bare-foot luxury at one of africa's great lakes
Our kaya mawa crew excitedly greeted us upon landing at the tiny Likoma island airstrip after our short hop in a six-seater Cessna from the capital, Lilongwe.
As we ambled along the dirt roads of the island in an open-top vintage land rover towards the resort, kids of all ages waved furiously at us with huge smiles on their faces; it's such a humbling experience to see kids that we perceive to have so little, show so much joy with just a wave. Further along, we passed the school built by green safaris (kaya maya's parent), where over 300 local kids have the opportunity for an excellent education that would be otherwise impossible without the support of kaya & GS, but a little more about their community efforts later.
Barefoot luxury vibes are the order of the day at kaya. Zero pretentiousness here, just a focus on the quality of service & unrivaled relaxation. kaya has re-defined modern luxury into a wonderfully laid-back eco-experience that gives guests a taste of the slow life away from the buzz of everyday life.
The resort is centred around a secluded bay where the fine sand beach stretches hundreds of meters along the shore of the majestic Lake Malawi. At the heart of the resort, you'll find the open-air bar & lounge that offers guests super comfy seating & excellent cocktails to sip on while watching the magnificent African sunsets over the lake. Next door, the restaurant where breakfast & lunch was served is also an open-air affair with only a few tables giving it an intimate ambiance with views out over the lake.
On the beach, you'll find plenty of sun loungers & day beds where you can soak up the rays while taking in the serenity of the waves lapping against the shore. Head into the warm turquoise waters of the lake to cool off, gazing as small fish dart past into the depths.
Madimba, the accommodation for my stay was not just a room but a vast house that would eclipse the size of most homes in Europe; as I scaled the stairs, I was surrounded by the sights & sounds of nature, the house in all its stone & turquoise glory stands before me. On the terrace, a plunge pool offers spectacular views over lake Malawi. Especially at sunset when the pink & purple hues of the African sunset dazzle while colourful weaver birds chirp & giant bees go about their business collecting pollen from the pastel purple flowers of the jacaranda tree that shades the terrace.
As a sense of peacefulness washes over me, I know I have arrived at an extraordinary place.
As I enter the house, I'm immediately struck by the teak-framed high ceiling & white washed stone walls that are the perfect backdrop for the rays of sunshine that stream through the windows at sunset, creating wonderful abstract shadows. Centred in the main room is a seemingly boundless king-sized bed with views through the main doors, across the terrace to the lake beyond. You'll also find a lounge area with a super comfy sofa & desk, a spectacular bathroom with his & her vanity, a walk-in shower & sunken bathtub with views out to the lake.
What makes this resort so special is the sheer diversity of accommodation on offer here, breaking away from the same everywhere model the likes of the Marriot deploy around the globe. Each house is unique, from lake-side lodgings with jetties for direct access to the lake to massive two-bedroom homes incorporating giant boulders into the design. Then there was my place, a tree-top canopy home with a private plunge pool overlooking the bay. (explore kaya's unique homes through their VR tour below)
360° virtual tour
Back at the restaurant, lunch is ready & chef has cooked up the most delicious fare – a fish buddha bowl of sorts with fresh vegetables & herbs from the onsite garden. The food at kaya is out of this world, with different dining options at every sitting, which makes for an exciting culinary experience.
Dinner is served on the beach, magically lit by lanterns. The chef really goes out of his way to ensure that all my dietaries & food preferences are catered for, and I am not disappointed. Nothing is too much effort for guests at kaya, which I discovered on my first evening dining on exquisitely caught local fish. Sitting barefoot with my feet in the sand, dining on some of the best food in the entire country, makes for an unforgettable experience that i am soon not to forget.
As the sun dips below the horizon on our return from the sunset cruise, the boat is buzzed by what looks like another squadron of seabirds. On closer inspection, they're fish, skipping across the wave crests for remarkable distances. They fall gradually back as kaya's bay comes into view. It's as if they'd been escorting us back; the lake's wildlife, it seems, tolerated our presence for a while but is still making sure to see us out.
For adventure types, there is plenty of water activities available, from snorkeling, kayaking & sailboats to scuba diving at some great spots only a short hop from the resort.
I also loved their community tour. My guide Martin & a few other guests headed to the main town on the island to visit locals & a cathedral, built by the British, adorned with intricate stained glass windows that I later found out had been stolen in the past by local fisherman to use as fishing lures due to their bright colours. Later we headed to katundu, a community initiative empowering women through artisanal training & ethical employment.
community & conservation credentials
kaya mawa, through the green safaris conservation foundation, supports a myriad of initiatives, from building schools to empowering women and supporting the island's hospital, along with reducing their environmental impact by not allowing the use of plastic water bottles. Growing fresh produce at their community garden & reforesting the island with the aim at planting over 2,000 saplings a year also has positive impacts on the local community. If you would like to find out more, head to Green Safaris.
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