Instead of offering direct access to the sea, beautiful Malawi owns a big part of Africa’s third largest lake - Lake Malawi. Compared to its neighboring countries like Mozambique, Zambia or Tanzania, the total land area of Malawi is quite small but nevertheless it's a very diverse country with much to offer. Though, like in many African countries, public transport can get quite tough and exhausting. If your budget is not too tight consider to rent a car to get around on your own flexibly, but expect to pay at least 50 US-$ per day for a 4x4 vehicle. Many accommodations offer camping facilities, so bring your own tent and spend the nights for as little as 5 US-$ per person. Basic English is widely spoken which makes it easy to get into conversations with the friendly locals. If you have never been to sub-Saharan Africa before I would recommend Malawi as one of your starting destinations to explore this beautiful continent.
• Lake Malawi: This beautiful lake offers great views, sandy beaches, picturesque fishing villages, gorgeous islands and lots of activities like diving, snorkeling, kayaking or boat- & fishing trips and is a must-see on any Malawi trip! But despite all its beauty you should know that there is a risk of getting bilharzia (schistosomiasis) if you get in contact with the lake water. For more information, see the text below. To enjoy the lake at its full beauty I can recommend the following places:
Nkhotakota Pottery Lodge:
A lovely place, 3-4 hours north of Lilongwe and about 15 km south of Nkhotakota town. Right on the lakeshore this place run by a German/Zimbabwean couple offers nice rooms and a campground with well-running hot water as well as a beautiful beach. The food is great (breakfast starting from 4 US-$, mains from 8 US-$) and you can easily meet local people in the nearby surroundings. I recommend walking to the little mountain northwest of the lodge that takes you through local villages and offers beautiful views from the top (7 km return). About 80 km from the lodge you can find the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve. Although some lions have recently been reintroduced I wouldn’t visit this place for a safari as the reserve is simply too big and sightings of big animals is usually rare. If you are heading to the south of Malawi, Liwonde National Park is a far better option.
Chembe village/Cape MacLear:
This place in the south of the lake is both: good to relax and great for meeting other travelers. There are numerous backpacker accommodations for example the "Funky Cichlid" that I can recommend.
Tip: From the backpacker’s area, take a walk eastwards along the beach all the way to the "Eagles Nest campsite". You will pass locals washing their clothes, bathing children and repairing fishing nets along the lakeshore. It’s fun to enter short conversations with them. Behind "Eagles Nest" walk up the hill for a few meters and enjoy the beautiful view over the bay. Other popular activities in Cape MacLear are diving, snorkeling, kayaking and going on boat trips to the surrounding islands.
Nkhata Bay & Likoma Island:
Another two nice places in the northern part of the lake to fill several days with.
Crossing Lake Malawi on the Ilala Ferry:
If you get the possibility to travel on this ferry you should take this chance for an unforgettable experience. This passenger- and cargo ship, built in Glasgow in the 1950s, cruises the lake from south to north and all the way back once a week. It stops at several Malawian towns along its way where hundreds of small boats bring people and goods to the ship. I embarked the ship in Nkhotakota on Tuesday night (which was already an adventure) and arrived in Monkey Bay the next day around 5 pm. Unfortunately there were no cabins left, which can be booked here in advance, so I had to sleep on deck which is not bad at all if you have a camping mattress.
• Liwonde NP: Compared to famous Serengeti and Kruger, this national park is very small (500 sq km) but it offers beautiful landscapes (grass/bushland, forest, mountains, Shire River). Over 500 elephants, even more hippos, zebras, antelopes, warthogs, countless birds and, most recently, four cheetahs can be spotted here.
Tip: I highly recommend staying at Liwonde Safari Camp which lies a few kilometers east of Liwonde town inside the national park. The camp is beautiful and well affordable for people travelling on a low budget. Prices range from dorm rooms (15 US-$) to chalets (120 US-$). Food is great - expect to pay around 9 US-$ for lunch/dinner. With a bit of luck you see elephants passing by the camp from the two observation platforms. Morning walking tours (5 US-$), morning game drives (25 US-$) and afternoon boat safaris (25 US-$) are offered every day. Great value! Call +265 (0)88 181 3240 for a free pick up from Liwonde town.
• Mt Mulanje: This beautiful area in southern Malawi is a must if you like hiking. Most of the peaks above 2500m which rise majestically from the surrounding plains can be reached without technical climbing. Since the huge number of paths can be confusing, you should consider going with a guide. This can be arranged at Likhubula. The main ascent routes also start from here. It can take up to four days to reach the peaks further away.
01.09.2017 - Chris
Everyone should weigh the risks of getting in contact with the water of Lake Malawi on his own, but also keep in mind that many accommodations right on the waterfront use the water of the lake in their showers and washing facilities. If you need to buy the medicine against the parasites (active substance is “praziquantel”) either because you are infected or just in provision, do so on site in any Malawian pharmacy or hospital because they only cost around 5 US-$ (in Germany one would have to pay more than 120 US-$). If you are infected (see a doctor a few weeks after your last water contact) you need to take 1 pill (600mg) for every 15 kg of your body weight 6-8 weeks after your last contact with the lake water.