Welcome to Cape Maclear
Forested hills tumble down to the turquoise water, fishermen paddle by in their dugout canoes, and the broad stretch of golden sands lined with backpackers, friendly and helpful locals, that is when you know you are in lively atmosphere of Cape Maclear
Cape Maclear is one of the best known holiday destinations on the lake. It is a popular hot location with the cleanest beaches on Lake Malawi with its deep and crystal waters that boast a beautiful fish sanctuary and a delight to divers. This is also where the first freshwater national park and a world heritage site, Lake Malawi National Park is.
It is undoubtedly one of those areas on our Lake Malawi where you are able to enjoy a relaxed lakeside living: wander straight out of your suite and onto the beach, laze in a hammock with a good book, swim in gin-clear water, sun bask on the golden sand beaches, take trips to the surrounding villages and learn the cultures and dine on deliciously prepared fresh fish off the boats of the local fishermen.
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Cape Maclear (aka Chembe) is located on the southern shore of Lake Malawi in Traditional Authority Nankumba 18km North of Monkey bay. It is surrounded by green forests, mountains, rocky islands, fish and bird sanctuaries, beautiful lodges and one of the best swimming waters within Lake Malawi. Whether you come here for a party or to simply enjoy the huge variety of water-based activities on offer, you will definitely not get bored.
View of Chembe shores
Simple map showing the location of Cape Maclear
The name Cape Maclear was given by Dr. David Livingstone in dedication to his friend an Astronomer, Sir Thomas Maclear in 1861 who was Her Majesty's Astronomer at the Cape of Good Hope. In October 1875 a new mission, Livingstonia, was set up by a group of members of the Free Church of Scotland. Before the missionaries arrived, the area was controlled by the Yao Muslim people. These were actively involved in slave trade which the missionaries fought for its end with the introduction of Christianity.
By 1881 Cape Maclear had proved to be extremely malarial area and the mission moved north to Bandawe. This site also proved unhealthy and the Livingstonia Mission moved once again to the higher grounds between Lake Malawi and Nyika Plateau. This new site proved highly successful because Livingstonia is located in the mountains and therefore not prone to mosquitoes carrying malaria. The mission station gradually developed into a small town.
Some of the missionaries died at Cape Maclear and their graves overlook the bay. The cemetery is dedicated to the missionaries that perished in Cape Maclear, mainly due to malaria.
In 1980 Cape Maclear and its islands, forests and bay were declared a protected area, creating the Lake Malawi National Park. It is the first freshwater national park in the world. In 1984, the area became a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The park which covers some 94km2, is composed of the Cape Maclear peninsula, three other disjunction mainland areas, 12 islands and lake waters that lie within 100 m of the park's terrestrial components. Total water area is estimated as 7km2. Habitat types vary from rocky shorelines to sandy beaches, wooded hillsides to swamps and lagoons. Granitic hills rise steeply from the lakeshore and there are a number of sandy bays including a fine beach in the Chembe-Otter Point area. Lake surface elevation is near 475m, while the highest point on the peninsula is 1,140m.
It is the only national park in Malawi that was created to protect fish and aquatic habitats.
It is also home to other animals such as baboons. A large baobab tree, purportedly over 800 years old, is said to have been a favourite of Dr. David Livingstone as a place where he could give sermons and speak with other missionaries. The graves mentioned earlier of five early missionaries are also found in the park. The many endemic fish species make it a key example of specialized evolution. There are several breeds of birds at Cape Maclear including kingfishers, Dickinson's kestrels, and freckled nightjars. There is a museum about the formation of Lake Malawi and its wildlife at Cape Maclear
Getting to Cape Maclear
There is no regular and direct public transportation to get to Cape Maclear from the cities. There is need to connect from the turnoff to the Cape on a pick up for a fee or if lucky a private car heading down there for free.
There are regular buses and minibuses that go to Monkey Bay. AXA is one of the buses going on daily basis from different cities of the country.
Here are some guidelines on transport from different parts of the country:
Driving from Monkey Bay
There is only one dirt road available and it should take about 30 minutes to complete the 18km (11 mile) route. No public transport is available for the stretch between Monkey Bay and Cape Maclear and a lift in a pickup truck is the only option unless you get lucky and get a lift on a private vehicle heading the same direction as mentioned earlier.
NOTE: The dirty road is at times full of potholes making it hard for the smaller vehicles especially during the rainy season.
Driving from Blantyre
Take the surfaced M3 north via Zomba, Liwonde and Mangochi to Monkey Bay. Before Monkey Bay take the dirt road to Cape Maclear. The route of 268km (167 miles) should take about 4 hrs. There is the most scenic route from Blantyre.
Driving from Blantyre (Option2)
Take the M1 north until you reach the M5 intersection. At the intersection take the M5 north to Golomoti. At Golomoti take the S127 east to Monkey Bay. Before Monkey Bay take the dirt road to Cape Maclear. This route is also 268 km (167 miles) and should also take about 4hrs to complete, less scenic but you will have better road conditions than the first option.
Driving from Lilongwe (Option 1)
Take the M1 south via Dedza to Masasa. At Masasa take the S127 to Golomoti. At Golomoti take the S127/M10 to Monkey Bay. Before Monkey Bay take the dirt road to Cape Maclear.
The route is totally surfaced up and till you reach Monkey Bay and it should take about 2hr 30 minutes to complete the 228km (142 miles).
Driving From Lilongwe (Option 2):
Take the tarred M14 east to Salima. At Salima take the tarred M5 south until you reach Golomoti. (Do not take the Monkey Bay turnoff at Mua! as this road is in bad condition. Drive on till you reach Golomoti.) At Golomoti take the S127/M10 to Monkey bay. At Monkey Bay take the dirt road to Cape Maclear. The 268 km (167 miles) should take about 3hr 30 minutes to complete.
Driving from Salima:
Take the M5 south until your reach Golomoti. At Golomoti take the S127/M10 to Monkey Bay. Make sure you don’t take the Monkey Bay turnoff at Mua, as this road is in bad condition. Thus make sure you take the S127/M10 Monkey Bay turnoff at Golomoti. Before Monkey Bay take the dirt road to Cape Maclear. The total route is 168km (104 miles) should take about 2hr 15 minutes to complete.
Public Transport from Blantyre:
Daily buses drive between Monkey Bay and Blantyre, stopping in Mangochi. The only way between Monkey Bay and Cape Maclear is by catching a lift on the back of a pickup truck, as no public transport is available.
Public Transport from Salima:
There are daily buses/matola driving between Salima and Monkey Bay. From Monkey Bay catch a lift with a pickup truck to Cape Maclear.
Public Transport from Lilongwe:
The best option is to take a bus to Salima and at Salima take a minibus/matola directly to Monkey Bay. Alternatively you can take a bus from Lilongwe to Liwonde and at Liwonde take the northbound bus to Monkey Bay. Once again you’ll have to catch a lift with a pickup truck to in order to go from Monkey Bay to Cape Maclear.
Relax, soak up the experience, and enjoy the ride; it’s part of local culture in Malawi.
When travelling on any public transport in Malawi, it is vital to keep your luggage in sight at all times. Malawi is generally safe and friendly; however, temptation and opportunity are easy catalysts. Always check bus and matola fares with a local before travelling, as drivers, call boys and minibus conductors sometimes take advantage of visitors with a hiked mzungu (white man’s) price. Patience is necessary when travelling in Africa, as timetables are rarely followed and breakdowns and delays are normal. Some of the buses can be very full, with people standing in the aisles and invading your personal space. The bus may stop so many places at times with no one getting on or off the bus.
MV Ilala Ferry:
Unfortunately, the Ilala is being serviced and is not available.
Private Boat from Salima:
A private boat from Salima to Cape Maclear can be organized. It should take about 3 hours to complete the route. It is cost-effective if you’re a group of 6 or more.
If you happen to arrive in Monkey Bay late and have no transport to connect to Cape Maclear, do not worry! Lodges are available, spend a night and proceed in the morning. You can always crosscheck the safety of the lodges with any locals you be friended on the journey.
Though the trip may be frustrating at times, we guarantee all your travel induced frustrations and bad mood will soon be wiped off with smiles. The drive to Cape Maclear from Monkey Bay is through beautiful sunlit forest, thatched houses, baobab trees, cyclist and beautiful carved curios by the turn off. As you drive through the villages you will be greeted by the happy smiling faces of the locals, children waving and welcoming you. Before you know it you will be in the village where you will see the thatched houses, fishermen fixing their fishing nets, always look out for children, cyclists, goats and cattle coming from all angles. Soon you will be welcomed with breath taking views of the beautiful, fresh and crystal waters of Cape Maclear with its Islands floating from a distance. Welcome to Cape Maclear.
NOTE: There are no ATM’s on Cape Maclear so you need to plan for your trip accordingly or else you would be forced to change your foreign currency with the locals at a rate slightly lower.Some businesses can take payment by VISA through Point of Service machines
Cape Maclear is a chaotic mix of village, lakeshore cottages, lodges, campsites, curio sellers and tourist touts. The area gets a lot of overland trucks with their loads of young European tourists some with families on their African adventure.
The meeting of two different cultures; the tourist and the villager, is a happy, exciting and full of richness for those who want to experience a bit more than beach and water. It is definitely the place for the young at heart with a greater vibrancy than some of the more sedate lakeshore resorts. Gecko is one place known for its music, discos and parties.
Travel Malawi Guide wanted more, so decided to explore. Arrived at the Tuckaways Community Centre, we engaged local professional divers for a conducted snorkeling tour of some of the best sites for colourful fish life. With waterproof illustrations to hand, we were able to learn of the explosion of speciation amongst the possibly 1000 species of cichlids in Lake Malawi – each with its own special niche. This is perhaps the best place in the world to see illustrated the principles of Natural Selection as discovered by Darwin who had only 14 Galapagos Finches to prompt his thoughts. Just think what he might have made of Lake Malawi’s diversity.
Travel Malawi Guide's Makwana talking tour own local Kayak's well known Dive Master, Patrick Phiri (in front) and his colleague Dive Master, Lewis Chitsulo.
Cape Maclear also offers an unlimited experience of water sports and activities, including safari trips, boat trips, beach parties, volley ball, fishing, snorkeling and diving, bird watching and much more.
Lake Malawi National Park lies within the area. Snorkeling or diving around the rocks off the island takes one into a silent world of kaleidoscopic colours provided by the various forms of life there. At Thumbi West, mbuna (rock dwelling cichlid fishes) may be observed feeding on algae off the rocks or defending their defined territories. Water birds, including fish eagle, hammerkop and white-breasted cormorant are common in the park. Over a hundred species of birds have been recorded. The most commonly seen large mammals in the park are baboon, velvet monkey, and the Cape clawless and spotted-necked otters. Vegetation includes Brachystegia and Acacia woodland plus many baobabs trees. It also includes green algae on submerged rocks and several species of waterweed in the sandy areas of the lake.
Divers and snorkelers from all over the world are fascinated and charmed by these mainly small but beautiful fish that occur in big numbers anywhere in the lake.
The variety, colours, patterns and stripes will lead you to believe that you are exploring a giant aquarium.
Lake Malawi contains over 1000 species of Cichlids with more species found every time it is explored. This is more than all freshwater fish species found in North America and Europe together.
If need arises that you require a tourist guide, speak to your accommodation manager and ask them to suggest a tour guide, as you are guaranteed security as well as a great experience to enjoy more within the area.
Traditionally the locals have always drawn their drinking water from the shore. Due to poor sanitation around the area, during the rainy season the water was prone to water borne diseases such as Cholera, diarrhoea and dysentery. This resulted in illnesses and high mortality, especially among the children.
Faced with this situation our late friend, Owner of Gecko Lounge, Paul Kite set out to make a difference and initiated a sanitation project called Chembe Water Project. Using pumps, water is drawn from the lake, far from the shore, and treated with ultra-violet light and piping it to more than 20 public taps in the village. This has reduced the risks of cholera and other water borne diseases.
Paul was such a music fan and loved to play with passion. He was one of the DJ's that was actively involved with the Lake Of Stars.
The Project Centre supports a number of local projects including Chembe Malaria Prevention, Chembe Water Project, Chembe child, Chembe Hunger Relief, HEEED Malawi, and Malawi Education Project.
In 2004, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Finland founded and funded HEEED, as an NGO. HEEED stands for Health, Education, Environment, and Economic Development. HEEED (NEDI) is a local Malawian NGO, with a Board of Trustees, a Constitution, registered No. NEDI TR/INC 2053 with the Malawi Ministry of Justice in 2004 and subsequently became a member of CONGOMA.
Cape Maclear being one of the Global regions with a sensitive ecosystem worthy of conservation, the NGO educates, creates awareness and also works hand in hand with its partiners to help and safe guard all the natural resources around the cape. Some of the projects they are involved in are; Mud-stove and fuel briquette production, Teaching English as a second language, Nutrition and the cultivation of nutritious vegetables and fruit, Aquaculture, Environmental Education, Bilharzia snail-sampling, Orphan-feeding Programme and Tree-seedling nursery.
Support comes by way of monetary assistance through private donations and sustains the community development projects. Tailor made volunteer opportunities are available for those interested. A portion of proceeds from both Gecko Lounge and Tuckaways (sister lodge) go to support the Centre.
Some of the project developments around the communities
Accommodation at Tuckaways is in thatched, reed, beach-side chalets that offer private verandahs with stunning views of sunsets and the islands of the National Park. A family room that sleeps 4 is also available. Complementary tea/coffee service is delivered to your door each morning. Paul was a kind and hardworking, may his soul rest in peace. He shall always be remembered for his good and kind heart for the people of Chembe. His legacy lives on.
There are lots of places offering accommodation, camping and delicious meals. Some of these places include; Gecko Lounge & Tuckaways, Fat Monkeys, Cape Mac Lodge & Froggies Restaurant, Domwe Island, Stevens' Guest House, Malambe Camp, Chembe Eagles Nest, Mgoza Lodge, Danforth Yachting, Mumbo Island, Thumbi View Lodge, Cape Maclear Eco Lodge, Lujeri Lake Cottage, Eagles Nest and Mgoza Lodge.
These are also good lodges for a memorable time; Pumulani, Norman Carr Cottage, Madzi Kuwala and Alcon cottages outside Cape Maclear but within the local area around Monkey Bay
You can get more information on some of them by clicking their adverts on this page and also following the link below:
Accommodation listing under the Lakeshore: http://www.travelmalawiguide.com/lakeshore.html
After experiencing the great cultures, lovely lodges, beach action and parties on the shore, there is more you can do not miles away; a visit or a few nights in the camps on the nearby islands.
eco-friendly private island escape
Beautiful view of Mumbo camp
Kayak Africa is a tourism venture that operates out of Cape Maclear, they have created two hideaways camps on Mumbo and Domwe Islands. Mumbo Island reception is on the beach at Cape Maclear.
They say great things are worth waiting for and the passion to create and craft idyllic camps on these paradise islands has been the diver for Kayak Africa since they started leasing the islands from Lake Malawi National Park in 1994.
At the end of 2008 Mumbo Island was nominated and short-listed for The Times, UK daily newspapers, ‘Green Space Award’ in the category of best place to stay worldwide. The award aims to give readers the opportunity to recognize the importance of being environmentally aware and to encourage sensitive tourism. This nomination landed Mumbo Island in the same category as other tourism destinations as far and wide as Canada, India, Peru, Kenya and Mozambique.
The beauty of Mumbo Island is clear to see on arrival after the 10km boat ride from Cape Maclear. Many guests choose to paddle across to Mumbo on the calm clear lake spotting fish eagles and cormorants enroute. This can take at least 2 hours. The ‘leave no traces’ ethos has created a Robinson Crusoe inspiration of wooden walkways, hidden safari tentedaccommodation with reed and thatch ensuite bathrooms. Friendly staff, a laid back atmosphere, fresh local food makes this the perfect place to rest and relax. To keep you occupied there is kayaking, diving, walking trails and excellent snorkeling amongst the cichlid freshwater fish. Play a game of bawo with the staff.
This latest accolade praises Kayak Africa not only for its hospitality but also for its eco and environmental credentials. To name a few there are smart composting toilets into which you sprinkle recycled wood shavings, buckets showers are suspended from the rafters and filled on request with solar-heated water and the complimentary soap and shampoo are biodegradable. Rocket Stoves, highly efficient ‘built-in-Malawi’ cooking stoves, are used to combat deforestation. In the evenings the low impact decking is lit with solar lighting making the camp
dazzle above the ripple of the lake while hurricane lamps flicker on the verandahs. Since this nomination Kayak Africa has been working hard to maintain its eco-status with new projects such as staff making recycled wine bottle glasses as well as pasta making.
Unlike most island destinations in the region, Mumbo Island had never been populated. This, together with the focus on non-motorised water sports, makes Mumbo Island Camp ideal for the active outdoors enthusiast. Mumbo Island Camp is a PADI registered resort offering beginner, advanced and specialty courses in scuba diving, as well as gear hire and casual dives.
So while Kayak Africa strive to continue their positive eco efforts Mumbo Island can remain the pristine paradise retreat that guests come and love. As one visitor wrote in the guest book “it’s like swimming in an aquarium and walking into an Avery and we are adamant that this is the way it should always remain”.
Domwe's beach with kayaks
Domwe Island is basic but has the feeling of an exclusive private island. Run on a self-catered basis guest’s cook in the kitchen and there are two full-time members of staff to help. Domwe Island is the largest unpopulated island on Lake Malawi. It is 11 km circumference and 400 meters at the highest point. It is separated from the mainland by a narrow gap, which is great fun to kayak through. Due to its close distance to the mainland, there are many mammals which live there and cross the gap during dryer times. Domwe Island is part of Lake Malawi National Park. The Domwe Safari Island camp offers fully furnished safari tents, as well as a basic camp site.
Fish beach braai by photographer Kim Steinberg.
A stay at Domwe can be as energetic or as relaxed as you wish. Kayak to the island, spend days diving, snorkeling or kayaking around the island or take the boat to the island and spend your days relaxing and enjoying the peace and tranquility of this unique island.
Kayak Africa's big boat arriving on Domwe Island, bringing new guests for a stay on this tropical island paradise.
West Thumbi island
View of West Thumbi
The islands of Lake Malawi National Park offer perhaps the finest snorkeling on the lake, and West Thumbi is no exception. Mitande Point in particular boasting one of the lake’s most diverse cichlid communities is a popular site with day visitors from Cape Maclear. Affordable snorkeling trips can be arranged through the guide assigned to your lodge, and are usually inclusive of a fish barbeque, snorkeling equipment and transport by boat (you may have to bargain). Thumbi is regarded as having the most diverse cichlid community in the whole of Lake Malawi. To paddle to Thumbi will take approximately 35 minutes from the mainland.
Other interesting places and things to see
This national monument is the best mainland snorkeling site situated about 2km from Chembe village and 1km inside the entrance gate to Lake Malawi National Park. The clear water is teeming with cichlids of several colours: blue, orange and yellow. On land you should see rock hyrax, baboons, a variety of lizards, and if you’re lucky even a klipspringer or grysbok. Spotted-necked otters are common in the area. Entrance to the national park is at a small fee. You can hire snorkeling equipment in the village.
Visitors enjoying swimming at Otter's Point
As already read there is so much you can do at Cape Maclear. Hardly can you get bored. Some of the activities include; Watching the sunset - Best place to view the Malawian Sunsets are from the Gecko Lounge Veranda deck, Day trips into the villages, boat trips, swimming, Scuba diving, Snorkeling, Kayaking.
Cichlids at Otter's Point
Hiking - an easy 80 minute trail starts near the Missionary Graves and takes you up to a viewing point above the village. There are other harder walks, which are not so easily marked, for these it is worthwhile finding a guide in town or at the Lake Malawi National Park. Alternatively, get a beach boy to take you up and tell you some stories.
The missionary graves on the north end of town
Glass bottom boat ride
Take a cruise on the glass bottom boat and you are guranteed to see an array of very colourful rainbow fish. Absolutely fun!!
Dugout day trips, picknik, trekking tours
Immediately you will be realised as a new visitor to Chembe Village and the locals will ask you to book a daytrip in a dugout to the islands, a picnic on the beach or a trekking tour around the nearby hills! All of these activities are worth doing, but check with other travellers before you choose your guide!
Sunset at Cape Maclear
Cape Maclear is on the north-western tip of the peninsula, and the sunset is right in front of the beach. Sitting on a chair and watch the sunset is really nice. It is understandable that backbackers have had Cape Maclear as one of their hidden gems.
Thing to buy
There are always curio vendors along the beach or outside the lodges and prices are reasonable (You can take test your bargaining skills here). Especially noteworthy are the hand-carved backgammon and mancala (bawo) boards.
Shopping for curios on the beach at Cape Maclear. Some beautifully hand-crafted items are made in the village and supporting local artists is a good thing to do.
They are always around the beach offering you anything they think you will buy, from canoe trips, to handmade reed cars, to handmade jewellery, etc.
One of the highlights of Cape Maclear is the surprisingly large number of dive shops.
Skyband hotspot is available and you are able to access your emails, surf the net while you watch and enjoy the beautiful beach. Access cards are available at a very reasonable price.
It is advisable to apply mosquito repellent in the evenings and sleep under a mosquito net to avoid malaria. At times Bilharzia can be a problem. Some of the symptoms of exposure to it are fever, fatigue, bloody urine, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Never drink water from the taps, as it comes straight from the lake. We would recommend drinking bottled water. Do check for inoculations before you get there.
There is a medical clinic in Cape Maclear; the Billy Riordan Memorial Clinic that was established in 2004, and treats diseases such as dysentery, bilharzia and malaria. There are no diagnostic services or surgery carried out at the clinic. Mags Riordan, founder of the clinic, is the mother of a man who drowned in Lake Malawi, near Cape Maclear in 1999. The clinic is supported by the Billy Malawi Project.
Cape Maclear has a reputation for being a sort of traveler's black hole. In other words, once you get there, you won't want to leave.
We @ travel Malawi guide believe you have all you need to plan your visit to Cape Maclear, making it a very memorable and happy experience. Please do tell others about us and visit Malawi.
Thank you. Zikomo kwambiri.
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