Lake Malawi is an idyllic location for overland travel. Off the beaten path, in a country that is known as “The Warm Heart of Africa” due to the hospitality of its people, it combines amazing scenery and nice beaches with lots of activities sure to appeal to most people. With over 1000 species of fish it’s a great location for snorkelling and scuba diving but you can also take part in other water based activities such as kayaking or swimming.
It’s also an great place to explore local communities or to just relax and enjoy the view.
Kande Beach Resort is a well-known stop on routes across southern Africa and it has been catering for overland trucks for 30 years. I spent a few days here during an overland trip from Zanzibar to Victoria Falls and had a chance to chat to the owners while in the bar one night, hearing stories about the origin of the resort and about its connection with the local community.
The resort is built on the location where the owners used to wild camp while travelling through the area, and in fact the bar is built around the tree that they used to camp under. Over the years they got to know the local chief and his people who welcomed them to the area with the warm hospitality that Malawi is known for. As they got to know the community more they wanted to help it and thought that the place that they had been camping would be an ideal spot for an overland camp, which the village could use to generate funds. The Chief agreed and asked if they would consider setting it up instead.
They said yes, and are still there 30 years later!
True to the initial plan to help the local area, the camp is fully embedded into the local community. Not only is the camp staffed by people from the village but they find ways to help invest in the local community at every opportunity. Directly outside the entrance to the camp, along the entrance road, are craft stalls selling a range of handmade items such as carvings, board games, and paintings. They are staffed by young guys from the village and are a key source of employment and funds.
In addition to the craft stalls the village offer community walks to overland groups where you can interact with people who live in the village, learning about the local culture and the challenges faced by local people.
While the camp has been open for decades, and is fully embedded in the local community, when asked how long it took to finish building it the owners will tell you that it is still a work in progress and that there is still a lot to do. The problem is funds.
COVID-19 has hit the entire world, but the effects have felt very strongly by people who work in travel and tourism. Overland travel has been hit worst of all with land borders closed, lengthy lockdowns and prohibitive restrictions in countries that overland trucks visit, and with most overland companies either going bankrupt or completely mothballing operations. There have been a few independent travellers passing through Malawi, but not enough to keep the money coming in.
Kande Beach was once known as a party place. This is how it is described in guidebooks, and it is how the German tour guide we met at Chitimba camp remembered it. In the golden era of overland travel 40-50 full overland trucks would visit every month. In recent years changing travel trends, and there being more options for travel in Malawi, have reduced the number of trucks visiting but the number was still over 20 per month.
The situation in 2022 is extremely different.
COVID-19 has meant that barely any trucks have been coming through for some time, and those which have been coming through have not been busy. In fact our truck, which was travelling the major overland route between Nairobi and Cape Town, was the only one visiting during our visit and it only had 8 passengers.
This means that Kande Beach is no longer the party place that it has been known as, and the owners are honest that they need a lot of funds to bring the resort back up to where it should be again. I was told that it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to do all of the repairs and upgrades needed after 3 years of dormancy.
But what makes Kande Beach stand out is that they have survived where many overland staples have not. Another staple of overland routes is Zimbabwe but in Harare there is now only one place where overland trucks can stop where there used to be loads. This one location only survived because its owners had a few other properties which they sold to be able to keep one going, but Kande Beach continued because the owners have put most of their life into the property and they are determined to keep it going. It is also critical to the local community and without it there would be fewer job opportunities for young people, and less money coming into the local area.
However, while Kande Beach may not currently be the party place it was once known as, it is recovering where so many have failed and it is well worth a visit. The views from the beach are incredible and, while they may not match those found in places like Bora Bora, staying in the beachfront chalets did feel like we were staying in our own paradise at the heart of Africa. The bar also had a great atmosphere, and the people were great, so I’m so glad that I chose a trip which visited here.
Malawi is a country that is often overlooked by both overland travellers, and by general tourism, but it has a lot to offer. It has friendly people, incredible scenery, great wildlife, lots of sporting opportunities, cultural activities, is cheap to visit, and is definitely off the beaten path which is something that I definitely prefer.
It is a country that I have wanted to visit for so long and, while the unexpected bad weather prevented us from being enjoy Lake Malawi to its fullest, I am so glad that I was able to visit. I will definitely return to Malawi one day so that I can spend more than 3 nights there, and explore more of the country, as there is something special about it. When I return I will definitely visit Lake Malawi again and will, I hope, have a chance to stay at Kande Beach Resort.
The owners want to see the resort back at its prime as soon as possible and it is getting there, but it is going slowly. It will take some time for confidence in this type of trip to return and for overland companies to return to their pre-pandemic number of departures. Then, once overland travel bounces back properly, it will take time for facilities to be upgraded and for money to begin flowing back into local communities again.
Kande Beach was once the place to be in this part of the world and it can be again. It, along with other staples of African overland routes, can return to the heights that they are famous for.
They just need visitors!
That is why it is so important for people to get back out on the road travelling again, and to start visiting lesser-visited countries like Malawi again. I am glad to have finally got back on the road, and I hope to never be off the road for so long again in the future.