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Likoma: Lake Malawi’s Forgotten Isle

Flying over Likoma Island

‘Maybe Tomorrow’ is how Kaya Mawa translates into English. Perhaps an odd name for the attractive lodge that sits on the remote Likoma Island, in Lake Malawi. But that was my destination.

The flight in took me over beautiful rolling hills of the Malawian highlands. Wow. The lake was so clean and calm. The colours ranged from bright turquoise in the shallows to rich blues in the deep water. There were no speed boats or large vessels in sight. It looked so tranquil. All you could hear were the birds singing.

There was hardly anyone in sight, until I reached the island itself. Likoma is closer to Mozambique than Malawi, lying in the far eastern waters of Lake Malawi. This beautiful lake – the third largest in Africa – has an incredibly diverse freshwater ecosystem, with hundreds of species of fish.

Main beach of Kaya Mawa

Our pilot flew at a low level, so that we could take photographs of the lake. As we approached the island, I noticed that it was covered with mango trees and ancient baobabs – encircled by glorious sandy beaches and rocky coves. It is nothing like Mauritius or the Seychelles. The island remains almost unchanged since its discovery by Scottish missionaries at the end of the nineteenth century.

With excitement, I got off the plane and rushed to our transfer vehicle. I totally forgot my luggage, as I could not wait to be on the beach – I felt completely at home. As I drove through the local villages, kids stood by the road, waving with excitement. It really showed how friendly and warm the people of Malawi are.

As soon as we got to the lodge, I quickly removed my shoes and ran to the beach. I felt like a little girl who had been released into a sweet shop. There was lots to do: swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, sailing and quad biking. I opted to go kayaking on the serene waters of the lake, negotiating rocky spurs and following the sandy shoreline.

Kaya Mawa's beach

After my waterborne adventure, I went to my room. This was apparently the best room on the island – creating much envy amongst my travelling buddies. Known as ‘Madima House’, it was situated at the far end of the Kaya Mawa beach. In order to get to it, I had to negotiate some stairs, but was immediately greeted with a plunge pool that overlooked the lake.

Inside the room there was a private bar area, with a large bedroom next door. This featured an enormous bed. It was an incredibly special house: very spacious and with uninterrupted views of the lake. No beach boys, no noisy speedboats and no pollution whatsoever. My busy life in the UK seemed far away and my worries evaporated as I relaxed in this tranquil retreat.

Chalet and plunge pool at Kaya Mawa

Away from my room, I took time to explore the rest of the island. This sleepy idyll has little in the way of modernity, but it is home to the third largest cathedral in Central Africa. Built in 1903, this impressive building is the size of Winchester Cathedral. However, Likoma generally feels quiet and forgotten. It is only 17 square kilometres in size, with one gravel road running along its spine. Even this is rarely used, with just five vehicles on the whole island.

One thing that stuck out was how friendly and laid-back the locals were. I really felt like I was stepping back in time. It’s the kind of place where they still practice the African tradition that a child is brought up by the whole village. Everyone knows everyone; people look out for each other.

This reminded me that, although we have gained so much in the West, perhaps there are also things we have lost. I revelled in the tranquillity and intimacy of this island. I only hope that others can also discover its beauty and solitude.Sailing off Likoma Island

Get in touch to learn more about our Malawi holidays. Email inspire@steppestravel.com or call us on 01285 601 753.