Lake Malawi National Park

A huge reservoir of tropical fish


T378, Chembe, Malawi

GPS: -14.065332447977, 34.884999710043

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Lake Malawi National Park is in the Great Rift Valley on the southern shore of Lake Malawi. This body of fresh water covers much of the eastern part of Malawi, a small country wedged between Zambia, Tanzania, and Mozambique. Despite Malawi being landlocked, its lake has shores and a body of water so large that it resembles an inland sea. Lake Malawi was declared a protected are in 1980 to safeguard the variety of habitats of its freshwater fish populations.

Covering 20% of the country’s area, or about 30,000 km², Lake Malawi is the third largest body of water in Africa after Lake Victoria (68,000 km²) and Lake Tanganyika (33,000 km²). On a global scale, it is the 8th largest lake in terms of surface area and the 5th largest in terms of volume (estimated at nearly 8,000 km3, this figure can vary according to the seasons and hydro-climatic conditions). Lake Malawi is 580 kilometres long and 80 kilometres wide. It serves as a natural border with the neighbouring countries of Mozambique to the south and Tanzania to the north, which share part of its shores (these two countries more commonly call it Lake Nyasa). This natural reservoir is a meromictic lake, meaning it has several layers of water that do not intermix. This explains the high-water clarity of Lake Malawi and the abundance of underwater life.

Comparable to no other lake in the world, Lake Malawi harbours a variety of freshwater fish greater than any other body of water on the planet. Among its unparalleled diversity of fish, the lake has several hundred endemic species, most of which are cichlids (tropical, multi-coloured fish). Threatened by illegal fishing, overfishing, oil exploration and pollution, this deep lake (750 metres at its lowest point) is also a nesting ground for several species of birds. Scientists compare Lake Malawi National Park’s ecosystem to the Galapagos Islands because of its great biological wealth. Its clear waters offer underwater visibility at depths of up to 20 metres and harbour significant oil and gas deposits.

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  • The abundance of colour and underwater life; the lake’s remarkable biological value
  • The crystal clear and warm waters filled with fish; the palm-fringed creeks and white sandy beaches; the rock formations, huge granite boulders, forested hills, swamps, and lagoons; the tropical islands of Mumbo Island, West Thumbi Island, Likoma Island and Domwe Island (the latter is the only island in the lake where mammals such as African civets and bushpigs live)
  • The exceptional quantity and variety of aquatic fauna (including several hundred different species of fish as well as crustaceans)
  • The fishing villages and boats of Chembe, Masaka, Mvunguti, Zambo, Chidzale, Nkhata Bay and Monkey Bay (or Lusumbwe); the traditional makoro (or mokoro) canoes
  • Snorkelling and diving, swimming, kayaking, sailing, bird watching, boat trips and lake walks
  • The terrestrial fauna (monitors, baboons, warthogs, antelopes); the presence of thousands of butterflies; the rich and varied avian fauna (herons, cormorants, white-tailed swallows, wagtails); the presence of several species of birds of prey such as the fish eagle (better known as the African fish eagle); the dense and luxuriant vegetation of the lake’s islands
  • Watching a sunset against the backdrop of Lake Malawi ; the majestic view from Chombe Plateau
  • The Lake Malawi Museum in Mangochi town (exhibitions on the lifestyle and natural environment of the lake’s inhabitants)
  • Lake Malawi Sailing Marathon (annual event held in July); Lake of Stars Festival (3 days of concerts and festivities in September)
  • Lake Malawi contains the greatest diversity of aquatic vertebrate animals in the world (about 1,000 species of fish, more than the fish populations of the United States and Europe combined). These fish come in all shapes, sizes and colours and were originally derived from a single fish species from Lake Tanganyika.
  • Half of the lake’s aquatic species have not yet been identified due to a lack of in-depth studies.
  • Lake Malawi is the sixth deepest lake on Earth. It is the first freshwater lake in the world to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • The country of Malawi is one of the world’s leading tobacco producing countries.
  • Lake Malawi National Park is best visited during the dry season, between April and October.
  • You can camp on Mumbo Island, provided you have booked your accommodation in advance (capacity of only 15 people). Mumbo Island is easily accessible from Cape Maclear or Chembe, the most popular destinations in the park (south side of the lake).

Where to eat

  • Chembe Eagles Nest
    (casual restaurant)
  • Wb Restaurant
    (affordable and copious)
  • Kaya Mawa
    (romantic setting)

Where to go

  • Liwonde National Park
    (water safari)
  • Nyika National Park
    (Malawi's largest park)
  • Kuti Wildlife Reserve
    (small wildlife reserve)

Where to stay

  • Malambe Camp
    (perfect for small budgets)
  • Pumulani
    (dream location)
  • Mumbo Island
    (virgin island paradise)