Malawi is one of Africa’s smaller countries, a little over 45,000 square miles, of which about 20 per cent is occupied by Lake Malawi – Africa’s third biggest lake. The Lake itself is a great inland sea, some 360 miles north to south and up to 50 miles wide. Much of the time this tideless, freshwater lake gently laps the golden beaches which surround it. But on rare occasions it can show its anger in a fierce storm. Its fish-rich waters are home to the mbuna, colourful tropical fish in greater abundance here than anywhere else in the world.
Malawi is blessed with no less than nine national parks and wildlife reserves. In the north are the unique Nyika Plateau and the Vwasa Reserve. These complement each other, one a highland, the other a lowland marsh area. The central region has two vast game areas; Kasungu National Park in the west and Nkhotakota Reserve in the east, near the Lake. To the south, the best known national park is Liwonde, along the River Shire, but there are also three game areas further south in the Shire Lowlands: Lengwe National Park and the wildlife reserves of Majete and Mwabvi. Near the southern end of Lake Malawi is the world’s first freshwater national park at Cape Maclear. The big five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhino) can be seen in Malawi as well as a splendid range of antelope and other smaller cats such as caracel and serval. Hippos are to be found in large numbers, so much so that they are almost symbolic of Malawi’s prolific wildlife. Malawi’s birdlife is renowned. Best known is the fish eagle to be seen at the Lake and along the River Shire but, as with the Lake’s fish, the range of species is breathtaking. Perhaps the best way to see the game and experience the total environment is to take a walking or horse riding safari, both well catered for in Malawi.
Temperatures vary from below freezing (at night on the high plateaux in winter – July) to 38°C/100°F (in the Lower Shire Valley in summer –December).
Full name: The Republic of Malawi
Population: 12.6 million (UN, 2005)
Area: 118,484 sq km (45,747 sq miles)
Major languages: English, Chichewa (both official)
Major religions: Christianity, Islam
Life expectancy: 40 years (men), 40 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 Malawi kwacha (MK) = 100 tambala
Main exports: Tobacco, tea, sugar, cotton
GNI per capita: US $160 (World Bank, 2006)
Internet domain: .mw
International dialling code: +265