Zomba Petal Power

Zomba: “the best views in the British Empire”

What comes to mind when you think of the perfect place to relax, get over your jetlag and fine-tune those photography skills before going on Safari? Or stretch those legs with a few easy scenic walks before attempting the Mulanje Massif?

Zomba Plateau is a great slab of mountain standing at 1,800m peaking at 2,000m with areas of pine, plantation, clusters of Mulanje Cedar and pockets of indigenous Afro-montane cloud forest and lots of other wild and mixed vegetation, flora and fauna. The plateau is crisscrossed with streams and tumbling waterfalls that flow into the magnificent Mulunguzi Dam.

mulunguzi dam

“The best views in the British Empire”

There are beautiful walks to reach the scenic viewpoints, once described as “the best views in the British Empire”. Visit the Zomba market or the various charities and projects in the Zomba region to experience authentic cultural interactions. Zomba Forest Lodge have their own conservational project TREEZ an initiative to help combat deforestation and fire prevention. Involving and educating the local communities to combat the illegal firewood trade and on the importance of trees for the environment.

I have to admit it had been far too long since I had visited this magnificent plateau. With time on my hands and no other guests, it was the perfect opportunity to support local and do some social distancing in this breathtaking wilderness. The expectations were high as we always receive fantastic feedback from our clients but wanted to test drive the experience ourselves.

views zomba plateau

We were incredibly lucky with the weather and had spectacular views driving into the plateau, with the mist rising in the distance as the sun was bursting through the plateau it was easy to forget any worries we had and get lost in nature.

Zomba market

We popped into the Zomba market, which is widely regarded as the most complete market in Malawi. The locals are friendly and loved having us. This is a great spot to buy fresh fruit (fruit grows incredibly well in Zomba so there is a wide range of fruit, veg and fresh berries on offer). Additionally, many curios etc. that you will love browsing for home decorations, gifts and souvenirs, and if nothing else just the opportunity to immerse yourself in Malawi culture. 

Malawi is widely regarded as one of the safest and friendliest countries in Africa, hence why it has the nickname “The warm heart of Africa”. We stocked up on fruit and veg that will last us weeks and made some new friends in the process.

food zomba

We have put a very strong focus on trying to support small businesses as much as possible and therefore wanted to stay at Zomba’s finest eco-lodge, Zomba Forest Lodge which is managed by the owners, the lovely Tom and Petal (ironic given how many amazing species of flowers and petals there are on the plateau!).

Ku Chawe Inn

We visited the bigger Ku Chawe Inn for lunch, and I have to say the food was delicious. Ku Chawe is a larger hotel but is perfect for bigger groups that cannot be accommodated at the forest lodge which has an intimate 4 rooms in total, or for those that prefer something more hotel-like with a swimming pool, gym etc. Ku Chawe also has spectacular views and plenty of history surrounding the hotel so it’s worth a visit if you’re in the area.

We then spent the afternoon walking down to Mulunguzi Dam, through the forests, up to William’s Waterfall and back to Ku Chawe Inn. It was great to remind us of how many different species of butterflies, birds, bees, flora and fauna there are on the plateau. We also saw a few baboons and monkeys.  There are also known to be hyenas, leopards and serval on the plateau but they are a hard bargain and are pretty shy.

room zomba forest lodge

Zomba Forest Lodge

We had another scenic drive along the edge of the plateau to ZFL and made it just in time for a breathtaking sunset with the Samango monkeys.  The sunset spot is literally a 2-minute walk from the lodge. Back for a ZFL berry-infused G&T and the most delicious dinner prepared by Petal, while Tom gave us a detailed explanation of the lodge and the community projects they support. ZFL has no electricity so everything is done on solar/ gas. For this reason, dinner is charmingly enjoyed by candlelight, giving you the feel of a log cabin in the Rockies. Our room was cosy, inviting and comfortable, and we had a great night’s sleep.

We were pleasantly awoken by the sounds of birds everywhere. There’s nothing like having a shower in the morning and looking out the window to watch the sun bursting through the plateau while the birds sing away. Once showered and ready for breakfast we were of course sidetracked by all the birds, butterflies and beautiful flowers in the garden… I even got into a bit of flora photography! Breakfast was just as amazing as dinner with an array of fresh fruits, homemade jams and incredible cinnamon rolls, with hot breakfast available on request which we opted for to fuel our next walk!

Walk around Zomba

We enjoyed a beautiful 2hr walk around their extended garden, down through the forests to nearby streams and waterfalls and back along the edge of the plateau, before returning for lunch in a secret location in the garden. Again another incredible meal made with fresh produce all purchased at the local market, supporting small Malawi businesses.

We will definitely be back soon and for longer, you need a full day just to sit in the garden and watch the birds. I strongly recommend at least 2 nights at ZFL for any Malawi trip.

flowers zomba plateau

Destinations to combine with Zomba

Obviously, it goes without saying that if you are coming internationally you should definitely consider the below to combine with Zomba:

  • Mulanje Mountain: If you are into adventure and natural beauty, but don’t fancy the commercialized Kilimanjaro, and are looking for a more off the beaten track and budget-friendly option, then Mulanje might be just the place for you which summits at 3002m. Mulanje is about a 1.5hr drive from Zomba so we would recommend stopping off at Satemwa Tea Estates and Mulanje on route to Zomba or vice versa.
  • Satemwa Tea Estates: Not far from Mulanje and widely regarded as one of the most scenically beautiful spots in the country. Old school Huntingdon House (another small business that we love) is a charming old colonial house converted into a beautiful boutique lodge with huge bedrooms, lush green gardens and wonderful scenery and birdlife. Learn about the tea production and join the tea tasting… or cycle around the estates. Roughly about 1.5 from Zomba.
  • Liwonde National Park: Only a couple of hours drive from Zomba and a perfect stopover between Zomba and Lake Malawi. African Parks have achieved conservation miracles in Liwonde, so it really is one of the stars of the Malawi show!
  • Lake Malawi: Over 800 species of cichlid fish endemic to the lake, and complimented with crystal clear blue water, incredible birdlife, sandy beaches and picturesque photography opportunities. The closest part of Lake Malawi is about a 2hr drive from Liwonde. Some of our favorite hot spots on this part of the lake are the Makokola Retreat and Mumbo Island, head a bit further north for the fantastic Blue Zebra Island Lodge, or jump on a flight to Kaya Mawa on Likoma Island in the Northern part of the lake. The southern lakeshore is just 2 – 3 hrs drive from Liwonde depending on where you’re staying and who’s driving…! 😉
  • Balaka: The Art House is a small guesthouse, boasting incredible décor, design and impressive gardens, and a very tasty Italian restaurant. This is a great place to stop for a delicious lunch (or overnight). Only about a 2-hour drive from Zomba en route to Lilongwe.
  • Dedza Pottery Lodge: Another great pit stop for a delicious lunch on the way in or out of Lilongwe. They also have incredible pottery and can design and tailor-make pretty much anything you want. However they do work form scratch and produce quality, which is a bit of a process, so if you do want anything tailor-made you may want to order 4-6 weeks in advance by visiting their website.
  • Lilongwe: If you want a night or two in the city to do some touring, visit local markets, go to the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre (which rehabilitates either wild animals who have been rescued from illegal trade or who have been injured in the city and will be released in the wild), or visit Four Seasons and the beautiful gardens and interesting projects. We recommend staying at Kumbali Country Lodge or Latitude 13.

Zomba is a Malawi highlight. If you would like to visit, contact us today.