Lake Malawi has to be one of the most beautiful, unspoilt places in the world. Nestled in the “warm heart of Africa” as Malawi is known, the lake takes up a large proportion of the country and is also bordered by Tanzanian and Mozambique on the other side – it stretches out as far as the eye can see so it’s difficult to imagine the clear, midnight blue waves belong to a lake rather than the sea. We stayed in Nkhata Bay, an area towards the north of the lake surrounded by fabulous scenery: great rolling hills with snaking streams – a landscape lush with every shade of green imaginable – totally worth the two days of travelling it took us to get there! Our time there was spent in idyllic Mayoka Village with winding stone paths and chalets set into the hillside literally on the lake shore – it’s a fairly brisk workout up and down numerous steps whenever you need the toilet, but its location and fabulous views over Lake Malawi are unparalleled. The plan was to stay in the cheapest sixteen bed dorm, but on arrival we were given a spacious room to ourselves, with large comfortable beds and proper four corner mosquito nets (no holes!), opening onto a private verandah overlooking the lake. All this still for $6/night – we were living the dream!
It wasn’t just a good first impression either. Lake Malawi has the highest population of tropical fish of any freshwater lake, with many species endemic to the lake. Mayoka Village has free snorkelling equipment so it’s easy to lose yourself for hours at a time following the vibrant fish into a different world as they dart in and out of spectacular underwater rock formations. The temperature is beyond perfect, no need to adjust when you get in, but cool enough that you never want to leave the refreshing water. Sunbathing on the rocks with my toes dipped into the lapping waves, with vivid blue and yellow lizards scuttling around me and kingfishers showing off with their diving displays – I haven’t felt so chilled out for a long time.
Mayoka offers a boat trip each Tuesday so a big group of us set off with Captain Gift and two stray dogs in a boat with an engine held together by a fork. After quite a few stops and starts, we eventually reached a small inlet to brave the four metre cliff jump (or dive for the specially courageous). It doesn’t look that high until the whole bay is spread out in every direction and your knees are shaking as your toes creep towards the crumbling edge… Jump before you can over think it and the exhilaration of being weightless for a few seconds as you plummet towards earth makes it worthwhile. Afterwards, Captain Gift made some odd whistling noises; we’d just decided he’d lost the plot when a huge, majestic creature fell out of the sky. If you’ve never had a fish eagle skim your head as it swoops down at so many km/hour to pluck a fish out of the water a metre from you, add that experience to your bucket list. Our final stop was on an untouched strip of sand to play frisbee and have a game of beach soccer with the locals, who ran rings around us – they are just so quick. Playing in my Chitenge, the material wrap around skirt that all the local women wear, didn’t exactly help matters either, although it didn’t seem to restrict their movement too much… Malawians are all extremely friendly, and despite it being such a poor country (we could get a bottle of coke for 120 Malawian Kwacha or 20p and the fabulous dinners at Mayoka could be less than £2), everyone comes across happy and with a knack for enjoying themselves.