Malawi – a perfect country to visit with kids

Malawi, we fell in love with you! We spent four months in Malawi with our three young children, age 10, 8 and 4. We think Malawi is the perfect African country to visit with young children, and in this blog we will tell you why. The diversity of the landscapes, the relatively short distances between high lights and the most friendly people, make this country a perfect destination for a family holiday. There’s the big five as well as tropical beaches, there are highlands as well as dense forests. Here’s our list of places you don’t want to miss when going to Malawi.

1. The big 5 in Majete & Liwonde national park

Malawi has two major national parks and wildlife reserves that are both owned by African Parks. In recent years a lot of wildlife has been restored, and now the parks are a fair competition to the parks of their neighboring countries. Compared to some big parks in South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania, these parks are a lot smaller with the biggest advantage to have a bigger chance to see wildlife. Both parks offer a range of accommodation, from camping to high-end lodges.

Our picks

In Majete we camped for one night on a beautiful campsite in the middle of the park. Hearing elephants crushing trees and lions roar in the middle of the night is just magical. We explored the park in our own Land Rover and came across beautiful landscapes and loads of wildlife. A hyena came even very close to our car! We didn’t spot the lions this time, but saw loads of antelopes and elephants. Majete doesn’t have all the big five yet, but the beautiful scenery sure makes up for that.

In Liwonde we had the coolest accommodation ever as we slept in a real tree house! When we were playing cards at night, an elephant came up to the tree house, eating his way through the trees around. Watching him from above was maybe one of the most memorable moments of this trip. During a boat safari we came up very close to hippo’s, buffalo’s and crocodiles. The very experienced guide made sure we had enough time to really see these big and beautiful animals. The next morning, the same guide took us into the park for a sunrise game drive. We came across elephants and antelopes. Our search for lions, leopards and cheetah’s didn’t succeed, but the thrill to maybe find them is sometimes as exciting. It just gives us a reason to come back to this beautiful wildlife reserve.

2. Nyika Plateau

The Nyika Plateau is situated in the less traveled northern region of Malawi, but a must-see! With 2000 meters above sea level, this plateau offers great views and a completely different landscape than any other part of the country. The temperatures together with the evergreen pine forests and lush green hills make Nyika to look like the Scottish highlands. After a long day of hiking, mountain biking, fishing or game viewing, you can cuddle up in front of the fire place and enjoy a warm meal cooked by your own personal chef.

Our picks

We arrived at the plateau in our own 4×4 Land Rover Defender. A 4×4 is a must driving up to the plateau as the roads are pretty bad. Don’t let the drive turn you down though, as the scenery is breathtaking. We stayed two nights in the self containing cottages and two nights at the lodge. Both places are great, and you get your own chef! He made the best meals out of the groceries we brought. We really enjoyed hiking through the forests, mountain biking, game viewing with our own car, the Nyika falls and Chosi viewpoint. Nyika is great with kids as a lot of the activities are very well suited for them. We made a separate blog on our Nyika adventures with all the information about this beautiful place.

3. Likoma island

Likoma island is a small tropical island in Lake Malawi, but actually very close to Mozambique. It’s great for beach lovers and water sports. The small island offers a range of accommodations from backpackers to a five star exclusive lodge. The island only has about 8000 inhabitants and shops are very rare but that all adds to the remote experience you have being in this piece of paradise.

Our picks

We were very lucky to discover a brand-new place owned by the original builder of the five-star resort, Kaya Mawa. The new place consist of a tree house and a beach house that are both made from local materials using wood from old fishing boats and hand made bricks. We filled our days with sailing, boat trips, snorkeling, diving, endless beach walks with the dogs and island strolls. The Katundu shop is definitely worth a visit. They make world-class chandeliers from old glass bottles, and we had a whole new wardrobe made as they have a very good tailor.

4. Dedza pottery

Dedza pottery is definitely worth a visit, especially when travelling with kids, as you can make your own pots! The kids really loved this activity. Besides this, they offer very nice accommodation and food in their cozy restaurant. You will find Dedza pottery pieces in a lot of lodges all around Malawi and going there gives you the chance to make an original Dedza pot yourself. I would say, one of the best souvenirs you can bring from Malawi.

Our picks

We stayed for one night in one of the very nice cottages with pottery details all over. Your stay includes a good and hearty breakfast that keeps you going for a while. We exercised with making our own pots, but unfortunately didn’t have enough time to paint them as well. When you stay a little longer, you can paint your pots, and they can send them to wherever you are in the world. It’s a lot colder in Dedza so make sure you bring something that keeps you warm.

5. Mulanje mountain

Mulanje mountain is a beautiful area in the south of Malawi. It consists of a fair mountain range with numerous hikes varying from one day to multiple day trails. The trails take you along different sceneries from bush like paths to rocky and challenging clims giving you great views over the valley. There are a number of simple but cozy trekking huts where you can spend the night

Our picks

We went on a two day hike, spending one night at Chambe hut. Although you can probably walk to Chambe hut in about three hours, it took us double the time doing it with three kids. Our starting point was at Hiker´s Nest, where we had spent the night. We were able to park our Land Rover in the gated garden and leave it there while we went on the hike. It was the first real multiple day hike for us as a family and although it was challenging, and we had to carry our youngest (4 years old) sometimes, it was so worth it. When we arrived at the hut and spent the afternoon there, the kids said it was the best day of their lives!

Malawi – Nyika plateau with kids

This place blew our minds! After spending two months on tropical Likoma island, arriving on the Nyika plateau couldn’t be more of a contrast. The plateau is situated 2000 mtrs above sea level and therefore the temperature can be below zero in wintermonths (June, July, August). But what a breathtaking region this is!

Green hills as far as the eye can see, lush green forests and stunning water falls. The Nyika plateau is great for hiking, mountain biking, game drives (elephants, leopards and antelopes) but since the park is so big chances of seeing animals is rather difficult. Yet, enjoying the beautiful scenery is enough already. We stayed four days on the plateau. Nyika is a great destination to travel with kids.

How we got there?

We arrived at the plateau in our Randy Lover. A 4X4 is with no doubt necessary to reach the camp and lodge. The dirt tracks are a challenge to drive, but the scenery definitely makes up for it. From Mzuzu, Malawi’s third-largest city and the last major city before going to Nyika, it is about a three to four-hour drive to the main gate of the park. We broke down on the road between Rumphi and the gate 🙈 so we took a little longer. After the gate, it’s another two hours to Chilenda camp and lodge. Another option is to fly to Nyika. There’s an airstrip close to the lodge and camp. Ulendo airlines has a charter flight coming from Lilongwe. The flight takes about 1.5 hours.

Where did we have the sweetest dreams?

Arriving at Chilenda camp makes you believe you’re somewhere high in the mountains in Europe. It is the only place to stay on the Nyika plateau. They cater for everyone as you can pitch your own tent, stay in a self-catering chalet or stay in the lodge consisting of eight luxurious cabins. When we arrived, the fireplace was already burning, and we immediately got this cozy feeling of returning to your cottage after a long day outdoors.

Our self-catering chalet had two bedrooms, a living area with a fire place a nice bathroom and a kitchen with a real fire stove. We stayed both in the self-catering chalet and the lodge. The lodge is the more luxurious version, overlooking the stunning surroundings and never ending green hills. The highlight was definitely to have our own chef that made the best fresh bread in the morning and delicious meals.

As the nights were still too cold (just above zero), we didn’t stay at the campsite. We had a look through and the spots are amazing. You have free view overlooking the plateau and antelopes grazing by your camp. There are nice ablutions, a kitchen area and of course a big fire pit so share amazing stories with fellow travelers under a sky full of stars.

How we stayed active?

The activities are plenty! You can easily spend four days to a week on the Nyika plateau without being bored. We highly enjoyed the mountain bike trails, the hiking trails and visits to Chosi view point (2500 mtrs) and Chelinda falls. The dams are great for fishing and for the adventurers there’s even a four-day hike to Mushroom farm in Livingstonia. The guides know this place very well so going on a hike with them is definitely worth it as they will point out special trees, flowers and of course animals. For birders, Nyika is heaven. With many highly restricted distributions, Nyika is a key birding destination in Africa. Varied habitats including forest patches, high-altitude grassland and broad-leaved miombo woodland are home to some 400 species.

After your full day of activities, you can just sit down and relax and enjoy the amazing sun that will set behind the hills.

Money!

Money is an important matter in Malawi, as most places only accept cash. Luckily, Chilenda accepts dollars, euro’s and pounds as well besides the Malawian Kwacha. The self-catering chalet costs $160 per night based on four persons. Every extra person is $25 per night. Your private chef costs you $6 per day.

The lodge costs $100 per person per night and kids are half price. This price is based on self-catering, but you do get a chef.

You can also stay at the campsite where you pay only $15 per person per night.

The park fees are $10 per person per day.

The activities we did cost us $15 per mountain bike per day. They have two kids bikes. The smallest was suitable for our four-year-old, and the other one was perfect for our 8-year-old. Our 10-year-old could use a small adult’s bike (size M). We paid $25 for a guide taking us to the waterfall and look out point

You can do numerous hikes yourself and of course that’s all free of charge.

This place is worth every penny. As it’s so remote, you can imagine what it takes to take things out here and have electricity running with a generator. But most importantly, you support the local community with your stay and providing so many jobs. Moreover, taking care and conserving this beautiful piece of nature takes a lot.

Anna, Fedde & Ids favorites

Nyika is a kid’s dream. It’s the perfect place for a family holiday. The whole surroundings made it feel like they were characters playing in the Sound of Music. They played on the hills and played hide-and-seek in the pine tree forests. Taking a shower under the Chilenda falls and doing a thrilling mountain biking trail seeing Reed bucks, Zebra’s and warthogs on the roads. There’s a play area with swings and little play houses opposite the reception, but in this environment children don’t need much as they can play wherever they want. The homemade pizza made by our own chef and marshmallows on the fireplace were definitely another high light of their stay. Not to mention the homemade chocolate cookies and falling asleep next to the fireplace wrapped in warm duvets.

Why you don’t want to miss this place

The Nyika plateau is really something else in Malawi, and something you won’t experience anywhere else. It has some game but since the plateau is so big, chances of seeing them are minimal. However, the views are just stunning and probably even more breathtaking than any game. The nice and cozy cottages with their own fireplace makes your stay really worthwhile.