Lilongwe is a pleasant little city with a vibe that is more sleepy than spectacular, making it a nice break from exploring other larger cities. The Old Town has a quiet buzz, and most visitors spend the majority of their time in the capital in the neighborhood’s intimate cafes, craft stalls, drinking holes and markets.
The most popular tourist draw in Lilongwe is the Nature Sanctuary, a wonderfully peaceful wilderness area that sprawls out from the Lingadzi River. You have to take a taxi to get there, but it is well worth the fare. The large network of walking trails has something for every hiker, including beginners and experts looking for a challenge. Stop by the information center to learn about the animals and birds you may see while hiking, then finish your exploration with a visit to the zoo area. Crocodiles, hyenas, monkeys and more call the zoo home.
Tobacco is the most important cash crop in Malawi, and the capital is the processing, selling and buying center of the industry. To catch a glimpse at the country’s economic heart, visit the tobacco auction floors north of the city center. Taxis and local minibuses make it easy to access the auction floors, and auctions are held from May through September. Auctioneers sell the commodity on behalf of the growers, and dealers purchase the tobacco to resell to processors. Large bales of tobacco are delivered every day, and the auction process is truly fascinating. Visitors to the auction houses get an inside glimpse at Malawi’s most important industry while enjoying the energetic atmosphere and even sampling some of the tobacco.
To better understand the politics of Malawi, head to the Parliament Building. Once housed in Zomba, the parliament moved to the former presidential palace in Lilongwe in the mid-1990s and today is open to visitors for guided tours.
The main market is a vibrant pocket of chaotic energy, where food vendors, traders and market stalls cram into a small area and shoppers swarm around looking for the best deals. It is a great place to pick up fresh produce, local handicrafts and bootleg CDs.
Many day trips can be made from the capital, and one of the best is to Mount Mulanje. The mountain rises from the highland plains and is surrounded by spectacular cliffs of bare rock that stand nearly vertically to heights of over 3,000 feet high. Breathtaking waterfalls dot the cliffs, and the area is one of Africa’s best places for hiking. Clear paths take visitors up the mountain, and swimming holes and clear mountain streams offer plenty of opportunities for cooling down along the way.
The Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve is not far from Lilongwe and is one of the country’s best-kept secrets. Visitors to the reserve can get up close and personal with a variety of wildlife, including elephants, impalas, elands, waterbucks, buffaloes, zebras and pukus.
The Liwonde National Park is also worth visiting. Dominating the country’s western side, the park is nearly overflowing with wildlife, including waterbucks, elands, sable antelopes and abundant elephants. At night, visitors can spot bushbabies, spotted genets, spotted hyenas and side-striped jackals.
Lilongwe Geographical Location
Lilongwe is located in the center of Malawi on the Lilongwe River near the borders of Zambia and Mozambique.
Lilongwe is the largest city of Malawi with an estimated population of 903,000.
Chichewa is the official language of Malawi and is spoken by most of its inhabitants. A large portion of the population also speaks Chinyanja, Chiyao, and Chitumbuka.
Lilongwe Predominant Religion
- 83% Christian
- 13% Muslim
- 2% None
- 2% Other
Jews, Rastafarians, Hindus, and Baha’is make up most of the “other” percentile.
The Kwacha is the official currency of Malawi.
Lilongwe is hot throughout the year with little variation. The wet season lasts from December until March.
Lilongwe Main Attractions
- Lilongwe Wildlife Centre
- Kumbali Cultural Centre
- Lilongwe Market
Other Attraction in Lilongwe
- Parliament Building
- World War I Memorial