Thuma Forest Reserve
Entrance: USD2 for Malawians, USD5 for Foreigners and USD5 per car
Thuma Forest Reserve is situated approximately 80km east of Lilongwe and covers an area of roughly 197 sq km in the Great Rift Valley Escarpment rising from a basal altitude of 575m to the 1,564m peak of Thuma Mountain. Thuma has been gazetted as a forest reserve in 1926.
The topography is generally rugged. The upper levels are covered in Brachystegia (Miombo) woodland whilst the lower levels are characterized by mixed low altitude woodland with patches of bamboo.
The reserve had formerly seen little scientific exploration and even less tourist development, and poaching and deforestation were a major problem, but in August 1996, conservation management was handed over to the Wildlife Action Group (WAG) in cooperation with the Malawi Department of Forestry and the local communities to protect its flora and fauna and to make Thuma something of a flagship reserve for opening them up to revenue-generating tourism.
Thuma is now one of the best run and best-protected forest reserves in Malawi, and it is also one of a few forest reserves in Malawi which is still home to elephant and buffalo. Other wildlife includes greater kudu, bushbuck, Sharpe’s grysbok, common duiker, klipspringer, baboon, vervet monkey, bushbaby, leopard, spotted hyena, genet, African civet, honey badger, warthog, bush pig, porcupine and many other smaller species. There is a variety of birds including the first Malawian record for Natal Francolin.
Tourist development is still a challenge but is ideal for genuine outdoor enthusiasts. The camping fee is USD5 per person per night and it has basic cooking, shower and toilet facilities. The guided hike is USD10 per person and unguided walking is forbidden due to the potential encounters with elephants and buffalos.
Getting there and away
From Salima, follow the M14 towards Lilongwe for 6.5km past the junction with the M5 to Nkhotakota, and the turn-off to Thuma Forest Reserve is signposted to the left shortly before a roadside baobab tree (if you pass an electric power station on the right, you’ve missed the turn-off). Follow this road for 4.5km, crossing the Lilongwe River en route, then turn right into the village of Nkangayawala, and after another 6.5km you’ll see another baobab to the right with a sign for Thuma painted on it. Turn right here, and you’ll enter the forest reserve after 500m and reach the campsite after another 10km.