Lake Malawi Budget Travel Guide

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About Lake Malawi - The Lake of Stars

The shores of this vast lake boast sandy beaches that are ideal for enjoying the warm, clear waters of Lake Malawi.

This freshwater lake is a great place for swimming and water sports, such as snorkelling and kayaking, in an idyllic rural setting.

Lake Malawi covers about a third of landlocked Malawi in south-east Africa and is referred to as "The Lake of Stars". Explorer David Livingstone nicknamed Lake Malawi "The Lake of Stars" in reference to the distant lanterns of fishing boats on the lake that look like stars from afar.

The scenic Lake shores are dotted with sleepy fishing villages, as well as numerous budget accommodation options that are popular with backpackers and overland travellers. You will get to mingle with the locals, renowned for their friendliness, and meet fellow travellers along the shores of Lake Malawi.

Lake Malawi Shores:

  • Senga Bay - Close to Lilongwe, the beaches are good, but the lake can get rough.
  • Mangochi area - Easy to get to from Blantyre, several of the bigger lodges are here. Beaches are perfect and the lake is calm.
  • Cape Maclear - Backpackers haven, calm waters, good snorkeling and diving around the rocks of Otters Point and off Mumbo Island.
  • Monkey Bay - Useful as a transport hub and to get provisions. You'll have to walk to get to a good beach.
  • Nkudzi Bay and Namaso Bay - are perfect for a beach holiday.

​Lake Malawi Facts and Figures

Lake Malawi is the southermost of Africa's Great Lakes found in the East Africa Rift system. 

This long, relatively narrow lake stretches along the eastern side of Malawi from north to south, along most of the border with southern Tanzania and western Mozambique.

Around a quarter of this great lake's area falls within Mozambican territory, including the waters around Likoma and Chizumulu Islands, which themselves belong to Malawi. The name of Lake Malawi is under dispute, with Tanzania and other countries calling it Lake Nyassa, instead of Lake Malawi.

This freshwater lake is Africa's third largest lake and the eighth largest in the world, stretching 360 miles (580km's) in length and measuring about 46 miles (75km's) in width. Despite calm appearances in the north parts, Lake Malawi is deceptively deep, being ranked the second deepest lake in Africa.

Lake Malawi covers a huge area of around 29 600 km² (11 400 mi²) some 350 km's southeast of Lake Tanganyika, the longest freshwater lake in the world.

Lake Malawi is located in the East African Rift Valley, at its southermost tip where it occupies the valley-opening formed by the split in Africa's tectonic plates. The Ruhuhu River is the largest river flowing into the lake from southern Tanzania and the Shire River is its largest outlet, flowing from the southern shores into the mighty Zambezi River in Mozambique.

The tropical waters of Lake Malawi are reported to host more species of fish than any other body of freshwater in the world, including over 1000 species of cichlids.

Estimates as to the age of Lake Malawi vary greatly, ranging between 40 000 years to around three million years old.

Lake Malawi Highlights and Activities:

  • Lake Malawi is a paradise for beach holidays, offering calm, clear and warm waters in a tranquil setting flanked by mountains.
  • Watersports such as snorkeling, scuba diving, boat riding, sailing, water skiing, kayaking, canoeing and windsurfing.
  • Activities such as beach football, fishing, horse riding and hiking near the lake.
  • A low-key and relaxed atmosphere for enjoying the affordable activities available.
  • The lakeshore is not overly commercialized by mass tourism, thus large, unsightly tourist resorts are absent.
  • Spectacular sunsets and good beer for scenic sundowners.
  • Fishing villages scattered along the shore where visitors can encounter traditional practices and local industries.
  • Excellent bird watching, including fish eagles, kingfisherss, herons, jacanas, egrets and white-breasted cormorants.
  • Delicious fresh fish straight from the lake, caught by the local fishermen.
  • Friendly people - Malawi is known as the "Warm Heart of Africa".
  • Trips to the largely uninhabited islands dotting the lake.
  • Sailing trips on the lake and on the famous motor vessel, Ilala (sailing Lake Malawi since 1951).

Lake Malawi is home to an amazing array of freshwater marine life, including over 450 species of tropical fish, as well as crocodiles and hippos in some parts. The southern part of the lake was designated a National Park in 1980 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. The Lake Malawi National Park protects numerous significant habitats of mostly endemic fish species.

Lake Malawi Climate - When to Go to Lake Malawi

The temperate climate of Malawi is suitable for swimming all year round, so you can always take a dip in the clear, blue waters of Lake Malawi.

The best time to travel to Lake Malawi is in the dry season, from April to November. October is one of the best months to visit the lake as the waters are calm and clear with warm weather conditions. In August and September wind levels are also relatively low and the waters calmer than in the rainy season. July is a cooler and more windy month, usually receiving winds from the south east which leave the waters less settled.

The rainy season from late November or early December to March, is when storms are at their most unpredicatable. The humidity and temperature levels are high, but the air over the lake is less hazy at this time. By April the winds and rain usually subside leaving calmer conditions.

Lake Malawi Attractions

  • Warm and clear lake waters, make for pleasant conditions in the lake and good visibility for underwater exploration.
  • Swimming, snorkelling or scuba diving among thousands of species of colorful Cichlids and other freshwater creatures.
  • Baobab forests near the lake are the southernmost occurrence of these in Mozambique.

Lake Malawi National Park

Located at the southern end of Lake Malawi the national park is home to many hundreds of fish species, nearly all endemic. The Lake Malawi National Park is of global importance in terms of biodiversity conservation, particularly given its diversity of fish species.

This area is of striking natural beauty with the rugged mountainous landscape contrasting with the crystal clear waters of the vast lake. Many hundreds of cichlid fish, known locally as "mbuna", serve as a significant example of biological evolution. given Lake Malawi's isolation from other water bodies.

These fish have evolved impressive adaptive mechanisms, which make them an outstanding example of the ecological processes.

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Google Map of Lake Malawi

Use the Google map to explore Lake Malawi.

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Tours Focused on Lake Malawi

Southern Malawi Budget Lodge Safari

Duration 07 Days, Travel Style Lodge Safaris
Priced from pps R38916 $2695 £2070 €2399 A$3825 C$3616 NZ$3961 Full pricing info
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Lake Malawi sunset A one week tour of Southern Malawi from Lilongwe to Game Haven and Statemwa Tea Estate in the Shire Highlands, then wild Liwonde National Park and Nankoma Island on Lake Malawi. Explore the scenic Warm Heart of Africa, Malawi, on this Budget Lodge Safari.

Trip Style Lake Malawi Budget Safari Packages

South Luangwa National Park & Lake Malawi Safari

Duration 06 Days, Travel Style Lodge Safaris
Priced from pps R27046 $1873 £1439 €1667 A$2658 C$2513 NZ$2753 Full pricing info
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Luangwa giraffes A great 6 day getaway from Lilongwe, Malawi to Zambia's South Luangwa National Park and the white sand beaches of Lake Malawi. A great inland "Beach & Bush" getaway!

Trip Style Lake Malawi Budget Safari Packages