Malawi is a warm and welcoming country that offers visitors wonderful scenery, fascinating parks and some of the friendliest people in Africa. A long and narrow landlocked country, it covers more than 1000 kilometres from north to south, while Lake Malawi, nearly 600km long and up to 80km wide, dominates the countryside. When David Livingstone arrived at the lakeshore in 1861, he was the first European explorer to see the Lake, and was so awestruck that he started missions here.
There is no country in all of Africa that has its geography so sculptured and determined by Africa’s Great Rift Valley, the largest single geographical feature on Earth. Towering mountains, lush, fertile valley floors and enormous crystal-clear lakes are hallmarks of much of the Rift Valley – and Malawi displays them all.
Malawi’s people are friendly and outgoing, while being rooted in a patriarchal tradition that has a strict dress code. It is one of Africa’s more densely populated countries, with a population of over 16 million, and the country faces formidable challenges similar to other countries on the continent. The realities of modern African conservation are very apparent in Malawi unique topography. Chief among these challenges is a rural population that relies heavily on the basic natural resources of soil and water and the bounty they produce.
For those keen on experiencing African culture in all its complexity and beauty, Malawi is definitely the perfect country for this.
Aside from open water, the unique bio-geographical province of the Lake harbours a wide range of underwater habitats including sandy, weedy, rock-sand interface and reed beds. Lake Malawi holds a one-of-a-kind ecosystem, which over 400 species of fish found nowhere else in the world. There are also a number of islands dotted across the Lake, separated from the mainland by sandy flats and deep water. Much of its astounding underwater diversity is protected within the Lake Malawi National Park at Cape Maclear in the south.
Beyond the immediate orbit of the Lake, the floor of the Rift Valley rises steeply to hills, gorges with plunging rivers and precipitous valleys. The mountains and plateaux of Malawi form a dramatic and scenic contrast to the level surface of the Lake and its floodplains. The most extensive is the Nyika Plateau in the thinly populated north-east, while perhaps the most spectacular is the Mulanje Massif rising 2 000 metres out of surrounding tea estates in the south.
Between these two main high altitude areas and as the country slopes towards the Luangwa River in neighbouring Zambia, the high ramparts of the mountains morph into the undulating plains of the Central African Plateau. This landscape is generally cultivated and supports a large part of Malawi’s rural population.
At its southern extremity the Shire River drains Lake Malawi and flows through the country’s lowlands en route to its confluence with the Zambezi River. In the densely populated southern reaches of the country lie Liwonde and Lengwe National Parks and the Majete Game Reserve, subtropical contrasts to the protected areas further north. This is where the bulk of the country’s elephant population occurs and it is only here that the secretive nyala penetrates into Malawi.
Official name: Republic of Malawi
Population: Over 16 million
Area: 118,480 sq km
Geographical Coordinates: 13 30 S, 34 00 E
The Malawi unit of currency is the kwacha (abbreviated to MK internationally; K locally).
Chichewa is the national language, while English is the official language of the nation.
Malawi shares the same time as all southern Africa which is Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) + 2 hours
January to March – Hot and wet
April to May – Warm days and cool evenings, clear skies after the rains.
June to July – Warm days. Cool to cold evenings.
August – Warm to hot days. Cool nights.
September to October – Hot to very hot days.
November to December – Either hot and wet or hot and dry.
Temperatures vary from below freezing (at night on the high plateau in winter – July) to 38°C (in the Lower Shire Valley in summer – December). To generalise is difficult but through much of the year, and in regions visited by travellers, temperatures during the day are usually in the mid-20s. In the short hot season, November-December, maximum temperatures may rise to the lower 30s. Lake Malawi’s surface temperatures vary from about 24°C to 28°C.
Rainfall varies greatly. Some years in the early 1990s were exceptionally dry. Really high figures are rare. Parts of the Lakeshore can receive 1270 to 1525 mm a year but Lilongwe’s and Blantyre’s figures are less than half that. Much of the rain falls in short but heavy bursts
We recommend the following books specific to the Malawian region.
- A guide to the Fishes of Lake Malawi – Lewis, Reinthal and Tendall
- Malawi – Lake of the Stars – Frank Johnson
- Venture into the Interior – Laurens van der Post
- Livingstone – T. Jeal
- Livingstone’s Lake – O. Ransford
- Birds of Africa south of the Sahara – Ian Sinclair, Peter Ryan
- Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals – Jonathan Kingdon
- The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals – Jonathan Kingdon
- Malawi The Bradt Travel Guide – Philip Briggs
- Behaviour Guide to African Mammals – Richard Estes
- Field Guide to the larger mammals of Africa – Chris & Tilde Stuart