Although Malawi is a small, landlocked country, it is home to some of the most beautiful national parks and wildlife reserves in Southern Africa. Malawi’s ten parks and reserves contain more than 170 mammal species and 600 bird species, including the African “Big Five”—buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard and rhino. Whether by vehicle, foot or boat, each protected area offers a unique visit experience, breathtaking landscape and abundant wildlife. Together they showcase Malawi’s natural beauty and native biodiversity.

Today, three of Malawi’s national parks and reserves are managed by African Parks, a South Africa-based nonprofit organization that manages 14 million acres across ten protected areas in seven African countries. In the last 16 years, African Parks has done significant work to restore and transform Majete Wildlife Reserve, Liwonde National Park and Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve,  maintaining a strong focus on conservation, sustainability and economic development of surrounding communities. Learn more about these three parks and reserves below!

Tip: To make the most of your wildlife-viewing expedition, take into account the climate! The best time of the year to visit is the dry season (August to November). Some parks will be closed or impassable without a four-wheel drive vehicle during the rainy season (January to March).

Photo: Craig Hay and African Parks.

Photo: Craig Hay and African Parks.

Majete Wildlife Reserve

Location: Lower Shire Valley in southwest Malawi

Majete Wildlife Reserve is a unique conservation site with an incredible story of recovery, restoration and resilience. Previously, Majete struggled with ill-equipped and underfunded resources to prevent illegal land encroachment, causing the reserve size to diminish over time. However, in 2003, Majete became the first park to enter African Parks’ management portfolio. In partnership with the Malawian government and local communities, African Parks took responsibility for the rehabilitation and long-term management of the reserve. They began to revive the park through a series of species reintroductions and significant infrastructure development including an electric fence, water holes and an overhaul of law enforcement. After just 15 years, Majete transformed from a once-empty forest with no employment opportunities or tourism, to a productive and diverse haven for Africa’s most iconic wildlife.

The mass wildlife reintroduction to Majete began in 2003 ended in 2012. As a part of this process, 14 different species of animals, formerly native to the area, were brought to live in Majete. In addition to the Big Five, other animals reintroduced include eland, sable, waterbuck, nyala, hartebeest, impala, zebra, warthog and Majete’s first-ever giraffe population in 2018. Today, the total population of mammals is now more than 11,000. Majete is flourishing, so much so that the park uses its wildlife to populate other reserves in Malawi. The transformed reserve is now one of Malawi’s best for viewing wildlife by boat, vehicle or foot. 

Recent Highlights:

  • Maintained a 15-year track record of zero poaching of rhinos and elephants 

  • Tourism increased 14% from 2018, with 9,000+ visitors bringing USD $550,000 to the reserve and surrounding communities

  • Employment has increased in 2019 with 140 people now employed full-time within the park

Photo: African Parks.

Photo: African Parks.

Liwonde National Park

Location: Southern Malawi, near the Mozambique border and north of Blantyre

Although only 220 square miles, Liwonde is Malawi’s most popular national park, with beautiful riverine settings and large numbers of wildlife. The Shire River flows along the western border of Liwonde, offering enhanced wildlife viewing on boat safaris, on foot or in 4x4s. Wildlife species include elephants, hippos, crocodiles, antelopes, leopards, hyena and black rhino. In recent years, the park has also reintroduced lions and cheetahs.

Previously, Liwonde was fraught with environmental challenges, human-wildlife conflict, and suffered from some of the highest rates of poaching in Malawi. The South African-based NGO African Parks assumed management of the park in 2015. Since then, Liwonde has been home to landmark wildlife translocations and reintroductions. The new management immediately constructed an electric fence to keep the wildlife inside and illegal activity outside the park. In 2016, the park became the epicenter of one of the largest elephant translocations in history, with a total of 336 elephants relocated to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve to help restoration efforts. Today, Liwonde offers a wealth of natural resources, community development and employment opportunities for more than 900,000 people living in its surrounding communities.

Recent Highlights:

  • Zero human fatalities since July 2016, following construction and maintenance of an electric fence around its perimeters

  • Translocated 336 elephants to Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve to restore the park and reduce human-elephant conflict in 2016

  • Reintroduced 7 cheetahs in 2017, the first to return to Malawi in 20 years. Cheetah population has doubled in size since

  • Reintroduced 10 lions in 2018 from Majete Wildlife Reserve after 10 years

  • Since 2016, tourism increased by 25% and revenue increased by 70%

Photo: Morgan Trimble / Getty Images.

Photo: Morgan Trimble / Getty Images.

Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve

Location: East of Central Malawi, near Lake Malawi

Nkhotakota is the largest and oldest wildlife reserve in Malawi, and the country’s closest example of untouched wilderness. With more than 700 square miles of rugged terrain and river crossings, most of the reserve is miombo woodland with large patches of tall grasses and a few areas of rainforest. In the past, the reserve was difficult to access due to its terrain, which in turn made animals difficult to find. In addition, decades of poaching and lawlessness reduced its animal population, leaving the reserve nearly empty by 2015.

Upon acquiring management rights to the reserve in 2015, African Parks made rapid progress to protect and further develop Nkhotakota. Starting in 2016, management facilitated one of the largest elephant translocations in history by  bringing 500 elephants from Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve to repopulate Nkhotakota. After a total influx of more than 1,500 large animals of various species, Nkhotakota established a fully-fenced sanctuary to ensure the long-term survival of all animals in the reserve.

Recent Highlights:

  • Completed fence in 2018 around a 47,000 acre sanctuary area in the core of the reserve to allow for the safe reintroduction of species

  • Reintroduced 500 elephants and 1,500 game animals from Liwonde National Park and Majete Wildlife Reserve to date

  • Communities and rangers now collaborate to collect hundreds of wire snares (used to catch animals) and bury pitfall traps to protect wildlife

  • More than 710 students from 22 different schools visited the reserve in 2017 as part of an environmental education program