The return of Malawi’s wildlife to protected parks and reserves is just one of myriad reasons discerning travelers are flocking to this landlocked country in southeast Africa. Though renowned worldwide for its friendly and welcoming culture, Malawi once seldom made the list as a coveted safari destination due to decades of poaching and deforestation. But thanks to the world’s leading conservationists who are working tirelessly to restore the country’s most prolific wildernesses to their original splendor, Malawi is quickly garnering appeal as Africa’s best-kept secret. On the forefront of rewriting Malawi’s future is park management nonprofit African Parks, bespoke operator A2A Safaris, and bush camp and luxury lodge provider Robin Pope Safaris, companies on the forefront of creating pioneering journeys for intrepid explorers.
Malawi’s most stunning natural areas—Majete Wildlife Reserve, Liwonde National Park, and picturesque Lake Malawi—are home to thriving lion, leopard, cheetah, elephant, and fish populations, landing Malawi on the map as East Africa’s next luxury, bush-to-beach safari frontier. Here's your guide to the ultimate itinerary.
Majete Wildlife Reserve
Although it’s home to one of the country’s most remarkable stories of wildlife restoration, Majete Wildlife Reserve was once an empty forest devoid of animals, apart from a few remaining antelopes. When African Parks entered into a 25-year agreement with the Malawi Department of National Parks and Wildlife in 2003 to manage the reserve, the team worked diligently to repopulate rhinoceroses, elephants, and big cats, all species that were poached to extinction by the 1990s. Now, the reserve is Malawi’s only Big Five destination, and tourism is on the rise thanks to the park’s premier luxury lodge, Mkulumadzi.
Set near the surging Kapichira Falls, the outpost offers eight chalets with extensive lounge areas and open-air views of the Shire River, Malawi’s largest river and the only outlet of Lake Malawi before it flows into the Zambezi River in Mozambique. Each chalet is equipped with a private deck, a perfect perch to enjoy Majete’s abundant elephant population as herds come by the dozens to drink from the Shire River’s brooks and streams.
Liwonde National Park
Countless elephants, hippopotamuses, and crocodiles line the banks of the Shire River in Liwonde National Park, a protected, dry savannah ecosystem marked by palm tree-dotted floodplains and forested mopane and acacia woodlands. The black rhinoceroses, lions, and leopards that flourish here are just part of Liwonde’s triumphant return as a wildlife haven. When African Parks began managing Liwonde in 2015, the park was home to more snare wire traps than large animals. After removing over 30,000 wire snares, the nonprofit worked with local community leaders to assuage decades of human-wildlife conflict, transforming the park into the home of one of the largest elephant translocations in history, when 336 elephants were relocated to Malawi’s Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. In 2017 conservation proved so successful, the park welcomed cheetahs back into the environment for the first time in over 100 years.
Wildlife restoration efforts are matched by new safari lodge Kuthengo Camp, a four-tent luxury bush camp positioned on an open plain stretching towards the Shire River, where a plethora of Africa’s finest birdlife flock in abundance.
Lake Malawi National Park
Snorkelers, divers, and kayakers worldwide flock to the depths of Lake Malawi—an aquatic paradise spanning 360 miles, north to south—to swim and paddle among more than 700 endemic species of turquoise, lavender, and neon yellow cichlids, a vibrant fish species with a biological evolution akin to ecological adaptations found in the Galapagos Islands. In fact, Lake Malawi harbors more species of fish than any other lake in the world, making Africa’s second deepest lake one of the largest lakes on Earth and a vital ecosystem in the African Great Lakes region. Flanked by the Great African Rift Valley’s rocky, granitic escarpments and rife with plenty of sandy bays and beaches perfect for dips along the water’s edge, the best way to explore Lake Malawi is by boat, especially in the protected Lake Malawi National Park.
During a stay in one of Pumulani’s grandiose chalets, gain access to the luxury lodge’s traditional wooden dhow, a vessel perfect for sunset sails of Lake Malawi, when the entire horizon turns to fiery hues of rust and rose.