I have been asked by someone whether Lilongwe is a worthwhile stopover point on a return journey between Europe and South Africa. The idea is easy access to Lake Malawi from Kamuzu International airport in Lilongwe.
I’d rather not give a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer to that question as the truth sometimes requires a bit of work. Surely the truth and nuances are friends? As this same potential visitor did say to me, sometimes when you dig a bit, you strike gold. Furthermore, why give one person a lengthy enough answer to do justice to the question when one can write something roughly similar for a blog post and therefore benefit a wider audience.
Let’s start off with some assumptions with regard to the situation of the potential stop-over visitor. The assumptions are as follows: 1/ the visitor has some inkling of the magic of the Lake of Stars, probably the best Lake in the world, 2/ the visitor has four nights to spare, 3/ they are interested in a backpacker style, aprox 2-3 star type spot, 4/ within reasonable distance of the international airport and 5/ not surrounded by too busy a town.
The first point to make is that, bearing in mind my personal bias, I am of the view that Lake Malawi is the best lake in the world. I am not alone in that thought, one of the big travel advice companies listed it as one of the fourteen most beautiful lakes in the world. Don’t quote me but I think Lake Malawi ranked no.1 on that list (where else?). Of course it is a huge lake, David Livingstone and many others had heard rumours of a great inland sea. Generally I take travel company lists with a pinch of salt (e.g. The 20 destinations you must visit in (insert year) etc etc.). However, in this case I think that they got it right.
Given the size of the lake it would be understandable to conclude that The Lake (as it is known here) has varying levels of beauty. It is certainly true that it is varied.
The location on Lake Malawi that has easiest access to Lilongwe or Kamuzu International Airport is Senga Bay. One good point in Senga Bay’s favour is that you do not even have to go through Lilongwe to get from Lilongwe Airport to Senga Bay – you skirt the outside of the city on a fairly clear run to the Lake. That is a big positive, believe me.
Now, the place that springs to mind at Senga bay is Cool Runnings. Samantha who own and runs this beautiful guest house is a local legend. You can see on arrival that she has taste, her own style and has ensured that her visitors can enjoy the beauty of the Lake as well as hassle free privacy.
When I went to see Samantha Cool Runnings was full…as it should be. Being full is a good sign and given who was staying there I realised that they had made it their business to do their research on the best bet.
While I do think that Cool Runnings meets the ‘spirit’ of the request I was given, it does not quite meet the ‘letter’ of the exact specifications delivered. In that situation it is vital that the advice given is at the opposite end of the spectrum to the typical misleading and notorious holiday brochure photos that are the scourge of the Mediterranean.
Our potential visitor asked for somewhere that is not surrounded by a busy town. Cool Runnings is on a beautiful beach and it is private and away from any hassles. ‘Beach Boys’ (salesmen pretending to be your friend), nor any other non-paying, staying guest are not welcome. For those who want to relax and enjoy the tranquility of the lake and the gardens and not be forced to think if they want to pay a big price for a boat trip to the island, this is a major advantage. Although Senga Bay is within a large fishing village, this guest house is not part of the bustling, noisy destination that might be feared.
Samantha herself is thoroughly involved in numerous aspects of the life of Senga Bay. Fortunately, as we discussed some of the pitfalls of naïve interactions between westerners and local people, she has her head fully screwed on. I asked her if she encourages guests to get involved in some of the projects that she has ongoing. Her answer indicated a pragmatic awareness of what can happen when an outsider is overly interested in taking a short term and superficial involvement in the lives of very poor people. Having a voyeuristic fascination with the lives lived in ways that are so different from what westerners are typically accustomed to, has it’s downsides. So, she does not encourage that. In fact, she gave me a horrific example of what can go wrong. It’s the sort of lesson that should be known about as a warning, but is not the sort of thing I would wish to publish on a blog…
The positive side to all of this is that she herself, and much of the money that is earned through the guest house goes towards worthwhile and long term projects and local business plans that do improve the lives of those round about. Therefore a stay at Cool Runnings can give the visitor all of the rest, relaxation and beauty of the Lake while at the same time being aware that their time spent, is helping many others whose lives are less fortunate than those who can enjoy a few days at Lake Malawi.
You can book a road transfer to Cool Runnings from Kamuzu International Airport by clicking here for our transfers reservation page here.
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