Lake Malawi is the country’s single biggest geographical feature and stretches 365 miles long and 52 miles wide earning it the name ‘Calendar Lake’. It is a very beautiful expanse of water, dotted with small islands and fringed by many stretches of clean, sandy beach and palm trees, making it a superlative beach destination.
Elsewhere along the shoreline, steep cliffs and a plunging escarpment in the east create a more dramatic landscape and the neighbouring hills of Tanzania and Mozambique form a stunning backdrop that is particularly beautiful at sunrise and sunset.
The waters of the lake are crystal clear and teeming with shoals of brightly coloured, small fish. Bird species here are in abundance, which include white-breasted cormorants, hamerkops, fish eagle, pied kingfishers and weavers, especially the lesser-masked and yellow weaver are just a few ever present.
To the south of Lake Malawi is the country’s best game-viewing area, Liwonde National Park. The Shire River (pronounced ‘sheery’) runs out of Lake Malombe and right through the western edge of the park attracting great numbers of game.
Liwonde has a healthy elephant population as well as small herds of beautiful sable, buffalo, wildebeest, zebra, hartebeest and, very excitingly, a number of black rhino. The river is home to crocodiles, mud turtles and an extraordinary density of hippos – approximately 40 per mile!
Elephants are frequently seen at the water’s edge as are bushbuck, waterbuck, reedbuck, oribi, kudu, klipspringer and sable. Leopard and hyena live here too but are rarely seen, unlike genet, civet and serval who are all regularly spotted. Warthogs, bushpigs, vervet monkeys and mongoose also abound.
The plateau is about 50 miles long and 35 miles wide and slopes gently down from 8,000 feet high in the west to 7,000 feet high in the east. It is characterised by a giant landscape of enormous ‘whale-back’ hills covered by montane grassland and patches of evergreen forest. In the lower lying parts of the park such as in valleys and on the edges of the escarpment savannah woodland begins to dominate. There are steep escarpments surrounding the plateau, where waterfalls emerge as rivers and springs from this giant catchment area make their way down towards Lake Malawi.
The range of vegetation on the plateau attracts a great diversity of animals and birdlife and at the same time the lack of obstructive, tall trees means that any game is easily spotted. Reedbuck, bushbuck, zebra, roan, warthog and eland are commonly seen. There are also klipspringers, jackals, duikers and hartebeest. Predators include spotted hyena and leopard. There are elephant and buffalo here as well but they are often confined to less accessible parts of the park.
The flora of Nyika Plateau is also incredible. There are over 200 recorded species of orchid, around a dozen of which are found nowhere else in the world. In the south east corner of the park is a protected evergreen juniper forest, with some trees reaching an astonishing 160 feet high – a super place to go on a walk.
There’s just so much you could do in Malawi, and we’re full of ideas to suit you. In the meantime, here are a few of our favourites.
Lake Malawi is a wonderfully rich environment and if you enjoy watersports, particularly diving and snorkeling, you are certain to be enticed by the lake’s warm waters and its colorful inhabitants. Kayaking makes a fascinating way to explore the lovely islands and bays – and there are also great opportunities to go sailing in these gentle, current-free waters. Also, don’t forget to dhow Dhow Sunset cruise!
To some, a minor part of a safari, to others, the most important bit! Lots of people go to Malawi purely for the amazing birding opportunities. There are over 400 recorded species of bird making the Nyika Plateau alone, which is specially known It’s renowned for being a birdwatcher’s paradise. Species include the rare Denham’s bustard, the wattled crane and one of its sub-species, the red-winged francolin. Bar-tailed trogons, cinnamon doves and the orange-fronted starred robin can also be found here.
Nyika Plateau aside, other regions also boast a surplus of birdlife. Liwonde National Park for example is also home to over 400 species. The river here is the favoured locality for fish eagles, cormorants, herons and hamerkops. In the grasslands there are many different kinds of bee-eater – and in the wooded areas there are many beautiful sunbirds as well as the migratory European swallow. And Lake Malawi also carries a high volume of species, which are stunning to view against the dramatic lakeside scenery.
Timing is everything, and when you choose to visit will play a huge part in the experience you have. Here’s some advice to help.
Lake Malawi contains the largest number of fish species of any lake in the world including 30% of all known cichlid (‘sik-lid’) species, perch-like freshwater fish.
The lake is home to a staggering 400 species of cichlid with all but 5 being endemic.
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