Visit Malawi: Mumbo Island

Mumbo Island was the perfect escape for a father-son weekend with my oldest son. At Mumbo Island, we were able to unplug and unwind in one of the most beautiful spots in all of Malawi.
a son and father sit at the entrance to Zimbabwe Cave on Mumbo Island in Lake Malawi

Table of Contents

Mumbo Island is a small, uninhabited island near Cape Maclear in Lake Malawi. If you’ve ever been to Cape Maclear, then you’ve watched the sunset behind Thumbi Island, which lies about a half mile off the coast (1km). Mumbo Island lies just about 3 miles (5km) past Thumbi.

a small wooden boat ferries guests across Lake Malawi from Cape Maclear to Mumbo Island

Getting There

To get to Mumbo, you first head to the Kayak Africa reception area, the company that runs the resort on Mumbo Island as well as a campground on Domwe Island, which is situated beachfront at the center of Cape Maclear.

After checking in, the staff will load you and your things onto a boat to ferry you to the island. Kayak Africa ferries guests two times each day: From Mumbo Island to Cape Maclear at 9:30am and 1:30pm, and from Cape Maclear to Mumbo Island  10:30am and 2:30pm. 

a boy plays in the water at Mumbo Island in Lake Malawi

Things to Do

Mumbo Island is run by a company called Kayak Africa, so as you can imagine, kayaking is one of the main activities to enjoy during your stay. But as we found out, there is so much more to Mumbo Island than kayaking.

When you first arrive on Mumbo, you will disembark onto a beautiful sandy beach. I got the impression that many guests never adventure beyond this beautiful beach, enjoying the sun and taking the occasional dip in the lake.

But my son isn’t the type to just lie back and enjoy the sun. Thankfully, there are hiking trails that criss-cross the entire island. During the two days that we were there, we explored almost every corner of the island. There are several beautiful view points overlooking the lake, like Rock Fig View and Victor’s Rock. But our favorite spots were Zimbabwe Cave and Impiri Beach.

a picture of the map of walking trails on Mumbo Island in Lake Malawi
a father and son smile for a selfie while hiking a trail on Mumbo Island in Lake Malawi

Zimbabwe Cave is a small cave that my son enjoyed exploring and climbing through. It isn’t dangerous because you can see the back wall of the cave from the entrance.

On our first day there, we discovered the hidden Impiri Beach. While that morning had been very windy and wavy at the main camp, we found that Impiri was perfectly calm. When we woke up to more wind on the second day, we headed straight to Impiri after breakfast, where I enjoyed the quiet and my son enjoyed climbing on the boulders in the water.

a boy plays at Impiri Beach on Mumbo Island in Lake Malawi

One reason we chose to go to Mumbo for our father-son weekend is because we love kayaking together. We’ve logged hours and hours of kayaking at other resorts around the lake, and we were excited to visit a place devoted to kayaking.

We were, however, a little disappointed in our kayaking experience. This was because of the type of kayaks they have at Mumbo. We’ve been used to wider sit-on-top (SOT) kayaks, and have spent hours braving white-capped waves off Nankoma Island without ever fearing that we’d capsize. Mumbo, however, has a different type of SOT made by C-Kayak. These are narrower than most other SOT kayaks, and feel much less stable.

a boy sits on the front of a kayak at Mumbo Island in Lake Malawi

The upside of these narrower kayaks is that they are much faster, and I can imagine them being great for the experienced kayaker, especially if they wanted to cut across open water to Domwe or Thumbi islands. But for the less experienced or those kayaking with children, they are less than ideal, especially if there are significant waves like there were much of the time we were there.

Thankfully, by our final afternoon, we had gotten the hang of it and were able to enjoy paddling around the island when the wind had died down. We were even able to spot one of the elusive otters that live on the island, as well as numerous species of birds.

a boy sits at a table eating at Mumbo Island in Lake Malawi

Eating

We decided to do the full-board option, which I would recommend, since there is no other place to eat or way to prepare food on the island. My son is gluten and dairy-free, so for simplicity’s sake we both followed his diet while on the island. That said, as someone who is able to eat gluten and dairy, I never felt disappointed by the options.

Meals follow a simple schedule every day. At 6am, biscuits with coffee or tea will be left outside your tent to greet you first thing in the morning. At 8am, you can find breakfast at the dining pavilion. Breakfast started with fruits and baked goods (the gluten-free muffins were amazing!), and then you could also order an entire full English breakfast or a combination of eggs, bacon, or sausages as you like.

a tray of an early breakfast of biscuits and coffee or tea is left at the tents each morning at Mumbo Island in Lake Malawi

Lunch is at 1pm, and was pretty simple. You don’t order, you just get what they serve. The first day we had pasta, tomato sauce, and meatballs. The second day we had ham sandwiches.

Around 3pm, they serve snacks for tea time. For us, this meant gluten-free muffins or fried bananas, both of which were excellent, along with some coffee.

Supper wasn’t until 7pm. This was very late for us, and to be honest, with the sun setting around 6pm, we had a hard time staying awake for supper! Supper usually included a salad, a main course, and a dessert. Our favorite night was when we had fish and chips.

a boy sits on a bed in the lake tent at Mumbo Island in Lake Malawi, there are two twin beds under a mosquito net with reed walls and thatch roof

Accomodations

Mumbo Island is famous for their “tents” overlooking the lake. While they call them tents, these are actually bamboo and grass huts, rather than something made from canvas. Most of the tents are on a smaller island that you access by a wooden bridge. These tents have amazing views, but they also have forest tents on the main island that are cheaper and don’t have views.

sunset view of the lake from a tent at Mumbo Island in Lake Malawi

We actually booked a forest tent to save a bit of money, but they put us in one the island tents instead (probably because the forest tents were closed up due to fewer visitors during the pandemic). We didn’t mind the free upgrade. The only downside was that our tent (Tent 4) has a porch that is open to the massive rock that it is built on. This would have been amazing if I had come with my wife, but with my son, it made me a nervous wreck, since I could easily imagine him falling off the cliff. After the second day, I remedied this by making a “railing” out of the hammock.

The tents have no electricity, air conditioning, or fans. We figured out how to open the windows to catch the direction the breeze was coming each night. Mumbo allows guests to charge their phones at the main dining area and gives you battery powered lights every night, but I found it more helpful just to use our Anker charger each night. A head lamp was also nice to have, since I could choose dimmer settings that wouldn’t attract too many gnats or wake my son up in the middle of the night.

the bathroom of a lake tent at Mumbo Island in Lake Malawi shows a sink and composting toilet
a boy takes a shower at Mumbo Island in Lake Malawi, a bucket is overhead with a shower spout on the bottom of it

Our bathroom facilities were just across a little bridge from our tent. In the main bathroom hut was a sink and a compost toilet. This was my first time using a compost toilet, and I found it to feel just as clean as a normal toilet. The only difference is that you “flush” with wood shavings rather than water.

Our shower was outside behind a bamboo privacy blind. It consisted of a bucket with a shower head attached to the bottom. Each afternoon, one of the staff would bring warm water and fill the bucket for us. It was a lot of fun.

a large monitor lizard rests on a rock at Mumbo Island in Lake Malawi

Final Thoughts

Mumbo Island is one of the most iconic resorts on Lake Malawi, and we definitely understand the reason for its reputation now. But if you go, make sure you explore the many beautiful parts of the island beyond the beach and get the full Mumbo experience!

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