For centuries European explorers had speculated about the existence of a great lake in Central Africa. Returning travelers in the 17th and 18th centuries offered descriptions of the lake they had heard about with some even claiming to have seen it. Cartographers such as de L'Isle and d'Anville began to produce maps with the shape and position fairly accurately portrayed.

 

On a visit to Mozambique in 1856 David Livingstone visited Tete where he met Candido Cardosa. Cardosa claimed to have visited the lake ten years earlier and promptly drew a sketch map of it, which Livingstone annotated.

 

After his original plan to explore a way up the Zambezi River was thwarted by the Kebrabassa Rapids, Livingstone began a journey of exploration up the Shire River to Lake Nyasa. Although he was certainly not the first European to gaze upon the Lake, it was he who exposed its presence to the rest of the world and claimed the honour of its "discovery". He described it as a "lake of stars" in reference to its glittering surface. In true Livingstone style his diaries detail his observations of the Lake and its people. His notes embraced the length and breadth of the Lake the coastline, boats and fishing, trade, slavery and climate.

 

He saw evidence that thousands of slaves were being transported over the Lake each year to be sold in the slave markets of East Africa. He reasoned that a gunboat on lake Nyasa and an alternative trade to that in human beings, together with Christianity, would put an end to the slave trade. His plea for missionaries to bring Christianity to Central Africa was answered and the history of Malawi took a change in direction.

 

Lake Malawi has always attracted more than its share of reminiscent travellers. From the time of the Victorian missionaries and traders, whose little steamers ploughed its waters in the cause of Christianity and hard cash, the accounts of visitors to the Lake are distinguished by an attempt to pin down an essential mysteriousness, part of its unchanging quality, which has always managed to elude final definition.

 

Nature has endowed Lake Malawi with the richest variety of tropical fish of any freshwater lake in the world. Up to 550 species of cichlids are unique to these waters. Fresh lake Chambo is a famous and delicious Malawi dish.

In 1980 an area of the southern part of this huge inland sea, which is Africa's third largest lake, was proclaimed a world Heritage Site.