Lake Malawi National Park (UNESCO)

The World’s First Freshwater National Park

“its importance for the study of evolution is comparable to that of the finches of the Galapagos Islands” – UNESCO.

Views across Lake Malawi National Park. (1) Nankoma Island (65 ha) ; (2) Maleri Island (168 ha); (3) Nakantenga Island (18 ha). In the background you can see Mumbo Island and to the far left Domwe Island, with the backdrop of Cape Maclear.

Recognizing the need to conserve this fascinating aquatic habitat, boundaries for the park were established in 1980.

Although the Lake covers one-third of the country, the National Park is only 94km2 including a land area around Cape Maclear, 12 islands, and lake waters that lie within 100m of the park’s terrestrial components.

Blue Zebra Island Lodge is situated on Nankoma Island, maintaining the concession for the Marelli Islands (interchangeably ‘Maleri Islands’): Nankoma, Maleri, and Nakantenga.

The Marelli Islands have been recognized as important natural breeding grounds for fish, small mammals and reptiles, as well as nesting areas for various birds. Learn more about our efforts to preserve the area.

In 1984, Lake Malawi National Park was accredited as a UNESCO World Heritage site, meeting criteria which make up the basis for displaying Outstanding Universal Value:

  • Exceptional natural beauty (criterion vii)
  • Outstanding example of biological evolution (criterion ix)
  • Globally important for biodiversity conservation due to outstanding diversity of freshwater fish (criterion x)

This status protects the diversity of fish as well as the aquatic habitat and fauna unmatched in the world.

Lake Malawi contains the largest number of fish species of any lake, home to over 350 endemic species of Cichlids which are of particular interest and importance.

Lake Malawi

  • One of Africa’s ‘Great Lakes’
  • Also known as: Lake Nyasa (Tanzania) & Lake Niassa (Mozambique)
  • Nicknames: The Calendar Lake / The Lake of Stars
  • Size: around 365 miles long / 52 miles wide / up to 700m deep
  • Ninth largest lake in the world
  • Third largest and second deepest lake in Africa
  • Southernmost lake in the East African Rift System
  • A meromictic lake (water layers do not intermix)
  • Home to the largest assembly of fish species of any lake on earth.

Lake Malawi was formed through natural faulting of the Great Rift System. It is known as “the jewel in the crown of Malawi’s tourist attractions”.

Although the first recorded explorers to the Lake were Portuguese, a British presence was established in 1859 and David Livingstone named this massive stretch of water “Lake Nyasa”.

You’ll be surprised by its temperament: some days the surface is glass-like calm, but at times it becomes more of an inland ocean with crashing waves.