Beneath the surface

 

You don’t need access to an ocean to be able to enjoy fabulous underwater landscapes and ‘wildlife’; you can discover a whole new world beneath the surface even in the middle of Africa or a land-locked part of Brazil.

One of the world’s biggest tropical fish tanks…

Images © Mumbo Island Camp, Lake Malawi

Teeming life in ‘the calendar lake’

Lake Malawi is 52 miles wide and an astonishing 365 miles long, hence its nickname ‘the calendar lake’. Think of it as one of the world’s biggest tropical fish tanks, with a huge and fascinatingly diverse range of inhabitants, easily visible in the wonderfully clear waters.

Sailing on Lake Malawi is a joyful experience, and it’s a brilliant location for water-skiing, kayaking, tubing and parasailing; for all watersports basically.

But slip beneath the surface, whether that’s with a mask and snorkel or on a full-blown scuba dive, and a wealth of fish species are waiting to greet you, most notably the colourful cichlids.  There are more than 600 different species of cichlids which are endemic to the warm, freshwater depths of Lake Malawi. In fact, the lake has the largest number of fish species in the world; they have evolved in this ancient body of water over a period of some two million years!

Keep an eye open for blue stripy mbuna, electric yellow cichlids and the turquoise Livingston’s cichlid, and kampango and bombe catfish, and perhaps take a guided night dive to see nocturnal creature such as dolphinfish.

Not a diver? Not a problem! Snorkelling in the lake is hugely rewarding, as you find yourself surrounded by a rainbow of vibrant tropical fish. There’s an added bonus for those who choose to snorkel – as you’re not submerged beneath the waters, you can look up as well as down, and enjoy the glorious birdlife including fish eagles.

Snorkelling in Lake Malawi is hugely rewarding.

Image ©Kaya Mawa

A wealth of fish species are waiting to greet you.

Image left © Kawa Maya

Our consultants would be delighted to discuss the best places to stay for watersports at Lake Malawi, including Kaya Maya, Blue Zebra Island Lodge and Mumbo Island Camp.

We can tailor-make an itinerary for you or you might like to consider one of our suggested itineraries such as the Lake Malawi Holiday. If you want to combine Lake Malawi with a safari (the lake makes a wonderfully refreshing contrast to safari life), why not think about our Bush & Beach in Malawi itinerary, Lake of Stars or Nyika and Lake Malawi trip  or Zambia and Malawi Safari and Beach?

River snorkelling in Brazil

About 50km from Bonito, the south-western Brazilian eco-tourist hotspot, you can find what is regarded as the best river snorkelling in the world, in the crystal waters of the ‘silver river’ Rio de Prata. Rich seams of limestone on the riverbed act as natural filters, making it easy to see some of the stunning numbers of fish and plant species (see images above and below). You can also snorkel in the Rio Sucuri, – the world’s third clearest river, known for its fairytale-like underwater landscape.

There is a trick to river snorkelling in the Rio de Prata or Rio Sucuri; just float. Don’t kick, don’t splash and don’t touch anything. This makes it wonderfully relaxing and very easy for just about anybody but that’s not the reason why these rules (and they are rules) are in place. Kicking or splashing would stir up the sand at the bottom of these shallow rivers, significantly reducing visibility and impacting on the creatures that live in the waters. Big, chunky black pacu, slightly intimidating golden dourado (some up to 1m in length) and yellow-finned piraputanga will swim around you in Rio de Prata as tiny tetra emerge from beds of star grass to gently nibble on you in a friendly fashion.

Just getting to the snorkel site is an adventure in itself, with a 20 minute or so trek through the jungle. Then you’re issued with your snorkel and fins and a knee-length wetsuit (to protect the wild inhabitants of the rivers swimmers aren’t allowed to wear sunscreen or insect repellent), then you float face down and enter a whole new world. Take time also to look up, though – there are 200 different species of birds living in the lush vegetation that border the rivers.

If you think this might be for you, check out our ‘Rio, Waterfalls, Rivers and Coast’ trip or talk to us about a bespoke itinerary.

Wild inland swimming

There are lots of places where you can swim in the Amazon river but the water is too dark and murky to snorkel. Yes, the Amazon is home to piranhas but, contrary to what we’ve all seen on James Bond films etc., they don’t actually attack people! Tribes’ consultant Paul Cook – a huge fan of snorkelling in Rio de Prata – went kayaking and swimming on a cruise on the Peruvian Amazon aboard the Delfin and, we are happy to report, came back in one piece!

Sacha Lodge in the Ecuadorian Amazon has created a swimming pool within a mesh-enclosed area of the Pilchicocha Lake. This lets guests shake off the rainforest heat in the lake without running the risk of encountering caiman or 6’ long giant otters, who look cuddly but are very territorial and have a nasty bite. You may still be able to enjoy seeing them swimming on the other side of the net, but have the reassurance that the encounter will remain friendly!

Costa Rica has plenty of river floats and waterfalls. At Rio Perdido they have a unique thermal river. It’s fed by hot springs and is bathtub temperature. You can walk along the river and jump in and out without worrying about the temperature, and the river it is too hot for anything to live inside. So, no snorkelling possibilities, but what a fabulous experience!

 

Karen Coe

When she's not writing about things Tribes Travel-related Karen is writing about her other great love - historic motorsport. She's also exceptionally fond of dogs, including Tribes' resident canine Finn, though she doesn't usually write about them.