Cape Maclear (aka Chembe) is a small fishing village on Lake Nyasa (Lake Malawi) in Malawi. It has one dirt road leading into (and straight out of) town. Along this road, there are a few hostels, some dive shops, a handful of vendors selling curios and fruit and a few bars. The pace of life here is... very... slow.
Mumbo Island is about 4 km offshore, inside Cape Maclear National Park, to the southern end of Lake Malawi.
The camp, which is set around a small cove on the eastern shore, comprises just six rooms. The island is renowned for its freshwater diving, kayaking and hammocks.
This old hippy hangout has been transformed into a very cool little lodge, but still retains the same laid back atmosphere.
Cape Maclear is a fishing village of about 10,000. The fishermen live in the center of the town, while either end of the village caters to tourists. In order to get from Steven's Guest House, for example, to Fat Monkeys, you must go through the town. This is not a problem - in fact, it's a great way to see how the average Malawian lives. It can just be a bit surprising when the road opens up, and you see a village.
From the bus station in Lilongwe, take a minibus to Monkey Bay for a few bucks. Flag down a pick-up that will take you the rest of the way into Cape Maclear, for just a few more dollars. (If you get stuck, you can always stay in Monkey Bay.) Although the trip is fairly short, you should budget the entire day.
The drive to Cape Maclear from Monkey Bay is through beautiful sunlit forest, preserved Lake Malawi National Park, which extends into the Lake, including nine islands, and offers shelter to some of the most spectacular fish in Africa.
Cape Maclear is very small. A short stroll will get you wherever you need to go.
- There is a beautiful beach to take in.
- The missionary graves on the north end of town. These are the final resting places of the first missionaries to the area, who died in 1875.
Frankly, doing as little as possible is the whole point of Cape Maclear, but there are actual activities, in case you get bored.
- Kayak Africa, ☏ +27 21 783 1955, fax: +27 21 706 9771, firstname.lastname@example.org. Runs day trips from Cape Maclear. Since the Lake is pretty calm, boat trips can be rewarding. Kayak Africa is the only PADI registered club in Cape Maclear. It offers scuba diving day excursions as well as certification courses: contact Rob at Kayak Africa!
- 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.
- A large catamaran provides sunset cruises and day-trips. The boat is beautiful, and a ride on it is lots of fun. There is no toilet on the boat, and if you're drinking during a trip, you might feel uncomfortable.
- Pete's Aqualand at Fat Monkeys Lodge is another outfit offering day trips on the lake from Cape Maclear.
- Danforth Lodge at Cape Maclear to the south of Lake Malawi. This 4-room lodge offers a reasonably high standard of accommodation and a wide range of activities including diving and sailing in a superb 12-m catamaran.
- Mgoza Lodge (Chembe), in the town centre. A lovely plave to spend a couple of days in spacious and well decorated rooms; a fully stocked bar and a good kitchen makes your stay as pleasant as possible. You host is always available with tips to make your stay even nicer; the lodge is at the beach and you will be able to do kayaking and scuba diving or go to the island to spend a nice quiet afternoon.
- Chembe Village Project Centre, housed at Tuckaways Lodge, ☏ +265 99 340 5681, email@example.com. The first Project Centre in Chembe Village offers visits to local projects, hands on help, volunteer programs and a way to connect tourism to the heart of the village.
- Cape Maclear Scuba, 6 Main Road, Chembe, ☏ +265 999 95 24 88, firstname.lastname@example.org. 8AM - 5PM. Cape Maclear's only PADI-Registered Dive Resort, offering PADI scuba-diving courses and casual dives in the Lake Malawi National Park. The park is home to over 850 endemic species of Cichlids, and you can expect to see millions of them, as well as large catfish and blue crabs on typical dives. Visa & Paypal accepted.
Curio vendors hawk their wares along the road, and prices are reasonable. Especially noteworthy are the hand-carved backgammon and mancala boards.
Beach boys stroll the beaches, selling anything they think you will buy, from canoe trips, to handmade reed cars, to chocolate cakes made by their mothers, to handmade jewellery. While these beach boys arrange interesting goods at reasonable prices, they can become aggressive; beware. Past visitors recommend asking for a beach boy called Simon, who is very helpful and offers reasonable prices.
One of the highlights of Cape Maclear is the surprisingly large number of dive shops.
There are several small Malawian restaurants along the main road. If you want a great, reasonably priced seafood dinner ($2 or so for a big Chambo fillet), try any of them. A reservation is a good idea, not because the restaurant is likely to be crowded, but rather, so the owner knows he's going to have some business.
Be sure to eat some of the chips (french fries) the boys sell along the main road. They'll fry them fresh, and they make a great snack. If you order them regular, be prepared for "soggy" fries. If you want them crispy, order them "brown." For lunch, grab some chips, buy some bread and tomatoes, and have tomato sandwiches and chips.
Don't forget to arrange with one of the beach boys for an evening fish dinner on the beach. It's a lot of fun. Be careful, though—they're likely to come back and ask for more money, for any number of reasons. Be firm but respectful.
For restaurants try:
- Fat Monkeys is an open-air restaurant with a cool beach-vibe on the south end of the village. They have Western-styled food (try the pizza) and sometimes play host to lively parties at night.
- [dead link] Cape Mac Lodge & Froggies Restaurant, Cape Maclear, ☏ +265 999621279, email@example.com. Josiane and Roger, a French couple, built this lodge and serve food with the French touch. contact us.
Fat Monkeysis another place to go for drinks.
If you want a quiet night, buy some beers on the quiet side of the village and watch the moon rise over the Lake.
- Domwe Island, 5 km off Cape Maclear (Take a boat from Kayak Africa's reception), ☏ +265 99 994 2661, firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 10:00, check-out: 10:00. Domwe Island is an entirely off grid, sustainably run camp on a pristine island 5 km off Cape Maclear. It is run by Kayak Africa and you can rent a kayak or boat to get there, camp or stay in a fully-equipped tent, self-cater or hire a chef. Great place for families and outdoor enthusiasts - or just those who love a quiet beach and a beautiful place. US$25-50.
- Stevens' Guest House, ☏ +265 1301. Among the quirkiest options for accommodation, offering simple, cheap rooms, including a bathroom, mosquito net, and double bed! Mr. Steven is a gruff, elderly Malawian man who must have presaged Cape Maclear as a relaxing, hedonistic destination decades ago. US$3/night..
Malambe Camp, +265 9 258 959 ([email@example.com]) Malambe camp offers camping accommodation as well as accommodation in bamboo huts right on the lake front. There is also a large dorm available. There is a great bar and a kitchen for guests to use. There are boat trips to Otter Point and Thumbe Island and have snorkeling equipment for hire. We can also arrange airport transfers.
- Fat Monkeys, ☏ +265 1599133, FatMonkeys@africa-online.net. There are various types of accommodation available: standard double rooms, en-suite double rooms, lake view family chalets and camping. Rates start at US$20 per room per night; US$5 for camping. Situated on the beach with an excellent bar, very friendly staff and good cheap food. Activities such as boat trips, kayaking and scuba diving can be arranged by Fat Monkeys (or by the beach boys). Fat Monkeys has long been popular with backpackers. FatMonkeys is a Skyband wireless Internet hotspot.
- Tuckaways, ☏ +265 993405681, firstname.lastname@example.org. A family room is also available and tucked back in the garden (not lake side). All rooms share public toilets and showers (men's and ladies') - the bathrooms are very nice, big and clean. Kayaks, boat trips, community project involvement are all available from recpetion. Offers 5 beautiful chalets overlooking Lake Malawi US$50/chalet. Each chalet sleeps 2 people and has a private verandah. Turn down service each evening and morning tea/coffee service to your verandah every morning offers a nice personal touch..
- Cape Mac Lodge, ☏ +265 9621279, email@example.com. Next to Fat Monkeys it offers elegantly decorated rooms (with lofts) for singles, couples or families. Some of the things that set this place apart from the others is 1) the French cuisine (truly looked after by a real, live French woman with years of experience in Africa) and 2) a small in-ground pool just perfect for lounging with a drink in your hand from the well stocked bar and restaurant. Rate: includes dinner, bed and breakfast US$67.50 pppn (twin/double), $91.50 pppn (single).
- Chembe Eagles Nest, ☏ +265 995 475 688, +265 999 966 507, fax: +265 9960-707, firstname.lastname@example.org. Accommodation in chalets shaded by lush gardens, right on Cape Maclear's only private beach. Classy meals and lovely bar. Sailing, sundowner cruises and other water activities available. Secluded lake-side camping also offered. US$60-75/night.
- Mgoza Lodge, ☏ +265 995-632105, email@example.com. A casual lodge with chalets with lake views and a friendly vibe. Watersports equipment, kayaks and boat trips are available nearby. Around US$60/night.
- Danforth Yachting, ☏ +265 996-0077, fax: +265 996-0707. Around US$150/night including activities.
- 1 Mumbo Island, Cape Maclear (Take A boat from Kayak Africa's reception at Cape Maclear), ☏ +265 99 994 2661. Check-in: 10AM, check-out: 10AM. Run on strict eco principles and is entirely off grid, it has only 7 tents, which are set into the bush on the tiny heart-shaped uninhabited islet attached to the island by a wooden bridge. Waters around the island are bilharzia-free and perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking. Mumbo is fully catered. US$275.
Remember that Malawi suffers from malaria and in this part of Malawi there is a high risk all year round. Talk to your doctor before you go, wear insect repellent and cover your skin while it's dark, and sleep under a mosquito net.
Some parts of the lake are contaminated with flatworms, which can cause schistosomiasis (bilharzia). The parasites enter your body through the skin, so just getting your feet wet could make you sick. However, you are not guaranteed to acquire it, even if you swim daily. Among the symptoms (which might not appear for months after exposure) is painless, bloody urine. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, fatigue. Bilharzia is easily treated, but convincing a Western doctor that you have bilharzia can be tough; explain that you've been to Malawi and ask for a test. As a precaution, you should inquire with your travel doctor or pharmacist about treatment tablets, a single oral dose of the drug praziquantel, after potential exposure. Treatment is readily available at many pharmacies for a small cost in Malawi.
Don't drink the water from the taps: it comes straight from the lake.
Cape Maclear is covered by a Skyband hotspot. You are now able to browse the Internet at from any one of the lodges on the bay. Access is controlled by the purchase of access cards at a very reasonable price. For more information on the service and locations in Malawi log on to their website[dead link].
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.
If you want more beach time, you might try Senga Bay, Monkey Bay, or Nkhata Bay.
- Zomba - if you've got a little bit sunburnt, you can head south to the former capital of Malawi, and a beautiful, wooded mountain-town that feels very little like Africa.
- Lake Malawi National Park