Malawi itinerary with kids

Malawi with kids: a self drive itinerary

Rightfully known as the ‘warm heart of Africa’, Malawi packs a lot in to its relatively small landmass; with majestic mountains rising from the tea plantations in the South, to the tropical white-crescent beaches fringing the lake, to an intimate big five safari experience. More than anything, though, it’s Malawi’s people and the everyday interactions full of warmth and kindness that will make your visit so memorable. It’s a wonderful and accessible destination for family travel, and I hope you find this self-drive Malawi itinerary with kids a useful guide on where to go and what to see.

For all your questions answered about our overland travels through sub-Saharan Africa in a Land Rover, check out our post – Overlanding Africa with kids: all you need to know.

Game Haven Lodge review

Malawi itinerary with kids

Our route through Malawi (Google Maps)

To bear in mind…

With poor infrastructure, densely-populated towns, and omnipresent police blocks on the roads, travel here can be slow. A seemingly short journey may perhaps take a day if the travel gods are not in your favour. Get an early start to your day and always ensure there is a plan B, just in case. If, like us, you’re self-driving, you ideally need a 4×4, as most of these destinations require off-road driving, and particularly as you venture further North, fill up on fuel and stock up on food whenever you see the opportunity, as supplies cannot always guaranteed in the next town. Public transport is available, however prepare for hours of waiting, frequent break downs and very long days – This is Africa!

Malawi itinerary with kids

This three week itinerary continues from AFRICA OVERLAND Part 1: South Africa to Mozambique itinerary with kids, hence starting from Day 20. If you only have two weeks, I suggest focusing on the South and following this itinerary to Cape Maclear (the beaches further north aren’t as conducive for swimming with little ones and the roads to tourist destinations deteriorate significantly). But I hope this at least gives you some inspiration for perhaps a Lake Malawi family adventure, or places to go in Malawi, or perhaps the best places to camp in Malawi.

We mostly camped our way through Malawi, staying at a few lodges along the way. We could easily have stopped off at more campsite by the lake – check out The BEST Lake Malawi camping sites.

You may also want to check out our ULTIMATE Africa packing list for overlanding Africa with kids.

Day 20: The Malawi border

We drove in to Malawi from Tete, Mozambique, and unfortunately we were confronted with a corrupt border guard who tried every means possible to get a bribe from us. We didn’t pay up, which was probably why we were detained for 3 hours. But, if possible, get your visa BEFORE arriving to Malawi to avoid such frustrations. On leaving the border gates, purchase your Third Party Insurance from one of the sellers in the huts (ask to see a price list).

After Mozambique’s long stretches of open landscapes, the dusty chaos as you drive the one hour to Blantyre can be quite confronting. We stayed in a very basic 3-bed ‘cottage’ at Doogles. There is a campsite nearby but the facilities were questionable, and after the dramas at the border, we figured we deserved a swim and burger at Doogles.

Day 21-22: Game Haven

Now THIS was the introduction to Malawi we were looking for. Just a 15min drive out of Blantyre is a fantastic kid-friendly game reserve with 3-bed cottages and family rooms available. Let the kids go crazy in the playground equipped with climbing wall, then cool off in the swimming pool. Finish the day with a sundowner in the restaurant whilst the zebras, eland and other game residents graze around you. We also thoroughly recommend a game walk (with a ranger). You may like to read our Game Haven Review.

Day 23: Majete National Park

Driving back through Blantyre, we stopped at Shoprite to stock up on groceries. It is then a 2 hour drive to the gates of Majete National Park (prepare yourselves for a bumpy, corrugated road for the last half hour). Pop for a swim at the restaurant before setting off on a late afternoon game drive to spot hippos, crocodiles, elephants, impala, warthogs and much more. The vegetation is rather thick, so drive slowly as you never know what’s round the next corner! We didn’t spot any lions, but we barely saw anyone else on our game drive and any encounter with wildlife felt intimate.

There’s a great campsite with level grassy pitches and a thatched dining area (although no power). Be warned that it’s not fenced and the local wildlife may wander through. We fell asleep with warthogs around the car (thankfully we sleep in roof tents)!

Malawi itinerary with kids Malawi itinerary with kids

Day 24-25: Mount Mulanje

The Majete NP entrance fee includes the next day if staying overnight, so we took the opportunity for a morning game drive, before venturing over to the Mount Mulanje. Due to closed roads and impassable dirt tracks, this journey took us 6 hours, when it should have taken 3. It is best to return through the congestion of Blantyre, rather than take the the dirt-track south of the Michiru Mountain Conservatoin Area.

We stayed at CCAP campsite at Likhubala. From here there’s a splendid hike up to Manchewe Waterfall on the mountain, one of the most impressive waterfalls in Africa, where you can enjoy a refreshing dip. With our 2 and 4 year old boys, the round trip took us about 3 hours. But most would do it 2 hours. Then on return, we were surprised by a performance from some local orphans, as part of Malawi Music Fund. The voices from this choir gave me goosebumps; rich tones and beautiful a capella harmonies. If you are visiting during school holidays, you will more than likely meet them as they rehearse at CCAP. Then enjoy a cold beer as you enjoy the views of the Mount Mulanje being cast aflame by the setting sun.

Day 26-27: Zomba

It’s a 2 hour drive to Zomba. Before heading up to the Plateau, take the opportunity to visit a local village community arranged though Responsible Safari Company and their YODEP program. Here you can take part in maize pounding, brick making, traditional dancing or even experience a homestay.

Our visit coincided with a Sunday mass. An incredible experience. I will never forget the rich tones of the female a cappella voices harmonising, and the sheer faith of the parishioners hanging on to every word of the sermon. Do bear in mind that a full service generally last 3 hours, so you may want to arrange to visit only part of the service.

Malawi itinerary with kids

Then venture up onto Zomba Plateau to enjoy the wonderful hospitality of Zomba Forest Lodge and enjoy a forest walk to a private waterfall. You can read about our stay here.

Zomba Forest Lodge review Zomba Forest Lodge review

We stayed a second night on the Plateau to explore more waterfalls and views, and camped at the very basic Trout Farm (no running water or power).

Day 28: Liwonde National Park

Our plan was to enter Liwonde National Park from the South and drive to Mvuu to spend the night, after taking a boat safari to see the crocodiles and hippos. However, heavy rains meant that the road was impassable and we would be unable to get to Mvuu. Do call ahead to check. We cut our losses and headed to the beach at Nkhodzi Lodge.

However, our friends at Mini Travellers have visited Liwonde National Park and you should check out their review of Mvuu Camp.

Day 29-30 Nkhudzi

Time to slow the pace and enjoy the serenity of Lake Malawi. Nkhudzi Lodge has a small pool, bar and a shady grassy area to camp. Ensure you stock up on food (probably best in Zomba) as there are no shops nearby. However, you can purchase food from the restaurant.

Malawi itinerary with kids

Day 31-32 Cape Maclear

Take a detour via Monkey Bay to stock up on supplies (although produce choice is very limited) and follow the track to Cape Maclear – a sandy crescent, book-ended by lush mountains, and views over to Domwe Island. We stayed at Chembe Eagles Nest, which has good facilities, a bar/restaurant and sparkling water for a dip. We thoroughly recommend taking the two hour sunset catamaran cruise. We stayed three nights, but honestly wish we had stayed longer. This place was easily our favourite Lake Malawi camping site.

Malawi itinerary with kids

The lake here is perfect for swimming with little ones; nice temperature, clean and calm. However, bilharzia is present. If you do wish to swim, we advise purchasing bilharzia medication from the pharmacy in Monkey Bay and taking this after leaving the lake.

Malawi itinerary with kids

Day 33-35 Chintheche Inn

This is the perfect stopover enroute to the North of Malawi, a six hour drive from Cape Maclear. Ensure you stock up on fuel, cash and food in Salima, as you won’t find much else on the road north.

At Chintheche Inn there is a fantastic campground with good facilities. However, we were invited to stay in the lovely family cottage, which opens out onto the beach. There is a clean swimming pool, small play area and lots of lush grass for running races. However, the beach here has quite a few boulders and reeds, so the water isn’t quite as inviting as Cape Maclear. You can read a review of our stay here.

Chintheche Inn

Day 37 – Nhkata Bay / Mzuzu

Nhkata Bay is firmly on the backpacker circuit and a place we visited pre-kids back in 2001, so were keen to return. It’s a one hour drive up the coast from Chintheche, but really NOT worth staying over with young kids. There is little in the way of sandy beaches (more rocky coves), and the lodges are built up into the cliffs with rooms connected by steep steps. Plus, there are no flat campgrounds for overlanders with roof tents. However, it’s worth stopping into to Mayoka Village to sample one of their delicious smoothies overlooking the lake; just hold on to your little one’s hands tightly as you navigate those steep steps.

It’s then a further hour’s drive along a good, winding road to Mzuzu. This is the place to stock up on food at the very impressive Shoprite and buy US dollars for visas from the Bureau de Change if heading north into Tanzania. We stayed overnight at the very welcoming Umunthu Camp. There are flat, shady pitches designated for overlanders, hot showers, lovely bar and restaurant, and guinea pigs for the kids to meet in the back garden.

From Mzuzu, you could head to the magical Nyika National Park. However, especially after the rains, the road is in a bad condition and allow 6-7 hours of driving from Mzuzu. We decided against it.

Day 38-39 Livingstonia / Chitimba

It’s a beautiful drive as you head further up the coast. Our intentions were to drive up to the old Scottish colonial town of Livingstonia. However, just a few minutes up the dirt track, we decided that even in our Landy, it wasn’t the best idea. The road is in a seriously bad condition, especially after the wet season. Alternatively take a public pick up vehicle up the mountain (just be patient as it won’t leave until ‘full’), or pay a for a private 4WD (USD60), or you can walk the 20km round trip (we thought that a bit much with a 2 and 4 year old).

After a 1.5hour wait by the pick-up, we gave up and retreated to the lovely Chitimba Beach Lodge with good camping facilities. Backed by lush mountains, the beach by the lake isn’t the cleanest, but the campsite is set  away from the shoreline and has a clear sandy pitch to kick a ball around.

Mozambique itinerary with kids

Day 40 – The Tanzania border

After an early start, stop by the dinosaur museum in Karonga (closed Sunday mornings) and then onward to the Songwe border. Ensure you have the snacks ready as it’s a long wait on the Tanzanian side to get the car across.


Malawi itinerary with kids

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Disclaimer: TraveLynn Family were hosted by Game Haven Lodge, Zomba Forest Plateau and Chintheche Inn, in partnership with Malawi Tourism. However, these are all my own thoughts and words. 

Where would we be without our trusted Lonely Planet? The Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi combined Lonely Planet guide was invaluable to our overland travel planning.

Alternatively, if you are only focusing on Malawi, you may prefer this Bradt guide.

You may also like to read:
OVERLANDING AFRICA Part 1: South Africa and Mozambique itinerary with kids
Medical kit list for families travelling Africa
Why we swear by Essaouira with kids

For more posts on Africa, head to our AFRICA page.


Chintheche Inn REVIEWED: your perfect stop on the way up or down the coast of Lake Malawi




  1. What a fabulous adventure you had in Malawi and what a great itinerary for people to follow!

    • TraveLynn Family

      It’s such a great place to travel with young kids! My boys loved it! 🙂

  2. What a fantastic post and what a great adventure you are on!

    • TraveLynn Family

      Thanks Louise! Pleased you enjoyed it. Loving this adventure and never want it to end!

  3. What an amazing adventure you’ve been having – it’s so interesting to see both sides of the destination, the more luxurious tourist options and the part where you definitely need patience, 4WD and a strong resolve to get the most from Africa.

    • TraveLynn Family

      Thanks Cathy – I never want this to end! I’m secretly considering never returning our friend’s Landy and just keep driving around the world 🙂

  4. The forest lodge sounds amazing, in fact it all does. What an adventure. I absolutely love that first photograph, just beautiful! 🙂 x

  5. It must have been exciting, to find warthogs around the car! You’re having so many adventures on this trip. I’m thoroughly enjoying following you.

    • TraveLynn Family

      I’m just pleased we sleep on the roof and they can’t climb ladders. Well, I think they can’t climb ladders… I thought they could charge though. But maybe that was an incorrect fact from watching The Lion King as they certainly seemed more weary of my 2yo running around.

  6. Jenny I am loving following your trip the experience you are giving your two is just incredible, I ant believe they have corrupt border control though ? x

    • TraveLynn Family

      Thanks Sarah. Just loving every moment! Although – YES – urgh – idiot border guard. And to be honest, they weren’t that wonderful on leaving either. Such a bad introduction to the country and it’s a shame as it may put people off visiting such a wonderful country.

  7. Loving following your adventures Jenny! What a trip:) You are making it so much easier for people to follow in your footsteps too. Where are you off to next?

    • TraveLynn Family

      Thanks Lisa! Currently chilling on the beach on the east coast of Tanzania 🙂

  8. Wow wow! I just want to do all this now!! What an amazing adventure and a great itinerary for people to be able to follow.

    • TraveLynn Family

      Thanks Ting! Malawi is a really wonderful destination for intrepid families 🙂

  9. I can’t get enough of your Africa posts at the moment – they are fab!! Great itinerary for anyone who wants to take on a similar adventure. Can’t wait to see what you’re up to next!

    • TraveLynn Family

      Thanks Daisy. Currently chilling on the beach in Tanzania 🙂

  10. What a brilliant Part 2 and packed full of handy insights for anyone looking to take a similar trip. Good luck with part 3!

    • TraveLynn Family

      Thanks Claire. Part 3 has had a few hairy moments that I’ll share with you soon!

  11. Wow, what a load of incredible sights, sounds, smells and adventures! I’m so inspired reading this!

    • TraveLynn Family

      Thanks Penny! We never want this adventure to end!

  12. Wow, what an adventure! The waterfall hike looks fantastic (I love waterfalls!) and Lake Malawi looks just beautiful. Your boys are going to have so many incredible memories.

    • TraveLynn Family

      Oh the waterfall hike was a definite highlight. Was an awesome treat cooling off in its waters.

  13. I am loving following your AMAZING adventures. You are giving you children such a wonderful and priceless experience to see the world. Wow I bet the corrupt border guard was frustrating and scary. Cant wait for the next part! Take care my lovely 🙂

    • TraveLynn Family

      Thanks Katy. My boys are absolutely blossoming on this adventure! But yup – that border guard – urgh. Unfortunately they weren’t that pleasant on leaving the country either. Such a shame, as away from the authorities, Malawi is perhaps the friendliest country we’ve ever visited.

  14. I love every bit of this trip. The experiences you’ve shared together in this beautiful place look magical. If we get to take our kids we will be using your posts

    • TraveLynn Family

      Thanks Zena. Malawi is a wonderful destination for families and I hope more parents consider it in future.

  15. Honestly, your kiddos are so lucky! This looks like a great plan for families following in your footsteps!

  16. Wow! I’ve always wanted to visit africa, but was uncertain how it could be done, especially with kids. This itinerary has been the jumpstart I needed to get some plans going. Thanks! This may sound naive, but did you ever feel at all threatened, by man or animal?

    • TraveLynn Family

      Not naive at all? Quite a few people have asked us this. We’ve had a ‘moment’ with a lion – not sure if you read about that on our FB page? But generally we’ve felt very safe over the past weeks.

  17. What an awesome resource post Jenny! You really have me trying to figure out when we can do a similar Africa trip with the kids in the next few years. I know it is hard work, but it looks so dreamy too. #fearlessfamtrav

    • TraveLynn Family

      Something tells me you’ll be travelling Africa someday soon with your tribe 😉 Thanks, as always, for following along!

  18. April

    What a fantastic adventure for your family! Loved all the pictures! #fearlessfamtrav

    • TraveLynn Family

      Thanks April. Loving this adventure and just don’t want it to end!

  19. Jules

    Wow! This sounds like a wonderful trip in a diverse and interesting country. Malawi has not been on my radar, at all. Now I am intruiged and will read up a bit more about it. Thanks! Have a safe trip and am looking forward to reading more about your overland adventure. #fearlessfamtrav

    • TraveLynn Family

      Thanks Jules. You’re not the only one – it’s off so many people’s radar and I’m not sure why. The people are so warm and welcoming and the natural beauty diverse. Getting around can be hard work, but if you allow a lot of time and patience, it’s certainly worth the effort.

  20. Pamela Goward

    This was a wonderful itinerary. Looking out at the grey skies, persistent drizzle and still with the central heating on at home, it’s going to be difficult coming home. Remember, although it’s early May, I could just as well be describing late June. Feeling more than a little envious.

    • TraveLynn Family

      I’m expecting weeks of sunshine and beach days when we return! I’m not expecting too much am I? …

  21. What an inspirational itinerary! We travelled through Malawi about 6 years ago (pre-kids) and I’d never really thought of it as a kid-friendly destination but your post has changed that. You also visited so many more places than we got too that look amazing- I really want to go back now. The photos of your kids interacting with locals are beautiful. #fearlessfamtrav

  22. Wow!! I feel totally inspired and you have reawakened my desire to one day travel to Africa with my family. Have you ever heard of a large family doing something similar? (We have 5 kids!) I loved your post and I am really looking forward to reading about all of your adventures over there 🙂 #fearlessfamtrav

  23. Such stunning photos, and such a useful itinerary for any family who wants to follow in your adventurous footsteps! #fearlessfamtrav

    • TraveLynn Family

      Thanks Ariana! I really do hope this inspires more families to take on Africa 🙂

  24. Lake Malawi looks so beautiful. What an amazing trip, I hope you’ve got something good up your sleeve for your next adventure! #Fearlessfamtrav

  25. Claire

    What an amazing adventure. I have to admit I’m not quite adventurous enough to do any of the African countries with my kids yet, though your post has shown it’s totally doable. And to have giraffes grazing nearby sounds utterly AMAZING! #fearlessfamtravel

    • TraveLynn Family

      The giraffes have been an absolute highlight so far. They’re such beautiful creatures!

  26. Ah, we camped at Chitimba on our overland trip – your posts brings back such fab memories. And makes me want to go again with our toddler in tow! #fearlessfamtrav

    • TraveLynn Family

      Oh wow!!! Did you make it up Livingstonia? Where abouts were you travelling to and from? Would love to hear more!

  27. This is such a great post to show how travel to Africa is possible with kids. So far we have only been to Botswana and South Africa, but cannot wait to explore more.

  28. dani

    I love how clear and broken up this itinerary is. We have been pondering visiting some countries in Africa and always thought it was crazy to do this with kids, but I love how you and your #fearlessfamtrav spirit are proving otherwise! Makes me feel I could do it too! Maybe once baby number 2 is born and a bit older, we’ll copy and paste this exact itinerary. I’m wondering though what budget is roughly needed to make this trip?
    And another question I have had is about safety. You mention police blocks and bribes, is this dangerous?
    Love following your travels on instagram btw!

    • TraveLynn Family

      Sub-Saharan Africa just requires a lot of planning and a bucket load of patience. We’ve had some seriously tough days, but the rewards have been great. As for the police – they really are just a nuisance and nothing more than that. Totally harmless.

  29. What a wonderful guide to Malawi. Eagerly awaiting part 3! You are having such an amazing time full of priceless adventures #fearlessfamtrav

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