Malawi provides a hugely exciting range of activities for travellers. Lake Malawi is the main destination, so diving and snorkelling are particularly popular.
Malawi is a great destination for birding, with over 600 species recorded here. The best place to start is the national parks. Liwonde is an excellent spot, with particularly good birdlife along the river, and the forests in Nyika are also good. For water birds, Elephant Marsh in Malawi’s far south is your surest bet. Land & Lake Safaris in Lilongwe can organise birdwatching tours around the country.
Diving, Snorkelling & Other Water Sports
Lake Malawi’s population of colourful fish attracts travellers to come scuba diving. The lake is reckoned by experts to be among the best freshwater diving areas in the world, and one of the cheapest places to learn how to dive. The water is warm, and (depending on the season) visibility and weather conditions are usually good. Places where you can hire scuba gear and take a PADI Open Water course include Nkhata Bay, Cape Maclear, Likoma Island and Senga Bay. If you don’t want to dive you can still enjoy the fish: snorkelling gear can be hired from dive centres, and lakeside hotels rent out snorkels.
Upmarket lodges along the lake have facilities for waterskiing or windsurfing. You can also go sailing, or join luxurious ‘sail safaris’ where everything is done for you – Danforth Yachting and Pumulani in Cape Maclear on the southern lakeshore can both organise this. Kayaking is available at Cape Maclear and Nkhata Bay and at many of the lodges dotting the lakeshore.
You can go fishing in Lake Malawi for mpasa (also called lake salmon), ncheni (lake tiger), sungwa (a type of perch), kampango or vundu (both catfish). There are trout in streams on the Nyika, Zomba and Mulanje plateaus, and tigerfish can be hooked in the Lower Shire River. Anglers can contact the Angling Society of Malawi (www.anglingmalawi.org) for further details. Great salmon fishing can also be had in Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve; between April and June, mpasa swim up the reserve's Bua River to breed.
Hiking & Rock Climbing
The main areas for hiking are Mt Mulanje and the Nyika Plateau. Other areas include the Zomba Plateau, and various small peaks around Blantyre. Mulanje is Malawi’s main rock-climbing area, with some spectacular routes and Africa's longest vertical rock wall, although local climbers also visit smaller crags and outcrops. Rock climbing can also be arranged in Livingstonia and the Viphya Plateau.
The Mountain Club of Malawi provides a wealth of information about hiking and climbing on Mt Mulanje.
Plateau Stables offers both long and short rides on the Zomba and Viphya Plateaus, and Kande Horse (www.kandehorse.com) organises lakeshore trots on the Chintheche Strip.
Several lakeshore lodges hire out mountain bikes from about US$10 a day. Great mountain-biking areas include Nyika National Park, with its hilly landscape and good network of dirt tracks, and the Viphya Plateau. These areas' lodges offer rental bikes; the latter also hosts the Luwawa International Mountain Bike Race in June, while the Cape Maclear Triathlon in August incorporates cycling.