Into the tiny plane, we scrambled. Teeth clenched with anticipation, we strapped in and soon our little Cessna was above the clouds. Admiring our humble country from up above, brown turned to green, then the green turned to blue – the mass of Lake Malawi pulsating beneath us, broken up only by the fleck of a small fishing boat or gull feeding frenzy.
Just a one-hour scenic flight from Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, Likoma Island came into view and we circled the small land mass just as the sun was making its way down for the evening, casting a warm glow over the land.
Likoma island is situated on the eastern side of Lake Malawi, within Mozambican waters but was claimed as Malawi territory when the lake was politically divided after World War II. Populated by about 10,000 residents, and about 18km2 in size, Likoma Island’s economy is mainly made up of fishing and agriculture.
There are a number of schools on the island from primary up to secondary – one of Kaya Mawa’s initiatives, named Likoma Schools Upliftment invests funding for a number of these schools, helping to provide learning materials, infrastructure, funding teacher salaries and feeding programmes (Donate here).
The island is not connected to Malawi’s main power grid and is entirely reliant on the solar power plant located near the airport. This is one of the first things you see as you are collected from the tiny airport and transferred to Kaya Mawa lodge.
Upon touchdown in Likoma town, we were met by the Kaya Mawa guys in their open-top safari vehicle to transport us to the lodge. We were treated to a glimpse of island life en route as small school children ran to the roadside to welcome us with a continuous chorus of gleeful greetings. We soon arrived at the breathtaking Kaya Mawa just as the sun was ducking beneath the watery horizon.
Voted by Condé Nast, Kaya Mawa was voted in the top ten ‘Most Romantic Places in the World’, and you can see why. The soft lighting, the flickering candles scattered all across the lodge, the private dinners set up on the beach, sunset cruises and huge bedrooms with grand bathtubs and private plunge pools are a few elements that make it an amazing honeymoon spot.
We were taken on a short tour of the lodge and after a refreshing drink, we were shown our rooms. We were welcomed into a stone chalet positioned on the beach, bright and airy with rustic driftwood décor and a grand mosquito net framing the glorious king-sized bed. Each of the 11 rooms at Kaya Mawa is completely unique from the others. All enjoy ultimate privacy, an open deck or veranda and fresh Greek-style architecture. Some rooms are situated right on the sandy beach, some nestled into the gigantic lakeshore rocks and one even on its very own private islet. Various sizes, some premium, some with giant bathtubs or their own plunge pools, family rooms and not to mention their exquisite private 4-bedroom private house, Ndomo, equipped with its own swimming pool, private beach and a full team of staff at your disposal.
The main lodge has a delightful dining room, the setting for some truly wonderful meals during our stay, all including fresh produce from their community garden project. You can also kick back in their lounge area with comfortable chairs and sofas with a small library and eye-catching photographic books, the perfect spot for afternoon tea. You will also be lured to the main bar area which is host to many a festive evening where guests gather together to share stories with the fun and hospitable lodge managers Sam and Shane – enjoy good wine, good music and many laughs. This whole main area has access to limited WiFi.
After our main lodge tour, we settled into our beachfront room and got straight back onto the beach to take in the views.
The golden sand beach is adorned with comfortable loungers, white umbrellas and a selection of water toys, from kayaks to sailing lazers to paddleboards, enticing you out onto the fresh blue water. Likoma Island is also a great place to admire the numerous and colourful cichlid fish that inhabit Lake Malawi, and Kaya Mawa offers that opportunity through snorkeling and scuba diving trips from their dive centre. Of course, don’t pass up the opportunity for a sunset cruise. After our first full day, we set off onto the water with two lovely boatmen from the lodge guiding us, a cooler box full of gin and tonics and the lodge dog! We ‘cheersed’ as the sun set on another beautiful day in Africa.
If you’re more of a land-based creature, there are lots to do ashore as well. Kick off your day with a cycle on one of their e-bikes and go and explore the island and town – no need to worry about getting lost, they say you’re never lost on Likoma, and you’ll be pointed in the right direction by any of the friendly islanders if you lose your way.
There are two unique sights on Likoma that must be seen:
On our first morning, we paid a visit to the Katundu workshop, an initiative started in 2006. The objective of its inception was to empower local women through artisanal training, helping them to earn a sustainable income for themselves and their families. Their role as craftspeople of Katundu is to hand-make exquisite home furnishings, wall art, chandeliers and more, all made from sustainable and recycled materials such as recycled tumbled glass, clay beads, natural seeds, twine from discarded fishing lines, scrap metal, wood from disused fishing boats etc. We were taken on a tour and made some purchases at their humble workshop. We chatted to the happy ladies at work who radiate a sense of pride for their job and independence, knowing that their families are well cared for and their children are enjoying a primary and secondary education. The workshop is adorned with their beautiful creations ready to be shipped from this tiny Malawian island to beautify spaces all around the world, from high-end New York cocktail bars to a cosy guesthouse in Norfolk.
In the 1880s Likoma was home to the headquarters of David Livingstone’s University Mission to Central Africa. It was here in 1905 that the missionaries laid their legacy in the form of the magnificent St. Peter’s cathedral, equal in size to the UK’s Winchester Cathedral.
If your stay at Kaya Mawa falls over a Sunday, be sure to make this the day you visit St Peter’s. See the cathedral in full swing, full to the brim with avid churchgoers, praising their God and singing cheerfully as the sunshine filters through the stained-glass windows.
On any other day, you’ll be sure to find the priest nearby who loves to regale you with stories about his congregation and cathedral. On our last day as we were heading for the airport, we went to see it and were humbled hearing about the history of the missionaries who erected it while they were settled here to fight the slave trade and introduce Christianity to the people. Likoma Island was a major centre for Swahili-Arab slave traders as they used Lake Malawi as an easy passage to bring ivory and slaves from Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique and even as far as Congo to be sold at slave markets in Tanzania and Zanzibar. A sobering yet important piece of the history of Malawi.
Soon we were being transferred back to the airstrip to take our leave. We clambered back into our little plane once more and were soon up in the air. An overwhelming feeling of peace and relaxation overcame us both as we looked out the window and waved goodbye to this truly special little island – almost feeling like it was waving back, telling us to visit again soon.
Aside from some local overnight ferries, the only way to access Likoma is by air, however, Kaya Mawa is in the process of bringing in their own transfer boat to transport guests to and from the mainland in just over 2 hours. Details on this to follow but in the meantime, get in touch with us to book your Lake Malawi island adventure and experience this paradise for yourself.