Lake Malawi Introduction:
Lake Malawi is a beautiful fresh water lake that takes up about a third of the landlocked country of Malawi in Central/Southern Africa. The lake is 360 miles long and 52 miles wide, (hence sometimes known as the "calendar lake"). Mozambique and Tanzania border the lake as well, and in those countries it's known as Lake Nyassa. The waters of the lake are beautifully clear, perfect for swimming and snorkeling among the thousands of species of colorful Cichlids. Golden beaches, sleepy fishing villages and plenty of budget accommodation makes Lake Malawi a favorite destination for backpackers and Overlanders.
Lake Malawi - Why Visit?:
Lake Malawi is a paradise for those who enjoy swimming, snorkeling, diving, and of course sunbathing. I spent every school holiday here growing up, and have never found a place that's comparable. The waters are mostly calm, clear as crystal and there are no big, ugly tourist resorts anywhere along its coastline. While you can sail, fish, ride horses and water-ski around the lake, everything is low-key, quite affordable and relaxed. The sunsets are spectacular, the beer is good and the locals are incredibly friendly. Marijuana is likely to be offered, but it is illegal so just take care.
Southern Lake Shore:
The southern lake shore is the most popular area of the lake, check out:
- Senga Bay -- Close to Lilongwe, the beaches are good, but the lake can get rough.
- Mangochi area - Easy to get to from Blantyre, several of the bigger lodges are here. Beaches are perfect and the lake is calm.
- Cape Maclear - Backpackers heaven, calm waters, nice snorkeling and diving around the rocks of Otters Point and off Mumbo Island.
- Monkey Bay - Useful as a transport hub and to get provisions. You'll have to walk to get to a good beach.
- Nkudzi Bay and Namaso Bay - are perfect, rent a house from an expat.
Northern Lake Shore:
Malawi's northern lake shore is much less developed than the southern shore. Less populated in general, the North is also chillier during the cooler dry season (June - August), but perfect when it's hot. Towns like Livingstonia and Karonga also offer a dash of history and culture to entice you away from the beach.
Likoma Island is actually in Mozambique waters, but is still a Malawian territory. It's home to a huge cathedral built in the early 1900's. Likomo Island has several lovely beaches with two excellent eco-friendly resorts and some budget accommodation as well. Likoma is a very peaceful spot and there are just a few cars on the island. You can take some nice walks inland, or kayak around the island.
Getting to Likoma is half the fun, especially by boat; the MV Ilala stops here once a week. There are schedules flights from Lilongwe and charter flights as well.
Lake Malawi - Activities:
Most of the hotels and lodges will offer windsurfing, snorkeling and fishing trips. Other outstanding trips include:
- Scuba Diving -- Lake Malawi is probably the cheapest place on earth to get certified. It's crystal clear water and lack of currents make it very safe; the thousands of colorful fish make it awesome.
- Kayaking and diving around Mumbo and Domwe islands (close to Cape Maclear).
- Cruise around the lake on the MV Ilala.
- Sailing Safaris on the Mufasa yacht.
- Take a Dhow from Likoma island to Chizimula island.
- Enjoy great music at the Lake of Stars Festival
Lake Malawi - Budget Accommodation:
Lake Malawi offers plenty of budget accommodation since it's been a favorite backpacker destination for decades now. Some of the best options include:
- Mango Drift Lodge on Likoma Island has beach huts and dorms, with a bar and restaurant on the beach.
- Kande Beach is close to Chinteche on the northern shores of Lake Malawi. Catering mostly to Overlanders, there are chalets and a campsite that can be used by all travelers.
- Gecko Lounge in Cape Maclear (southern Malawi) is very popular.
- Sangilo Sanctuary Lodge, near Nkhata Bay (Northern Malawi).
Lake Malawi - Luxury Accommodation:
- Kaya Mawa on Likoma island has 10 hand built eco-friendly luxury cottages.
- Pumulani at Cape Maclear offers superb luxury accommodation in 10 individually designed, thatched villas.
- Danforth Lodge at Cape Maclear offers lodging with full board in four spacious en-suite rooms. They also own a yacht you can charter for a few days and sail around the Lake.
- Makuzi Beach Lodge in Chinteche is a lovely retreat on the northern lakeshore.
- Nkopola Lodge and Club Makokola are two lodges that have been around for years and offer very nice facilities at the southern end of the Lake close to Mangochi.
Getting to Lake Malawi:
If you're headed for the southern shores, a local bus to Mangochi or Monkey Bay will get you there for the most part. You'll have to rely on your lodge to pick you up from these towns, or get a local taxi if there's one available. There are charter flights to Likoma Island, and Club Makokola.
For the Northern lakeshore, you can get a local bus to Mzuzu, Karonga or Nkhata Bay.
You can rent a car and drive yourself to any destination along the Lake. Roads aren't too bad and it's quite a safe country. But petrol is expensive.