Malawi, a.k.a. The Warm Heart of Africa, is a country that’s as generous, warm hearted, and friendly as her super-cheesy tagline would lead you to expect. Lovely locals aside though, Malawi should be better known for her glorious lake that stretches from tip-to-tail, and is undoubtedly one of the best freshwater dive sites in the world.
Fun facts about Lake Malawi:
· The glittering effect of sunlight twinkling off the surface has led to the the lake being dubbed ‘The Lake of Stars’
· Others refer to it as ‘The Calendar Lake’ because it’s 375 miles long, and 53 miles wide. Not quite the exact number of days and weeks in a year, but I see where they’re coming from.
· It’s the 9th largest lake in the world
· The third largest and second deepest in Africa
· Home to the greatest variety of indigenous Cichlid fish in the world – of which 500 species are unique to Lake Malawi
Freshwater dives are great in general: Water temperatures are usually much warmer (+/-22 -26 degrees in Lake Malawi); less choppy = greater viz; you don’t have to meticulously wash your gear to get salt residue out; and –if you’re the adventurous sort – you can pop your reg out and take small sips of water if your mouth gets dry.
Diving in Malawi specifically kicks major ass, not only because it looks like an ocean and tastes like spring, but also because you’ll see features and creatures you don’t get anyway else. As part of the Great Rift Valley (a massive trench that starts in Syria and runs down into Egypt, through Tanzania, and into Malawi and Mozambique), you’ll see remnants left over from when tectonic plates shifted, and water flooded into the resulting valley creating the glorious lake we see today. Dives open up to the most breathtaking rock formations: gigantic granite boulders, caves, tunnels and swim throughs – hard to believe that you’re actually under water!
I usually have to make a concerted effort to keep the Jaws theme song out of my head on ocean dives, but in Malawi, it’s such a pleasure knowing there’s absolutely nothing dangerous in the water. For sure, the lake is also home to crocs and hippos, but luckily, they live close to shore so don’t feature as a cause for concern. However, what you will see is the most diverse selection of beautifully rainbow coloured cichlids, massive kampango (catfish), fish that suck their babies into their mouths in 1 swift inhale as you swim past; and perhaps a curious otter or 2 popping up to check you out and dashing off before you’ve had a chance to think, ‘’WTF…?’’
Regardless of whether you’re an experienced diver adding notches to your belt; or a newbie looking for an all-in-one holiday where you can get PADI certified, go on safari, snooze in a hammock or lie in the sand, and experience great nightlife, Lake Malawi definitely needs to go on your bucket list. My top 2 dive centers to engage with are Aqua Africa and Cape Maclear SCUBA. The instructors are experienced and easy-going, the diving’s consistently great, and the beers are always cold!