Lake Malawi is Africa’s third largest lake and is home to over 600 species of cichlid fish (mouth brooders).
Nearly all of these species are endemic (over 200 species have yet to be described and named) and they provide an interesting subject when scuba diving or snorkelling.
The lake is the most southerly in the East African Great Rift Valley system and is some 575 kms long, and around 75 kms at its widest point, accounting for around one fifth of the total area of Malawi itself. The surface is 1550 ft above sea level, but its deepest point (in the north) descends some 800 ft below sea level! Although the lake has a huge catchment area, it is drained by only one river, the Shire, in the south.
Most tourist development is in the southern part of the lake around Cape Maclear and this area includes the Lake Malawi National Park, a World Heritage site. There are numerous small islands around which snorkelling, kayaking and diving opportunities abound.
Further north, Likoma Island is the largest island, but it is still only located some half way up the lake. It actually falls within Mozambican waters and is most famous for its cathedral!
Lake Malawi does hold Bilharzia where there are human settlements on the shoreline, and this does include the Cape Maclear area. The problem only exists very close to shore and testing is regularly done by upmarket tourist hotels. Most of the lake, including islands where snorkelling and diving take place, is bilharzia free.