Because of its welcoming people and laid-back atmosphere, Malawi has earned the nickname "the Warm Heart of Africa." A small, thin country sandwiched in between Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia, Malawi is completely landlocked. However, many people come here to play on or next to the water. That is because Lake Malawi dominates the country's landscape. This body of water is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world with a surface area of 11,400 square miles. Beautiful beaches, famously colorful fish species like cichlids, and an almost limitless list of water sports opportunities make Lake Malawi one of the best kept secrets for Africa travelers.
The lake features some amazing scenery above and below the water line, and the cultures you will encounter are both exotic and accessible (most Malawians speak at least some English, especially in tourist areas). The real excitement occurs not when you are next to Lake Malawi, but when you are in it. Many people consider this lake to be one of the best freshwater diving destinations on earth. Tourist towns like Nkhata Bay have dive outfitters that can arrange trips to the best dive sites. PADI-certified shops like Aqua Africa even offer certification courses. These courses make it possible for novice divers to gain experience in Lake Malawi while also enjoying dives that put them face to face with colorful fish and unique aqua-scapes.
Because the water is amazingly clear, you can see a lot simply by kayaking or sailing. Many lodges and resorts on the lake offer yacht cruises and boat rentals. Some specialty companies, like Danforth Yachting, provide charter services. Motor boat rides are also a possibility, and Malawi is popular with windsurfers, kite surfers and water skiers. Karonga, in northern Malawi, is known for its lack of boat traffic and consistent winds, which provide ideal conditions for kiters and sailors. There are miles and miles of sandy beaches all around the shoreline of the lake, so there are plenty of places to relax and explore (often in complete solitude).
Lake Malawi is definitely a tourism hot spot, but there is a lot of nature and authenticity here as well. David Livingstone famously dubbed this waterway the "Lake of Stars" because fishermen often fished at night with the aid of lanterns, making the dark lake look like the night sky. Fishing is still a huge industry here, and you will come across a number of small fishing villages where people live in harmony with the water. Wildlife is everywhere, with hippos, giant lizards and eagles proving that you don't have to go to Africa's savannas to see exotic creatures up close. Nile crocodiles have also been sighted in the tributaries of the lake.
For the ultimate Malawi experience, you best option is to head to one of the lake's numerous islands. Some islands are completely uninhabited. Others hold fishing villages and some are home to the best resorts in South-central Africa. One of the most popular islands on the lake is Likoma Island. It sits in the northern part of the country and is actually quite close to the border with Mozambique. Likoma is unique in that it has resorts and hotels, but also a strong sense of tradition.
The luxurious Kaya Mawa Resort puts guests in touch with the best that Likoma has to offer while also offering them a great deal of comfort and a unique atmosphere that other resorts on the lake simply cannot match. There are no paved roads on the island, so guests reach Kaya Mawa either by ferry or by light aircraft (there is a small airport near the resort). Dive instructors, sail boat charters, kayak rentals, and kite surfing equipment make it possible for guests to enjoy one of the best water sports areas in the lake without having to make any arrangements with third-party guides or outfitters. Kaya Mawa does it all for you.
Kaya's individual chalet-style residences provide a great deal of privacy to all guests. Meanwhile, the warm public areas, including a dining space right on the sandy private beach, give people the opportunity to revel in a vibrant social atmosphere if they so choose. Local fishing villages, markets, and the island's wildlife make it possible to get out and explore Malawi's culture and nature and then return to Kaya Mawa for a gourmet meal, a spa treatment and a sunset cocktail on the beach.
Have you been to Lake Malawi? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.