Malawi is one of Africa’s smallest countries, a little over 45,000 square miles. Its northern border comes within 9 degrees of the equator with Tanzania to the north, Zambia to the west and Mozambique to east and south. The highest peak is around 10,000ft/3,000m while the lowlands are barely above sea level. These great contrasts help to make the landscape one of the most varied in Africa. Malawi is known as the Warm Heart of Africa and will provide visitors with a wonderful and memorable experience. Malawi is a landlocked country covering a total area of 118,484 sq km. It lies hidden in the Great East African Rift Valley. It is the combination of Landscape, Wildlife, the lake and its people which make Malawi one of Africa’s amazing countries. This is one of the safest and friendliest countries in the whole of Africa offering the visitor a fascinating variety of sights and experiences. Malawi has nine national parks and wildlife reserves which cover a great variety of landscape and vegetation types and include many genuine unspoilt wilderness areas. The big five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino) can still be seen in Malawi as well as a splendid range of antelope, and smaller cats such as the caracal and serval. Wild dog and cheetah are believed to be present but are rarely seen. The Malawian people are its greatest asset, friendly and welcoming. Every visitor is met with a smile and the warmth of the welcome is genuine and long lasting. With a population of around 12 million, Malawi is one of the most densely populated countries of this part of Africa. Most of the population is rural, living largely in traditional villages. Historically, the country was established in 1891 by Britain and in 1964, it became the independent nation of Malawi. After three decades of one-party rule under President Hastings Kamuzu Banda, the country held multiparty elections in 1994, under a provisional constitution, which came into full effect the following year. This country is divided into 3 regions as below;
It has so much to offer the visitor. Less well known than the rest of the country and with a lower population density, it is a region for those who wish to experience Africa at its most unspoilt. It’s quite astonishing beauty is the lasting memory of all who explore this unique area of central Africa. The north of Malawi has been described as the country’s forgotten region. It has a different character from the rest of the country and this is recognizable in its scenery, its people and even in its politics. Except for that part of the region which is occupied by Lake Malawi, the north is characterized by its great highlands. Most magnificent of all is the Nyika Plateau, towering to no less than 8000ft (2500m). The rolling landscapes of the centre of the plateau are described as whalebacks but the edges of this granite core are scarp-like especially where, in the north-east, it forms the edge of the Great Rift Valley. The other great highlands area is Viphya. This undulating plateau rises to 6000ft (1800m) although some peaks stretch a further 1000ft (300m) higher. West of the Viphya Highlands are the Mzimba Plains, a modest 4500ft (1400m) high and drained by two large rivers, the South Rukuru and the Kasitu which effectively separate Nyika from Viphya. On the borders with Zambia and with Tanzania, in the north, other significant ranges include the Malingu Mountains and the Misuku Hills rising to over 7000ft (2100m) and 6500ft (2000m) respectively.
South Malawi is the most populated, developed and varied region. It is also the part which shows the greatest European influence. With Blantyre-Limbe forming the commercial "capital" of Malawi, it is the region best known and most visited by those coming from overseas. South Malawi is a region of physical contrasts. Much of the area is dominated by the River Shire which snakes its way southwards from the Lake still running through the rift which is occupied by the Lake. The river falls some 1300ft (400m) from its exit from the Lake to the point in the south where it crosses into Mozambique. This fall brings it to just 125ft (40m) above sea level. On its journey southwards, the Shire crashes over falls and rapids but has its more leisurely stretches though broad plains. There are two substantial lakes in the region: Malombe and Chilwa. The River Shire flows through Lake Malombe which is just 6ft (2m) below Lake Malawi. The lake has attracted a number of fishing villages to its shores. Chilwa, east of Zomba, is part marsh and part lake. It is accessible from Zomba and is an interesting place to visit.
South Malawi is certainly not all plains and valleys. This is the region of central Africa’s highest peak, Mount Mulanje, which rises to nearly 10000ft (3000m). Impressively, Mulanje is only seventy miles from Malawi’s lowest point, just over 100ft (30m). Not too far from Mulanje is the region’s other great massif, the Zomba Plateau. This table-like mountain is over 6000ft (1800m) above sea level with sheer scarp-like edges. To the west of the Middle Shire Valley is the continuation of the Dedza Highlands and to the east is a high ridge, the Shire Highlands, a plateau area standing at 3300ft (1000m). Blantyre stands on this plateau but is surrounded by isolated peaks which stretch to over 5000ft (1500m).
The Lower Shire Valley is a broad flat plain of which there are excellent views as one descends the Thyolo escarpment from the plateau on the southern route out of Blantyre. Much is cultivated, including sugar estates, and the scenery greatly contrasts with that in any other part of Malawi. A national park and two game reserves are to be found here. At the southern end of the valley is Elephant Marsh, once the home of thousands of elephants but now famous for its birdlife. This natural marsh changes in size as rainfalls fluctuate. One day it may be drained to provide agricultural land. Without the cooling effect of high altitude, the Lower Shire Valley is where Malawi reveals its tropical location by high temperatures, especially in November-December.
Most international visitors to Malawi arrive at Lilongwe, the capital; hence their first view of the country is the Central Region. It gives easy access to the rest of the country, including the Lake, as well as being an exciting region in its own right. Anyone staying in the Central Region and not venturing outside its limits could be forgiven for being unaware that the region is actually part of the Central African Plateau. Gently undulating landscapes give the area the appearance of a plain and its altitude of some 4000ft (1200m) is not immediately evident. Only in the east, close to the Lake, where the plateau forms the edge of the Great Rift Valley, do its occasionally steep sides reveal the truth. The plateau is crossed by numerous rivers making their separate ways to the Lake and, here and there, isolated hills, called inselbergs, punctuate the gentle landscapes. North-east of Lilongwe is Dowa, a steep–sided plateau adding another 1000ft (300m) to the general altitude. To the south a narrow upland rib forms the border with Mozambique – this is the Dedza Highlands. The scenery in Central Malawi is less dramatic than elsewhere in the country but it has the same attractive variety that makes Malawi a wonderful place to tour. Its importance stems largely from the fact that its regional centre, Lilongwe, is also the national capital. Lilongwe and the pivotal position of the region give central Malawi a status which distinguishes it from the rest of the country. Though not in Malawi's Central Region or actually in Malawi at all, Zambia's South Luangwa National Park, one of the continent's greatest game reserves, is most easily accessed from Lilongwe.
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