I mentioned in my last post that one of my goals this year was to blog/ vlog and so here we are with the first travel post of the year! This one is about Lake Malawi, a destination I have been wanting to visit for a while and almost didn’t think I would in 2018. I feel very blessed to have visited this stunning place and hope this post inspires you if you haven’t been already (read till the end for the vlog!)
First things first
Lake Malawi is Africa’s 3rd largest lake and shared by 3 countries: Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique. Malawi is most famous with tourist visiting the lake’s shores. The lake is after all named after the country (although Tanzania and Mozambique call it Lake Nyasa and Lago Niassa respectively).
There are several lake shores that are populated by locals, with the Southern and Eastern shores being most popular with tourists. The Eastern shore (where the town of Salima is located) is the closest to Lilongwe and growing in popularity, but the Southern shores are really where it’s at. Cape Maclear, Monkey Bay and Mangochi are the most popular towns. I visited both Cape Maclear and Monkey Bay.
i) To the lake
- If travelling to Lake Malawi from outside of Malawi, you will need to fly into Lilongwe or Blantyre International Airports.
- From Lilongwe or Blatnyre, you can organise a private transfer to the lake. I used Andrew and he charged 95 USD from Lilongwe to Cape Maclear. This was a huge deal compared to other quotes I got that were between 150 and 165 USD. Please contact me via email or on Instagram if you are interested in travelling to L. Malawi and getting Andrew’s details. I would recommend his service.
- I hear there is also a public bus that one can use from Lilongwe, but it can take up to 10 hours for what is a 3 hour trip by private transport.
ii) Within the lake region
- Within Cape Maclear, walking is the best way to get around. Most things are along the same street.
- In Monkey Bay, transport was the greatest unforeseen cost. Things aren’t as central in Monkey Bay and while it is walkable during the day, you will often need to organise transport if you want to get around at night. Our Airbnb host drove us around at an extra cost but it adds up
- There are taxi services between Monkey Bay and Cape Maclear too but you must arrange for this ahead of time
Pro tip: Get a local SIM card to allow you to use Google maps and call taxi services should you need them. Airtel has the best coverage (3G in both Cape Maclear and Monkey Bay, and affordable rates)
There are a few cheap hotels (see some here). Airbnb also had a few options. I stayed at the following listings:
- Beach cottage in Cape Maclear – basic but right by the beach!
- Gateway cottages in Monkey Bay – nice host but a bit out of the way
- Monkey Bay Beach Lodge – good spot
- Malawian Kwacha is the local currency but most tourist spots accept USD
- Life is generally cheap
- A beer costs 800-1800 MWK (1-2.5 USD) depending on what beer it is and where you get it
- A meal at a local restaurant will cost 3000-5000 MWK (4-7 USD)
- A meal at ‘formal’ restaurants will cost upwards of 6000 MWK=8 USD excl. drinks
The fun stuff
- African fish eagle feeding
- Stand up paddling
- Sunset cruise
- Scuba diving
It didn’t feel like there was a ton to do in Lilongwe and we were only there in transit. It’s an extremely sleepy city for big city girls like me. Check Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet for some things to do. I was only there in transit so all I did was eat 😀
Yummy in my tummy
Cape Maclear food joints include:
- Mungo: excellent cheap and fresh food, has a street view
- Funky Cichilid: backpacker vibes, great food and lake views, special cocktails, must have the Malawian curry
- Fat monkeys: backpacker vibes and we only had drinks here but great lake views
- Thumbi View Lodge: supposedly has great food but you must pre-order all meals by noon every day. They have lovely lake views too and I joined them for drinks twice
Monkey Bay spots are:
- Monkey Bay Beach Lodge: my fave in Monkey Bay. Great lake views and delicious food though a little on the pricey side
- Alcon cottages: great lake views. Good food but a little on the high side
- Venice beach backpackers: average food, nice-enough lake views for sundowners
Lilongwe spots we stopped by:
- Veg Delight: excellent vegetarian Indian food, casual dining
- Bombay Palace: fancier than Veg Delight but similar menu that includes non-veg options
- Mamma Mia: Italian restaurant where the colonial remnants as I called them hang out. It was literally all-white and while the ambience was really beautiful, I’m glad I skipped it
Health is wealth
Malaria and bilharzia are both realities in Lake Malawi. You want to take malaria prophylaxis and bilharzia treatment. Local pharmacies have bilharzia medicine for cheap. It should be taken 6 weeks after last exposure to lake water and is one tablet per 10kg of body weight. Be sure to consult a medical professional.
- Lake Malawi is definitely off the beaten path. This is not the place if you are looking for luxury and it is certainly not a weekend destination from anywhere
- Enjoy the village life- you have the privilege of watching local life go by
- There may be occasional power cuts
- Not all places have hot showers
- Enjoy local fish delicacies
- Don’t rush things in Malawi; If you are from Africa’s big cities like Nairobi, Lagos or Johannesburg, this will take some adjusting! Everything is incredibly slow here. Just woosah- things will happen when they happen
- Malawi is safer than most African countries! We walked by the beach at night and even in Lilongwe, walked in the dark with no issue
- Malawian beaches are great, but the very best part is the warm Malawian people. They really are Africa’s warmest.
Have you been to Lake Malawi? If yes, what were your thoughts? If not, would you like to visit? Let me know in the comments!
Love and light and enjoy the vlog below 🙂
10 thoughts on “The full low-down on Lake Malawi”
Love this blog! Super helpful! I’ve dropped you an email asking for the taxi driver Andrew’s number, as I’m planning my own Malawi trip in a few weeks. 😊
Hello, Thanks very much for this detailed feedback! It’s quite complicated to find a great deal of informations on Malawi 🙂 We plan to go to Monkey Bay Beach Lodge as well on October. Do you remember how was the water nearby? I saw some people saying it was not that nice but with a kayak could quickly reach up a nicer area. Thanks a lot for your help 🙂
Hi Marie! Thanks for your comment. I found Cape Maclear beaches nicer than Monkey Bay. Monkey Bay beaches are a little rocky. However, the water is pleasant and clear in both. Kayaking is great in both locations although I only went kayaking in Monkey Bay (Monkey Bay Beach Lodge has kayaks for rental). Hope that was helpful!
….things will happen when they happen… lol I think I belong in Malawi. Life is so rushed nowadays, everywhere…. I wouldn’t mind a quiet nice beach, warm people, and gorgeous sunsets like the one you just posted. Xx
Haha, I’m more of a fast-paced kinda girl. But everyone could use Malawi 🙂
So happy to see you back in this platform. I had missed reading your travel tales. x
Thanks my girl!