Malawi, situated in south-eastern Africa, is a birdwatcher’s paradise boasting some of the continent’s most pristine Miombo woodlands. These woodlands are renowned as the finest in Africa and are home to unique forest birds found only in this remote part shared by Malawi, northern Mozambique, and southern Tanzania. Many of these Miombo specialised species are nearly impossible to spot outside Malawi, making the country a top spot for birdwatching in southern Africa. With its distinct collection of Miombo birds, Malawi holds a coveted position in the birding world, making it an extraordinary destination for those seeking remarkable and rare sightings in ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’.
Our extensive tour spans the entirety of Malawi, strategically visiting essential and pivotal locations crucial for encountering the country’s diverse range of special bird species. This comprehensive itinerary ensures that we maximise our opportunities to observe and appreciate the multitude of unique birds that call Malawi home.
On arrival at Kamuzu International Airport, a Sustainable Birding representative will meet you at arrivals and do a quick meet and greet, before transferring you to your hotel in Lilongwe, so you can relax and get some sleep ready for a great adventure ahead.
Where you will be staying: Latitude 13°
Starting off strong, your first days of the trip will be at the stunning Zomba Massif, part of the Shire Highlands in southern Malawi. Zomba Massif has breathtaking beauty and ecological richness with its verdant slopes, reaching a peak of about 1,800 meters and has an amazing diversity of flora and fauna. The mountain’s charm lies in its lush forests teeming with endemic plant species, along with Malawi’s only endemic, the Yellow-throated Apalis. The walking trails here are fantastic as they wind through this captivating landscape and offer panoramic vistas of the surrounding plains and Lake Chilwa.
Our primary focus revolves around the residual enclaves of montane forest gracing the plateau, albeit much of this verdant expanse has regrettably succumbed to deforestation, mirroring the fate of other sites in the country, such as the forests encircling Thyolo. Despite these diminutive remnants, they remain vital bastions supporting diverse avifauna, notably sheltering some of Malawi’s most treasured species. Chief among these is the elusive Thyolo Alethe, a reticent forest robin demanding stealth and patience for observation. Of course, the Yellow-throated Apalis stands as another primary target, often found along the fringes of these forests. Within the canopy, the vocal Livingstone’s Turacos and Olive-headed Greenbuls thrive, while the exposed branches above house the Long-crested Eagle and White-eared Barbet. The forest’s interior, however, hosts a more extensive array of species, prompting our exploration for distinctive breeds such as the unique dimorpha subspecies of Cape Batis, the Black-throated Wattle-eye, Common Square-tailed Drongo, White-tailed Crested Flycatcher, Little and Placid Greenbuls, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Black-headed Apalis, Orange Ground Thrush, White-starred Robin, Dark-backed Weaver, Green Twinspot, and Red-faced Crimsonwing.
Where you will be staying: Ku Chawe
Over the next couple of days, we’ll be exploring Liwonde National Park. Liwonde has a troubled past with extreme poaching but since 2015, it has thankfully been transformed back into a thriving sanctuary for Malawi’s wildlife. African Parks, partnering with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife, tackled the park’s challenges head-on: thousands of wire snares and heightened human-wildlife conflict. Through robust conservation enforcement, advanced technology, and removing over 40,000 snares, the park reclaimed its territory. It also achieved historic wildlife reintroductions, including cheetahs in 2017 after a century-long absence, lions in 2018, and wild dogs in 2021. These efforts have revitalised the park, reinstating key species and marking a promising new chapter in Liwonde’s conservation journey.
The abundance of birdlife here is prolific and our time here will involve a mixture of game drives, boat cruises, and bush walks, providing a multifaceted experience. Amidst the plethora of bird species, we have specific targets in mind. Within the riverine woodlands, elusive targets are the Pel’s Fishing Owl, Green Malkoha, Brown-breasted Barbet, Böhm’s Bee-eater, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, and Collared Palm Thrush. Additionally, the Lilian’s Lovebird graces the wooded expanses across various parts of the park, which will be a great sighting.
Where you will be staying: Mvuu Camp
Our next day involves driving to Dzalanyama Forest Reserve, situated approximately 60 km southwest of Lilongwe in Central Malawi, which encompasses the undulating hills that share its name. It’s a long drive of roughly five hours, but the wait will be worth it.
Originally recognized as the Central Angoni Highlands Game Reserve, its designation shifted in the late 1920s to become a forest reserve, primarily safeguarding Lilongwe’s crucial water resource. Within this expanse lies a magnificent Miombo Forest, renowned as one of the best Miombo Forests in Africa. Here, we set our sights on spotting remarkable species like the Olive-headed Weaver, Miombo Rock Thrush, Miombo Blue-eared Starling, Miombo Scrub Robin, Miombo Pied Barbet, Boulder Chat, White Tailed Flycatcher, Black Eared Seedeater, Stierling’s Woodpecker, and others.
The diverse flora of this area presents an intriguing tapestry, boasting splendid ferns and epiphytic orchids among its varied vegetation.
Where you will be staying: Dzalanyama Forest Lodge
The next morning, we’ll be heading to the Viphya Plateau, a striking expanse located in northern Malawi. Rising majestically above the surrounding landscape, this plateau stands as a natural wonder, offering sweeping vistas of lush pine forests and undulating terrain. Known for its sprawling pine plantations, Viphya Plateau exudes tranquillity. The cool, refreshing air and the serenity of the landscape provide a nice stop-over as we head to the northern regions of Malawi.
On arrival by mid-afternoon, we’ll be venturing out into the pine forest where we hope to see African Broadbill, Fülleborn’s Boubou, Olive Woodpecker, Black-browed Greenbul and Chapin’s Apalis among many others. The lodge is simply brilliant too, with fantastic panoramic views across the highlights where the gardens will certainly help with sightings.
Where you will be staying: Luwawa Forest Lodge
The following morning, we will keep venturing north. It’s a hefty drive (approx. 5 hours), so we will set off early in the morning. Good things come to those who wait, because on arrival we’ll get refreshed at our lovely lodge and then once ready, set off into this extraordinary park.
Nyika National Park, nestled in the northern reaches of Malawi, is a captivating expanse of rolling grasslands and undulating landscapes. Renowned as Malawi’s largest park, its name aptly translates to “where the water comes from,” a testament to the myriad streams and rivers that meander through this stunning terrain. The park’s high-altitude moorlands allow a unique array of biodiversity, from rare orchids to elusive leopards and herds of roan antelope, offering an exceptional safari experience.
Of course, the avifauna of Nyika is prolific, with over 400 species recorded. We will take our time in this wonderful park, taking in as many sightings as possible. The endangered and Wattled Crane will be a highlight, along with other targets such as the Bar-tailed Trogon, Moustached Tinkerbird, Montane Marsh Widowbird Mountain, Waller’s Starling, Slender-billed Starling, Fülleborn’s Boubou, Schalow’s Turaco, White-chested Alethe, Moustached Tinkerbird, Montane Marsh Widowbird, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Olive-flanked Robin-chat, Pallid Harrier, Red-winged Francolin, Sharpe’s Akalat, Denham’s Bustard, Great Snipe, Greater Double-collared Sunbird and the gorgeous Blue swallow.
Where you will be staying: Chelinda Lodge
Today, we’ll make our way back south, and on the way, we’ll be stopping at the stunning Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve. Vwaza is a beautiful reserve with a range of diverse habitats, notably centred around the expansive marshlands and woodlands. Embracing the beauty of the East African Rift Valley, this reserve boasts a rich medley of landscapes, from marshy wetlands to acacia woodlands, fostering a thriving ecosystem. Its abundant wildlife includes herds of elephants, buffalo, and antelope that freely roam across the savannah, while crocodiles and hippos find refuge in the marshy waters.
The reserve’s birdlife is equally impressive, so we’ll be on the lookout for a few specials here. Notably the Babbling Starling, Black-collared Barbet, Böhm’s Flycatcher, Carp’s Tit, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-weaver, Golden-breasted Bunting, Greater Honeyguide, Red-chested Flufftail, African Rail, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Weaver, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Trilling Cisticola, Bronzy Sunbird and Bertram’s Weaver among many more.
Where you will be staying: Sarova Lion Hill Game Lodge
The following day, we’ll venture towards Malawi’s renowned gem—the lake! This idyllic destination promises a tranquil afternoon as we embark on leisurely boat rides across the shimmering waters. Amidst the serene expanse, encounters with majestic hippos await us, while the melodious calls of African Fish Eagles resonate across the lake. Along the shores, the graceful presence of Pied and Malachite Kingfishers accentuates the scene, joined by the striking sights of Black, Rufous-bellied, Squacco, and Green-backed Herons engaged in their fishing pursuits.
Where you will be staying: Makuzi Beach Lodge
As our extensive birding tour of Malawi draws to a close, today marks our return journey to the capital. We’ll transfer you to the hotel, where you’ll spend the night before departing for your homeward flight the following day. It’s with a touch of nostalgia that we bid farewell to the captivating landscapes and diverse birdlife that have made this journey an unforgettable exploration of Malawi’s avifauna.
Where you will be staying: Latitude 13°
Slow/Medium – we have tried to keep this tour as slow-paced as possible, with enough time at each destination to gain target species.
Easy/Medium – Relatively easy birding, with nothing too demanding. Long drives are to be expected due to the shape of the country (getting from south to north for example).
The Sustainable Birding Company is a subsidiary of Far and Wild Travel, a tailor-made tour company based in Cumbria, UK. Far and Wild Travel offer sustainable, luxury, tailor-made tour itineraries throughout Africa and around the world.