By David Di Gregorio
MALAWI MAY BE AFRICA’S NEWEST BIG 5 WILDLIFE DESTINATION AND BOAST ONE OF THE MOST ROBUST OFFERINGS OF ANY COUNTRY IN THE REGION, BUT WITHOUT A DOUBT THE JEWEL IN MALAWI’S TOURISM CROWN IS THE ICONIC LAKE MALAWI.
At 82km wide by 587km long and fringed with golden sand beaches, Lake Malawi often feels more like an ocean than a lake. Crystal clear waters allow visibility up to 27 metres and waves that get big, but not too big, allow for some of the best snorkelling, diving and water sports on the planet.
UNESCO’s Lake Malawi National Park
The world’s first freshwater national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site is at Lake Malawi’s Cape Maclear. The park includes a land area as well as the lake and offshore islands.
Here, you’ll find a veritable aquarium of tropical fish providing a colourful kaleidoscopic display. The countless thousands of freshwater fish, the mbuna, are more abundant and varied here than anywhere else in the world. Boats are available for hire and the fish will feed directly from the hand.
Away from the lake, the park has baboons, antelope and hyrax, and, of course, there is a great variety of birdlife including fish eagles, cormorants and hamerkops. This area was a favourite of David Livingston and the graves of five early European missionaries can still be found in the park.
Off the eastern shore of the lake is Likoma Island: a little piece of Malawian territory in Mozambican waters. Its history – the setting up here of the headquarters of the University Mission to Central Africa (Livingstone’s mission) in the 1880s – caused it to be retained by Malawi when the lake was divided politically after World War II.
The island, which only covers 17km2 is home to an imposing Anglican cathedral on which work began in 1903.
Activities on the Island include diving. There are over 20 diving sites around the island. One can also take boat trips to the neighboring Chizumulu Island. Walking, biking and quad biking can also be enjoyed on the island. The clock tower of St Peter’s Cathedral provides a stunning view across Likoma. After a tour of the cathedral, you can head to the roof, climb across the bells and the clockwork and take in the beautiful scenery.
Karonga archaeological site
Karonga is a place of growing interest. It has been recognised by UNESCO for its interesting but turbulent history as a centre for the notorious 19th Century slave trade.
Now the town is the site of a new museum focused on both its cultural history and the recent archaeological finds of dinosaur and hominid bones. Karonga exemplifies the connection between Lake Malawi and the Malawian people and clearly demonstrates how important the lake is to Malawian culture both now, and in ancient times.
Lake of Stars Music Festival
Lake of Stars is Malawi’s premier arts festival event which pre-pandemic times took place every September.
Lake of Stars became and is still one of the best known African festivals on the global circuit featuring both Malawian and international performances.
The festival is set on the shimmering, palm-fringed shores of Lake Malawi.