Lake Malawi is the jewel in the crown of the country’s tourist attractions. This is the ‘inland sea’ of the otherwise land-locked Malawi. This vast body of crystal clear freshwater fringed by beaches of golden sand is not only a scenic wonderland but it provides water sport opportunities for those looking for something beyond sun, sand and swimming. As one of the first Europeans to set eyes on the Lake Malawi over 150 years ago, the missionary-explorer Dr David Livingstone christened it the ‘Lake of Stars’.
Its approximate dimensions are 365 miles north to south and 52 miles broad, hence another nickname: ‘Calendar Lake”. In the north, Lake Malawi is quite extraordinarily deep: 2300 ft/700 m, plunging well below sea level. This reflects the enormity of the natural faulting of the Great Rift Valley, which is the origin of the Lake. The width of the lake’s shorelands vary from nothing to over 25 kilometres (16 miles), the edge of the Rift Valley rising steeply in places and more gently in others.
Because of its rich fish harvest, the Lake plays an important part in the economy. Fishing villages are scattered along the shore and the traditional industry and practices are an attraction to visitors. Access to the Lake is possible along much of its length but it is often necessary to take a short detour off the main roads in order to reach the beaches. Despite the villages, there are still very long stretches of totally uninhabited golden sand lakeshore, lapped by crystal clear waters.
Lake Malawi is a wonderland that offers all types of water sports and activities expected of any tropical beach destination. There are boats and boards of all types available to have fun with and to explore the waters, islands and beaches of the lake.
When it comes to small boats, the Lake is best known for its kayaking & sailing options with kayaks & canoes available at most beach lodges and even the option to take on longer expeditions along the lakeshore. A few lodges have small sailing boats for personal use or larger ones for a leisurely cruise. The crystal clear water of Lake Malawi make it an ideal location for snorkelling, and donning a mask will give immediate access to the colourful kaleidoscope of tropical fish that live in the Lake and feed from the rocks along the shore. For those who wish to go that little bit deeper, there are a number of PADI registered dive schools along the lakeshore who offer great value scuba diving, including full courses to learn how to dive. One or two lodges even offer water skiing and sailboards and paddle boards are to be found at others. For the less energetic, boat trips range from the famous mv Ilala lake ferry to sailing in an ocean-going yacht. Cruises into the upper reaches of the great Shire river are also possible.
Places to Visit on Lake Malawi
There are a number of places of interest to visit along the length of the lake, and good lodges to be found, with a few collections in areas of particular beauty.
In South Malawi, between Mangochi and Monkey Bay is a long line of wonderful beaches backed by a variety of accommodation. This Mangochi Lakeshore has the Lake’s greatest concentration of lodges and hotels. Monkey Bay is a functional port town, but round the headland is Cape Maclear and the Lake Malawi National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a veritable aquarium of tropical fish. In recent years, a number of high quality lodges have been built in this area.
Central Malawi’s Senga Bay is another place where there are a number of lodges & hotels, and it benefits from being the closest point on the lake to Lilongwe. Just off shore are the 3 Marelli Islands, which mark the northerly extent of the Lake Malawi National Park.The stretch between the historic Nkhotakota and the sugar estate town of Dwangwa has a smattering of lodges.
Another concentration of lodges is found on the Chintheche lakeshore in North Malawi, which has some stunning beaches. Nkhata Bay is primarily a port town, but has grown as a centre for independent travellers. The Northern Lakeshore beyond Chitimba has fewer lodges, and Karonga, an important archeological centre, is the only town of note before reaching Tanzania. Across the lake, into Mozambiquan waters, is Likoma Island. Not only does it have some beautiful beaches, and accommodation, but also a missionary-built cathedral the size of Winchester’s. A nearby stretch of the Mozambique shoreline, Manda Wilderness, is a 120,000 hectare community reserve of unspoilt wilderness and white sand beaches.
When looking for the perfect destination to snorkel, Lake Malawi has it all. Discover the underwater world of Malawi's famous cichlid fish in clear and calm waters with visibility up to 30 m.
The clear, calm, warm, shark-free and tideless waters with an abundant fish population (around 1000 species), and fascinating rock formations make Lake Malawi an excellent place to dive.
The vast body of water that is Lake Malawi provides the perfect 'playground' for kayaking/canoeing and sailing. Excursions can range from an hour or so up to a number of days.
Unsurprisingly for a Lake of its size, there is a good range of boat trips available on Lake Malawi on vessels of all sizes.
Places to Visit on Lake Malawi
Chintheche offers some of the best beaches on Lake Malawi, with a collection of luxury lodges right by the shore.
Thirty miles north of Nkhotakota is the settlement of Dwangwa, a useful place to stock up and refuel when travelling up and down the lakeshore.
Karonga is one of Lake Malawi's most northern towns. It is home to a wonderful new museum of cultural history and archeology.
Lake Malawi National Park is the world's first freshwater national park and world heritage site, situated at Cape Maclear.
Likoma Island sits on the far side of the Lake Malawi in Mozambican waters. The island is home to stunning beaches and lodges, with access by boat or aircraft.
A massive 100,000 ha area of Mozambique land which runs to the eastern shore of Lake Malawi forms the Manda Wilderness Community Reserve.
The Mangochi Lakeshore is a strip of southern Lake Malawi where many popular hotels and resorts offer beachside accommodation.
The Marelli Islands group, consist of three uninhabited islands that are protected as part of the Lake Malawi National Park. They are 3 km from the Senga Bay shore.
Monkey Bay is considered to be one of Malawi's main lake ports, and is where the famous Ilala ferry docks and begins its weekly sojourn up and down the Lake
Nkhata Bay is a small sheltered harbour on Lake Malawi's northern shore. It is a focus for the fishing industry but becoming increasingly important as a tourist centre.
Often, but confusingly, described as the largest traditional village in Africa, Nkhotakota is rich in history. Visited by Dr Livingstone in 1863, it was then a major centre for the slave trade.
The lakeshore in the far north between Nkhata Bay and Karonga is dramatic, with steep rift valley escarpments at times forming the shoreline.
Salima is an important service and trading centre set back from Lake Malawi whilst Senga Bay has a stretch of sandy beach with a range of hotels, lodges and campsites.
Malawi's Other Experiences
Malawi is blessed with a rich diversity of flora and fauna and is teeming with wildilfe and big game, in no less than nine National Parks & Wildlife Reserves.
Malawi has a massive diversity of beautiful landscapes. The highest peaks in Malawi touch 10 000ft (3 000m) while the lowest point is barely above sea level.
The Malawian people are, without doubt, its greatest asset: friendly and welcoming to a fault. Every visitor is met with a smile.
Malawi has much offer when it comes to events, with musical, cultural and sporting events throughout the year.
As well as the various outdoor and water activities, Malawi offers a few organised sports and wellness activities.