Nyika Plateau, a little-known park in the north of Malawi, is one of my favorite places in the world—and I’ve seen a lot of the world.
In terms of landscape, Nyika is often compared with Scotland: gently rolling hills covered with grasses—green in the rainy season, brown in the dry season—as far as the eye can see.
In Scotland, however, you won’t see herds of zebras or eland grazing on the heather. In Nyika, if you’re lucky, you might even glimpse a leopard in the early morning or at dusk. Keep your eyes open for warthogs as well; often all you see is the erect tail sticking out of the grasses as it trots away.
The landscape is just lovely, and chances are you’ll have it to yourself. You can hire a guide and take a walking safari, or you can drive around the park in your own vehicle, stopping to enjoy the silence wherever you’d like. There won’t be any traffic, so just stop in the road.
Make sure to take at least a short walk outside at night. You’ll be amazed at how bright the night sky can be. If the moon is small, the Milky Way is breathtaking. If the moon is full, you’ll be able to read outside!
Accommodations in Nyika
You have two options in Nyika, since it’s too big a park and too far from anything for a day trip. Chelinda Camp is the cheaper (but not cheap!) option. They offer “chalets” for four people or hotel rooms for two. Our chalet was lovely: two bedrooms with a shower room and bathroom, plus a big living room / dining room space with a roaring fire in a big fireplace. A servant comes with the chalet, and he’ll keep the fire going, give advice on where to go, and, if you’ve brought ingredients, cook dinner for you.
If you don’t bring your own ingredients, you can eat at the lodge’s restaurant, though be warned: it’s not cheap!
The more luxurious (and even pricier) accommodation option is Chelinda Lodge, which offers fancy fully-equipped chalets with drop-dead views.
When we visited last, it was summer—dry season—and only one other couple was staying at the “chalets” where we stayed, while there were no guests at all at the upscale hotel not too far away.
Nyika isn’t the easiest place to get to, since the road into the park hasn’t yet been paved. I can say without a doubt, though, that the trip is worth it.
Having said that, make sure you rent a high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicle, or hire a tour company to take you to the Nyika. If money is no object, you can even fly in to the Nyika’s grass air strip. If you drive, it’s best to have a spare tire and plenty of fuel, as well as lots of bottled water, mosquito repellant and sun lotion. Also make sure your rental car is supplied with all the required items like a fire extinguisher and a safety triangle.
Follow the speed limits on your way to Nyika, since traps are set up, particularly on long downhill sections, to get you to pay traffic fines. You’ll come upon roadblocks here and there; just be friendly and answer questions politely.
I’d suggest going to Vwaza Wildlife reserve first. It’s on the way and worth a stop. If you want to stay the night, you can, but you’ll have to camp, and bring lots of insect repellent.
While Vwaza’s landscape isn’t as beautiful as Nyika, you can see lots of hippos, birds, antelopes and, if you’re lucky, elephants.
After Vwaza, you’ll head up the unpaved road toward Nyika. Last time we were there, we were “lucky” to find our way blocked by an elephant. While it slowed our trip since we had to wait for it to wander away, we were glad of the photo opportunity. Elephants are rare in Nyika; this one had probably crossed the border nearby from Zambia.
While Nyika (with or without a stop at Vwaza) is not generally considered on a par with the big Tanzanian and Kenyan game parks like Ngorongoro or Serengeti, I would argue that it is better.
For one thing, you’ll rarely be alone at those big parks because they’ve become so popular. The goal in the big parks is to check off as many of the big game animals as you can find, and you will certainly find more animals in quantity than in the Nyika. Unfortunately, they’ll often be surrounded by vans and SUVs full of tourists, all trying to get a picture.
But the Nyika just feels different. Being there is more about enjoying what you see—animals, birds, and scenery—but also what you feel and hear and smell. Instead of hearing human voices and smelling diesel fumes from the other vehicles, you’ll be able to turn off the engine and hear and feel and breathe complete, natural tranquility.
It gets quite cold at night—sometimes below freezing—but the advantage of that, combined with its higher elevation, is that it’s less buggy than other game parks.
It’s also prettier, even in the dry season when the colors are all shades of brown and grey. Bird-watchers love the Nyika all year because of the hundreds of species you can spot. The rainy season makes the drive up the plateau more difficult, but it’s worth it for orchid aficionados. Nyika has 200 species of orchids.
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten track destination away from the tourist hordes, try Nyika. It combines well with other sights in Malawi like Livingstonia and Lake Malawi for a great combination of relaxation, natural beauty and history.
Disclosure: I was not compensated in any way for this post. I just love the Nyika. I lived in Mzuzu, Malawi for two years back in the 1980s and Nyika was a frequent weekend destination. When I returned a few years ago, it was just as magical as I remembered.
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Hi, I’m Rachel!
Rachel’s Ruminations is a travel blog focused on independent travel with an emphasis on cultural and historical sites/sights. I also occasionally write about life as an expatriate. I hope you enjoy what I post here; feel free to leave comments! Read more...