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.