Around Lake Malawi

And then it was time for the next leg of our journey. We wanted to travel south to Cape Maclear. Which you could do in two days of traveling overland, but also with the ferry that sails lake Malawi from north to south and vice versa once a week. The ferry moves goods and people between the different lakeshore villages and also visits two islands on the lake. The journey still takes two days, but doesn’t a ferry sound like lot more fun?

The Ilala ferry

So we booked a cabin on the ferry, stocked up on supplies for the trip in town, and on we went.

Shop in Nkhata Bay

Nkhata bay was one of the few places where the harbour was actually deep enough for the ferry to moor to a jetty. Was, because recently the jetty collapsed. So we were shipped to the ferry in a small boat. The first leg the ferry did, from Nkhata bay to the islands of Chizumulu and Likoma was one of the most popular routes, since it’s the only way for people and goods to reach the island. So when boarding the bags of rice and other produce where stacked so high on the lower deck that it left only maybe a metre between the bags and the ceiling. So you had to actually crawl over them to reach to stairs to the upper two decks. Everywhere people were sitting, all the corridors where filled with people. It was crazy. We were quite happy to not be in third class.

First class is where things got comfortable. You have access to the uncrowded top deck and bar. But, there’s only limited cover against rain on the top deck. So while in the dry season it would be lovely to just sleep on the deck under the stars, this would not be so great in the rainy season. So far, it had rained every night in Malawi, and we didn’t have a tent to pitch on the top deck (yup, enough people pitched tents on deck, that was not a problem).

Sleeping on deck, even camping is a possibility

So we took a cabin, which was quite nice. It had a working fan and power socket (an improvement when comparing to the train we took earlier), a wash basin and even a desk. Still we did not do much sleeping the first night, because it was quite windy and there were a lot of pretty high waves. It surprised me how high the waves on the lake could actually get. After the first night things got much calmer and we could really enjoy everything a ferry ride on lake Malawi offers.

Every stop was a lot of fun. Small boats had to ship people and goods from the ferry to the shore. Which was quite a happening. At Likoma island this whole process took for example about 7 hours in total. All the while there was a lot happening. Different boats all trying to get a good spot at the ferry. People throwing stuff on board. Huge boxes being offloaded. Children being almost tossed on board. It was a lot of fun to watch all the commotion and Lidewij had a lot of fun photographing it.

The rest of the time we just enjoyed the nice views from the deck, played some bao (a fun and popular local game), hung out at the bar. The bar was weird in that they just kept playing some song on repeat over and over again until the barman decided to play a new song. Which sometimes took one and a half hour. The drunk Malawians did not care, and kept dancing. After the islands it became increasingly quiet on the vessel, and the crew spent their time doing laundry. All in all it was a fun and relaxing trip.

Cape Maclear

Cape Maclear at the south side of the lake was a lovely place. It was at the border of the Lake Malawi National Park, so you could take a kayak, and cross over to one of the islands where you had some of the best snorkelling we’ve ever encountered. The density of colourful fish was unbelievable. The village itself was also lovely. One day we were shown around the village by some guy we met at the local bar. He was quite drunk when we met him, and offered to show us around the next day. He actually had the clarity of mind to write down the time he would meet us, and even though he did not have a phone or a clock, he managed to be on time… quite a surprise since being on time in not necessarily the strong suit of people here. It was a fun guy, and we had a great time.

On the beach there was always something happening. People were washing clothes, fisherman working on their nets, and local kids playing in a band. The bands Westlife and Welcome band had a collabo, and played some songs for us. Then Lidewij did a photoshoot.


After Cape Maclear we went to Liwonde. Again a slow and uncomfortable trip. 20 passengers in a minibus with just three benches behind the driver. Quite a feat. We tried to make a picture with a phone for Behrooz. Hopefully this gives an impression.

At Liwonde there is a national park with loads of hippos. And there’s some other wildlife like elephants as well, but not in the numbers found in Tanzania. But the hippos were the main attraction. You could take a boat on the river and get really close to them. And they were really active for a change. And at night you could hear them munching away close to the accommodation. Great park, not comparable to the parks in Tanzania, but still really nice and much quieter.

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One comment

  1. Thanks for the photo from inside the vehicle. 🙂 Looks like people are sitting on each other’s lap.

    BTW, the top-down photos of the boats look amazing but my favorite one is the kid who is wearing hat made of leaves.

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