How best to explore Lake Malawi

Posted on 16 July 2019

I’ve kayaked it, I’ve snorkelled it, I’ve dived it, I’ve sailed it, I’ve watched its shores pass by from the top deck of the MV Ilala ferry. And I’ve slept under the stars on its beautiful beaches. But mostly I’ve sat, frosty Green in hand, and marvelled at the beauty of it. Of all the destinations I’ve experienced during more than two decades of travelling Africa, Lake Malawi is the one that changed my life in memorable ways.

It was a fortuitous meeting with the crazy folks from Kayak Africa who first introduced me to the charms of this long tail at the deep end of the Great Rift Valley. Seeing the safari tents on Domwe Island for the first time from the seat of a kayak, I thought, ‘This is it, I’ve found my maroon-me-now island.’

A few days later, I paddled to Mumbo Island, and all previous conceptions of perfection were shattered. Mumbo (there are actually two islets joined by a boardwalk) in the Lake Malawi National Park is Kayak Africa’s flagship camp – think barefoot living, boulders, hammocks, bucket showers and the cry of fish eagles.

Then there are the cichlids. The whole lake is a giant aquarium, with more than 800 varieties of these flashing colourful fish – more species than in any other lake in the world. Snorkelling, I often found myself surrounded by clouds of them.

Cape Maclear is a watersport hub, but the entire Malawian shore is a haven for travellers who love the budget stays, chilled vibe, idiosyncratic formality of the Malawians’ turns of phrase and the muli bwanje welcome everywhere.

By Catherine Hofmeyr

Plan your trip

Getting there
SAA flies daily from Joburg to Lilongwe and three times a week to Blantyre, from R6 300 per person.

Do this
Kayak Africa tailors packages, or choose a six-night option with flights included: Mumbo Island Castaway, R25 999 per person; island-hopping kayak adventure, R21,890 per person; or Domwe Adventure, R17,850 per person.
Likoma Island on the eastern side of the lake is logistically awkward, but worth a visit for its beaches, baobabs and ‘Winchester’ cathedral. Stay at Kaya Mawa, from R4,245 per person full board.

Need to Know
Malawi is a malaria area and prophylaxis is essential.

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