One of the most beautiful dirt roads in the country lies between Mponela and Ntchisi Forest Reserve, the most direct route from Lilongwe. At 1500-1700 metres, the climate in Ntchisi Forest Reserve is cooler than the surrounding low-lying areas, making it a welcome escape from the heat. It is also mosquito-free.
Before it became a protected area, the forest was used as a refuge by the local Chewa tribe against attacks by the warring Ngonis in the 19th Century. Because the forest proved as vital as a shelter for people, it largely escaped the deforestation for firewood that has unfortunately decimated so much of Africa’s indigenous woodlands. It later became a designated Forest Reserve.
It is small at 75 sq km and is characterised by rolling hills cultivated by subsistence farming and dotted with traditional villages. This is a pristine area that is yet to be discovered by the masses.
Ntchisi Forest Reserve is situated on the escarpment of the East African Rift Valley in some of Malawi's last remaining indigenous rainforest in an isolated spot near Lilongwe.
This is a part of rural Malawi where tourists are still a rarity, and guests can enjoy relaxing and walking in the beautiful scenery, while hiking and mountain biking offer an invigorating change of pace.
Guests visiting Ntchisi should take the opportunity to engage, or observe the Malawian culture with a visit to a local village. There are traditional dances, cooking, craftwork and more to be enjoyed.
Nearby is the Nkhotakota Pottery, which is a lakeside location working pottery, complete with restaurant and shop. This is well worth a day visit.
Ntchisi Forest Lodge sits on the escarpment of the East African Rift Valley in some of Malawi's last remaining indigenous rainforest. Guests can relax whilst enjoying stunning mountain and Lake views and experience the warm-hearted hospitality of a part of rural Malawi.
Birdlife is prolific and this is an excellent destination for the professional or amateur bird watcher who will enjoy the variety of habitats. Some mammals, butterflies, and strange and unknown plants and orchids are also plentiful. The Forest Reserve contains some of the last remaining indigenous rainforest in Malawi. Some trees tower thirty metres overhead while lianas and strangler figs compete for the sunlight.
The lush vegetation is home to a plethora of orchids, as well as an abundant bird life, troops of samango monkey, baboons, hyenas and the odd bushbuck and bush pig. A black leopard has recently been sighted on the mountain near the lodge. The rainforest offers finds of strange fruits and colourful seed pods.
In the rainy season it provides delicious mushrooms for guests’ dinner and pickles made from wild figs. Montane forest and grassland provides a contrasting habitat of open forest and bush. It is excellent hiking and mountain biking territory and is home to a variety of bird species and a stunning display of wildflowers each year when the rains start.
Malawi’s climate remains at moderate temperatures for most of the year, only getting quite cold in the chilliest winter months of June, July and August. Early morning and evening game drives will require some bundling up, but by midday the sun is out and the skies are clear.
Summers are obviously much warmer and after the season starts changing in September and October, the temperatures start to climb and the clouds prepare for rains. The mountainous topography of the country means that the low-lying areas around Lake Malawi get a lot hotter than the higher levels.
November brings the rain, some years, while other years the rain abates until December. During December, January, February and March, Malawi receives its rainfall and the vegetation begins to grow until it is wonderfully green and lush. It is not the best season for game viewing, though, as the game spreads out and becomes more difficult to see. April and May see the return of the dry weather and the temperatures drop.
There is only one lodge operating in Ntchisi Forest Reserve, which offers the beauty of this area to guests exclusively. Visitors can also visit as day guests as it is only a short drive from Lilongwe. We recommend immersing oneself in the serenity of Ntchisi for a couple of nights.
Ntchisi Forest Lodge was recently refurbished and is rapidly gaining an excellent reputation. Run entirely on renewable energy, the lodge is also self-sufficient in organic vegetables and obtains much of its other produce through community projects the owners have set up in surrounding villages.
The lodge itself is an historical colonial building dating to 1914 (making it one of Malawi's oldest buildings), so it is ideal for cosy evenings relaxing by a roaring log fire and soaking up the old-world charm. From the comfortable terrace, guests can see the rolling hills of the East African Rift Valley, the beautiful Lake Malawi 50 kilometres away
Malawi is primarily a driving destination and there is very little use of light air transfers. The country is very small and the roads have been well maintained, making for efficient and enjoyable road transport.
The primary international airport is in Lilongwe, the capital city, which is located in more or less the centre of the country. Sun Safaris will fly their guests into Malawi at Lilongwe International Airport from where they will connect with an arranged road transfer that will take them to their wildlife destination.
In other cases, Chileka International Airport, located 16km out of Blantyre, can be used as a domestic terminal for guests choosing to fly as close as possible to their destination in the south of Malawi.
Ntchisi is around 2 hours’ drive from Lilongwe, or 1.5 hours from the airport, making it an easy first destination on arrival in the country.