Inhabited as long back as the Stone Age and designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2000, Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve has been a top attraction in Malawi’s natural landscape. At the centre stands Mount Mulanje with peak Sapita towering over all below as the highest in central Africa.
The locals have dubbed Mulanje “island in the sky” and it is clear why—rising to over 3,000 metres above sea level, the mountain has created its own weather system. The height results in rain clouds regularly forming and being an important source of water for the area.
Syenite, quartz-syenite and granite rock form the mountain’s massif of around 500 sq km. Chambe Peak, the west face of the massif, is the longest rock climbing wall in Africa at over 2,500 meters.
The lush landscape consists of varied vegetation, rivers, waterfalls, forest ravines, and at least 20 peaks with an average height of 2,500 meters. Visitors will find various endemic fauna and flora species in the park, including dwarf chameleons, forest butterflies, smaller mammals, and birds.
Mulanje is located in the south of Malawi, near Blantyre and close to the border with Mozambique. Getting to and from the park is therefore relatively easy.
The diverse vegetation makes Mulanje the ideal habitat for a handful of endangered species, as well as some who don't occur anywhere else. It includes the Mulanje Ceder, or Cypress, of which some specimens are more than 200 years old and are the last ones remaining.
Klipspringer abounds on the mountain slopes and outcrops, while other unique species include the Rio River screeching frog, the Mount Mulanje pygmy chameleon, and the limbless burrowing skink.
A variety of distinctive birds like the white-winged apalis, thyolo alethe, and the black eagle criss-cross the sky.
The dry and moderate temperatures between April and August are the most ideal time to visit Mulanje. It is too hot and dry to explore the park in September and October, while the months between November and early April are too hot and wet.
A reminder to visitors and hikers that temperatures on the mountain are much colder than at the base, therefore they should remember to bring appropriate clothes.
Although visitors can self-drive in the park, by far the biggest attractions in Mulanje are walking, hiking, and camping.
A myriad of walking paths and hiking trails provide options from a leisurely walk, multi-day hikes, and even strenuous climbing. An extensive guide has been compiled by the Mountain Club of Mulanje for the serious hiker. A permit needs to be obtained before attempting any of the trails, and if visitors intend to venture higher up the mountain, the services of a professional guide are compulsory.
Other activities include rock climbing, mountain biking, trout fishing in the Lichenya River, and star-gazing.
With walking and hiking the most popular activities in Mulanje, camping around the mountain is the best option. There are also huts scattered along the various paths and trails.
Other accommodation possibilities include options in Mulanje town near the base of the mountain or a bit further away in Blantyre.