Tips and Tricks to reach Sapitwa (and make the most of your Mulanje hike)

Planning to climb Mount Mulanje? Dreaming to reach Sapitwa peak? Wishing to hike Central Africa’s highest summit? This is a very good choice, Mulanje is a beautiful mountain and still relatively unknown, it offers all a hiker, nature lover can dream of: natural pools and waterfall, climbing, forest, walking and nights in huts. As any hike, Mulanje needs some preparation and organisation in order to make the most of it, especially if you want to reach the top, Sapitwa. But where to start?

We hiked the mountain to find out the best advice for you to enjoy your trek and make amazing memories of this moment! Ready? Go!

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Packing is key

Because anything can happen in the mountain: from the rain to sunburn, from blisters to cold, you need to be ready for everything before you even start the hike. Once up in the mountain: no shops, no supplies so don’t skip anything otherwise you might end up having to go back or do without what you forgot! Being ready for anything doesn’t mean you have to bring your whole house with you! Yes, you might be gone for 3 to more days but remember you will also have to carry your backpack – unless you pay a porter for this, but still, you don’t want to bring 20 kg of items with you!

Finding the balance between what’s needed, useful and keeping your backpack light is the key to a good start and making the most of these few days in the wild. Before you start packing research what the weather will be during your hike, you’re going to climb a mountain, the weather is interchangeable, hot one minute and cold the next, so pack for every eventuality.

What to pack for you hiking adventure to Sapitwa?

  •   A light backpack: as light as possible and more important than anything comfortable for you to carry, it will become your best friend over next few days.

What to wear

  •   Good shoes: trainers or hiking boots, keep in mind the path can be slippery sometimes, especially when going down and you’ll have to climb – yes, literally climbing – on rocks so choose your shoes carefully, you may end up wearing them up to 12 hours a day and you don’t want any blisters!
  •   Socks: nice ones! Take at least two per day, you might want to change them at some point during the day.
  •   Flip-flop: once at the hut we can swear that you won’t want to hear about closed shoes anymore (until the next morning!)
  •   Sports trousers and/or shorts: bring at least one pair of long trousers that you don’t mind damaging. While walking towards Sapitwa you’ll have to cross high grass, climb, sit, shuffle!
  •   T-shirts: you’ll be happy to change, and it might be warm or even hot!
  •   Sports bra: jumping from rock to rock, running down the mountain and climbing are involved in this hike!
  •   Jumper: as we said it can be cold up the mountain especially near the peaks where you can find fog and clouds, and during the night
  •   Raincoat / Jacket: check the weather before you go for the raincoat but the jacket will be well appreciated at night!
  •   Beanie (or a hoodie):  it can be very cold at times, a scarf can make the trick as well
  •   Swimsuit: yes, after the jumper and jacket, don’t forget to bring your swimsuit, you’ll stop by a waterfall and natural pools, it would be a shame to miss a dip in the crystal clear water!
  •   Cap: protect your eyes and head from the sun

Hygiene essentials 

Make it as light as possible, as for the rest and keep it very simple, there’s no bathroom in the mountain, just a bucket of hot water if you’re brave enough!

  •   Toothbrush and toothpaste
  •   Soap
  •   Light towel: both useful after a bucket shower or jumping in the natural pools
  •   Hand sanitiser: after climbing and holding on trees your hands might be full of dirt and sap, before eating or after using the “natural toilet” this is a very useful item.
  •   Suncream: of course, you’re getting closer to the sun and will walk for hours sometimes on a plateau under the sun
  •   Blisters plasters and plasters: your guide should have a first aid kit but bring extras just in case, blister plasters can be a real life saviour! Think about painkillers as well!
  •   Insects repellent: there are no mosquitoes in the mountain when it’s cold but there are bugs.

Must-pack accessories

  •   Bottle: you will fill up along the way, once on the plateau the water is drinkable so no need to carry litres of water from the bottom of the mountain.
  •   Head torch: as previously mentioned, there’s no electricity in the huts, once the sun is gone so is the light, you’ll just have the fire and your headtorch.
  •   Sunglasses and glasses: not to miss anything of the landscape or the next rock you have to jump to.
  •   Camera / GoPro / phone: anything to make memories of your walk, take pictures or videos! Bring extra batteries or an external charger! Tip: if you plan on using your phone to take pictures, remember to turn on flight mode, it will save your battery and anyway there’s no signal through Mulanje (in fact there is but only the guides know exactly where to catch it).
  •   Walking stick: not compulsory but recommended by the hikers who used it.

Depending on the options you chose you might also need to bring a sleeping bag, a first aid kit, a rope, some snacks (fruits, nuts, peanut butter, anything that will give you energy and your own food, you will have to discuss the details with your guide.

Follow the guide

Yes, a guide is essential, if not compulsory to hike Mulanje. Why? Because it is very easy to get lost on the mountain and even easier to have an accident. You don’t want to be alone up there, unable to find your way back with no signal.

Booking a professional guide (link) is also the best way to organise your hike, he knows what you might need and ask him questions will make it easier for you not to forget anything.

Will you need a porter? Sleeping bags? A first aid kit? A rope? Lights? Water before you reach the plateau? And what about food? Step by step from the bottom of the mountain to the highest peak of central Africa your guide is the best way to make the most out of your hike.

Not only will your guide lead you to the top of the mountain, but he will make sure you are safe and taking the best paths. He knows where to jump, climb and will help you when needed. Follow him through caves, rivers, and slippery slopes, don’t hesitate to ask him questions, he knows the mountain. You may even learn some Chichewa on the way!

Having a guide when hiking Mulanje is the best way to plan a safe trip and enjoy the best journey. If you are going with a whole team, he will coordinate dinners, snacks, and breaks to make your adventure even better.

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Open your eyes, breathe, walk, smile

And last but not least, thanks to your guide your only mission while climbing the mountain will be to enjoy the view, breathe the mountain fresh air and reach the peak! Don’t miss a second of it, open your eyes and look around you, forest, cliffs or endless view over Malawi to Mozambique – but don’t trip, have a look at where you put your feet from time to time, the trail can be (very) slippery.

Breathe deeply, breathe because the way can be steep and demanding, breathe because the air is different! And keep walking, climbing, take a break whenever you need it and walk at your own pace, there’s no hurry – unless the sun is almost setting and you are still in the middle of the mountain but even then, take the time to walk carefully and not to slip.

Don’t forget to smile and laugh, even in the hardest part, they are part of the adventure – and we can tell, you’ll be proud to have been through it! Because this hike is not only about reaching the summit but also about meeting people, your guides and co-hikers, and sharing with them one of the most incredible experiences of your life.

Seize the moment, have fun, be amazed and remember:

Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb.

Greg Child

Want to hike Mulanje? Check out our tours including the Mulanje Massif.

Rory spent two years working in Malawi at Malawian Style and got to discover much of Malawi and Zambia before returning to Europe – where he continues to put Malawi on the map. His favourite experience was trekking Mount Mulanje due to its challenging trails yet rewarding views and the sense of accomplishment upon reaching the peak. He continues to travel and is certain to return to Southern Africa again soon!