Lake Malawi - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi

Occupying a fifth of the country, Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in Africa and home to more fish species than any other lake in the world. Also known as Lake Nyasa, it is often referred to as 'the calendar lake' because it is 365 miles (590km) long and 52 miles (85km) wide. Situated between Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, this African Great Lake is about 40,000 years old, a product of the Great Rift Valley fault line. There are fishing villages to be found along the lake shore where residents catch a range of local fish including chambo, kampango (catfish), lake salmon and tiger fish. The export of fish from the lake contributes significantly to the country's economy, and the delicious chambo (similar to bream) is served in most Malawian eateries. Visitors to the lake can see colourful mbuna fish in the water, while there are also occasional sightings of crocodiles, hippos, monkeys and African fish eagles along the shore. The nearby Eastern Miombo woodlands are home to African wild dogs. Swimming, snorkelling and diving are popular activities in the tropical waters of the lake, and many visitors also enjoy waterskiing, sailing and fishing. Then, of course, there are the long stretches of beautiful golden beach to relax on... There are also many options available for holiday accommodation at the lake, including resorts, guesthouses and caravan/camping parks. Cape Maclear is a well developed lakeside town, and nearby Monkey Bay is a great holiday resort. Club Makokola, near Mangochi, is also a popular resort. Most of the lake is accessed by short dirt roads leading off the tarred road that runs its length.

Information & Facts

English is the official language, but Chichewa is more commonly spoken.

The official currency is the Malawi Kwacha (MWK), which is divided into 100 tambalas. Travellers cheques and foreign currencies are accepted by banks, authorised hotels and other institutions in the main town centres; bureaux de change are also available. The US dollar is the easiest currency to exchange. Credit cards are not widely accepted and ATMs are scarce and should not be relied upon. Exchanging currency on the black market is not recommended.

Cape Maclear ( Chembe) is a small fishing village on Lake Malawi. It has one dirt road leading into town along which there are a few hostels, some dive shops, a couple of bars and a few vendors selling curios and fruit. The local fishermen live in the centre of the town and in order to get from Steven's Guest House, for example, to Fat Monkeys, you must go through the town; it's a great way to see how the average Malawian lives.

Established in 1980, Lake Malawi National Park was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its importance in the study of evolution. The lake contains the largest number of fish species, nearly all endemic, of any lake in the world: over 1,000 from eleven species with approximately half occurring in the Park area. The Lake Malawi National Park has some interesting attributes, including the fact that 4th century Iron Age sites have been found in the area. Mammals include baboon, vervet monkey, spotted hyena, leopard and the occasional elephant. The varied bird-life includes black eagle ,fish eagle and many waders .Reptiles include the African python, crocodiles and abundant water monitor lizards, especially on Boadzulu Island. At Cape Maclear, within Lake Malawi National Park, there are a variety of up-market operations combining accommodation with lake activities. Danforth Yachting has a lakeside lodge and a 38ft catamaran available to visitors while Mumbo Island and Domwe Island camps offer pleasant island retreats. Cape Mac Lodge also offers accommodation and activities from Chembe village. Pumulani has recently opened as one of the lake's finest lodge destinations. The National Park is on the scenic northern tip of the Nankhumba peninsula, which divides the southern end of Lake Malawi, with a number of sandy bays including a fine beach near Chembe and Otter Point. There are marked seasonal variations in wind, temperature and rainfall.

Likoma Island is an enclave of Malawi, completely surrounded by Mozambican waters, and was colonised by Anglican missionaries in the late 1800s. This island is a popular holiday destination, with beautiful beaches and African scenery featuring baobab trees and open grasslands. One of the main attractions on the island is the Anglican Cathedral, a large structure in the main town of Mbamba that was built out of stone by the missionaries in 1903. The Kaya Mawa hotel and Mango Drift backpackers are popular accommodation options on the island, and there are also a couple of guesthouses available to visitors. There are very basic dirt roads spanning Likoma Island but most places can be reached on foot. The island's electricity, supplied by generators, is switched off at about 10pm each night.

A small port town on the southern end of Lake Malawi, Monkey Bay is Malawi's best-known resort. Despite this, the facilities are minimal, with only a supermarket and outdoor market, and a single bank. Popular with tourists headed to Cape Maclear, Monkey Bay offers sandy beaches with some diving opportunities, and there are diving schools available (though their quality is not considered great). Other popular activities in Monkey Bay include kayaking and cruises to Cape Maclear and Liwonde National Park. Of course, the bay gets its name from the large monkey population in the area, and spotting them can be great fun.

A busy fishing village on the shores of Lake Malawi near Mzuzu. The town is well-placed for tourists to take advantage of the beaches at Chikale, where they can kayak, take day cruises, or dive and snorkel. (The diving schools in Nkhata Bay have been called the cheapest in the world.) Other attractions in Nkhata Bay include tours of the Kawalazi coffee plantation and Chombe rubber and tea plantations, or hiking up the cliff faces to watch the fish eagles feeding. There are a few craft markets in Nkhata Bay, and some bars and restaurants serving Malawian pizza and freshly-caught fish. The nearest ATM and currency exchange office is along the road to Mzuzu.

A basic African town on the shores of Lake Malawi, Nkhotakota has a traditional market and a few hotels and bars, but the main attractions are in the surrounding areas. The Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve has hot springs and hippo pools, and the beaches of Lake Malawi offer activities like kayaking, snorkelling and cruises. The Kassasa Club has a golf course as well.

Nkhotakota played an important part in Malawi's history as the place where David Livingstone met with slave traders in an attempt to end the slave trade in Malawi, and knowledgeable guides conduct walking tours of historical points of interest around Nkhotakota.

Looking for something a bit different?  Check out our selection of cultural & adventure holidays or if you're looking to go it alone then see our selection of solo holidays.

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