All inclusive beach holidays in Lamu, Kenya
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    Lamu Island, Kenya

    Lamu Island is a small costal town located on the Lamu Archipelago in Kenya, Lamu Island is situated 341 kilometers by road northeast of Mombasa and is the headquarters of Lamu County, built in coral stone and mangrove timber, the town is characterized by the simplicity of structural forms enriched by such features as inner courtyards, verandas, and elaborately carved wooden doors, The Lamu island is linked by boat to Mokowe on the mainland and to Manda Island where there is an airport. Lamu Old Town is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa, retaining its traditional functions. Lamu has hosted major Muslim religious festivals since the 19th century and has become a significant centre for the study of Islamic and Swahili cultures. With a core comprising a collection of buildings on 16 ha, Lamu Island has maintained its social and cultural integrity, as well as retaining its authentic building fabric up to the present day, once the most important trade centre in East Africa, Lamu Island has exercised an important influence in the entire region in religious, cultural as well as in technological expertise. A conservative and close-knit society, Lamu has retained its important status as a significant centre for education in Islamic and Swahili culture as illustrated by the annual Maulidi and cultural festivals. Unlike other Swahili settlements which have been abandoned along the East African coast, Lamu has continuously been inhabited for over 700 years. The growth and decline of the seaports on the East African coast and interaction between the Bantu, Arabs, Persians, Indians, and Europeans represents a significant cultural and economic phase in the history of the region which finds it’s most outstanding expression in Lamu Old Town, its architecture and town planning.


    The Lamu old town is characterized by narrow streets and magnificent stone buildings with impressive curved doors, influenced by unique fusion of Swahili, Arabic, Persian, Indian and European building styles. The buildings on the seafront with their arcades and open verandas provide a unified visual impression of the town when approaching it from the sea. While the vernacular buildings are internally decorated with painted ceilings, large niches (madaka), small niches (zidaka), and pieces of Chinese porcelain. The buildings are well preserved and carry a long history that represents the development of Swahili building technology, based on coral, lime and mangrove poles. The architecture and urban structure of Lamu graphically demonstrate the cultural influences that have come together over 700 hundred years from Europe, Arabia, and India, utilizing traditional Swahili techniques that produced a distinct culture. The property is characterized by its unique Swahili architecture that is defined by spatial organization and narrow winding streets. This labyrinth street pattern has its origins in Arab traditions of land distribution and urban development. It is also defined by clusters of dwellings divided into a number of small wards (mitaa) each being a group of buildings where a number of closely related lineages live. Attributed by eminent Swahili researchers as the cradle of Swahili civilization, Lamu became an important religious centre in East and Central Africa since the 19th century, attracting scholars of Islamic religion and Swahili culture. Today it is a major reservoir of Swahili culture whose inhabitants have managed to sustain their traditional values as depicted by a sense of social unity and cohesion. The origins of the town of Lamu date back to the 12th century, but the site was probably inhabited earlier. Archaeological evidence shows that there were two early Swahili settlements surrounded by walls, one to the south and the other to the north of the present town, which flourished in the early 13th century among the independent city states on the East African coast. It has been recorded as a large town with the office of Qadi (Muslim judge) in the mid 15th century. It first developed in the form of small clusters of stone buildings, including the Council Chamber, in the northern part of the present town (Pangahari, Yumbe) where the Friday mosque still is. The original market (Utuku Mkuu, the Great Market) lay west of this area. Later the town extended to the south (Mtamwini), an area north of the Fort, thus representing the full extent of the town in the 18th century. Lamu then came under Omani rule and was subject to the influx of Indian merchants from Gujerat in the 19th century. This period saw the building of the new Fort, and the development of the bazaar street, Usita wa Mui, and the area along the shore line. Lamu was first developed by local Bantu people together with maritime traders from the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf, and the Far East. The town merchants prospered acting as middlemen between the interior and the sea, exporting ivory and timber in exchange for manufactured goods such as cloth, porcelain and spices across the Indian Ocean. In 1506 Lamu was invaded by the Portuguese, who monopolized shipping and suppressed coastal trade; consequently, the once prosperous city state lost its position, and gradually declined. In 1585 and 1588 Lamu and other coastal towns suffered from raids by Turks and rose in rebellion but were crushed by the Portuguese. In 1652 the Sultanate of Oman was persuaded to help the city states to overthrow the Portuguese regime, which was accomplished in 1698.


    The Omani period under Omani protection the coastal commerce slowly regained its momentum, leading to a further development of Lamu and the construction, by skilled craftsmen and slave labour, of town houses and mosques using coral stone and mangrove timber. The merchants' houses were decorated with Chinese porcelain, and slaves were used to maintain plantations, keeping a share of the crops in return. In 1744 the Mazrui clan started ruling Mombasa, forming an alliance with the town of Pate in the north and forcing Lamu to strengthen its defenses. After winning a battle in 1813, Lamu invited Seyyid Said Ibn Sultan-al-Busaidi, the Sultan of Oman, to install a garrison to protect the town, leading to the construction of the Fort, which was completed in 1821. In 1840 the capital of Seyyid Said was transferred from Oman to Zanzibar, helping Lamu to prosper. In the 1880s the Sultan of Zanzibar was granted the islands of Zanzibar, Maria, Pemba, and Lamu, and a strip of the mainland up to Kipini in the north. The inland was declared open for European exploitation. Until the end of the 19th century the population contained a large number of slaves providing cheap labour and living both in the hinterland and in households. Freemen consisted of three social groups: the often land-owning merchants who lived in stone houses, the shariffs who claimed to be descendants of the Prophet Mohammed, and the fishermen and artisans. In the 19th century Lamu became an important religious centre as a result of tarika (The Way of the Prophet) activities introduced by Habib Swaleh, a shariff, who had many ancestors traced directly back to the Prophet Mohammed. The religious annual festival of Maulidi has continued up to the present day, attracting Muslim followers. Lamu has also become an important Islamic and Swahili educational centre in East Africa, owing to the relatively unchanged and conservative character of its Muslim society. In 1890 the entire coastal strip north of Zanzibar was assigned to the Imperial British East Africa Company. The East African Protectorate was established in 1895 and organized into provinces and districts under the new British administration in 1898. Lamu became the headquarters of Lamu District, administered by a resident British officer together with a Muslim officer (Liwali, Viceroy). During the British rule many houses were built on the reclaimed seafront, but after the construction of the railroad from Mombasa to Uganda in 1901 and the transfer of Protectorate government from Mombasa to Nairobi the town's economy gradually declined.


    This was caused partly by the abolition of slavery at the end of the 19th century and the loss of cheap labour. In a way, this contributed to Lamu retaining its traditional character. In 1963 Lamu became part of the independent state of Kenya. Aware of the cultural significance of the town, the government authorized the first conservation study, sponsored by UNESCO, in 1974 and the old town was gazetted as a national monument in 1983. Perhaps best left until the end of your stay in Kenya, LAMU may otherwise precipitate a change in your plans as you’re lulled into a slow rhythm in which days and weeks pass by unheeded and objectives get forgotten. The deliciously lazy atmosphere is, for many people, the best worst-kept secret on the coast. All the senses get a full work-out here, so that actually doing anything is sometimes a problem. You can spend hours on a roof or veranda just watching the town go by, feeling its mood swing effortlessly through its well-worn cycles – from prayer call to prayer call, from tide to tide, and from dawn to dusk. If this doesn’t hit the right note for you, you might actually rather hate Lamu: hot, dirty and boring are adjectives that have been applied by sane and pleasant people. You can certainly improve your chances of liking Lamu by not coming here at the tail end of the dry season, when the town’s gutters are blocked with refuse, the courtyard gardens wilt under the sun and the heat is sapping, Lamu’s unique blend of beaches, gentle Islamic ambience, funky old town and a host population well used to strangers was a recipe which took over where Marrakesh left off, and it acquired a reputation as Kenya’s Kathmandu; the end of the African hippie trail and a stopover on the way to India. Shaggy foreigners were only allowed to visit on condition they stayed in lodgings and didn’t camp on the beach. Not many people want to camp out these days. The proliferation of guesthouses in the heart of Lamu town encourages an ethos that is more interactive than hippie-escapist. Happily, visitors and locals cross paths enough to avoid any tedium – though for women travelling without men, this can itself become tedious. Having said that, there can hardly be another town in the world as utterly unthreatening as Lamu. Leave your room at midnight for a breath of air and you can stroll up a hushed Harambee Avenue, or tread up the darkest of alleys, and fear absolutely nothing. It’s an exhilarating experience. If you want to spend all your time on the beach, then staying in Shela is the obvious solution, and there’s an ever-growing range of quite stylish possibilities there, though hardly anywhere really inexpensive. Fewer people see the interior of Lamu Island itself, which is a pity, as it’s a pretty, if rather inhospitable area. Much of it is patched into shambas with the herds of cattle, coconut palms, mango and citrus trees that still provide the bulk of Lamu’s wealth.


    The two villages you might head for here are Matondoni, on the north shore of the island, by the creek, and Kipungani, on the western side. Devoid of traffic and all the noise associated with it, Lamu Kenya is a most relaxing East Africa coastal holiday destination that seems to somewhat be stuck in a time warp. That's just fine by most visitors, who really come to appreciate the fact that little has changed here since the 1800's, in fact "If you'd lived here 400 years ago you'd still recognise it now, many consider Lamu to be one of the best kept secrets in all of Africa, and visitors will marvel, no doubt, at the period architecture found here. Lamu has managed to maintain its old world charm and character due to the fact that it is dis-connected from the mainland. Tourists can only get here by way of boat, and there are scores of boat runners that flood the town's narrow waterfront. Once you're on Lamu Island, the primary modes of transportation are the numerous donkeys, which can sometimes be seen wandering about town. It's an utter joy to tour the narrow streets during your Lamu holidays and the Lamu beach experience is pretty much about as good as it gets. One of the best beaches in Kenya starts at Shela Village, which is basically a condensed version of Lamu, and much of Lamu Island, is dominated by picturesque sand dunes. Lamu will not disappoint, and much like the other top Kenyan coastal destinations, it's pretty easy to spend more time here than you may have originally planned. Lamu has always been a party because of its access to the deep waters, a calm sea, and a long shoreline. But its dependence on tourism makes its economy a bit redundant as almost everyone is a guide or operates a motorboat. Some of the buildings have been redone and the corals polished to a bright white. All of them, including those ones that are now relics, were once that bright white. You probably need to arm yourself with enough mosquitos repellant because the insects are ruthless! Add to the fact that mosquitoes are attracted to people who eat bananas!!!! While many people who engage in Lamu travel come primarily to relax on a Lamu Beach, there are some cultural pursuits that you won't want to miss out on. The first recommended cultural stop for those on a Lamu holidays are the Lamu Museum, which is found in town on the waterfront. Though it is small in size, it is jam-packed with interesting cultural and historical exhibits and pieces, and you can easily spend an hour or more here. If you want to arrange a day trip to Manda Island to see the Takwa Ruins, you can likely book a tour at one of the nicer Lamu hotels or contact us or and the numerous boat (dhow) operators will be happy to take you to all the main attractions in the archipelago. Those looking for fun and interesting travel to Lamu pursuits will not want to pass on a visit to nearby Shela Village. Just 2 miles from the town of Lamu, Shela not only has the best beaches in the area, but also some very interesting mosques that date back to the 1800's. 5 of the 6 mosques that were built in Shela Village were erected between the years 1829 and 1857, which is generally regarded as Shela Village's golden age. The Shiathna-Asheri Mosque is the most renowned of the Shela Village mosques, and really, all the islands here offer vestiges from the past that are worth exploring. In Lamu things to do largely revolve around enjoying the water. Though some might simply prefer to sun on a Lamu beach, others might take interest in experiencing the excellent scuba diving and snorkeling possibilities. You can even arrange a Kenya safari to Tsavo, Masai Mara or Amboseli if you please.


    The Dodoni Game Reserve is found on the coast of the mainland, and it certainly is worth checking out. Curiously enough, the Lamu cats found in town draw plenty of attention from those enjoying a vacation to Lamu. Believed to be related to the breed of cats that the Egyptians domesticated thousands of years ago, these felines are really quite elegant looking. You might take a snapshot or more of these curious creatures. Should you want to photograph locals on Lamu Island, as well as in Kenya in general, it's a good idea to ask first and to offer a tip afterwards. Because Lamu is a Muslim town, one cannot simply walk up to women and take random shots even of spontaneous moments. Other than the basics of etiquette that are emphasized here, it is important to handle female models with greater sensitivity than the male ones. In most cases, she must get first approval from her husband or father. But the men will readily offer you their wives henna artists. Since Lamu is Islamic-based, you might pay attention to the way you dress in town. Of course, when enjoying a Lamu beach, you can feel free to don your bathing suit, but back in town, it's generally advised that shorts and skirts at least reach the knee and that tops cover the shoulders. As a side note, there are several daily flights to Lamu (Manda Island) from Nairobi, so getting here from the capital is fairly easy. Sometimes compared with an earlier, more intimate, less-developed Zanzibar, Lamu (to the north of Malindi) the Lamu Archipelago, incorporating the island of Kiwayu some 60km (37 miles) from the Somali border, is sufficiently far north along the Kenyan Coast to have avoided mainstream tourism. Still, Lamu is hardly a travel secret. Princess Caroline of Monaco and Prince Ernst of Hanover "discovered" this place many years ago and still spend time each winter in their restored house in fashionable Shela, Lamu's second village and a fine place to explore once you've had your fill of the main town, which is busier and comparatively crowded. While Caroline and Ernst are hardly the only savvy Europeans who've invested in the restoration of old Arab houses here, development has been slow, and in many ways the relative isolation has drawn a more elite crowd -- certainly more discerning than those who swarm into the resorts along Mombasa's north coast. For many years, Lamu has offered a hideaway for aristocrats and celebrities, they’ve established summer retreats in restored Arabic mansions, retaining the medina-style architecture and injecting them with a posh, contemporary sensibility.


    While the local population has tried to avoid outside influence, it's hard to say that Lamu is not affected by the arrival of foreign money and the slow gentrification that's happened along many of its narrow lanes. Being a oldest living town in Kenya and a Lamu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In its heyday it was a major Indian Ocean trading post and an important stop-off for Arabia's ocean-going dhows blown in by the southbound monsoon in winter. Arriving laden with exotic goods from the Middle East, the golden days of the dhow trade routes are long gone, and Lamu's slippage into relative obscurity has spared it from modernization seen in busier ports such as Mombasa. Having sunk into genteel decay, the towns of Lamu and Shela became hippie magnets in the 1960s, and the archipelago has since unexpectedly evolved into a bolt-hole hideaway for the privileged set, with tourism steadily prodding it back to life. Its discreet popularity seems in some ways inexplicable -- Lamu town and Shela village are dusty, labyrinthine muddles where losing your way between the crumbling, towering coral houses is a whole lot simpler than avoiding the splattered donkey droppings, and the shoulder-width laneways are as atmospheric as they can be disconcerting. Yet the sense of stepping back in time, and of being in a place that's a true cultural anomaly with a unique and auspicious identity, is very real indeed. And once you step beyond the confines of the meager settlements -- high up on the dunes, on a vast palm-backed beach on the islands of Manda or Kiwayu, or on the southern tip of Lamu at Kipungani -- the sense of being on an island paradise, where the rhythm of life is determined by the tides and the phases of the moon, is very real, too. If ever there was a place for a prolonged, hassle-free holiday with as little as possible to do -- yet with plenty of options (from kitesurfing to low-flying air safaris) to make you feel alive -- then this is it. And the time to visit is now. If ever there was a scheme set to challenge Lamu's languid cultural soul, it's the much-anticipated heavy-duty port planned on the mainland facing the far northern end of Manda Island. Although work on the port is yet to begin, many believe it will spell the end of Lamu's romantic entanglement with timelessness. It's very easy to relax into the pole-pole ("slowly" in Swahili) pace of life in Lamu, spending hours on the beach or on your hotel terrace reading a book and sipping a delicious fresh fruit juice. There's plenty for the energetic to do here, however: you can go windsurfing, kayaking, fishing, snorkeling, and, if you're lucky, see pods of wild dolphins or turtles laying their eggs (or the eggs hatching) in the sand. You can also take a dhow cruise to visit ruins on Pate and Manda islands.


    How to Get to Lamu Island


    There are a number of options available to access Lamu; by air or by road, in both ways you will have to take a boat at the jetty to take you to the island a journey that takes you around 20 – 30 minutes depending on the kind of a boat you are using (either speed boat or wind boat). Lamu island is best reached by air either directly from Nairobi (Fly 540, Safari link and Air Kenya fly from Wilson Airport, Nairobi) or from Mombasa or Malindi to the south (operators include Mombasa Safari Air from Mombasa, which does not fly every day, and Fly 540 from Malindi). Kenya Airways currently does not fly to Lamu. This may be due to financial cut backs or the fact that the airstrip on Manda is in need of repair so the larger planes can't land at the moment. Nearest place to fly to with an 'all in' ticket is Malindi and then get the new low cost airline 'Fly540' to Lamu, you can book this flights or a packaged holiday online from us. For those on a tighter budget a daily bus service does run from Mombasa via Malindi. This route was notorious for attacks by Somali bandits and buses have in the past been stopped and robbed. As of Oct 2005 the security situation was deemed to be OK. Armed guards are taken on board the buses for the most dangerous part of the journey close to Lamu. No incidents with buses have happened in years. The trip from Mombasa to Lamu (Mokowe on the mainland) takes 5-7 hours depending on road conditions. The last part from Garsen to Mokowe is a mud road and can be rough. Get a seat in the front of the bus (book in advance) to get a pleasant trip. Several bus companies operate the route but few are express. Two express buses are Tawakal and Najaah. To get from Mokowe on the mainland it is possible to take the slow and crowded ferry, a shared speed boat or hire your own speed boat. All options will take you to Lamu Town. You can usually negotiate to be taken to Shela if this is your final destination. It's also possible -- but expensive -- to hire a car from Mombasa or Malindi. Tahmeed now provide Bus service from Nairobi to Mombasa and possible to book Mombasa-Lamu combined. Nairobi Booking/Departure from River Road near the intersection of Accra Road... At Mombasa, Tawakal and Tahmeed Offices (some 50 meters apart ) are at Abdel Nasir Road which is couple of kilometers away from the Nairobi-Mombasa bus terminal at Myembi Tyari Road, a Tuk tuk charge fixed KS 100 to get there.


    Best Time to Travel to Lamu Island


    Lamu is best visited during the cooler winter months of July and August, or from late November until the end of March. May – early July and November are traditionally the rainy months, while March and April are the hottest. If you enjoy a bit of cultural colour, visit in November to catch the Maulidi festival, which marks the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. This includes dhow and donkey racing and all sorts of home-grown entertainment and revelry. Temperatures are high year-round in Kenya, although the Lamu Archipelago is cooled by the sea winds. Go for an island odyssey in summer, and avoid the rainy seasons in April-May (when most hotels are closed) and October-November. Peak season is from November to March, with prices highest at Christmas; but the best time to visit is July to September.


    What to Expect in Lamu Island


    Lamu, with 28,000 people, 7,000 donkeys, and 2 cars, seems like some kind of African Venice. It's not just the absence of vehicular traffic, the narrow lanes, and the reliance on water to get around and get things done, but a kind of cultural autonomy that makes this Island look and feel like it was made to be admired, studied, and loved. Even if you're sequestered in total tranquility on Kiwayu Island or on the far end of Manda Island (both of which are superb island holiday destinations in their own right), arrange a day trip to Lamu town (the donkey-clogged lanes alone are worth a few hours of your time, preferably in the cooler morning or early evening). Life here revolves around the numerous mosques and along the seafront, tethered with weather-beaten dhows. Day begins with the first hour of daylight -- saa moja -- when you'll spot fishing dhows navigating through the gap in the reefs that leads to the open sea. Back in town, men go about their business (which is often doing nothing) in cheerful kikois or full-length djellabas, while many women remain shrouded in black bui buis, their expressive eyes the only point of contact with passing strangers. And, as everywhere on the coast, the young men of today strut the waterfront in their board shorts and oversized Manchester United shirts, and while they feign and mimic city-slicker attitudes, this is still a devout Muslim community with around 30 mosques and a faithful devotion to regular worship. Here you'll hear the muezzin calling for prayers and the less melodic calls of hustlers urging you to use their guide services or to climb aboard their boat for the day. For guides, use the recommendations of your Lamu hotel (the men and boys who hang around the jetty are a serious nuisance), and then ask them to show you anything other than the museums and obvious "attractions." Lamu's pulse is best felt in the cool, labyrinthine streets, shaded by multistory Swahili houses, many of which are now enjoying a second life as the winter retreat for fashionable Europeans. Make an effort to chat with people in the streets or visit with the storekeepers; you'll soon get the knack for telling the hustlers from the genuine souls, and when you bump shoulders with ordinary people who have no interest in selling you a guided tour, you'll find the interaction refreshing and agreeable. Don't be afraid of trying out the local, seedy-looking eateries and juice shops -- the food may be served in grimy surrounds, but it's generally delicious, and the juices thirst-quenching. If you'd prefer to snack and dine in more salubrious surrounds, you can find respite from the heat (which can be furious as the day marches on, prompting the afternoon closure of most stores) on the balcony of Lamu House or in the garden courtyards at Whispers Café or Bustani. Tiny as it is, Lamu town consists of more than 40 narrow streets, the main focus of which is now the Usita wa Mui -- or main business street (Harambee St.) -- which separates the old stone town (the World Heritage-listed area) from the 19th-century seafront. A few laps along either of these vibrant, always-bustling stretches will key you in to the exotic scents and images that will burn into your memory. Whether you're watching the dhows being loaded and offloaded, seeing artisans chisel away at a chunk of wood, or simply observing as the children splash in the water or the donkeys huddle for shade beneath the boats marooned by low tide, there's always something extraordinary, yet simple, to see. If you'd prefer a more formal introduction to Swahili culture, you could visit the Lamu Museum (Ksh500 adults, Ksh200 children; daily 8am-6pm), initially established as the residence of the last English governor.


    There's a collection of exhibits meant to reflect the history and cultural life of Lamu Island and the surrounding Swahili towns, and there's some focus given to the tribes of Kenya's northern coastal areas. Sadly, despite the beautifully restored facade, the museum conceals a lackluster exhibition space and in places looks as if it's been ransacked. Still, if you have the patience, you might pick up a few insights. One good reason to be in Lamu is to get better acquainted with Swahili architecture. The historic houses are generally built according to the same traditional style -- typically, they're two- or three-storied, flat-roofed, oblong structures built around a small open courtyard -- with elements designed to defend against the elements (you'll notice how the rooms stay cool despite the temperatures outside). Rooms are usually long and narrow, which -- together with lots of small open windows -- helps with air circulation. Walls are coated in a lime paste known as neru made from coral, which also works as a natural coolant. You'll see these and other architectural quirks in a number of the restored houses now serving as Lamu guesthouses and Lamu hotels, but you'll also get a good look at such details at the Swahili House Museum (near Juma Mosque, Old Town; Ksh500; daily 8am-6pm), occupying a restored upper-class home dating from the 18th century. It's worth noting the wells or pools in the gardens and courtyards of the traditional houses; these are known as birika and were used to store water for bathing. Water was drawn from the pools using a coconut-shell ladle -- small fish are traditionally kept in the birika and help keep the water clean, while controlling mosquito numbers by feeding on any mosquito larvae. Inside you may notice that Swahili beds are quite high off the ground -- apparently servants and slaves would sleep under here. Another historic landmark -- quite imposing from the outside and something of a geographic and social landmark -- is Lamu Fort (admission Ksh200, or free with Lamu Museum ticket), built by the last sultan of Lamu between 1813 and 1821 after Lamu defeated Pate and Mombasa in the Battle of Shela. Sadly, as an attraction, it's a total letdown, used these days as a conference venue and municipal offices, with not a single jot of useful information or exhibition material to help you make sense of it as part of the town's history. Views of the town from the upper bulwarks are pretty good, but not necessarily worth the ticket fee. Frankly, there's a lot more going on in the square in front of the Fort. Here you'll usually spot men playing bao, said to be the oldest game in recorded history, while the market, tucked off to one side of the fort, is a good place to sample a bit of local color. But Lamu is more than just an ancient, labyrinthine town of narrow streets packed with secrets. The islands of Lamu, Manda, and Pate are a mix of deep-blue channels and coral reef with protected bays and broad, sandy beaches with sand dunes and mangroves; there's plenty to explore once you get out of town. Lamu's most obvious beach is the unbroken 13km (8-mile) crescent-shaped stretch that runs southwest from the edge of Shela village to the steadily evolving collection of holiday villas around unspoiled Kipungani. Backed by sand hills and palm trees, it's a gloriously secluded place to unfurl your beach towel (bring lots of sunscreen), and you could spend hours simply gathering shells and watching crabs scuttle over the shore.


    Shela village, at the foot of some high dunes, can be reached easily by a short boat trip or a pleasant 45-minute walk from Lamu town (it's 4km/2 1/2 miles away) and is another must-see. A bit of a hippie stronghold during the 1960s, it continues to serve as a popular retreat for foreigners who've invested in Lamu. While the beach is a big attraction, the village itself is also a more placid place than Lamu, and locals are even more willing to interact. There are also one or two prestigious-looking boutiques and galleries tucked between the renovated mansions. Now considered the wealthy neighbor to Lamu, it's ironic that Shela was originally established as a colony for the people who had fled Manda when their water supply dried up. Best known of the buildings here is Peponi Hotel, Shela's unchallenged landmark and society hub; the beautiful colonnaded villa on the edge of the water was built by the English governor in the 1930s. A sunset drink on the terrace is considered one of the quintessential Lamu experiences, although some find the busy bar a bit too much of a scene. Immediately behind Peponi's is the Jumaa Mosque (or Friday Mosque), probably the most interesting and unusual-looking building in all of Lamu, especially loved by photographers because of its pepper-pot minaret. No trip to Lamu would be complete without a full and proper dhow trip, preferably powered by wind rather than diesel, while a visit to the Takwa Ruins at the end of the mangrove-lined creek on Manda Island makes for an intriguing visit. For snorkeling, your best bet is a day trip to Manda Toto, a tiny island near the northern end of Manda (the season runs Dec-Apr, when the water clears up), and intrepid divers will potentially find enormous sharks if you're brave enough to drop in beyond the reef that protects the archipelago. You could combine any of these activities with dhow sailing, and if you have the time, you could also set off on a daytrip to Kipungani, a laid-back town with two eco-friendly resorts and a gorgeous beach on the southern end of Lamu Island. Northernmost of the islands is Kiwayu Island, a narrow strip of beach rising to a high ridge with dense bush-covered dunes. The island, with just two small villages, shelters a beautiful bay and lies at the heart of a marine reserve with greater snorkeling.


    And between Manda and Kiwayu lies the virtually unexplored island of Pate, where archaeologists have found evidence of mud mosques dating back to the 8th century at a place called Shanga, and you can visit the impressive Siyu Fort, built around the same time as the fortress in Lamu. If you want to visit this seldom-seen island, you'll need to organize a boat and a guide and go prepared for a full day's adventure.


    Lamu Boat Transfers


    Picking up a dhow cruise is straightforward enough, as you can make arrangements through us while booking your hotel (usually a very good idea, given the amount of bargaining that you'll otherwise be subjected to by the myriad fishermen offering this service). Alternatively, there's the totally upmarket and exclusive Tusitiri Dhow (which offers a unique opportunity to sail around the Lamu archipelago aboard a traditional Swahili ship with an 11-man crew and evocative decor. The boat is available for sundowner cruises (10-20 adults at $100 per person, with 3 hr. of music, drinks, and canapés) or dinner (8-12 people for 6 hr. at $ 200 per head for a three-course meal with soft drinks, wine, and beer), but the ultimate is a 3-night safari where you stay on board. There are below-deck bathrooms, and your hosts provide linen, bathrobes, and towels, ensuring that this is a truly hassle-free experience. You sleep on deck under the stars on comfortable roll-up beds that are unfurled after dinner; there's space on board for up to 10 guests. By day, besides the incessant wining and dining (mostly fresh seafood, huge mangrove crabs, lobster, prawns, and the catch of the day), there's a range of activities (snorkeling, fishing, waterskiing, windsurfing, and other water sports) for when you tire of the languid exploration of the inland waters, deserted beaches, and island hideaways. Although there's a motor, when conditions allow, Tusitiri raises her sails and the wind powers you around in time-honored tradition. The cost is $3,000 per night for the hire of the boat, plus $80 per person full board, which includes accommodation, wine, beer, soft drinks, certain spirits, boat transfer, deep-sea and creek fishing, water sports, sundowners, and travel between the islands.


    Lamu Island Weather


    Kenya is famous for its glorious weather, exceptional light and beautiful skies. The coastal area is tropical and daily temperatures consistently range from 27 to 31°C (81-88°F) with some humidity. The Lamu Island benefits from gentle and refreshing sea breezes which cool Lamu shores. Rainfall can be expected between April and May (the long rains) and again between October and December. January to March is the dry season and temperatures are generally higher. With a climatic zone 10 miles wide, the coastal weather system is influenced by the Kaskazi and Kuzi monsoons. The first of these, the Kaskazi blows in from the north-east during the months of November to March inclusive. Reasonably benign, these relatively dry winds, though warm, help mitigate the effects of an otherwise very humid atmosphere. The second monsoon, the Kuzi, lasts from April through to September, and brings with it the long rains, which last from April through to June, with May being the year’s wettest month. The short rains, though present, are less significant, and occur between October and November. While slightly drier in the north, rainfall all along the coast is reasonably constant, with Lamu experiencing an annual average of 800mm, Malindi - a third of the way down - around 1050mm and Mombasa coming in at 1160mm. In the coast hinterlands - west of the belt - the picture is markedly different, drier, less predictable, and more subject to the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) than it is the Kuzi monsoon winds (see South and eastern Kenya). May to September is the windiest period, March and November the calmest. The average annual temperature throughout is 26°C, though it is not unusual during the months of December, January and February to experience temperatures of up to 30°C. In terms of visiting the coast, the period between late November and early March is the hottest, calmest, and it is when the sea is at its clearest. This said, and apart from April and May, when it is wet, the rest of the year is also relatively fine, with the short rains limiting themselves to short late afternoon and night time downpours. For snorkling, diving and swimming, late November through to March is best, when the sea is clearer, while fishing depends on type - marlin arrive in the last week of November, with the Kaskazi monsoon, and the tuna season is September through to October.


    Lamu Restaurants


    The obvious culinary attraction in Lamu is seafood, and there is plenty available, with excellent fish, crabs, lobster, oysters and more. There is also an abundance of fresh tropical fruits and vegetables. There is a range of restaurants in Lamu town. Some hotels have their own restaurants. Many serve Swahili Cuisine, a traditional blend of Arabic and African cooking styles. Swahili specialties are mild curries made from a thick coconut sauce, and seafood cooked with cloves and cinnamon. Lamu is also well known for its locally produced Yoghurt. Privately rented homes usually have a cook provided, who will buy ingredients and prepare meals to your taste. The seafood is amazing - lobsters, crabs, prawn fresh from the sea. Swahili-style food is surprisingly plain but fresh and delicious. Do not expect hot curries in the restaurants. If you crave a toasted sandwich and a cappuccino then check-out Whispers Cafe (in Lamu Town) in the street behind Palace Hotel. If you are in Shela, drinking a cool beer or an 'Old Pal' cocktail on the terrace of the Peponi Hotel, you might like to try the delectful BBQ lunch! Don't leave it too late to eat as most restaurants close by 8.30pm; Moonrise is not only the best place for dinning in Lamu town, but the only decent place to have a drink (including cocktails and a selection of mainly South African and Chilean wines). Set on a raised terrace (thoughtfully designed so that local Muslims won't have to witness alcohol consumption when they walk by), the restaurant gets a wonderful cooling breeze. Café Bastani is the best restaurant in Lamu town has an appealing waterfront location, and a good selection of seafood and other dishes. It’s also one of the few places in town to openly serve beer and wine. Labanda Restaurant is located on the main seafront of Lamu Town, nice clean restaurant at very reasonable price, Bush Gardens Restaurant - Perched along the waterfront, with calming views and delicious breakfasts; Bush Gardens is a relaxing escape from the city. Indulge in excellent seafood, or healthy juices or shakes over an intimate dinner or festive lunch watching the world go by. Bush Gardens Restaurant offers a great location and ambiance. If you seek a glass of wine, you are advised to bring your own.


    Communication in Lamu Island


    Communication with the outside world from Lamu is hit and misses at times with local Cyber Cafés with reasonable rates to access Internet and e-mail services not always having good lines. However many hotels have better internet access and with most of the island and surrounding area having GSM coverage those visitors who cannot afford to be out of touch with their businesses will be able to send and receive email through their corporate networks on their cell phones. (If not then you probably aren’t that important and won’t be missed anyway!) As a general rule, there is no problem to make international calls from Lamu. However, expect lack of signal inside the island and in some other places of the coast.


    Health & Safety


    Lamu is a malaria risk area and because of its proximity to the border with Somalia, the area is subject to instability. Thus all travelers should check government sources for travel advisories, consult a health care provider or travel medicine clinic prior to booking a trip and review medical coverage to ensure it applies abroad and covers emergencies. Other health risks include sunburn, strong tidal pull, and travelers' diarrhea. Family Travel Tips: Safeguard against the southern sun. - Wear sunglasses and a hat with a brim. Apply high factor sunscreen to all exposed areas. - Don't swim during the outgoing tide, never swim alone and supervise children carefully. Be careful about what you eat and drink can help, it can help prevent traveler's diarrhea. - Wash your hands before eating. Avoid raw foods. Peel uncooked fruits and vegetables. Drink bottled water only. Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, including milk, cheese and ice cream. - While prophylactic treatment is recommended for visitors to risk areas no drug is 100% effective in preventing malaria hence it's important to avoid mosquito bites. Here are three tips: 1) use insect repellent with DEET. 2) Wear trousers and long-sleeved shirts after dark. 3) Sleep under a treated mosquito net or in a screened or air conditioned room.


    Things to Keep in Mind


    Lamu is Muslim communities so dress modestly as a courtesy to locals and refrain from public displays of affection. Alcohol isn't served in local restaurants but is available in some hotels. Beach boys, hawkers and touts can be a bit of a nuisance but there's little one can do but be firm and polite. Keep in mind that competition for tourist dollars in Lamu town is fierce so you will be besieged by dhow captains and tour guides upon arrival. Our advice: pick a tour guide you like and stick with him (there are no female tour guides as yet; feminism has barely made an impact on Swahili culture.) Try to find someone who will give good weight and please realize that he's investing his time and hard-earned expertise. You can pre-book accommodations in Lamu, although most mid-range and backpacker hotels don't yet have their own websites, feel free to book on this site, You can also pre-book dhow trips either with Promise Ahadi, the dhow operators' association, Any dhow trip is fun, and an aspect of life in the region that shouldn't be missed! Also don't miss the chance to eat at the Seafront Cafe -- it's locally owned, and much better (and cheaper) than Whispers. The garlic crab is about $6 and is as good as we've eaten for nearly 10 times that much in California.


    Lamu Museum


    The Lamu Museum is on the waterfront, housed in a building once occupied by Jack Haggard, Queen Victoria's consul in this outpost. Displays on Swahili culture include a reconstructed Swahili house and relics from Takwa. Other exhibits include Lamu's nautical history, the Maulid Festival and tribes that lived along this part of the coast, including the Boni who were legendary elephant hunters. The nautical section of the Lamu museum features a variety of dhows Ceremonial horns, or siwa, are an important part of the collection. The Lamu siwa is made from engraved brass but the siwa from Paté was carved from a single elephant tusk. One of the largest buildings on the seafront dating from 1892 and once the home of the local leader, Lamu Museum has the finest characteristics of the verandah-style architecture of the 19th century. Housed in a very grand Swahili warehouse on the waterfront, the Lamu Museum is an excellent introduction to the culture and history of Lamu Island. It's one of the most interesting small museums in Kenya, with displays on Swahili culture and famous coastal carved doors.


    Takwa Ruins Lamu Island


    Takwa Ruins are located in the Manda Island, northern side of Lamu. The ruins are the remains which include a wall that surrounded the town, about 100 houses, a mosque, ablution facilities and a tomb dating back to 1683. The ruins are those of an ancient Swahili town which is believed to have prospered from the 15th to the 17th centuries, with a population of between 2000- 3000 people. Takwa was a holy City since doors faced towards Mecca; however the city was eventually deserted after fighting broke out between Takwa and Pate. The Takwa site can be easily reached from Lamu town. The ruins were first excavated by James Kirkman in 1951. In 1972 the site was cleared again under the supervision of James de Vere Allen, the Curator of the Lamu Museum. Takwa was never a large place. It was founded around 1500, and probably abandoned around 1700. Kirkman thought that it was perhaps a place where holy men or religious people retreated. The Great Mosque at Takwa is relatively well preserved. The other structure of importance is the Pillar Tomb, which has an inscription with the date of 1681-1682. It is reported that when Takwa was abandoned, its inhabitants settled just across the bay at Shela on Lamu Island. Twice a year the people of Shela come to the Pillar Tomb in Takwa to pray for rain. (Martin, p. 27) The Takwa Ruins were designated a Kenyan National Monument in 1982. But be careful - the boats have no shade and you are in the sun (and on water) for several hours. As the entry through the mangroves is reliant on tides, you can be sitting waiting for quite some time before you approach the landing spot to disembark for the ruins. While many people who engage in Lamu travel come primarily to relax on a Lamu Beach, there are some cultural pursuits that you won't want to miss out on.


    Swahili House Museum


    The Swahili House Museum on Lamu gives visitors a glimpse of the traditional setup of a Swahili home. Houses are usually oblong and built around a small open courtyard. The houses in the few remaining very traditional towns are single-story buildings, but in a wealthier and crowded town, such as Lamu, most are two-storied and many have three stories – the structurally safe limit. A story is typically added when the occupying family expands by the marriages of its daughters. In some grander houses the ground floor was occupied by slaves and used as warehouses, and the family members lived above.


    Drainage is an important consideration: houses have flat roofs and house drains send the often heavy rainfall into the streets drains, which empty into the sea. The axis of a typical house runs north and south. The entrance to the courtyard is properly at the north end and the owners private rooms are at the south end. The vagaries of the street layouts mean that a staircase from the front door may twist and change directions so as to end up in the right place. The traditional house is a very private place, its outside walls having only holes for ventilation.


    Lamu Donkey Sanctuary


    Once you're on Lamu Island, the primary mode of transportation are the numerous donkeys, which can sometimes be seen wandering about town. It's an utter joy to tour the narrow streets during your Lamu vacation, and the Lamu beach experience is pretty much about as good as it gets. One of the best beaches in Kenya starts at Shela Village, which is basically a condensed version of Lamu, and much of Lamu Island is dominated by picturesque sand dunes. Lamu Africa will not disappoint, and much like the other top Kenyan coastal destinations, it's pretty easy to spend more time here than you may have originally planned. Lamu Town is generally regarded as the oldest town in Kenya, and it is primarily a Swahili settlement. Founded in the 14th century by Arab merchants, Lamu soon became an East African base that began to really take shape in the 15th century. Since donkeys are the main method of transport in Lamu, the Donkey Sanctuary was started provide treatment for working donkeys. Located in northern Lamu, near the waterfront hosting, an estimated 2,200 donkeys used for agriculture as well as to carry household provisions and building materials can be seen here. Regular treatment clinics have been established, including a worming program every six months that are offered free of charge. Courses and training are offered including harnessing and donkey care. Local donkeys that have been injured are also brought to the stable for rehabilitation and rest. Animal welfare is promoted with an annual donkey competition that gives a prize for the donkey in the best condition.


    Lamu Fort Lamu Island


    Lamu Fort is a 19th-century structure in Lamu, Kenya, built between 1813 and 1821 with Omani help. At first it provided a base from which the Omanis consolidated their control of the East African coast, after which the town lost economic importance. During the British colonial period and after the independence of Kenya the fort was used as a prison. Today it houses an environmental museum and a library, and may be used for community events. Lamu Fort is a defensive structure that was erected at the southeast corner of the old stone town of Lamu. The fort was built beside the Pwani Mosque, the oldest know mosque in Lamu, with origins in the 14th century. The fort originally lay on the waterfront, which then ran along the main street of the town but has since retreated.


    Thomas Boteler, who visited Lamu in 1823, described the fort as "a large square building, with a tower at each corner, but constructed so slightly that in all probability the discharge of its honeycombed ordnance would soon bring the whole fabric to the ground." It had a "large vaulted entrance consisted of three stories of balconies, supported inside by arches. Captain W. F. W. Owen, who visited at the same time, noted that the fort was "one hundred yards square, and surrounded by walls from forty to fifty feet high.” Today the fort is in a central position in the town. It is about 70 metres (230 ft) from the main jetty on the shore. The fort today is a massive two-story stone building. The squat and powerful structure contrasts with the elegant Swahili architecture of the other buildings in the town.


    Lamu Cultural Festival


    Lamu Cultural Festival is a celebration of both the past and the future, and the beliefs and traditions that are the heart and soul of the Lamu community. Most visitors to the Lamu Island fall in love with this relaxed and peaceful lifestyle, and visiting during the Lamu Cultural Festival is a chance to experience Lamu life at its most exuberant and joyous. Each year, Lamu comes to life during the annual Lamu Cultural Festival. Several competitions and races are staged during this week long festival. These events are designed to each encourage local skills or practices that are central to Lamu life. These include traditional Swahili poetry, Henna painting, Bao competition... Bao is probably the oldest known game in human history, with archaeological evidence suggesting that the game has been played throughout Africa and the Middle East for thousands of years. In order to preserve and encourage the art of dhow sailing, now threatened by increasing availability of engines and prefabricated boats, a dhow race is also held. The town’s finest dhows are selected to compete, and race under sail through a complicated series of buoys, combining speed with elaborate tacking and maneuvering skill. Other events include swimming, and at times a challenging cross country race along the waterfront, all the way to Shela village and back- all in the physically draining heat of the day. The real highlight of every festival involves the town’s most endearing symbol- the donkey race. Local donkey jockeys literally spend the entire year honing their riding skills for this event, and the winning rider wears his title with great pride. Being a winning donkey jockey requires a specific set of skills. As with most such races, small physical stature is helpful, but keeping a stubborn donkey moving and on course requires a definite talent. Lamu Cultural Festival is a celebration of both the past and the future, and the beliefs and traditions that are the heart and soul of this community


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