Cape Maclear

Sunset at Cape Maclear

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 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.

Understand

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

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

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

Do

Otter Point

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

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.

Buy

Dugout canoes on Lake Malawi

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

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:

Drink

Gecko Lounge 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 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.

Sleep

Budget

Malambe Camp, +265 9 258 959 ([malambe_camp@btinternet.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.

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay healthy

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.

Connect

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 their website.

Go next

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.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, September 13, 2015. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.