversity, and unique geographic features such as its massive plateaus above the rift valley and spectacular Lake Malawi.
Malawi’s tourism industry continues to promote Malawi’s national park system; which includes Lake Malawi National Park, Nyika National Park, Lengwe National Park, Kasungu National Park, and Liwonde National Park; as a source of both pride and economic benefit.
Malawi National Parks
Liwonde National Park
Lengwe National Park
Lake Malawi National Park
Kasungu National Park
Nyika National Park
Majete Wildlife Reserve
Majete Wildlife Reserve is one of Malawi’s national game reserves. The park is located north of Chikwawa and is approximately 70,000 hectares. In the 1980s. this park, suffered from severe poaching and deforestation which had depleted of many of it’s large wildlife species. In the early 2000s the park has been restored and it is one of wildlife conservation’s greatest success stories. The park’s wildlife species includes African elephant, eland, zebra, leopard, baboon, various other species of monkeys, lions, black rhinos, warthog, hippopotamus, and crocodiles.
Now the park is protected by nearly 100 miles of fence and Majete may be the best place in Malawi to see large wildlife including Africa’s “Big 5” – African lion , African elephant, African Cape buffalo, African leopard, and African rhinoceros (either the white or black rhinoceros species).