Welcome to Likoma Island
Likoma and Chizumulu are two inhabited islands in Lake Malawi, located just a few kilometers off the Mozambican coast. Together the islands form the Likoma District.
Being entirely surrounded by Mozambican waters, they are exclaves of Malawi. The reason for this dates back to the late 19th century. While the Portuguese had colonized Mozambique, the (Anglican) missionaries who had colonised Malawi, then called Nyasaland, spread east as far as the islands in Lake Malawi (previously known as Lake Nyasa). Although the British Government originally claimed the entire Lake Malawi, but in 1954 an agreement was signed with Portugal, which recognised the middle of the lake as the territorial boundary between Malawi and Mozambique.
The inhabitants of Likoma Island speak a Nkamanga dialect, a variety of Nyanja and are mostly fishermen. The island, dotted with mango trees and surrounded by sandy beaches and rocky coves, has several small villages, Mbamba town with a historical Anglican cathedral and several roads with a few vehicles and bicycles on them.
Likoma Island has an area of approximately 17 Km². Chizumulu Island is a lot smaller than Likoma Island but has well-constructed walking paths on the island. Both islands offer a variety of coast line, with busy beaches and peaceful deserted rocky coastline.
The west sides of both islands offer, what some say are the most beautiful sunsets in Malawi. Likoma Island is mainly rocky terrain, with little agriculture, and an abundance of mango and baobab trees.
Sunset on Likoma Island
Likoma is densely populated, with about 9,000 inhabitants dispersed in a many villages the main being the lively town of Mbamba. The most represented ethnic groups are the Nyanja (60%) and the Tonga (25 %) tribes, but there are also smaller groups of Tumbuka, Yao and Chewa tribes. Their main economic activity is fishing, although agriculture (mainly rice and cassava) is also represented. The town of Mbamba hosts a busy market. It is famous for the Anglican Cathedral of St. Peter, one of the largest churches in Africa and the main tourist attraction on the island.
In 1880 missionaries from the Universities' Mission to Central Africa, founded in response to a plea by David Livingstone, established their headquarters on Likoma Island. Due to Livingstone's built headquarters, the island was assigned to Malawi rather than Mozambique when national borders in East Africa were established after World War II.
The heritage of missionaries includes a large cathedral that was built with bricks that were fired in Mozambique. The cathedral is built in the Gothic style of many cathedrals in England with beautiful features including soapstone choir stalls, fine stained-glass windows and a crucifix carved from a tree that grew in Zambia near to the village where David Livingstone died.
Getting there and away (as of September 2014)
The two modes of transport to get to Likoma District (Likoma and Chizumulu islands) are by air or by water.
Air transport is available from Lilongwe, with a flight time of approximately one hour by Ulendo Air or Nyassa Air Taxis to Likoma Island which has an air strip. They usually depart Lilongwe about 14:00 and depart Likoma about 10:00. Scheduled flight rates are $295 per person one way. Other privately owned aircraft are also available on charter from either Mzuzu or Dwangwa. Several companies can arrange flights to Likoma Island, including Wilderness Safaris, Land and Lake Safaris, Malawian Style, Small Steps Adventures and many other established tour companies.
A steamer boat, the motor vessel Ilala (M.V. Ilala) is the main mode of transportation to and from Likoma District from the Malawi mainland. M.V.Ilala has been in service since 1949. Now run by a Portuguese company it combines the traditions of strong, safe ferries with the latest satellite navigation
The M.V. Ilala is a 620 ton vessel that has been transporting Malawians, travellers and goods on Lake Malawi since 1951. It now operates on a much smaller part of the lake, going to Likoma District twice a week from Nkhatabay and up to Chilumbain the north of Malawi once a week. Ticket prices vary depending on the class of deck that one chooses.
The lower deck is the most affordable class but is very crowded and filled with baggage. The lower deck second class is slightly more spacious but is stuffy. Many backpackers choose this option. The first class option, which offers a full restaurant service, is on the top deck and is preferred by travelers who looking for comfort and personal space.
First class cabins are available on the M.V. Ilala although these have been described by some as comparable to a local district rest house (i.e. below standard) but are certainly worth a try. Both the lower decks and top decks have well stocked bars and make travelling on the M.V. Ilala both a joyous and memorable experience.
The Captain's Cabin
The Captain’s cabin, the most luxurious, is air conditioned with a private bathroom).
From Nkhata Bay in the Northern Region of Malawi, 45 mins drive from Mzuzu.
On Tuesday and Friday MV Ilala departs 0600 from Nkhata Bay arriving Likoma 1100 and departing the same day at 1400 to return to Nkhata Bay at 1900.
(One way fares:- 3rd Class $8, 2nd Class $13, 1st Class $22; Cabin Class $35)
On Thursday MV Chambo departs Nkhata Bay at 0800 arriving Likoma at 1300 ($10)
On Wednesday MV Chambo departs Likoma at 0800 arriving Nkhata Bay at 1300. ($10)
Captain Class plus $3.
M.V.Malungu is a reliable and fully certified wooden boat that has been running twice weekly from Nkhata Bay to Likoma for over 2 years. Owned and run by people from Likoma who have vast experience of the lake weather it provides a very economic way to get to Likoma for people and supplies.
It goes once or twice per week from Nkhata Bay to Likoma & return. It usually departs about 09:00 and arrives about 16:00 & travels on the days when the other boats are not running. $7.
From Senga Bay in Salima in the Central region of Malawi, 90 mins drive from Lilongwe.
Tues. MV Chambo departs 05:00 Senga Bay (Shipyard) & arrives 16:00 Metangula in Mozambique.
Departs Metangula 02:00 arrives Likoma at 07:30 on Wednesday morning.
Sun. MV Chambo departs 08:00 Likoma & arrives Metangula 14:00.
Departs Metangula 02:00, arrives Senga Bay (Shipyard) at midday Mon. One Way Fare $31, Captain Class plus $5.
M.V. Chambo is a new ferry boat that began service with the same Portuguese company in 2013. Designed with a shallow draft and a drop down ramp at the front it can off load passengers and goods directly onto the beach.
It carries all the latest safety equipment and was designed to cope with the roughest weather on the Lake. It has comfortable seats for 80 passengers in lounges and there is space for passengers to walk around on the front and rear decks. There is a bar and simple cooked meals & snacks are available. Ulisa Bay Lodge has negotiated with the shipping company so that our passengers travelling to or from Likoma are allowed to travel on the top ‘Captain’s Deck’ and use the very smart shower and WC facilities.
This is a new 12m T-Craft Hippo 1180 open catamaran powered by 300 horsepower Mercury outboard motors.
She has a range of 120 nautical miles with a light load speed of 20 knots and cruising speed of up to 15 knots. On board she can seat 80 passengers. The top decks seats 50 and the bottom deck 30. Music, toilets, food and beverage services are available for passenger comfort. Drop down sides are deployed should the weather change.
M.V. Mwande goes at least twice a week to Likoma
Smaller boats (including dhows) cross the 11 Km strait between the two islands, and also between Likoma Island and Cobue, which is 4 Km away, in Mozambique. Immigration officers on Likoma Island and in Cobue facilitate the provision of any necessary visas.
There are several unpaved roads running a handful of cars, a few of which are available for hire, and walking and sailing are the good transport options once you arrive in Likoma District.
Ecotourism / Natural environment
Despite a high population density, the natural environment of Likoma Island is largely unspoilt. The coast is varied, with rocky slopes, sandy bays and swamps.
The interior of the island is mostly covered by grassland, with a large number of baobab trees (of the Adansoniadigitata species) and mango trees. Fauna is mostly composed of small reptilians, amphibians, birds and a number of invertebrates, including scorpion spiders.
There are reportedly a few crocodiles living on an inhabited island south of Chizulumu. Waters around Likoma, as is usual in Lake Malawi, host a number of Cichlid fishes; some species, such as Labidochromiscaeruleus likomae, are endemic to the Likoma area.
Likoma Island is regarded as having the best diving on the lake, in terms of the diversity and the sheer abundance of fish. There are also spectacular underwater rock formations, swim through, a 30-metre wall and a rock etching. The etching, located at the most spectacular dive site, Masimbwe Island, was found at a depth of sixteen metres. It appears to be man-made and is similar to ones found in Ethiopia. With mouthbreeders and catfish up to two metres in length and the occasional otter, Likoma is a beautiful dive location.
The island has a registered PADI Scuba Diving Resort where PADI scuba instructors and dive into the most ecologically diverse fresh water environment in the world! courses to suit every level, from those first bubbles to the professional ranks of Divemaster are available.
Health & Safety
There is a hospital on the island which offers medical services to islanders and visitors alike. Likoma is an aquatic environment and mostly rocky rather than reedy. Regular tests are conducted and to date there is no record of bilharzia.
Things to do
Visit St Peter Cathedral
The cathedral was built in 1905 by Scottish Missionaries out of local granite. This large and beautiful cathedral is definitely the pride of the island and is worth your time. It is one of the main attractions for Likoma. It can be visited any time. It is easier to find somebody to show you around!
Busy sunday service
Climb the clock tower
The clock tower of the cathedral offers a nice view. To reach the roof you have to climb across the bells and the clockwork that is not working anymore due to the lack of grease. It is advised that you take a torch with you!
On most weekends tourists can watch as traditional dance groups compete against dance groups from the nearby Chizumulu Island. This festive affair, hosted in Mbamba Town (Chipyela), has dancers dressed up in traditional attire going all out to protect local pride.
The mganda dance is one of the famous traditional dances on the island
Being on an island you are free to go swimming and snorkeling in the waters of Lake Malawi as much as you like. Alternatively you can just laze around on the beach, read a book, whilst working on your tan.
There’s also opportunity to go sailing, fishing, canoeing, water-skiing or windsurfing on the lake or even play some beach volleyball with the locals and fellow travellers.
The Likoma Island Divers, located at Mango Drift Lodge, is a fully qualified PADI dive school offering courses for beginners and advanced divers alike. There are over 20 dive sites around Likoma Island for you to explore.
Walk, Cycle, Quad
You have the option to hike
around the island visiting the various
villages on Likoma. Alternatively you
can hire a mountain bike or
quad-bike to explore the Island.
You can take boat trips around the island, to the nearby Chizumulu Island or to neighbouring Mozambique. Fishing trips can also be organised.
Manda Wilderness Reserve Nkwichi
This hard to reach reserve is located in Mozambique, close to Cobue. The reserve offers hiking safaris through the woodlands, as well as relaxation on Lake Malawi.
The old Baobab on the new market place
In the year 1985 there was an aid project launched on Likoma.
The "New Market Place" was built by the Germans with solid streets, with sidewalks and gutters. In the middle
of the marked square there is an old baobab tree. The baobab tree is being strangled by a Kachere tree. Nowadays the baobab is hollow and sometimes used as a storeroom.
Where to stay and dine
Likoma and Chizumulu Islands both have secure, peaceful and affordable places offering accommodation and dining services. Good getaway for hooney mooners
Some of these lodges are: Ndomo Point House, Mango drift, Kaya Mawa, Khaiko Lodge, Wakwenda Retreat, Ulisa Bay Lodge and many others.
Find more information about these places on the following link: http://www.travelmalawiguide.com/lakeshore.html
Note that Malawi also has well established tour and safari operators that do arrange visits to all these interesting areas.
Find out more about them on the link below:
Plan your trips, weekends or holidays in advance. We are always here to give you direction and advice that best suits your pocket and comfort.
We wish you a lovely visit to Likoma Island. Please tell others about it and, if you already have, do visit again!
Thank you. Zikomo kwambiri.
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