Where to on the Lake

Lake Malawi is the defining feature of this little country’s landscape, enticing travellers with its bottle-green waters, abundance of colourful underwater life and endless saffron beaches. It has often been described as an inland sea and, when trying to spot Mozambique’s hazy silhouette on the horizon, it’s easy to see why. The lake’s enigmatic weather often entertains storms thick enough to rouse 5m waves and intimidating swells, shifting within an hour to reveal flawless blue skies reflected in the water’s glassy veneer.

The lakeshore’s environment changes starkly from dramatic escarpments in the north to flat, sandy bays in the south. It can be tough figuring out where to go, so the following should help you decide.

The North

On the least-developed section of the lakeshore, backpacker beach lodges in villages such as Chitimba, at the foot of the road up to Livingstonia, are magnets for overland trucks coming in from Tanzania.

Nkhata Bay

Lush hillsides framing indented bays make the landscape reminiscent of the Caribbean, with a laid-back vibe to match. This is above all a beach resort for backpackers, but those in search of a little more comfort will enjoy it too, and the excellent diving, kayaking and socialising will keep them here.

Likoma & Chizumulu Islands

Sublime beaches, unparalleled diving, breathtaking walks, preserved culture and a beautiful missionary cathedral make these islands a must-see. There’s excellent accommodation, from beach huts to five-star luxury, and it provides a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in unspoiled village life.

Chintheche Strip

A secluded collection of campgrounds, lodges and resorts peppers this picturesque stretch of the lake, from where you can go horse riding and hiking in the wooded hills of the Viphya Plateau. Options include Central African Wilderness Safari's luxurious Chintheche Inn (www.cawsmw.com); Kachere Kastle (www.kacherekastle.com), a blue-tinted casbah on the beach, built over seven years by an intrepid British couple; and overlander favourite Kande Beach Resort (www.kandebeach.com).

Senga Bay

The nearest beach paradise to Lilongwe offers a wide range of places to stay, excellent snorkelling and bushwalking, and trips to nearby Lizard Island to see giant monitor lizards.

Cape Maclear

Blissful beach vistas, chilled-out resorts and a friendly village all mix quite happily in Cape Maclear. It's also the springboard for trips to the exquisitely pretty Mumbo and Domwe Islands.

Monkey Bay to Mangochi

A smattering of top-end hotels, midrange resorts and budget lodges, many with a few kilometres of private beach and the facilities to keep you from moving far.