Lake Malawi, an inland sea, provides the opportunity for almost any water sport you care to think of. The lake’s size, its warm freshwater and its beautiful surrounding beaches make it a Mecca for those seeking an all-year round location to swim, scuba dive, snorkel, water-ski, sail, kayak, parasail or simply potter about in boats. The salt-free water is a bonus.
When searching for the perfect destination to snorkel, Lake Malawi has it all. Clear and calm waters that allow up to 30m of visibility at the best times of the year (August to December as well as an extensive fish population and fascinating rock formations it’s no wonder a vast part of it’s been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the best freshwater locations for water sports worldwide. Even using the most basic of snorkelling gear gives good results in the right places, with fish of dazzling colours coming within inches of you.
Diving, as expected, is brilliant within the protected area of the Lake Malawi National Park, safe from poaching and with a real focus on conservation. Further north Blue Zebra is a lovely option, and even further still Likoma Island’s Kaya Mawa and Mango Drift are again a fantastic place to stay.
Kayaking and sailing can range from an hour or so on the water to a full kayaking expedition or to living aboard a luxury yacht as it sails the length of the lake.
Kayaking is proving increasingly popular, particularly in the Lake Malawi National Park. Sea-going kayaks are used to paddle to eco-camps on two deserted islands in the park (Mumbo and Domwe) and kayaks are available at Blue Zebra Island Lodge for exploring the Marelli Islands. Canoe expeditions are also on offer at Nkwichi Lodge in the Manda Wilderness Community Reserve.
The tide- and current-free waters make for good sailing and small boats are available at most lakeshore lodges. The highlight of the sailing calendar is the Lake Malawi Sailing Marathon every July. This international event consists of a series of daily stages, beginning in the south, and ending some eight days and 560 kilometres (350 miles) later in the north.
For a simple organised pleasure trip of up to a few hours there is a choice of destinations - places of interest along the shore, or small islands just offshore. Traditional wooden boats or modern fibreglass speed boats are available. Some trips will include snorkelling or fishing along the way.
If only one pleasure trip is to be taken, it should be out to the Lake Malawi National Park. Brightly coloured fish are easily visible through the crystal clear water, and are eager to swarm round, and feed from, any hand placed in the water holding a piece of bread or biscuit. As well as the shore and islands accessed from Cape Maclear/Chembe Village, it's now also possible to explore the Marelli Island Archipelago (also part of the Park) off Senga Bay, courtesy of a boat trip from Blue Zebra Island Lodge.
Leisurely cruises on larger boats can also be arranged from the main hotels - to last hours or days. As well as scheduled trips by motor launch, there are sailing cruises. Catamarans can be chartered, complete with skipper. Daytime cruising can be complemented by diving, snorkelling or swimming and overnight beach camping. King of the waters is the yacht Mufasa operated by Danforth Yachting. From their guest house at Cape Maclear in the Lake Malawi National Park, everything from a sunset cruise to a full tour of Lake Malawi is offered.
Perhaps the ultimate journey on the lake is on the Ilala, a large motorised vessel offering a scheduled ferry service up and down the lake. This is a functional ship much used by local people, but also offers passage and cabin accommodation to tourists. Bookings can be made through the local Tour & Safari Companies
Boat trips are also offered along the upper part of the River Shire, particularly through Liwonde National Park. These are primarily for game viewing and can be extremely successful in this regard as many animals are unperturbed by objects on the water. Boats set out from Liwonde township, heading north, but also from Lake Malawi heading south. Based at The Makokola Retreat, the mv Sunbird is a 22m cruiser which sails along Lake Malawi, past Mangochi, and through Lake Malombe before entering the River Shire in Liwonde National Park.
Thankfully, Lake Malawi is not awash with speedboats, but at some of the lodges it is possible to water-ski. Where this is available, there are also sometimes a variety of other objects that guests can sit or stand on whilst being dragged behind a boat!
Most of the lakeshore lodges will have a sailboard or two for guests to use. Winds are rarely very high, but with the size of the lake, there will always be a breeze.