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Malawi: a paradise for walking hiking enthusiasts

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From the shimmering shores of Lake Malawi to serene forests, past roaming zebras and ancient rock art, to the towering heights of Mount Mulanje, Malawi’s trails cater to all levels, from tranquil strolls to thrilling climbs. So, lace up your boots, embrace the spirit of adventure and let’s explore, writes mountain guide Sarah Kingdom.

1. Mount Mulanje – the highest mountain in Malawi.

Height: 3 002m. Estimated hiking time: 3 hours – 3 days (depending on route).

Mount Mulanje is Malawi’s answer to Kilimanjaro – off the beaten track, with fewer crowds, unspoiled nature, a cheaper price tag, unique wildlife and endless surprises. At 3 002m high, Mount Mulanje is Malawi’s highest mountain and the third-highest mountain in Africa. Known locally as “chilumba mu mlengalenga” or “island in the sky” as on misty days, the mountain is shrouded in haze and its peak, Sapitwa, pokes through the clouds. Whether you’re a seasoned mountaineer or a casual explorer, with six major trailheads, ten mountain lodges, and some great rock-climbing opportunities, Mount Mulanje provides a diverse range of adventures that can be tailored to your interests and available time.

2. Nyika Plateau – walking amongst wildlife

Height: 2 600m Estimated hiking time: 1-5 days (depending on route).

Located in northern Malawi, Nyika National Park covers an area of 2 012km2. This is the largest national park in Malawi as well as its oldest. Almost the entire Nyika Plateau is designated as a national park, and the landscape of rolling hills, grasslands and flowers is stunning. Nyika means “where the water comes from”, and the plateau is Malawi’s most important catchment area. It is also home to nearly 100 species of mammal, 400 species of bird and the richest orchid population in south-central Africa, with more than 200 species (27 endemic) in bloom during the rainy season. Walking at Nyika Plateau is undeniably one of the best ways to explore this unique and wildlife-rich wilderness. There are marked trails for those keen to hike and camp for a few days. The three-day hike from Nyika to Livingstonia Trail (40km) is best of all. (Mountain bikes can also be hired at the lodge).

3. Zomba Plateau – experience the most spectacular scenery

Height: 2 087m Estimated hiking time: 1-8 hours (depending on route).

Zomba Plateau, approximately 50 miles north of Blantyre, rises from the surrounding plain, an oasis of beauty and calm, and easier to access (if less wild) than Mulanje. The plateau extends behind the sleepy and attractive Zomba Town (Malawi’s first capital until 1974). The plateau is a huge mountain of about 129km2, with its highest point, Malombe Peak, 2 087mabove sea level. It’s an excellent place for walking and hiking, with several easily followed roads and trails. The view from the top of Malombe is so beautiful it was known as “the best in the British Empire” during the colonial period. Forests, hills and streams, serval cats, bushbuck, samango monkeys, giant butterflies and baboons; the plateau has pine plantations, rolling grasslands, forests, scrub and woodland and numerous spots to take in the views. Walkers should contact the https://www.zombatourguides.com/ for expert guidance.

4. Senga Hills (Senga Bay, Salima) – magnificent view of Lake Malawi from the top Height: 488m Estimated hiking time: 1.5 to 5 hours (depending on route).

About 113km from Lilongwe, Senga Hills rises from the lakeshore at Senga Bay in Salima District. Senga Bay is popular as the closest beach resort to Lilongwe, but it is also nice to see the lake from the top of the hills. There are seven hills here, within the Senga Hills Forest Reserve, all of which offer wonderful views of Lake Malawi – there are not many places offering a panoramic view of Lake Malawi from the top of a mountain like the Senga Hills. The most popular trail takes you to the top of all seven hills and takes about 5 hours to hike. But a 90-minute round trip to the top of the first hill will also be a great experience. The starting point is a left-turn just before the entrance to the Sunbird Livingstonia Hotel. Some of the hills are a bit steep and first-time hikers should take a guide, as it can be difficult to find the route.

5. Viphya Plateau (Mzimba) – discover the largest man-made forest in Africa

Height: 1 700m Estimated hiking time: 3 hours to 3 days (depending on route).

Rising from the shore of Lake Malawi to 1 700m, the Viphya plateau is home to the Viphya Forest Reserve, which covers an area of 558km2 and is the largest planted forest in Africa. This is a lovely highland wilderness with several beautiful rivers flowing through it and into Lake Malawi. There are excellent hiking trails around Luwawa Forest Lodge, with marked paths (the lodge provides guided hikes). The area is also great for birdwatching, with more than 280 species to see. The most popular walk takes three days, beginning at Kawandama Hills, passing through the Viphya Forest wilderness, descending the steep slopes of the Rift Valley and finishing near the Kande Beach Resort on the shores of Lake Malawi.

6. Dzalanyama Forest Reserve (Lilongwe) – hiking with more than 300 bird species Height: 1 650m Estimated hiking time: 3 hours.

Dzalanyama Forest Reserve is only 56km from Lilongwe, and is a popular hiking (and mountain biking) destination for both local and international tourists. 7 trekking trails start from Dzalanyama Forest Lodge. Although the trails vary in length and difficulty, from easy walks to thrilling hikes, they are well-signposted. You can take a day trip from Lilongwe or stay at Dzalanyama Forest Lodge for the weekend to enjoy the hikes.

7. Blue Zebra Island (Lake Malawi) – exploring a remote and beautiful island paradise

Estimated hiking time: 1 hour.

Blue Zebra Island Lodge is on Nankoma Island in the Marelli Archipelago. Access to the island is via a 20-minute boat ride across the lake. Lake Malawi is known for its water-based activities. But on Nankoma Island you’ll also find a 2.4km nature trail that circles the island, passing through old fig trees and giant baobab trees. The walk is leisurely, but a steep slope leads up to the summit, where a breathtaking panoramic view awaits. If you set out in the early morning you might be fortunate enough to see duikers and bushbuck on your walk.

The cooler months from April to September are ideal for hiking, whether it’s clambering over boulders or taking a serene stroll. For those looking for an active Malawi holiday, Crafted Africa has an 11-day Walk Malawi itinerary that includes Mount Mulanje, nature trails in the Zomba Forest, walking safaris in Liwonde National Park, and island walks on Nankoma Island. IB

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