Visit Malawi: Mango Drift on Likoma Island

Mango Drift is a relaxed backpacker's lodge on Likoma Island with a large sandy beach and something to do for everyone, including families!
A view of Mango Drift on Likoma Island in Lake Malawi from the rocky beach beside the lodge. A grass roof hut and a boat sit on the beach

Table of Contents

For our first ever trip to Likoma Island in Lake Malawi, we chose to stay at Mango Drift, a backpacker’s lodge on the west side of the island, where the sunset view was to die for. We were so happy with our choice!

Getting There

We already wrote all about our adventure getting to Likoma Island on the Ilala, and also about the process of getting on and off the Ilala at Likoma Island. Definitely check out those posts if you’re thinking of taking the Ilala! 

If the Ilala doesn’t sound like your kind of travel, and you have the money, there is also a small plane that flies to Likoma Island from multiple locations around Malawi. Flights are booked through Ulendo Airlink, which has all the information you need on their website.

A man, woman, and two boys ride on the back seat of an open top jeep from the dock at Likoma Island in Lake Malawi to Mango Drift Backpacker's Lodge

Once we finally got off the Ilala and onto dry land, a driver met us at the dock in an open top jeep and gave us water bottles of cold water, which were SO refreshing after the hot, crowded process of getting to the shore. 

It was a very pleasant 15-ish minute drive to the lodge through a couple of villages and beautiful countryside. The road ended about a quarter of a mile before the lodge, so the jeep parked and we had to walk (and carry our stuff) the rest of the way on deep coarse sand. Our five year old struggled carrying his heavy backpack that far, and Josh ended up having to carry it for him. It’s not too bad of a walk, but definitely something to know about if you have mobility issues.

A man sits in the grass roof covered lounge area of Mango Drift Lodge on Likoma Island in Lake Malawi in an old boat turned into a couch, with a coffee table in front that holds a bawo bao board game

Things to Do

Mango Drift has a huge stretch of private, sandy beach, with so much to do right outside your cabin doors. There is a bar area with a few tables, chairs, and cushiony former boats that are perfect for eating, reading, playing board or card games (they have several games and books available to borrow). 

two girls sit on lounge chairs with pink cushions on the beach under a reed grass covered area reading magazines at Mango Drift on Likoma Island in Lake Malawi

There are hammocks and hanging chairs, a volleyball net, a pool table, another covered area with some tables, chairs, beanbags, and a small swing, snorkeling gear, and several kayaks and a paddle board that are free to use. They even have scuba equipment which you can pay to use. 

a boy swings in a large white cane rattan egg chair hanging from a tree on the beach at Mango Drift Lodge on Likoma Island in Lake Malawi
A boy stands on a stand up paddleboard sup on Lake Malawi near the beach at Mango Drift Lodge on Likoma Island

There’s definitely something for everyone! And even though we were the only ones there during our visit, there’s so much room that there could be quite a few guests and you would still feel very spread out and uncrowded. We played in the water most of the time, and thoroughly enjoyed the snorkeling gear, kayaks, and paddle board!

two kids sit in the lounge area as breakfast is served on the beach under a grass reed roof at Mango Drift Lodge on Likoma Island in Lake Malawi. An old boat turned into a bar is in the background.

Eating

We got the full board option (so we payed a flat rate to have all our meals included), and it was great to not worry about that during our stay. Many people who stay on Likoma enjoy walking around and visiting some of the other lodges on the island for meals, but we were perfectly content to stay at Mango Drift for the entirety of our short stay.

The meals were inexpensive and delicious. The menu is small due to the limited availability of a variety of foods on the island, but everything we had was very tasty and much better than the standard Malawian fare you would expect for the price of the lodge (we’ve paid way more for stays with way worse food before). We enjoyed full English breakfasts and omelettes for breakfast, with pots of strong tea and coffee. The menu says a pot serves 2 people, but we got about 6 cups out of each pot, so I guess that depends on how much each person drinks.

We had some delicious salads for lunch, that we’d highly recommend trying!

A family eats a candlelit dinner supper at a table on the beach in the dark at Mango Drift Lodge on Likoma Island in Lake Malawi

Fresh fish, caught from the lake just earlier that day, makes a great option for dinner. Dinner options are meat (chicken or beef), fish, or vegetarian, with the specific meal being determined by the chef. Dinner is served on the beach by candlelight, which was super cool. We were told that guests usually all eat dinner together, but while we were there we ate by ourselves- possibly because we were such a large group with so many kids. Ha.

We are all (except for Josh) gluten and dairy free, and while they didn’t have any specially made gluten free items due to the lack of available ingredients on the island, they were wonderfully accommodating for our dietary needs.

We also loved that they don’t sell bottled water, but have free, cold, filtered water available at the bar at all times. As a large family that drinks a ton of water, this saved us a lot of money! It’s helpful to bring a water bottle that you can refill and keep with you, but if you forget, you can use the ones they give you on your drive in during your stay.

The beachfront dorm or family suite building accomodation at Mango Drift Backpacker's Lodge on Likoma Island in Lake Malawi. Two trees stand in front growing in the sand on the beach.

Accomodations

Our family of seven stayed in the dorm/family suite. It’s the same building, and they rearrange it depending on who is staying there. For us, they set up two bunk beds, a single bed, and two single beds pushed together to make a double bed. There were a couple of chairs, an oscillating fan, a privacy divider, and a dorm-sized fridge in there as well. It was simple, but comfortable. The beds were surprisingly comfortable, especially after sleeping on the hard beds and pillows on the Ilala. The dorm bathroom has a separate shower and toilet with a door to each so one person doesn’t monopolize the bathroom (a huge plus if you’re sharing the bathroom with a lot of other people).

There are also en-suite chalets, beach chalets (which share a couple of common bathrooms), and campsites available!

a beachfront beach chalet room with a grass reed roof and covered porch sits on the beach at Mango Drift on Likoma Island in Lake Malawi

Laundry Service

The day before we left, we utilized the super helpful and inexpensive laundry service. It’s just a woman who washes your clothes by hand, but she does a great job. We had two full grocery bags of clothes washed, and it cost $6 (USD). It was great to head home (we still had one more night on the Ilala and two nights in Monkey Bay before getting home) with our bags full of clean clothes!

A boy in striped swim trunks shorts and a navy rash guard and sun hat stands on the beach by some rocks with rocky hills in the background looking over the water at Mango Drift Backpacker's Lodge at Likoma Island in Lake Malawi

Fun Fact

One fun fact about Mango Drift is that it’s owned by the same people who own the very fancy and expensive Kaya Mawa lodge that is also on the island. (If you’re looking for a more luxurious stay, definitely check it out.) Since Kaya Mawa is very fancy, and Mango Drift is more low-budget, Mango Drift inherits all of Kaya Mawa’s fancy things that have gotten a little chip or stain or something else wrong with them. As people who love bargains and secondhand things, we thought this was super cool! And we love that they’re repurposing these things instead of just throwing them away.

A boy in a yellow kayak and a man in a blue kayak paddle away from shore at Mango Drift Backpacker's Lodge on Likoma Island in Lake Malawi

Final Thoughts

If I had to say one negative thing about Mango Drift, it’s something that’s completely out of their control: coarse sand covers the entire property, and it really hurt the bottoms of my feet! But that was easily resolved by making sure I wore flip flops everywhere I went, so it definitely wouldn’t be a dealbreaker! As I said, we loved our stay there, and would definitely recommend checking it out!

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