Lake Malawi Overview
Lake Malawi, nearly 600 kilometers long and up to 80 kilometers wide, dominates the countryside. The Rift Valley is an ancient geological formation with fertile soils. Everywhere you go in Malawi one sees evidence of this. Throw down a seed and a plant or a vegetable grows. When David Livingstone arrived at the lakeshore in 1861, he was the first foreign explorer to see the lake. Lake Malawi offers endless pristine white sandy beaches, great snorkeling, and superb bird watching, especially in some of the indigenous inland forests.
In addition, there are many opportunities to enjoy uncontrived cultural experiences in some of the surrounding villages, escorted by local guides who live in the area. Malawi is a wonderful, warm, friendly and welcoming country that offers visitors great scenery, interesting parks, and some of the friendliest villagers in all of Africa. If you are keen on experiencing African culture, Malawi is possibly the best country for this.
The summer months in Malawi run from December to March and the winter months during June and July. From December to March it is usually hot and humid and it is also the start of the rainy season. Average temperatures are between 25°C and 30°C.
The rainy season makes access and getting around fairly difficult, especially in the parks, and 4x4 vehicles are recommended for guests wanting to self-drive. During the rainy season, the parks are green and lush and offer spectacular scenery; however with thicker bush and vegetation it is more difficult to find animals.
April is a great month to travel to Malawi, the roads open up and the weather is fantastic with clear, blue skies and warm, sunny days. The winter months are still pleasant with average daytime temperature around 21°C.
There are road routes into Malawi from Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique. Assume that border posts will be closed from about 18.00hrs and reopen at 07.00hrs. Visitors requiring a visa may find this difficult to obtain at border posts and are advised to obtain the documentation in advance. Requirements for vehicle documentation should be checked before travelling.
For intercontinental flights from Europe, Kenya Airways (also with KLM), South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines offer good options to Malawi, with routes involving an aircraft change at their respective national hubs (Nairobi, Johannesburg and Addis Ababa). All international flights have the option to land in either the capital Lilongwe (5-7 times per week) or Blantyre (2-3 days per week). Regional links between Malawi and Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe are provided by Malawian Airlines and some of the national airlines of those countries. Such connections can sometimes be used in conjunction with another African or European airline flying from Europe to these countries. Malawian Airlines, through its association with Ethiopian Airlines can also offer connections around the world. Malawi-based air charter companies also link Malawi to its neighbours.
The jewel in the crown of the country’s tourist attractions is Lake Malawi, “discovered” by the missionary-explorer Dr David Livingstone just over 150 years ago. Although totally landlocked, Malawi is not denied its “inland sea”. This vast body of freshwater fringed by beaches of golden sand is not only a scenic wonderland but it provides water sport opportunities for those looking for something beyond sun, sand and swimming. Its approximate dimensions are 365 miles north to south and 52 miles broad, hence the sobriquet: "the calendar lake".
The Lake, in the north, is quite extraordinarily deep: 2300 ft/700 m, plunging well below sea level. This reflects the enormity of the natural faulting of the Great Rift Valley, which is the origin of the Lake. The width of the lake’s shorelands vary from nothing to over 25 kilometres (16 miles), the edge of the Rift Valley rising steeply in places and more gently in others.
Because of its rich fish harvest, the Lake plays an important part in the economy. Fishing villages are scattered along the shore and the traditional industry and practices are an attraction to visitors. Access to the Lake is possible along much of its length but it should be noted that it is usually necessary to take a short detour off the main roads in order to reach the beach. Despite the attraction the Lake has to settlement, there are long stretches of totally uninhabited golden sand lakeshore, lapped by crystal clear waters. Kayaking, sailing, snorkelling, scuba diving and water skiing are just some of the lake activities available to visitors.
Journeys by lake range from the famous motor vessel the Ilala to sailing in an ocean-going yacht. Cruises into the upper reaches of the great Shire river are also possible.