Malawi’s shire highlands are a galaxy of natural stars and landmarks, an abundance of riches guaranteed to spoil you for choice as you deliberate on how to get the most out of your travel schedule. Rising in elevation from 600 metres to as high as 1,100 metres and covering an expanse of 7,250 square kilometres, a plateau whose sought after views will leave you in awe when you behold its crystal clear streams, rolling hills, rising mountain peaks, gently sloping terrain, valleys and lakes, all standing in the backdrop that is the magnificent and spectacular Shire River to the west and the Mulanje Massif, aka Mount Mulanje, to the east.
The Shire Highlands are an important part of Malawi’s heritage, with a history that goes back as early as the arrival of the first settlers. This region is home to the three most populous urban centres in Southern Malawi, namely Blantyre, Zomba and Thyolo. Each of these districts offers tourists unique and exciting experiences, from hikes, to fine dining, to sightseeing. The Highlands have you covered.
A visit to the Shire Highlands is more than worth it. Visit and fall in love.
Blantyre and its environs
If you are looking for the best dining experience in the highlands, look no further than Blantyre, a city renowned for its commerce and modern buildings. Its gastronomic hotspots include the prestigious Protea Ryalls Hotel. The hotel is home to the famous 21 Grill on Hannover, considered the best steakhouse in Malawi. The interiors are chic, providing a pleasing aesthetic with a welcoming ambience that immerses its visitors in a homely atmosphere. The steakhouse has a selection of the finest wines, cocktails and brews that go well with the highly acclaimed fare available at this world-class eatery.
Locals in the know will tell you that the best place to go hiking is the famous Michiru Mountain. The fruits of your hiking experience, which
is no walk in the park, are realised at an altitude of 1,470 metres in the form of a breathtaking experience of vivid views of the Shire Valley across the Kirk Range to the west, Zomba Mountain to the east, the tea estates in Thyolo, as well as some parts of the Mulanje Mountain, not to mention the city of Blantyre. The mountain is also a nature reserve site which promises wildlife sightings as well as a camping experience to those yearning to connect with nature.
The vast highlands can provide a getaway for almost every kind of traveller. If you are a local or a tourist craving a long drive into the country, Thyolo is the place to be. People usually explore the vast tea estates stretching across acres of land with the occasional stopover to take in the imposing green splendour of the vicinity. At the famous Satemwa Tea Estate (which produces both tea and coffee), you are allowed to stroll around and take in the atmosphere. Hang out at the highly rated Game Haven Lodge when you are a feeling like taking a rest or spending the night. Here you can experience the joys of bird watching and practice some fishing while being catered to and treated with warm hospitality.
A longer drive into the district will take you to Mulanje which is just over 50 kilometres from Thyolo. It is famous for the hiking experience on Mount Mulanje. The infamous Sapitwa Peak (meaning “do not go there” in the local language) is known for its ominous legends which still make people want to visit the mountain (with a guide of course) when they are feeling a little daring and adventurous.
Zomba, a literal monumental city, is the former capital of Malawi. The city is known for its colonial architecture and imposing landmarks, which have proven to be some of the most visited sites of the former capital. It was one of the most favoured colonial settlements and still houses historical landmarks and monuments such as the old British architecture and historical relics such as the Cobbe Barracks, which are home to Malawi’s Kings African Rifles as well as what used to be colonial residential and office buildings. The city’s aesthetic puts colonial and modern post-colonial Malawi on display.
The Zomba Plateau offers a wide range of activities, one of which is hiking. It has a treacherous cliff on the way up, but the thrilling sensation when you get to the top and take in the beautiful surroundings with the cool and refreshing air proves to be worth it. On the way up, hikers can choose to go the Williams Falls route which is one of the longest routes up the mountain. The upside is you get to have a refreshing dip in the cool waters once you reach the falls.
Besides hiking the wondrous landscapes visitors can also explore on horseback and you need not be an advanced rider. Beginners are taken care of by an instructor who helps them to ride the horses, providing guidance as they take in a leisurely stroll.
Of course, a trip to Zomba would not be complete without a night spent at the exceptional Ku Chawe Inn, a rendezvous point for visitors from Malawi and beyond. This mountain retreat is great for those seeking some respite from their busy lives but also a great base for those seeking an adventurous holiday of hiking in the rolling hills.