There are two major cities in Malawi. Lilongwe, the capital city and Blantyre, the commercial capital of Malawi. Two other cities exist in Malawi; Zomba, the former capital and Mzuzu, the city in the northern part of the country.
It was a simple trading center in the late 50’s, having spawned no famous leader, recorded no historic event, and having no entries in the book of facts that would highlight its background. Yet, Lilongwe rested directly in the center of the country that was soon to become an independent nation, and was in the region of the man who would become the first president, Hastings Kamuzu Banda. For these reasons, when Malawi gained its independence, Banda declared the capital should be where all Malawians could reach it, and in 1965 Lilongwe replaced the southern city of Zomba as the capital of Malawi.
Though the government resides in Lilongwe, this crossroads of Malawi has yet to reach the stature of the commercial center of the south, Blantyre. Its population remains at approximately half of the number living in the city to the south, and international business continues to look to Blantyre for banking and commercial interests.
In many ways it can be argued that Lilongwe is two cities. Old Town is situated at the crossroads of the major highways traversing the central region. Its streets remind the visitor of an old African market. They are teeming with street vendors, and the visitor can hardly exit a vehicle before being surrounded by young boys hawking everything from strawberries, to watches, to car parts.
On the other hand, City Center, situated north of Old Town, is a well-laid-out grid of streets that contain the workings of government, banking and commerce. The area on the north side of City Center is home to the ex-patriot community as well as for the more well-to-do of Malawi culture.
No visit to Malawi can be complete until the visitor has experienced the two faces of the capital, Old Town and City Center.
The southern city of Blantyre is the oldest European settlement in the country and a bustling center of commercial activity. The Blantyre Mission was founded in 1876 and named after the small village where David Livingston was born. Climate, combined with rich fields drew the Europeans to the settlement and Blantyre grew in stature as a center for trade between Lake Malawi on the northeast and the Zambezi River Valley to the south. Livingston played a major role in the development of this region of Africa, and in the elimination of the slave trade in the region.
In 2003 Blantyre contained a population of 646,235, and is the largest city in the nation. It is the capital of Malawi’s Southern District, as well as that of the Blantyre District. Although Blantyre is not the capital is continues to be the main commercial, banking and industrial center of the nation. It is linked closely with its sister city, Limbe and Zomba, another center of commerce is nearby.
Twelve of Malawi’s 27 districts are located in the southern region of Malawi. They are: Balaka, Blantyre, Chikwawa, Chiradzulu, Machinga, Mangochi, Mulanje, Mwanza, Nsanje, Phalombe, Thyolo, and Zomba.
Until 1975 the southern city of Zomba was the capital of the nation. Although the capital was moved north to Lilongwe after the departure of the British Zomba still remained the home of the Parliament until 1994 when the government officials finally made the move complete to Lilongwe in the central region. Zomba is 40 miles north of the commercial center of Blantyre and is situated at the foot of Zomba Mountain. With a population of around 100,000 Zomba maintains a pleasant old world charm accented by a cluster of old colonial buildings and wooded slopes that lead up to the mountain.
A group explored this part of Malawi from Livingston’s Zambezi expedition in 1859. Although the area seemed to offer great possibilities for trade and agriculture it was also a focus point for the slave trade. Large numbers of wild animals also made settlement in the area precautious. On the outskirts of the city can be found Chancellor College – the main campus for the University of Malawi. The city of Zomba claims a rate of literacy that touches 60%.
To the east of the city rises the Zomba Plateau. Zomba Plateau is unique. Described as “a great slab of a mountain”, the Zomba Plateua rises to 6000 ft or 1800m. It is well known as a destination for walking and hiking, although one must be cautious of a small number of leopards, hyenas and an occasional lion that can still be found in the region.
Less than fifty years ago the name Mzuzu was only associated with a stream running through the rural countryside of the northern part of Malawi. Today it refers to the capital city of the northern region. A settlement standing by the junction of the lakeshore road (M5) and Malawi’s main north-south highway (M1), Mzuzu hosts a population of approximately 120,000 which makes it the third largest city in the nation. The area surrounding the city specializes in tea, rubber, and coffee cultivation. Mzuzu coffee is well known for its high quality and the tea raised in both the northern and southern regions of Malawi are recognized around the world as being among the finest tea on the market today.
The Viphya Forest to the south of the city is the largest man-made forest in Africa, and the area lists itself as containing the third largest rain forest in the world.
To the northwest of the city the visitor will delight at the Nyika National (Game) Park. It is Malawi’s largest park with an area of no less than 1250 sq miles or 3200 sq km. It extends across the great plateau which is essentially a granitic dome, and its environment is like none other in the whole of Africa. The name, Nyika, which means "where the water comes from" is one of Malawi’s most important catchment areas. The rolling scenery is at its best during the rainy season when over 200 types of orchids are in full bloom. The grasslands of Nyika are rich in wildflowers in other seasons, as well as having one of the highest densities of leopard in Central Africa. Nyika also contains a number of species of smaller mammals such as warthog, as well as a large number of the antelope family, from the diminutive duiker to eland and roan. Zebra are common throughout the park. Elephants and buffalo usually keep to the lower ground near the northern edge of the park, but lions and elephants can be found on the high plateau. Spectacular views of the mountains and Lake Malawi are easily viewed from the park.