Hike Malawi: Ntonya Mountain

Our family loves a good day hike, and Ntonya mountain has been on our list for a long time. It's challenging, but short, and offers gorgeous views of the surrounding area (if it isn't cloudy and/or raining).
family hiking ntonya mountain in zomba malawi

Ntonya mountain rises above Zomba, Malawi on the opposite side of town from the plateau. There are several small hills around Zomba, but Ntonya, as the second highest to the plateau, is hard to miss. 

It reaches an elevation of just over 4,300 ft. To hike to the summit from the foot of the mountain was only 1.75 miles and an elevation gain of 1,700 ft.

family hiking ntonya mountain in zomba malawi

Our family made the always-risky decision to hike Ntonya mountain right in the middle of rainy season. In our defense, the skies were looking pretty good that morning when we made the final call to do the hike.

family hiking ntonya mountain in zomba malawi

We drove to the foot of the mountain and parked by the homes of some people we know. We asked them for some tips on getting to the top, and two of the men insisted on accompanying us. With a good map app like AllTrails, we probably could have made it on our own, but we were very thankful to have them with us, especially where the trail got very overgrown.

family hiking ntonya mountain in zomba malawi
family hiking ntonya mountain in zomba malawi

The trail is pretty consistently steep most of the way up, then it levels out for a bit when you get about 3/4 of the way there. Fun fact: there is a bit of a bowl on Ntonya mountain, and the peak is off to the side. In the bowl, there is a village! A whole village of people live up there with no roads up or down, only walking paths. We’re told that they like living up there because the soil is very fertile and the elevation is too high for malaria. 

family hiking ntonya mountain in zomba malawi
family hiking ntonya mountain in zomba malawi

Once we passed the flat section and got through the overgrown section (which probably wouldn’t be so bad outside of rainy season), then we started the scramble up the rocky top section to the peak. It was pretty intense in places, and there were some helpful arrows painted on the rocks to show hikers which way to go.

family hiking ntonya mountain in zomba malawi

After that bit of scrambling, we ended up finding ourselves at the peak more suddenly than we’d expected, considering how far it had looked the last time it had been in view!

family hiking ntonya mountain in zomba malawi

And as soon as we got to the top, it started raining! We sat around for a while in the rain resting and enjoying our water and snacks. What a feeling of accomplishment! It would have been a lot cooler if we’d have been able to enjoy the view, but it was still pretty neat to know how high up we were.

family hiking ntonya mountain in zomba malawi

After our rest, the rain made what was supposed to be the easy part (going down) into another hard part. We slipped, slid, and waddled like penguins all the way back down the now very slick and muddy trail. Our younger daughter slipped soon into our descent, and, in her words, “almost fell off the side of the mountain” (which was not at all true, she was totally safe, but that was her perception of it), and was SUPER scared and slow the rest of the way down.

family hiking ntonya mountain in zomba malawi

By the time we got to the bottom (actually not long after we left the peak), we were all covered in mud and as wet as if we’d jumped in a pool fully clothed. Did you know that most rain jackets aren’t completely waterproof, and are only meant to keep you dry for short periods of time like running between your car and a store? We learned that on this hike!

family hiking ntonya mountain in zomba malawi

Overall, even though it rained on us (or possibly partly because it rained on us, which made it unusual), this was probably my favorite hike we’ve ever done! I highly recommend it if you’re in Zomba!

You can view the route on the free AllTrails app, and leave your own pictures and reviews after you do the hike yourself! If you follow our AllTrails map, make sure to note that we got a bit turned around on the way down at a spot where there is a Y in the path. Keep a close eye on the map to make sure you don’t make the same mistake! 

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