Lake Malawi, African Great Lakes

Lake Locations:

African Great Lakes - Malawi - The Lakeshore - Mozambique - Manda Wilderness - Tanzania - Iringa - Mbeya - Ruvuma -

Also known as:  Lake Nyasa, Lake Nyassa, Lake Niassa, Lago Niassa

Located in the East African Rift Valley system between Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania, Lake Malawi — also known as Lake Nyasa, Lake Nyassa, Lake Niassa, and Lago Niassa — is the third-largest lake in Africa at over 7,314,319 acres. It also has the distinction of being the second deepest lake in Africa with a maximum depth of 2,316 feet; and with its tropical waters, it reportedly contains more fish species than any other lake in the world. Its largest tributary is the Ruhuhu and its outlet is the Shire River. Lake Malawi is approximately 218 miles southeast of Lake Tanganyika, the second largest lake in Africa.

Lake Malawi, which is believed to be 40,000 years old, was discovered by Europeans in the mid-19th century, including David Livingstone in 1859; he named it Lake Nyasa. The United Kingdom claimed much of the area surrounding the lake during colonization and formed the colony of Nyasaland. Other areas around the lake were colonized by Portugal and Scotland. Most of the lake is in Malawi, with about one fourth located in Mozambique, including the Malawian islands of Likoma and Chizumulu, which are the lake’s two inhabited islands. The islands, which are famous for their abundance of Baobab trees, support several thousand people each.

Part of the Great Lakes of Africa, Lake Malawi is third only behind Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika. Also called the African Rift Valley Lakes, the list also includes Lake Turkana, Lake Albert, Lake Kivu, and Lake Edward. The area is the source for the Nile and has been of great interest to Europeans for centuries.

Situated on the southern end of Lake Malawi, Lake Malawi National Park is the only national park in Malawi created to protect fish and aquatic habitat. It is home to crocodiles, hippopotamuses, baboons, an 800-year old baobab tree, and many endemic fish species, including cichlids, which are popular for aquariums. Expect to find chambo, large catfish, tilapiines, and haplochromines. The lake is also home to open-water and sand-dwelling species of fish such as the mbuna.

Activities at Lake Malawi include swimming, snorkeling, diving, sunbathing, fishing, sailing, horseback riding, water skiing, kayaking, and cruising. The water is very clear but take caution when going into waters far from home. The southern lake shore has good beaches in Senga Bay, Nkudzi Bay, Namaso Baym, and the Mangochi area. Vacation rentals are readily available in this area. The northern shore is less developed than the south and often cooler during the rainy season. Visit Livingstone and Karonga for some history and culture in the north. Diving in Lake Malawi is excellent, offering 70 feet of visibility in most of the lake’s clear water.

Likoma Island, which is home to a very large cathedral built in the early 1900’s, has several nice beaches and eco-friendly resorts. Take a boat from the mainland of Lake Malawi to the island and spend your days hiking on the island or kayaking around it. The mountain backdrop of the lake is breathtaking at sunset, offering beautiful African vistas.

One of Africa’s great treasures, Lake Malawi offers clear water, mountain views, and an African wildlife experience not often matched, To view unparalleled sunsets across one of the largest lakes in the world, head to Lake Malawi and rent a vacation home for an adventure your friends will be envious of.

Things to do at Lake Malawi

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Kayaking
  • Water Skiing
  • Snorkeling
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Park

Fish species found at Lake Malawi

  • Catfish
  • Chambo
  • Haplochromine
  • Tilapiine

Lake Malawi Photo Gallery

Lake Malawi Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 7,314,319 acres

Shoreline Length: 152 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,640 feet

Average Depth: 958 feet

Maximum Depth: 2,316 feet

Water Volume: 6,809,990,827 acre-feet

Drainage Area: 2,546 sq. miles

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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