This post is part of a series about African safari destinations. Reading the title however, you’d be forgiven for thinking “Eeeh…Majete?” In fact, even if you are a seasoned Africa traveller, “safari” is not likely to be the first thing that spring to mind when someone mentions Malawi – where Majete is the most prominent nature reserve. Historically, that is for good reasons, because for many years this small, densely populated country did not have much to offer in terms of wildlife and protected nature. That, however, has changed dramatically over the past decade or so, and having spent some time in Majete Wildlife Reserve recently, I would strongly recommend that you put it on your lists.
If you are anything like me, you will be attracted by the story behind Majete alone. In less than two decades, the reserve has been transformed from an empty forest to a prosperous wildlife location. This is primarily thanks to the organisation African Parks, whose dedicated conservation experts are hard at work around Africa to save and restore ruined nature reserves and national parks.
One of AP’s most spectacular efforts took place in Malawi, where the organisation manages two wildlife reserves (Majete and Nkhotakota) and one national park (Liwonde). The astonishing translocation in 2017 of 500 elephants, from the Majete and Liwonde to Nkhotakota, is unrivalled in scale and success, and I highly recommend that you learn more about it on the organisation’s website. In fact, you might also want to support them, they do a tremendous job. Also, don’t miss Görrel’s post about another of African Parks’ projects: Akagera in Rwanda.
For the average safari tourist though, Majete’s story alone might not be enough to trigger a visit, and sure, if you travel for big game viewing only, you might want to travel elsewhere. Not that you won’t see flagship species in Majete – the park is indeed a big five reserve – but realistically you’d be lucky to tick off three or more of the big five during your stay. Having said that, the quality of some of the sightings I had was far better than I had expected. That is particularly true for the elephants, which is to say a lot, coming from an elephant aficionado such as myself, who have been following and photographing these gentle giants all over Africa for many years. The Majete elephants are beautiful to watch and, more importantly, they behave as healthy, wild elephants should behave.
Beyond the big five, Majete is also the perfect place to brush up on your antelope knowledge and photography. The reserve is home to an impressive range of Bovidae species and in my field journal I have noted sightings of no less than 13 different species within a few days. That is well on par with – or in fact much better than – many of Africa’s most famous safari destinations. My personal highlight was a short glimpse of the small suni antelope, a species I rarely have the opportunity to see.
Things to consider
As indicated above, this is not the most spectacular wildlife reserve in Africa and large predators are few and far between. I saw lions once during my stay and my ranger colleagues on site said that they do have occasional leopard sightings, but if searching for big cats is your thing, then Majete should perhaps not be on top of your list.
I visited Majete during the end of a particularly dry season, and just as in most miombo woodland areas that leads to a dusty, untidy and not particularly pretty landscape. Having said that, there are also some stunning Baobabs, African star-chestnuts, and other iconic tree species to enjoy. The area along the river is particularly beautiful, although there is a large dam construction that you will see from some of the viewpoints which might be a bit distracting. The entire Majete is some 70 000 hectares, large enough to sustain completely wild animals, although tiny compared to some of the more famous reserves in Africa.
You don’t have many choices in Majete. In fact, there are only two lodges and a public campsite. My personal recommendation is Mkulumadzi Lodge, run by the respectable safari company Robin Pope. In my opinion the lodge offers everything you could ever want from a safari lodge and it is beautifully located along the river. During my afternoon rest I saw elephants, hippos, buffalo, eland, impala, nyala, sable, waterbuck and more from the comfort of my bed. I also ticked a few lifers in my bird book. Personally, I’m not crazy about the fact that they feed their resident bush babies at Mkulumadzi, but I suppose many visitors will find it amusing. One thing is certain though: the lodge has one of the most intriguing entrances I’ve seen, where you must cross a rather challenging suspension bridge to get from the game vehicle to the camp.
As you may have guessed by now, I enjoyed Majete a lot. It’s not for first-timers wanting to tick off large mammals but the reserve exceeded my expectations by far. It’s well off the beaten tracks and there are pleasantly few vehicles in the reserve, both of which are highly appealing to many experienced safari buffs. As already mentioned, it’s also fascinating to see the results of African Parks’ excellent work. I’d say there are good reasons to be optimistic about Malawi’s future as a safari destination.