Sunset boat cruise on Lake Malawi

Cape Maclear, also known as Chembe, is a small tourist and fishing village in the Nankumba Peninsula, at the southern end of Lake Malawi.

Chembe Village and the surrounding islands sit in Lake Malawi national park, the first freshwater national park in the world. The park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. The waters are home to hundreds of cichlid fish species, or mbuna, nearly all endemic to Lake Malawi.

A photostory of a sunset Booze and Cruise tour of Cape Maclear with Jama Yako Tours.

Jama Yako Tour boat in Cape Maclear

cichlid or mbuna fish

Lake Malawi has around 700 species of cichlid fish, nearly all endemic to Lake Malawi. They make their home in the rocky shorelines of the lake and feed on algae. These ornamental fish, also called mbuna,  are in high demand around the world and are exported by companies including Stuart M Grant Ltd in Salima.

They are also victims of poaching. In November 2019, four Chinese nationals were arrested for illegally entering the national park and fishing the cichlids. They were later fined K13 million (just over $16,000) by a magistrates court in Mangochi.

Cape Maclear bird life

Fish eagle around Thumbi West Island

Lake Malawi National Park has a variety of birdlife including African fish eagles, white-breasted cormorants, wading birds, kingfishers, hornbills, kestrels and swallow-tailed bee-eaters.

Fish eagle around Thumbi West Island in Cape Maclear

Fish eagles live in pairs and are believed to mate for life. The tour guides in the cape have given the different eagle pair’s names like Michelle and Barack, and Ophelia and Macbeth. With a whistle and a call, the guides toss fish into the water which the birds swoop down to collect.

Fish eagle and kite tussle over fish

But there is no shortage of opportunists in the cape. A fish eagle and kite tussling after the kite picked up a fish. Kites will normally prey on young chickens in the villages.

Fish eagle around Thumbi West Island

Most of the fish eagles make their home in the Thumbi West island off Chembe.

Ruins of Golden Sands Hotel in Cape Maclear

At the western end of the Chembe beach lies the ruins of Golden Sands Hotel. The hotel, originally called Glengeary Hotel, was built in 1946 and was owned by Mrs Wynne-Jones. The hotel was operational until the early 1990s when it shut down.

Otter Point

Otter Point

Otter Point is on the extreme west end of Chembe Village although the little animals that the place is named after are very elusive. The water markings on the large rocks at the point is evidence of how much the water levels in the lake fluctuate over the years.

Welcome from a monkey at Otter Point

We were greeted by a lone and rather shy vervet monkey. His friends had probably already retreated into the forest for the evening.

Otter point

With the Mrs at Otter Point.

View of Cape Maclear, Chembe Village beach

Chembe Village is dwarfed on three sides by forested hills inhabited by antelope, baboons, vervet monkeys and birdlife. Thumbi West island, on the left, is also covered in a thick forest with a very small beach and a hiking trail.  There is also Domwe, Mumbo and Elephant islands around the cape.

Clouds over Salima

Views to Malembo

Isaac Jalasi, the tour operator in Cape Maclear

Isaac Jalasi, the owner of Jama Yako Tours, is an experienced tour operator. He has been providing tours since he was 16 years old, using a dugout canoe in his early days. Isaac can be contacted on 0994 318833.

Cape Maclear Covid-19 hit

Talking to a couple of tour guides and handicraft makers in the area, there is a general feeling of despair due to the slow down of business which has been attributed to Covid-19 travel restrictions. Most lodging facilities in the cape cater primarily to international visitors although you will find some Malawians doing day trips. There was at least one lodge that had been closed and I know of another that has been struggling financially due to low patronage.

Last year, the Cape Maclear Community planned to hold a CapeFest, an event showcasing artists whose proceeds would help build back the tourism community devasted by the impact of Covid-19. The two-day CapeFest2021 Intimate Jazz and Arts Festival will be held from 26 March 2021.

Cape Maclear, probably Malawi’s most intimate tourist village, needs your custom!

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