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First Timer’s Guide to Lake of Stars Festival, Malawi

Let me show you what to expect from Lake of Stars Festival, in Malawi. Here’s what to expect, what you need to prep and festival tips to help you have a brilliant time.

Unfortunately my overriding memory of Lake of Stars Festival will be me, standing on the Lake Malawi beach at the main stage – that same one that’d seemed so wonderful in the sun just a few hours before – with the weather we’d been warned about all day, blasting the sand in our faces at 100mph.

Epic sandstorm. 

Lake of Stars Festival stage

To begin with the bristly, coarse sand had merely been dancing around us, but now, it was blasting in our faces / hair / ears / every orifice thanks to the breeze / tornado coming in over Lake Malawi.

Lake of Stars music festival

I was only wearing shorts so the harsh sand hit my bare legs, relentlessly.

I thanked past Vicky for picking up her sarong on the way out, at the very last minute, as this was currently tied round my face and shoulders, the only thing between me and a face and mouth full of sand.

I had prescription glasses on to see, and my sunglasses on top as further protection, just because the frames were bigger. I used everything I had to keep the sand out.

calm before the storm
– That day at Lake of Stars Festival, Malawi, having a lovely time

And so did everyone else, which meant that the few of us that were left at the festival kept banging into each other as we couldn’t see in front of us.

Apparently, said my friends, we just had to stay until the headliners, Major Laser, had played ‘Particula’.

I hate to be negative about what was overall an incredible experience, but it could NOT come soon enough. Never wanted a day at a festival to end so bad.

Wind at Lake of Stars Festival

The fact that I’d been ill (maybe gastro-enteritis?) for at least 24 hours didn’t help. Couldn’t even drink through it. It was horrible.

I spent at least an hour hiding out in the toilet block to escape the sandstorm.

As usual though, as soon as it was over I decided it was actually quite fun, and definitely a festival experience to remember.

Lake of Stars in Malawi is without a doubt one of the most unique and interesting festivals I’ve been to

Lake of Stars Festival, Malawi

The rest of the festival had been fun. Well, Friday and Saturday day. Thanks to completely losing my voice, and my friend suffering the same gastroenteritis on the Saturday we’d left at about 8pm. Completely missing Sauti Sol – the other major headliner.

I don’t want my grumpy / gastro / sandy Lake of Stars experience to put you off any LOS festival action though, so let me tell you what was great about the Lake Malawi Festival.


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Lake of Stars location

Location of Lake of Stars

Lake of Stars Festival changes location each year, or every few years, so I’m not sure how useful this point will be for you. But I thought the Kurumba Lodge location was brilliant.

The lodge is currently in the midst of being built which might seem a strange choice of place for a festival but it worked out perfectly as us festival goers didn’t get a plush new hotel dirty, but we got to use the facilities. It’s gonna be lush when it’s done.

Swings at Lake of Stars

There were swings at the bar, great toilets, places to stay nearby, a car park, a media centre and most importantly judging by all the phones plugged in, electricity. 

Toilets at Lake of Stars

Lake of Stars 2018 had proper toilets.

Proper, plumbed in, always toilet roll, sinks and mirrors toilets. Absolute dream. Best toilets I’ve ever experienced at a festival seriously. 

Thankfully.

One of my top tips for things to pack for Lake of Stars would be any kind of gastro upset drugs you can. I was so poorly and as you can tell from this review, it really affected my experience.

LOS Friendliness

Lake of Stars Festival has SUCH a friendly vibe. You couldn’t sit around for long without someone wanting a chat. This was kinda the reason I lost my voice on day two, and then went home. It felt rude not to be able to answer properly!

On day three I was back and loving life covering everyone in glitter. Here’s our friend Austin, modelling my best work.

Out of all the amazing festivals around the world I’ve been to, Lake of Stars was definitely one of the friendliest.

Go with an open mind and an open heart and share the festival love!

Cool music at Lake of Stars Festival

Lake of Stars Festival stage

I went to Lake of Stars Festival with very little preconceptions, about the festival and the music. I didn’t know what to expect and I wasn’t really familiar with any of the artists either.

In fact, I only knew about two songs by Major Laser and that was it.

Lake of Stars
Lake of Stars Festival, Malawi

This meant we were totally open to seeing new bands, which was great. No agenda, no itinerary – we could just go where the day took us.

Quite different from my usual trick of studying the line ups weeks in advance for festivals like Glastonbury and Coachella, and marking who I want to see and when.

We’d got a free transfer from Lilongwe, thanks to our press passes, and this meant we were on the bus with a few of the acts playing. Some of them had come a LONG way to play at the festival. As in, 30+ hour bus rides from other African countries.

Vibe of Lake of Stars Festival

– Famous singer Berita with Helen – she was great, loved her.

It was a fun atmosphere on the bus with everyone excited for their performance. So we went to see them, and both of our new friends – Berita and Slickarte – ended up being among our top highlights of the fest.

You just need to have an open mind when it comes to the music at Lake of Stars, and be prepared to see new acts you’ve never heard of before. And to make friends with them when they join the crowd afterwards too. Never had that at a festival before!

Shopping at Lake of Stars

There were 10 or so little stands at the festival, all selling cool stuff by local artists. I bought a layered beaded necklace for $5, which worked with my outfits perfectly.

Gave me that little African vibe, y’know?

The Lake of Stars drinks prices

Malawi Festival

With the exchange rate, the drinks prices at Lake of Stars Festival 2018 were pretty sweet.

Soft drink 500 kwacha / 50p

Wine 2000 kwacha / £2

Beer 1500 kwacha / £1.50

Soda water 1000 kwacha / £1

Food at Lake of Stars Festival

There were eight food stalls at Lake of Stars in the food court, and then there were chefs doing BBQs all over the grounds.

BBQ at Lake of Stars Festival

Over the three days I had a chicken shwarma, chicken and chips and ice cream. Really enjoyed them all.

The choices were limited on the grounds though, basically, chicken and / or chips. There was also a Korean Kitchen which seemed very popular, but ran out on the last day when I had wanted to go.

Lake of Stars accommodation

Lake of Stars Festival accommodation

Thank GOD we decided not to camp. In the crazy winds there’s no way I could’ve handled that. We were worried about all the tech we had with us and didn’t want to just leave it. There is camping on site though and at Kurumba Lodge there were plenty of showers and toilets to use.

Could change next year with the change of venue, but this is just my experience.

Instead, we were staying about a 30-minute drive from Lake of Stars at Mpatsa Lodge in Salima, in Senga Bay. We didn’t really mean to be that far but it was only a $10 taxi ride away, split between the three of us. We managed to find a great taxi driver, Wellings, through our hotel who dropped us off and picked us up every day.

He was a university lecturer but worked the taxis for the festival to get the money in.

We could phone him when we were ready to go home and he’d come and pick us up and drop us off. What a guy. My Malawi dad. 

By the end of the three days I feel like we bonded with him quite well.

History of Lake of Stars Festival

Will Jameson, a British guy, set up Lake of Stars Festival back in 2004. He was a volunteer in Malawi and wanted to use culture and tourism to bring people to the lake. He’d decided that the Malawi he saw on the news was an unfair portrayal of what he actually saw and wanted to show off artistic and cultural side to the country, and the surrounding Africa too.

Now more than 5000 people attend the African festival and it’s one of the most important events on the Malawi calendar.

Highlights of Lake of Stars Festival 2018

Lake of Stars culture

The poetry sessions were definitely a highlight for me. There was a session on the Beach Stage – which admittedly I wasn’t really into the idea of as I’d enjoyed dancing to Lazarus so much beforehand – but then as soon as the first guy started I was fascinated.

Getting to hear what the young Malawians felt passionately about – enough to write a poem – was really interesting. There was of course, a lot about the government, about love, about families and employment.

Lake of Stars Festival

If ever you’re at a festival in a different country I totally recommend going to the poetry corner, just to get to know more about the issues of the day.

The Malawian culture show was interesting too. I’m not entirely sure what was happening but it was great to hear the drums, the chanting and see the traditional dancing in such an amazing location.

Lake of Stars 2021

Malawi Lake of Stars Festival

The dates and location haven’t been announced for Lake of Stars 2021 just yet. Keep an eye on the website at lakeofstars.org to find out when it’s gonna be.

In 2018 Lake of Stars tickets were around £120 if you paid outside of Malawi, but if you wait until you’re in the country you can get them for £40. It’s very unlikely to sell out tbh.

Lake of Stars 2019

DATES and LOCATION for Lake of Stars 2019
Friday 27th September to Sunday 29th September.
At Kachere Castle in Nkhata Bay, Malawi

All Lake of Stars tickets include three nights of camping in the grounds. 

Lake of Stars Festival Malawi

FAQ about Lake of Stars Festival Malawi

How do you get Lake of Stars tickets?

You can buy Lake of Stars tickets online for international prices, to be sure, or wait until you’re in Malawi for cheaper. You can pick them up from certain hostels in Lilongwe, and shops.

Guide to Lake of Stars Festival

What kind of music do they play at Lake of Stars Festival?

The music at Lake of Stars festival was varied – I wouldn’t say there was really a ‘type’. From local poetry, to reggae with dancehall, to reggaeton, soca and house – there was all kinds.

Go, you’ll love it!

Just make sure you have a sarong and a pair of leggings on you at all times, for emergencies!

Lake of Stars Festival review

I really enjoyed Lake of Stars Malawi Festival, but I’m so glad we didn’t camp. It was so hot in the day and windy at night that I don’t think I could’ve coped. Definitely recommend checking it out for a day or weekend though!

Just one last thing before you go. Check out this video of what they did with the stages after Lake of Stars 2018. They made them into desks for the local Malawi schools – I mean, how absolutely, incredibly awesome is that? 

Lake of Stars Festival desk donation

Any questions about Lake of Stars Malawi, let me know below!


I chatted with Helen about Africa for my podcast, So She Travels.
Have a listen!


Pin these Lake of Stars music festival tips for later


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Tom

Tuesday 6th of August 2019

Hey! I just stumbled across your blog as I am heading to LOS this year and was interested in what previous years were like -you gave areally good and positive write up, so thank you.

You finished up asking if anyone had questions... I have one about transportation from Lilongwe. I know that this year its up north, unlike last year, and you also had press passes so got your transport sorted, but were you aware of any horror stories about people trying to get to the festival site by public transport? I'm worried the buses will all be filled with festival goers on top of regular people going about their business. Thanks!

VickyFlipFlop

Wednesday 14th of August 2019

Hi Tom, I took lots of different public transport options in Malawi and always felt safe on the buses. Yes, I took a press bus to the festival so can't really comment on those particular ones. If you're in Malawi before the festival you'll find that you'll meet a lot of different people who are going to the festival and might even find a lift with them. Also, if you're staying in a hostel there are often signs up asking for people to join car shares.

Hope that helps.