From scuba diving to kayaking, Lake Malawi has something for everyone.
Malawi guest writer
24 Jun 2022
27 Jun 2022
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Nestled between the borders of Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi, you can find a unique beach paradise - natural and unspoiled - called Lake Malawi.
This freshwater lake is the ninth-largest in the world by volume, and not only boasts extraordinary beauty but is also an incredibly important area of biodiversity. There are countless things to see and do across the 29,600 km² area of Lake Malawi that are ideal for all types of travellers, and we’re going to list just a few of our favourites:
1. Snorkelling and Scuba Diving
Kicking off our list of top things to do on Lake Malawi, make sure to pay a visit to our finned friends by jumping into the clear, blue waters, and donning a mask and snorkel to discover the delights of the underwater world. The population of the many hundreds of endemic fish species in these waters is comparable to the importance of the finches of the Galapagos Islands, in Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.
The endemic fish that are so ecologically notable, are the Malawi Cichlids, and they can be found in any aquarium around the world because of their vibrant and luminescent beauty. Incredibly, there are at least 700 species of cichlids in Lake Malawi. These pretty little things like to flutter in and out of the rocks in the shallow parts of the lake and are not shy to swim right up into your face to get a good look at you.
If you’re up for digging a little deeper, there are a few PADI-certified scuba spots around the lake, such as Mumbo Island Lodge in the south, Blue Zebra Island Lodge just off the central coastline, and Kaya Mawa on Likoma Island way up north. Read more about scuba diving on Lake Malawi HERE.
2. Kayaking and boat trips
One of the delights of Lake Malawi is the number of protected bays and uninhabited islands. Drag a kayak into the warm waters and gently paddle your way up the bay or around the islands.
Explore the little coves and unique wildlife that have made their home here, from the African Fish Eagles perched way up high in the trees, scanning the deep blue for their next meal; to the scaly monitor lizards basking on the iconic pale boulders that dot the Malawi coastlines; and way down to the slippery little otters who dance and play in the water, popping their heads out to see who’s come to visit.
Of course, a sunset boat cruise is not to be missed, and the sunsets here are as spectacular as they could possibly get, with hues of red, orange and gold dancing off the sparkling blue waters of the ‘Lake of Stars’.
3. Hiking the coastal mountains and islands
Not much else kicks off a day with a bang like a morning hike. Earn those juicy cocktails and three course meals by setting off on foot to explore the natural world around the lake and get the body moving. Walk on the palm-fringed beaches, take an easy ramble around the island or limber up for a mountain hike to reach that epic viewpoint.
Most lodges will have guides that can take you on mapped-out routes near the lodge, and who will educate you on the things you see along the way: flowers, trees and other plants; insects, wildlife, the bees and the birds...
Malawi as a country boasts fantastic birdlife; throughout the national parks and along the lakeshore you are sure to be dazzled by the feathery fellows. For those passionate twitchers, the lake birds that might get your motor going include the Trumpeter Hornbill, Böhms Bee-Eater, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Narina Trogon, and the motherlode: the African Pitta, which have been coming to nest on Blue Zebra Island every November through March for the past 3 years.
4. Visit the local villages
You may have heard of Malawi by another name, the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’. It is so named because of the warm and gentle people that call her home, and it is considered one of the safest and friendliest places for travel in Africa. We feel that to know a country, you have to know her people, and what better place to do that than here?
Why not spend a morning or afternoon and take a wander into the nearby village; grab some ‘mandasi’ (local doughnuts), or ‘chimanga’ (charred corn) from a food stall, and buy some crafts. Malawi is full of talented artists and you’ll find an array of beautiful wood carvings, jewellery, paintings and clothing. Maybe join the crowd to sit and watch the football – Manchester United and Arsenal games will always be showing somewhere, drawing in fans from around the village and plenty of cheer! Take a moment to chat to the kids who will take great interest in you, they love to practice their English and love seeing photos of themselves - just remember to ask first before taking their picture.
5. Feed the fish eagles
In the southern lakeshore bay of Cape Maclear, you can hire a local boatman to take you out on a cruise to visit Otter’s Rock, and/or to an island to feed the fish eagles. They will source some small fish from a local fisherman and you’ll set off for the nearby, uninhabited island of Thumbi.
The African Fish Eagles are impressive birds - a full-grown adult female will reach a height of around 77cm and a wingspan of up to 2.4m. They have outstanding eyesight, said to be 5 times more powerful than a human’s, helping them to spot small fish in the water from great distances. They can also carry prey up to 10 times their own weight and despite what their name implies, also prey on other birds, monkeys and baby crocodiles!
Drifting near one of these grand creatures high up in the island’s canopy, grab a fish and simply throw it up into the air and into the lake. The eagles will swoop down right in front of the boat to scoop their treat from the water in their giant talons, the quick ones can even catch it in mid-air. A fantastic photo op and a great chance to get an up-close look at these amazing birds.
6. Watersports galore
Many lodges across the lake will offer some form of watersport, whether it’s a gentle paddle on a SUP board or you’re tearing around the bay on a wake-board; but some lodges, like Pumulani and Kaya Mawa will offer the full shebang!
Across Lake Malawi, you will have the opportunity to water-ski, wake-board, paddleboard, snorkel, scuba dive, kayak, sail, fun-tube and fish, plus land-based activities such as mountain biking, e-cycling, nature walks and spa treatments. Treat yourself to a massage overlooking the water after a long day of activities!
Regardless of whether you’re a world class jockey, or the closest thing you’ve been to a horse is your next-door-neighbour’s Great Dane, there are no skill levels required up at Matamba Equestrian. Along the northern lakeshores you’ll find a small family-run stables and farmhouse nestled in the forest just back from the white sandy shores of Kande Beach. Book yourself in for a forest and beach ride (and some training if need be); you will be fitted with all the gear and will be paired up with your four-legged buddy for the day.
Along with your guide, you can set the pace as you make your way one by one over the well-trodden trails of forest and farmland before the grand finale… ending on the shores of Lake Malawi, your horse trailing through the fine white sand found only on the northern shores. Hop off the back of your tired friend and take off the saddle before jumping back on, bareback, and heading for the water. These horses love a drink and refreshing swim after a long walk as much as we do, so just let it do its thing as it plunges into the surf to submerge itself, taking off into a gentle paddle. Just hold on tight and enjoy this unique and incredible experience of being atop a weightless horse in Lake Malawi!
Stay at Chintheche Inn which is under an hour away to enjoy a riding along the shores of Lake Malawi.
8. Digital detox
While most of Malawi enjoys good cell network service, there are some areas that are just not on the radar, like Mumbo Island Lodge. While this may be a deal-breaker for some, it’s a God-send for others, and we definitely count ourselves in the latter category. Pack that phone away under the dirty undies in the bottom of your bag, pull out that dog-eared book you’ve been ignoring, and… relax.
Take this opportunity to really take a breath and be present, like, really present. No bulky phone poking out of your pocket, no “did you receive my email?”, no screen-time headaches, no WhatsApp groups, no phantom vibrations in your pocket, no selfies, no ‘Candy Crush’, no “I’ll Google it”… Instead, wake up late or wake up for sunrise, walk in the sand, have a conversation, a discussion that no one knows the answer to, marvel at the birds and the rainbow-coloured lizards, swim in the warmest waters, have a gin & tonic (or two), walk in the forests, take in the views, listen to the fish eagle’s call, revel in the company you have around you, or embrace the splendour of solitude.
The landscape, colours and faces of Lake Malawi will cling to your heart for many years after your visit. It’s a slow pace of life on these shores, remember to enjoy it and let time flow as it may. While these are just a few of the things that you can do on Lake Malawi, the options are endless and we know just where to find them.