A Quick Travel Guide To Visiting Lake Malawi
Updated August 2022, A Quick Travel Guide To Visiting Lake Malawi was originally published in January 2021
Lake Malawi was the most relaxing part of my two month trip across Southern Africa a few years back (not including my grand finale at an all-inclusive resort in Zanzibar). I will admit, a lot of it was spent lazing in on the beaches around and swimming in Lake Malawi.
Despite being quite lazy on the Malawi leg of my trip, I still managed to squeeze in time to visit a couple of lakeside villages and shopped for lovely handmade wood carvings.
Malawi is hands down one of the best countries in Africa for backpackers with a surprisingly wide network of hostels and lakeside campsites. Though don’t come to Malawi with a plan to fast track the entire country- things move slowly in Malawi, you could even argue more slowly than any of its neighboring countries. Some may complain about the snail’s-pace of moving about in Malawi, but honestly (for me anyway) it’s one of Malawi’s great blessings.
Destinations Around Lake Malawi
Kande Bay is a bit further south than Nkhata Bay and is a bit quieter in comparison, making it the perfect place to relax and dig your toes into the golden sands on the shores of Lake Malawi.
I ended up spending 4 days in Kande when I visited Lake Malawi, just hanging out and enjoying the calm after almost 6 weeks of nonstop travel.
Where To Stay In Kande
Nkhata is a port and fishing town on the northern shores of Lake Malawi, just 50 kilometers east of Mzuzu, and a backpacker center of Malawi.
If you’re planning to base yourself in one place on your visit to Lake Malawi and day trip out, Nkhata Bay isn’t a bad option.
Where To Stay In Nkhata Bay
Sat against a backdrop formed by the Livingstonia and Nyika mountains, and flanked by golden sand beaches lined with banana palms and papaya trees, Chitimba ended up being my favorite place I visited in Malawi.
Chitimba is located at the far north of Lake Malawi, making it a good starting/ending point for those coming from or leaving to southern Tanzania or northern Zambia.
Don’t miss the opportunity to explore Manchewe Falls, and nearby Nyika National Park and Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve while you’re staying in Chitimba. The village that sits just beyond the beach is worth spending some time in for the opportunity to learn a bit more about the area and purchase intricate wood carvings.
Where To Stay In Chitimba
Continuing on to Tanzania afterward? Check out why you should visit Mikumi National Park
Nkhotakota is a port town on the shores of Central Malawi. Nkhotakota is a great place to base yourself for exploring other parts of Central Malawi. Don’t miss viewing elephants and other wildlife at Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, lazing on Mwaya Beach, Mawira hot springs, and visiting nearby Chia Lagoon.
Where To Stay In Nkhotakota
Likoma & Chisumulu Islands
Likoma and Chisumulu are the only two inhabited islands in Lake Malawi, both of which are enclaves that sit within Mozambique’s waters.
Likoma is the more often visited of the two, with access by both air and ferry. The Ilala ferry arrives from Chilumba and continues onto Monkey Bay and then makes the same trip in reverse a couple of times per week.
Likoma Island is home to some of Malawi’s most luxurious lodges.
Where To Stay On Likoma Island
Reachable by bus from other parts of Malawi or by taking the Ilala ferry from Chilumba or Likoma Island to Monkey Bay and grabbing a taxi, Cape Maclear sits on the southern shores of Lake Malawi. Life moves quite slow in Malawi’s south, making Cape Maclear a great place to kick back and relax, and a perfect base for exploring the remainder of southern Malawi.
If you want to get off the beaten path in southern Malawi, you can head to Domwe Island located 5 kilometers off the coast from Cape Maclear (I 100% regret not heading out here!). There are fully equipped tents for rent on Domwe, or you can bring your gear and do it yourself.
Where To Stay In Cape Maclear
Grab a copy of Bradt’s Malawi guidebook to help you start planning
Monkey Bay is located just south of Cape Maclear, making it easy to stay in one place and visit the other. The Ilala Ferry that starts from Chilumba arrives at Monkey Bay connecting with other parts of Malawi.
Similar to nearby Cape Maclear, Monkey Bay has a slow and laid back atmosphere. Plan to enjoy the beach or take a kayak trip to explore the coast and small offshore islands.
Where To Stay In Monkey Bay
Liwonde National Park
Liwonde National Park is Malawi’s most popular park, conveniently located north of the city of Blantyre. You can arrange a riverboat safari, 4WD safaris, walking safaris, and even canoe safaris to explore this long and narrow national park that sits on the Shire River.
Visiting Zimbabwe on your trip across southern Africa? Make sure to stop into Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
Getting Around Lake Malawi
- By bus: Buses connect many of the larger towns cities around Lake Malawi. The main bus company is AXA Coach Services.
- By ferry: The Ilala Ferry runs between Chilumba and Monkey Bay, making the trip each direction once per week. Know that taking the ferry is quite slow. See an updated Ilala Ferry schedule here.
- By car: You can hire your own, or hire a driver and car for the duration of your trip. Of course, the price will vary greatly depending on time length, and distances for hiring a car and driver. Shop rental cars on Expedia and Skyscanner.
- On overland tour: Several overland tour companies offer trips in southern Africa that include a visit to Lake Malawi. Check out overlanders through Malawi on Intrepid and GAdventures.
Have Any Questions About Visiting Lake Malawi?
Ask in the comments section below.