Kaya Mawa

Kaya Mawa: Our full report

11 rooms & houses
Traveller's rating
Excellent (96%) From 24 reviews
16 March to 14 January

Beside the implausibly clear waters of Lake Malawi, Kaya Mawa's rooms are widely spread around a golden beach and the two headlands that bound it. It has been designed imaginatively, with many rooms fitted carefully into the rocky headlands and having direct access to the lake.

Until recently Kaya Mawa wasn't fulfilling its potential. Its founders had done well to get any lodge up and running on such a remote island (it took five years to build!), but it needed some fresh energy and to move beyond the meaning of its name, 'Kaya Mawa' – 'maybe tomorrow' in the local Nyanja language.

It was good news that in 2009 James and Suzi Lightfoot took charge of it. They clearly have ideas, energy and resources, and Kaya Mawa is now starting to live up to its amazing location. Since then Kaya Mawa has had a very sensitive makeover – with lighter colours and much more style – and a great new, central lounge and dining area has been built beside the beach.

Kaya Mawa's 11 rooms and small houses are scattered around; several lead onto the beach, whilst others are tucked into the rocky headlands, and one is even reached by a wooden walkway. Because they're all so different and individual, we've created a different page and slide-show here for each one:

  • There are four 'standard' rooms at Kaya Mawa. None are large inside, but all have en-suite bathrooms and king-size beds (two can be converted to twin-beds if desired). All of them make the most of outside space, with a deck for sunloungers and access to the lake to swim.
    • Ngani is 100m from the main lodge and other rooms, very separate and secluded, on a small rocky 'island' beside Ngani Beach.
    • Mbungu, , Khuyu and Msekwa all face the main bar and beach.

  • The lodge has three 'premium' rooms which are all more spectacular than the standard rooms. We think of these as 'suites' – but here we have stuck to the lodge's own terminology of 'premium rooms'. These are:
    • Nkwhazi and Mbamba are both very large, and each has its own plunge pool.
    • Makengulu is the magical inspirational 'honeymoon island'.

  • Four houses are also part of the main Kaya Mawa lodge – and all are very different:
    • Yofu House and Ullisa House are both on the beach and have a master bedroom and a twin-bedded room, which share a bathroom in the middle. They're ideal for small families with older children.
    • Madimba House also has two bedrooms, but both are spectacular king-sized doubles with their own en-suite bathrooms – and hence is better suited to two couples travelling together.

    • Mainja House, by contrast, has been designed as a honeymoon retreat with just one massive bedroom and a secluded location with a great view.

  • Totally separate from the main lodge, Ndomo Point House is a four-bedroom luxury villa newly built for 2011 which is about ten-minutes' boat ride away. This luxurious beachside retreat is a separate self-contained property, which we've mentioned in this list for completeness.

Kaya Mawa's new, beachside bar and lounge-dining area has made a massive difference, providing a very comfortable spot right on the sand. Amidst plenty of old-looking wooden furniture with stylish fabrics and cushions, you'll find that the bar is well-stocked and the sofas are comfortable.

Tucked away in vegetation behind the beach is the lodge's office, which also has a small boutique/curio shop that sells fabrics, local crafts, wooden carvings and jewellry.

As well as a place to just switch off and relax, there are also many activities which can be arranged with the help of the lodge team, including:

  • diving - the lodge has a PADI recognised dive centre with three on-site PADI instructors.

  • snorkelling - a bag containing snorkel, mask and fins is in each room; the water's clear and many of the fish are very beautiful indeed. You can snorkel straight from the beach, or the room decks.

  • kayaking is a great way to explore, and the lodge has a handful of double kayaks. Given the number of fishermen around, this can be an interesting cultural activity also!

  • cycling will give you an insight into the interior of island, and the lodge has mountain bikes in excellent condition. When dry the tracks are good and cross- easy, undulating terrain and very little other traffic around. And lots of the islanders cycle, so it's a way to blend into the local communities.

  • quad-biking is also possible, and the lodge has a handful of these for exploring the island. It even uses a larger, converted 'quad-bike' to transport guests and luggage to/from Likoma Island's airport.

  • cruises on a motorised wooden fishing boat (owned by the lodge) make a great way to end the day!

  • Next year the lodge is planning to branch out into kite surfing, with an on-site instructor.

Non-motorised activities are generally included in the cost of your stay, whilst anything that requires a motor (be it on land or on the water) are usually charged for as an extra cost locally.

On a populated island, Kaya Mawa has always been close to the community, and virtually everyone employed at the lodge is from the local community. The lodge has a track record of strong community ties – and most recently Suzie Lightfoot has started up Katundu Textiles, which is making a good name for itself producing contemporary textiles (beaded linen textiles and beach linen) which fit in with a stylish beach lodge – whilst creating local employment and taking a very ethical approach to employment on the island.

Our view

We've long known about, and visited, Kaya Mawa – but it's only in 2011 that it's really excited us. It's always had 200m of lovely golden sand and amazing water, now it also has some really high-spec rooms, lovely furnishings and excellent food. If Malawi has never appealed to you before – this, at long last, is compelling reason to visit!


Location: Likoma Island, Malawi

Ideal length of stay: 4+ nights

Directions: Nearer Mozambique than mainland Malawi, the lodge is reached most easily from the mainland by an hour's flight from Lilongwe. It could also be reached using Danforth yachting, or we can organize an approach via Mozambique.

Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer

Key personnel

Owner: James & Suzie Lightfoot, and Nick Brown.

Food & drink

Usual board basis: Full Board

Food quality: On all of our visits to Kaya Mawa in the last few years, the food has been consistently excellent.

For Breakfast there was always a selection of cereals, yoghurt and a bowl of fruit salad. Cooked breakfast orders were taken by the waiter, and served with toast and a fresh pot of tea or coffee. They extended beyond a full English breakfast to options like 'Eggs Benedict', and it was all very good, very fresh and well presented.

Lunches are often served in the main bar area and on the terrace – and are typically something like a fish fillet, or quiche, served with an inventive selection of salads. We loved the basil hummus with crisp bread followed by chicken in a Thai dressing and rice with roasted vegetables.

Dinner is usually served, not a buffet, and there are a couple of choices. On our last visit we ate outside on the beach and started with broccoli cream soup with paprika, which was very good. Main course was an excellent fillet of beef, cooked to order, with red wine jus, maple syrup carrots and Dauphinoise potatoes. For dessert, home-made banana ice cream was served between brandy-snap wafers, with a trickle of chocolate amarula sauce.

Dining style: Individual Tables

Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining

Cost of meal e.g. lunch: Included

Drinks included: No drinks are included

Further dining info: Yes

Special interests

Beach holidays: The waters of Lake Malawi are implausibly clear, great for diving and especially snorkeling – which you can do straight from the golden beach of Kaya Mawa. This is one of our best spots for a relaxing beach holiday on the lake, and in a surprisingly remote place.

See more ideas for Beach holidays in Malawi

Diving & snorkelling: Lake Malawi offers some of the best freshwater snorkeling and diving in the world. There are plenty of brightly-coloured and often endemic cichlid fish; the lake is always warm and the currents are usually moderate.

See more ideas for Diving & snorkelling in Malawi

Cultural experiences: Likoma Island is home to local villages as well as the lodge. Village tours with a guide can be arranged, or you just set off on foot or bike by yourselves. The community involvement is excellent – Katundu Textiles, started by Kaya Mawa, employs many local people.

See more ideas for Cultural experiences in Malawi

Walking: From Kaya Mawa, on Likoma Island, you can take a gentle stroll through the village to visit the cathedral. Either walking alone, or with a locally arranged guide, Kaya Mawa is good for some light walking in Malawi.

See more ideas for Walking in Malawi

Luxury: Kaya Mawa is a luxurious lakeside lodge with eleven rooms, all different in size and style. One room even occupies its own island. All are built out of local stone and furnished with locally crafted furniture and decorated with beautifully hand-made throws and cushions.

See more ideas for Luxury in Malawi


Attitude towards children: Children of all ages are welcome.

Property’s age restrictions: There is no age restriction at Kaya Mawa although it is suggested that it's best for children above the age of about five years old.

Special activities & services: The lodge can offer special meals for children.

Equipment: Single beds can be provided for children. Have cots, but have not yet got high-chairs (that said, with a little bit of notice, they could get one made!)

Notes: Due to the lodge being surrounded by water, and having large boulders and high walkways, children must be supervised at all times.


Power supply: Mains Electricity

Power supply notes: Kaya Mawa uses the mains island power, which comes from large generators. Then they have their own generator back up too. So there is always power and guests can charge batteries in their rooms. There isn’t quite enough power for a hairdryer though, so if you want to use one let the lodge know and they will run a back up generator for you.

Communications: Email and satellite internet are available for guests to use – the lodge's office is a WiFi hotspot. The lodge also usually has fairly good mobile reception.

TV & radio: None

Water supply: Other

Water supply notes: Kaya Mawa pump water from the lake for washing. Their drinking water also comes from the lake, but goes through a vigilant purification process before consumption. Bottled water is always available on request.


Community support is never a maybe tomorrow matter

Community support is never a maybe tomorrow matterGuests staying at Kaya Mawa can expect a pace of life that is perfectly described by lodge’s name: ‘Maybe Tomorrow’. While the lodge atmosphere is relaxed, the approach to sustainability is not - Kaya Mawa is involved in numerous conservation and community projects, with one of the key missions of Kaya Mawa being to offer constant support for local community development projects.

In 2006 the lodge created a community workshop on Likoma Island, Katundu Textiles, where local women design and produce arts and crafts from recycled materials such as wooden beads, coconut husks and shells. On an island with a population of 9,000 people, who survive mainly from farming and fishing, the workshop works to empower women and provide employment in an area where possibilities are limited. The workshop has grown to become Likoma’s third largest employer, and currently offers a workplace for 26 adults.

The lodge’s community involvement is ongoing, and includes providing fresh water to the villages, and assisting in the schooling of over 1,000 children. Kaya Mawa has also opened a community-farming project, aimed at providing locals with alternative food sources and offering them the chance to sell the excess to lodges and at the local market.

Health & safety

Malarial protection recommended: Yes

Medical care: There is a hospital on the island, suitable to relatively minor ailments. Medivac can easily be organised to Lilongwe and then to SA – and the island's airstrip is tarmaced, although not useable at night. Most of the managers are fully first-aid trained. We're advised by the lodge that they don't know of a single recorded case of Bilharzia being contracted anywhere on Likoma Island – by either anyone either in the community, or staying or working at the lodge. Certainly the aquatic environment is mostly rocky rather than reedy. The lodge's first owners swam in the lake here for many years, and were regularly tested for Bilharzia, and always tested negative.

Dangerous animals: Moderate Risk

Security measures: 24-hour unarmed watchmen employed by the lodge.

Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in the kitchen.


Disabled access: Not Possible

Laundry facilities: Laundry is included in the rates. Clothes are collected in the morning and usually returned by the next morning.

Money: There is a safe in the central office and guests are welcome to leave their valuables/documents; smaller safes are available and can be put in the rooms on request.

Accepted payment on location: Visa, Mastercard and Amex credit cards are accepted; when we last visited in May 2011, there was a surcharge of 4.5% for credit card payments. Malawi KW, US dollars, UK sterling, Euros and SA rands are accepted as cash.

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