Ntchisi Forest Reserve

Ntchisi Forest Reserve

Ntchisi Forest Reserve is one of Malawi’s last remaining indigenous rainforests with thriving vegetation and trees that form a canopy 30 metres high while lianas and strangler figs compete for the sunlight. The reserve is located about 80km north of Lilongwe and covers approximately 75 sq km. It is surrounded on all sides by rolling hills covered by subsistence farming and dotted with traditional villages. It is an untouched paradise that is yet to discovered by mass tourism.

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 so 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.

Ntchisi Forest Reserve contains a range of fauna. It is an excellent destination for the professional or amateur bird watcher due to the variety of habitats. Some mammals including monkeys, baboons, bush pigs, hyenas, bushbuck and duikers, butterflies, and strange and unknown plants and orchids are also plentiful.

The rainforest flora is the real highlight of this area of outstanding natural beauty. It includes pines, Brachystegia and heliconias in the lower parts of the mountain, to huge strangler figs, vines and ferns in the rainforest. Wild orchids thrive here and after the rains, edible wild mushrooms flourish and are often used in dishes served at Ntchisi Forest Lodge located in the park.

Accommodation is now available at the Ntchisi Forest Lodge, recently developed for international visitors and rapidly gaining an excellent reputation. It provides a perfect base for exploring the forest and offers unguided and guided hikes along a network of clearly marked walking trails, as well as mountain-biking excursions.

Getting there and away

The forest reserve is 100km from Lilongwe by road; a 2-hour drive. From Lilongwe, take the M1 north past the airport to Mponela, then turn right onto the surfaced T350, which is signposted for Ntchisi Town. After 35km, shortly after passing Ntchisi Hospital, you reach a T-junction where you need to turn right onto a dirt road signposted for Dowa. After 10km, shortly after passing a radio transmitter, take the left turn signposted for Ntchisi Forest Lodge and follow this for 12km to Chitembwe, where you need to turn right onto a signposted road that brings you to the lodge after 4km. You should get through I a saloon car in the dry season, but a 4×4 might be necessary after rain. There is no public transport to the forest reserve, but the managers can arrange transfers from Lilongwe.

Upon leaving the forest reserve, travellers driving on to Kasungu or Nkhotakota must return to the T350 and continue north along it to the small but well-equipped highland town of Ntchisi. A well-maintained 30km dirt road connects Ntchisi to the M18, a recently surfaced road that runs for 125km between Kasungu (on the M1 between Lilongwe and Mzuzu) and Nkhotakota (on the lakeshore M5 between Salima and Mzuzu).