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Top 5 places in Southern Malawi for family activity holidays

Malawi is a year-round safari destination that offers the best in bush and water fun for the whole family. ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’ is oriented towards families looking for an African holiday that is not necessarily tailored around cushioned comfort but also offers adventure, rustic charm and hospitality that is genuinely friendly. The slower pace of living and fantastic family-friendly accommodation options ensure a good range and balance of child-friendly activities as well as a more relaxing getaway for parents. Malawi is relatively small by African standards and the south of the country has a number of attractions within a small area, so journeys are relatively short and easy (and through some really beautiful landscapes). And the warmth of welcome towards visitors for which Malawi is famed becomes even stronger when there are children travelling too, so we thought it was time highlight the top 5 places in southern Malawi for family activity holidays. Lake Malawi National Park A World Heritage Site and the world’s first freshwater national park, Lake Malawi National Park, is based near to Cape Maclear in southern Malawi. It, of course, offers many water-based activities for the whole family to enjoy together. From diving in and taking a swim in the clear and calm water, to sailing as a family on a small boat or cruising in a larger vessel, Lake Malawi is fun for young and old alike. The sunny beach-like banks of the lake are perfect to have a lunchtime picnic under a big umbrella or the natural shade of the trees nearby. There is a massive exhilaration factor in the high adrenaline sports, such as parasailing and water-skiing, which get the heart racing and the blood pumping. Since the lake is surprisingly deep and home to a dazzling array of fish, snorkelling and scuba-diving is a fantastic way to get in touch with the aquatic diversity in one of Africa’s largest lakes. Aptly named ‘The Lake of Stars’ by David Livingstone, guests at Pumulani Lodge can watch the light dancing off Lake Malawi from deck chairs around the plunge pool. The staff at Pumulani is well-equipped to look after the kids and keep an eye of them during lodge- and water-based activities. The lodge accommodates all children with the family suite reflecting this in the cot and bedding as well as child-friendly meals. What could be better than staying on a deserted tropical island? Families can enjoy a choice of two such camps which lie within the Lake Malawi National Park. Mumbo Island is a 45 minute boat ride or 3 hour paddle in a kayak off shore, a 1km diameter tropical island that has never been populated so remains pristine. Accommodation is beautiful en suite reed chalets, including a family unit. Domwe is even closer to the mainland and larger, with simpler accommodation. Kayaks and snorkelling gear are left on the beaches for everyone to use at their convenience and trails across the islands for young explorers. Liwonde National Park The well-frequented Liwonde National Park is a wildlife haven as it has the Shire River flowing along the park’s western border. This means that visitors can enjoy game viewing opportunities with the family can be taken on both water and land safaris. Visitors can expect to see numerous elephants, leopards and hyenas, amongst other animal species. Liwonde has varied birdlife, such as fish eagles and the elusive Pel’s fishing owl. The kids can go on walking expeditions with professional guides, getting up close to nature on foot and learning at the same time. Traditional 4×4 game drives offer an elevated view of the bush, and are usually two people per seat which means everyone gets a window seat. Malawi’s ‘Emerald Season’ between the end of December and the beginning of April is an ideal time to visit Liwonde as lagoon cruises ensure excellent game viewing and birding. With just four tents, including a spacious family tent, the new Kuthengo Camp is a small and intimate accommodation choice on the banks of the Shire River. Hikes and bush walks begin from the camp and are designed according to each family’s time specifications and interests. The staff at Kuthengo are trained to deal with children of all ages and help the whole family make the most of their time in Malawi. Alternative accommodation is at the long-established Mvuu Lodge & Camp, also on the river banks. The Camp is particularly suited to families, with dedicated family units of two bedrooms with a shared bathroom. It also has a playground and swimming pool to keep the children happy when they aren’t out on safari. And trips can be arranged to a nearby local community school so that they can mix and play with some Malawians of their own age. Satemwa Tea Estate Malawi was the first country in Africa to grow tea on a commercial scale and one of the original family-owned estates, Satemwa offers a great opportunity to learn more about the history, with the added bonus of a beautifully scenic setting. Satemwa is overlooked by Mount Mulanje, Malawi’s largest mountain, and itself overlooks the dramatic Thyolo escarpment that descend to the lower Shire Valley. With its neatly trimmed tea gardens and a mountain (Thyolo) in its grounds, this really is one of the country’s most scenic locations – and that’s saying something! Then there is the history. Entering the estate is like stepping back in time and visitors get to stay in old colonial estate manager cottages, one of which, Huntingdon House, has been restored and converted into a wonderful boutique lodge full of antique furniture and roll-top baths. With the scenic setting and the history, activities available across the estate are understandably varied, and can be enjoyed by all ages. Tea tasting might be something seen as an adult activity, but being invited to spit into a bucket usually proves irresistible to the children too! The estates is free to explore on foot or by mountain bike, with some lovely designated picnic spots and birding hotspots; and when it’s time to take it easy, there is always the option of taking high tea on the lawn, perhaps with a spot of croquet thrown in! Majete Wildlife Reserve Majete Wildlife Reserve is Malawi’s only Big 5 game park and is located in the lower Shire Valley, relatively close to Blantyre Chileka International Airport. Despite this, it is still far enough off the beaten track to get away from the maddening crowds. This means the family can take in Malawi’s wilderness and wildlife in a peaceful, uncrowded setting. Families visiting the reserve can experience Majete in various ways, according to what best suits their interests. Well-trained guides ensure bush walks offer an opportunity for fun, learning as well as encountering Malawi’s beautiful biodiversity on foot. For those looking for a more strenuous bush activity, the Mabele Hill Hike is a great way for the kids to expend some energy. Game drives offer a more comfortable way of enjoying the park and can be either self-drive or guided. More ground can be covered and for children that aren’t completely convinced of walking amongst animals, the confines of a vehicle should provide a sense of security. There might be some parents that prefer this option too! Visitors can opt to bed down in the reserve at Mkulumadzi Lodge, which is found at the confluence of two rivers in a large private concession in Majete. This child-friendly lodge caters to the specific needs families in two family chalets and there are activities based at the camp or within its immediate surroundings. Professional guides can lead the kids on short nature walks to identify spoor and droppings, collect pods, seeds and feathers. Keeping to the camp, kids can paint and colour-in or take a dip in the big rock pool. Close to the main entrance gates of the Reserve is Sunbird Thawale Lodge, another intimate place to stay that has a family chalet with two bedrooms and its own private veranda overlooking a waterhole, no less! Game Haven Perhaps the ideal introduction for a family activity holiday in Malawi comes at Game Haven, a lodge just a few miles out of Blantyre but set in its own private game park – Chimwenya. Now that all the airlines serving Malawi fly in to Blantyre a few times a week, for trips to the south of the country it makes sense to use this southern city as your entry point. In which case, being able to get to a comfortable lodge outside the city and see some animals straight away, just 20 minutes after landing, is a real bonus. Because the game park has been established without introducing any large predators, it is safe to explore on foot or even by mountain bike as well as taking the drives that are on offer. A walking safari is always something special and a game walk in a relatively small, safe park is a really superb way to introduce young children to Africa’s animals. Here they will get to within a few metres from zebra, kudu and plenty of other antelope, even giraffe! With the animals well established in the park and pretty relaxed, they are also regular visitors to the lawns outside the restaurant so there are often sightings to be had while eating breakfast and lunch. As well as the introduction to safaris, if children are looking for something more like home, Game Haven has a large playground and even an indoor play area, as well as an outdoor swimming pool. With residents offered a free round of golf on the stunning course that forms part of the park, and fishing available on its own Lake Bvumbwe, there is lots at Game Haven to make most families think twice about moving on at all! With its remarkable mix of thrilling wildlife encounters, amazing landscapes to explore and enjoy, enriching cultural interactions and a pristine lake of crystal clear waters and golden sandy beaches, southern Malawi is a wonderful playground for families. Journey times are short and accommodation has family options and plenty of activities and facilities for children. It’s an emerging destination but still unspoilt and gives a great taste of a ‘real Africa’ yet is very friendly, welcoming and easy to access and explore. Kelly White is Director of the Malawi Travel Marketing Consortium. Malawi Travel Marketing Consortium aims to provide you with the best information to make Malawi your tourism destination. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

Kelly White

Kelly White is Managing Director of Geo Group Marketing and has been promoting and marketing Malawi’s tourism for over 20 years, after falling in love with the country (as so many of its visitors do), on his first trip to Africa in 1995. Geo Group works for the Malawi Travel Marketing Consortium which consists of the members of Malawi’s tourist industry who are focussed on international markets. Members cater for all travel and tourism needs across the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’ – tours & safaris, game lodges, lakeshore resorts, hotels, adventure activities, watersports, car hire, air charter, etc. Recent leaps in its safari experiences are helping to make Malawi one of the fastest emerging and most complete destinations in Africa. Kelly co-authored a guide book on Malawi, has now visited all the countries in southern Africa and has also been working for the Eswatini (Swaziland) Tourism Authority since 2010.

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  1. So beautiful. So heavenly. Serene! I’m dying to visit these areas. It is for these reasons (and more of course) that Malawi is (rightly) called “The Warm Heart of Africa”

    1. Yes indeed. And the pictures don’t really do it justice – it’s even more beautiful in reality.

  2. Going on an African safari has always been a dream of mine and I never would have thought of Malawi to be a destination for such a holiday. I always hear about Serengeti, Okavango, or Kruger National Park. It’s nice to see there are other options that could also be cheaper. Plus, you get to enjoy other activities too, like tea tasting.

  3. Yes, Malawi is definitely emerging now as a genuine option for the dream African Safari. And it is a great bonus to be able to see and experience so much more than just the wildlife. Nobody comes back from Malawi disappointed!

  4. Malawi is a great family holiday location. I think every holiday for children should be rich with learning about new cultures and trying new activities. With so many different experience you can pack a lot into a family trip. It’s always important to take so,e relaxing days to bask in the beauty of the country too. We are planning on going on a safari soon and Malawi sounds great.

    1. Malawi really does tick all the boxes when it comes to family travel and new experiences. If you give it a chance, you’ll love it!

  5. Who needs Mindfulness when you’ve got soothing images like these? They really are so calming, serene and tranquil.

    I know they are difficult to take but I would have loved a picture of the African night sky. It just seems bigger than anywhere else and there seem to be more stars.

    I’m also a big fan of getting the family together to experience some superb outdoor adventures. It just builds the bonds.

  6. Why is there a Zambian vehicle in the picture which should be Liwonde NP ? Are you sure that was taken in Liwonde ? Which lodge drives with Zambian vehicles ?

    1. That image was supplied by Robin Pope Safaris, who now run Kuthengo Camp in Liwonde. They were originally a purely Zambian operator and now have a number of camps in Zambia and Malawi. Their vehicles will be used across both countries.

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