You say you want a tank with colorful fish? You say you want a tank with a lot of activity? You say you want a tank full of very hardy fish? If that is the case, then a tank full of African Cichlids is what you want! Most of the African Cichlids offered for sale are from the two major lakes, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Malawi in the eastern half of Africa. Both lakes have very hard water with a higher pH from 7.8 to 8.4. They also have a mix of unusual carbonate salts (Potassium, Manganese, etc) and trace elements. For hobbyists with soft, low pH tap water, manufacturers make specialized buffers and salt mixes to make the water similar to the lakes and help maintain the health of the African Cichlids.
The cichlids from Lake Malawi prefer to have lots of rocks and caves to use to set up territories and during spawning they will vigorously defend “their” space. These fish also will not tolerate other fish that have a very similar color pattern to theirs. Generally you would want one male and several females to cut down on aggression and to enhance your changes of breeding. Most of the Malawi cichlids are mouthbrooders. The female and male circle each other while spawning, the female releasing an egg and then the male moves in to fertilize it, then the female picks up the egg and incubates it for 10-14 days in her mouth before releasing the small fry. While the female is carrying the eggs, she needs a refuge to get away from the other fish in the aquarium and ideally should be isolated to allow her to eat well before re-introducing her to the male. The fry are large enough to eat ground up flakes and algae and will grow very quickly for the first 2-3 months. Unless you are interested in “survival of the fittest” it is best to raise the fry in a separate aquarium or grow out tank.
Be aware that African cichlids have their own sense of feng shui and will be constantly rearranging the gravel in the tank. Any rocks should be placed directly on the bottom of the tank to avoid having the fish dig out the support and cause a landslide of rocks. Most live plants will not tolerate the abuse of the African cichlids; exceptions can include most Anubius species, Onion Plant and Java Fern. Otherwise the artificial plants are your best bet. These cichlids are also very active fish, constantly on the move and exploring their environment. Essentially, they are always up to something!