Mount Mulanje in southern Malawi is the highest peak in Central Africa. The vast massive stretches 26 kms and has a height of over 3000m at the highest point. The slopes of Mount Mulanje are lush and green, with deep forest ravines and grassy swathes. It is thought that the mountain was inhabited by humans back in the Stone Age, and the first European who visited was reported to be David Livingstone in 1895. Mount Mulanje is one of the most impressive sights in Malawi, with superb scenery and well-maintained mountain huts for multi-day walks, which range from moderate hikes to technical scrambles.
We spoke to Snowden, a Hiking Guide and Chef who loves taking his guests exploring on Mount Mulanje.
How long have you been a hiking guide?
It’s now been 4 years, and for the past year I've been doing cooking up the mountain as well for a lodge.
Why did you decide to become a hiking guide?
Before I started guiding, I went on the Mount Mulanje trips as a cook with guests and their guide – I saw that the guides often failed to tell stories and answer questions, or really connect with the guests. So I learnt the routes and decided to study to be a good guide who could do it better
Tell us 3 things that you love about your job?
Sharing stories with people is my favourite, and I never get bored of telling the same story to different people.
Being in Mulanje, my friends, the way of life, the new visitors, the view.
Being able to do something I love every day is amazing for me
Tell us about your typical daily routine?
When I'm working as a lodge chef in Mulanje I have early starts for breakfasts and late evenings for dinners. But when I'm guiding hikes the days are very different.
I’ve hiked often and met lots of different people, so many guests call me to hike with them. I shop for food the day before, and then meet the guests early in the morning on the day of the hike. Sometimes they are on different sides of the mountain which determines where we start our hike. I choose a route and the mountain huts depending on the people, if they are slow or fast, and if the weather is good or starting to rain. I will guide them and my friends help me porter, then I will cook meals for them at the mountain huts. It is this cooking which has helped me find my job at the lodge.
Some days my guests want me to guide them in the tea plantations, or through villages, and I like showing them different things in Mulanje as well.
Why is Mount Mulanje such a popular peak to climb?
I think it is popular because it's so beautiful. It is Malawi’s biggest mountain and there are many very nice waterfalls and streams to explore along the hiking trails. Climbing Mount Mulanje is something for adventurous people, so people who like to hike, see amazing views and be immersed in nature.
Is it hard to climb Mount Mulanje?
Yes, you are climbing a mountain and you need to concentrate. But I choose routes depending on the fitness of people, as you cannot hike alone up this mountain, so a good guide can make it better.
Sometimes you are climbing high, about 1000 meters and sometimes the path is steep or difficult, which means you need a decent level of fitness. Some very fit people like to go to Sapitwa, the highest peak of Mount Mulanje, others just like to do around the mountain. So there is something for everyone.
Any top tips for visitors wanting to climb Mount Mulanje?
Always make sure you have these essential items:
Good mountain boots, warm clothes, head lamp, sleeping bag, water bottle, suncream and a raincoat!
Best tip is to organise a route with a guide, choose someone a lodge will recommend, they will get porters. Make sure you have money to pay for hiking fees, porters, hut fees etc. Never hike alone and make sure your friends or family know you are hiking
What is the best time of year to climb Mount Mulanje?
The best time to hike Mount Mulanje is between April and November, although trips in the area are possible during other months of the year too.
Tell us a funny story about one of your guests?
I remember on one hike with Americans and they were very funny. We stopped for a swim at Dziwe la nkhalamba and after we swam, they put their underwears on their heads like a hat and they told me they are doing it to thank the spirits who allowed them to swim in such a big swimming pool!
What makes Malawi such a special place for travellers to visit?
I think because it is not like anywhere else. The people here make Malawi, and we are in no hurry in Malawi.
So it’s a place of peace and happiness. And there are many things to do in this country, many places to see and visit.
So putting it together with happy people, it is an amazing country – And many many people come back again and again or just never leave.
You can read more about a Far & Wild Traveller's perspective of a Mount Mulanje Trek, by Ruth.