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Cape Maclear

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View of Lake Malawi from Fat Monkeys

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 located about 4km 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.

Understand[edit]

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.

Get in[edit]

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.

Get around[edit]

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.

See[edit][add listing]

  • 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 who died in 1875.

Do[edit][add listing]

Domwe Island

Frankly, doing as little as possible is the whole point of Cape Maclear, but there are actual activities, in case you get bored.

  • Gecko Lounge, +265 999 787322 (), [1]. Best place to view the Malawian Sunsets are from the Gecko Lounge Veranda deck - Fantastic Food, Best Stocked Bar in the area & Biggest parties on the lake - private chalets and double rooms available as well - the Kampango Banger Cocktail is famous for causing many hurt locker hangovers!  edit
  • Kayak Africa, +27 21 783 1955 (, fax: +27 21 706 9771), [2]. 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 offersScuba diving day excursions as well as certification courses: contact Rob at Kayak Africa!  edit
  • 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.


  • Recently, someone imported a large catamaran from South Africa, and they provide sunset cruises and day-trips. The boat is beautiful, and a ride on it is lots of fun. Warning: 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

Danforth Lodge is located at Cape Maclear to the south of Lake Malawi.

This small four room lodge offers a reasonably high standard of accommodation and a wide range of activities including diving and sailing in a superb 12m catamaran.

In this area our guests tend to prefer the rather more rustic and remote Mumbo Island more often, but Danforth Lodge is a really good option, with a much higher level of conventional comforts at a considerably lower price.

  • 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 located 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.  edit
  • Chembe Village Project Centre, housed at Tuckaways Lodge, +265 99 340 5681, [3]. The first ever 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. Stop by or email: chembeprojects@gmail.com  edit
  • Thumbi View Lodge, Cape Maclear, +265 (0) 998599005, [4]. View as the sun sets whilst sipping a cocktail or enjoy fresh Kampango fish caught that morning by local fishermen. With Cape Maclear Scuba on site, it is the ideal opportunity to explore the islands and view the over 600 fish species found in the lake. With 7 beach front en-suite rooms and 3 en-suite dorms this is the place to relax. Email: info@thumbiviewlodge.com  edit

Buy[edit][add listing]

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 moms, to handmade jewelry, etc. 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.

Eat[edit][add listing]

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:

  • Gecko Lounge [5] is the place to be of the moment - fresh fish from the lake, variety of Western dishes & daily specials.
  • 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.
  • Cape Mac Lodge & Froggies Restaurant, Cape Maclear, +265(0)999621279, [6]. Josiane and Roger, a French couple fell in love with Cape Maclear years ago. Since then they had a dream, to build a lodge and to retire in this peaceful Malawian fishing village. Today their dream has come true and… Cape Mac Lodge is now open to you! Next to Fat Monkeys Backpackers, you will find the finest food with the french touch. Please, do not hesitate to consult our website or send us an email : rogerl@africa-online.net contact us.  edit


Drink[edit][add listing]

Gecko Lounge[7] is the biggest and best stocked bar on the lake - monthly events take place, dance floor, Veranda Viewing Deck, DJ's, Live music, cocktails, wide variety of liquors, shots & shooters - found towards the northern part of the village.

Fat Monkeys [8]is 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.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

  • Domwe Island, 5kms off Cape Maclear (Take a boat from Kayak Africa's reception), =265 (0)99 994 2661, [9]. checkin: 10:00; checkout: 10:00. Domwe Island is an entirely off grid, sustainably run camp on a pristine island 5 kms 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. $25 - $50.  edit

Budget[edit]

  • Stevens' Guest House, +265 (0)997463054, [10]. Mr. Steven had the first accomodation in Cape Maclear when he opened Steven's Guest House. It has been taken over by new owners who upgraded all the rooms as well as bathrooms and renamed it Thumbi View lodge. Prices are still very reasonable with a restaurant, bar, en-suite rooms as well as dorms.  edit
  • Malambe Camp, +265 999 258959 (). Malambe camp offers great budget accommodation right on the lake shore in the heart of Cape Maclear. Choose from a bamboo beach hut a stones throw from the lake to dorm accommodation or for those of you who just love the outdoors and carry your home on your back pitch your tent up under one or the many bright pink bouganvilla trees. Beach bar and an onsite restaurant or for those who wish to cook, why not make use of the large kitchen. Find us on the beach under the baobabs.  edit

Mid-range[edit]

Fat Monkeys, +265 (0) 1599133 (). There are various types of accommodation available: standard double rooms, en-suite double rooms, lake view family chalets and camping. Rates start at 20 U$D per room per night; 5U$D 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.  edit

  • Tuckaways, +265 (0)993405681 (). A family room is also available and tucked back in the garden (not lake side). All rooms at the moment share public toilets and showers (mens 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 $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..  edit
  • Gecko Lounge, +265 (0)9787322 (). Gecko Lounge has a lively bar & quality restaurant as well as WIFI internet access & laptop hire, book exchange, speedboat, hammocks, braii areas. Diving can be organised from here (as long as people have their open water PADI etc) and there are Kayaks and snorkel Gear for hire as well. Family sized, self contained en-suite lakeside Chalets $80 ($40pp) double & then can sleep a further two people in the bunk bed for $10 pp & there are two further Double rooms with en-suite called Baobab & Acacia @$60 per room plus there is $10pp per night for an en-suite 11 bed dorm as well.  edit
  • Cape Mac Lodge, 09621279 (), [11]. Situated next to Fat Monkeys is this lovely new establishment offering 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 cuizine (truly looked after by a real, live French woman with years of experience in Africa) and 2) a small inground pool just perfect for lounging with a drink in your hand from the well stocked bar and restaurant. Book through Jambo Africa [12] Rate: includes dinner, bed and breakfast $67.50 pppn (twin/double), $91.50 pppn (single).  edit
  • Chembe Eagles Nest, +265 995 475 688 or +265 999 966 507 (email: enquiries@chembenest.com) (fax: +265 9960-707), [13]. 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. From $60 - 75/night.  edit
  • Mgoza Lodge, +265 995-632105 (), [14]. A casual lodge with chalets with lake views and a friendly vibe. Watersports equipment, kayaks and boat trips are available nearby. Around $60/night.  edit

Splurge[edit]

  • Danforth Yachting, +265 996-0077 (fax: +265 996-0707). Around $150/night including activities.  edit
  • Mumbo Island, Cape Maclear (Take A boat from Kayak Africa's reception at Cape Maclear), +265 (0)99 994 2661, [15]. checkin: 10AM; checkout: 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. $275. (S34.756,E13.993) edit

Stay healthy[edit]

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 cuts in the 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, although testing capacity is not common and expensive. As a visitor, if you are worried about bilharzia, buy the inexpensive treatment praziquantel in a pharmacy in Malawi (one pill for every 15kg body weight) and take it after you've finished with Lake Malawi.

Don't drink the water from the taps, it comes straight from the lake.

Contact[edit]

Cape Maclear has recently been blanketed by a Skyband hotspot. You are now able to browse the Internet at lightning fast speeds 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 [16]

Get out[edit]

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 gotten 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.




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