Cape Maclear – Malawi360

Malawi: The warm heart of Africa!

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.


Cape Maclear is a fishing village of about 10,000. The fishermen live in the centre 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 Monkey’s, 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

Cape Maclear is very small. A short stroll will get you wherever you need to go.


  • 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.



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.

  • Kayak Africa +27 21 783 1955 [1] 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!
  • Hiking – an easy 80 min trail starts near the Missionary Graves and takes you upto 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 head on the boat, and if you’re drinking during a trip, you might feel uncomfortable.


Curio vendors hawk their wears 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.



The bar at Fat Monkeys

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.

  • Fat Monkeys is an open-air restaurant with a cool beach-vibe on the south end of the village. They have good Western-styled food (try the pizza) and sometimes play host to lively parties at night.


Fat Monkeys is the 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.



  • Stevens Guest House Among the quirkiest options for accommodation, offering simple, cheap rooms, including a bathroom, mosquito net, and double bed! Mr. Steven is a gruff, elderly Malawian man who must have presaged Cape Maclear as a relaxing, hedonistic destination decades ago.
  • Fat Monkeys [2] There are a number of twin rooms with mosquito nets, a dormitory and a campsite. 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.
  • Gaia House phone + 265 (0)9 374 631 Dormitory $5/night, twin rooms $15/night, family room $28/night, camping $3/night. This small new establishment offers dormitory accommodation, twin rooms, and a family room for 4 people as well as camping on their site. The small restaurant serves good food ( home made bread and cakes!) with nightly specials. This is a great place for families with younger children. Internet available.


  • Club Makokola, Phone: 01-580-772/445/469/244/447, 09-971-012/016. [3] 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 cuisine (truly looked after by a real, live French woman with years of experience in Africa) and 2) a small in ground pool just perfect for lounging with a drink in your hand from the well stocked bar and restaurant.
  • Chembe Lodge phone +265 996-5171 Around $60/night for a chalet or tent on the beach. En-suite chalets available. Watersports equipment and a speed boat can be hired.


  • Danforth Yachting phone +265 996-0077 fax +265 996-0707″ Around $150/night including activities

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. 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.

Don’t drink the water from the taps, it comes straight from the lake…


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 [4]

Get out

Cape Maclear has a reputation for being a sort of traveller’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.
  • Lake Malawi National Park


Originally based on work by Tim Sandell, Jani Patokallio, Tim Cowley, Todd VerBeek, Colin Jensen, Rob Payne and Willy Volk, Wikitravel user(s) Cacahuate, WindHorse, Suzisuzi, Huttite and Nzpcmad and Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel.

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