Exploring the beauty of Lamu Island
Steeped in traditional Swahili culture, the people of Lamu devoutly protect and preserve its precious heritage as one of the oldest Swahili settlements in East Africa. Calm and tranquil, you’d be forgiven for believing that stepping onto Lamu Island was stepping back in time with the clopping of donkeys’ hooves proceeding the mosques’ daily call to prayer.
We flew into Manda airport just an hour flight from Nairobi, landing on an airstrip engulfed by dense foliage before catching a speed boat to Lamu, the only method of transport to reach the island.
Donkeys line the narrow streets of quaint Old Lamu Town which twist and turn with every barber shop and braaied mielie spot. Both Lamu Town and its neighbouring Shela are characterised by old coral stone walls often surrounding elaborate hand carved doors.
We were welcomed with open arms by locals upon arrival and their friendliness and helpfulness was extended throughout our stay. Lamu embodies preserved beauty, somewhere to relax and unwind but mostly somewhere to experience authentic culture largely unpolluted by western ideologies. From eating Swahili street food on a sunset dhow boat ride to morning runs along the coast, Lamu is rich in unique experiences and somewhere I have doubt I will return soon.
Exploring the beauty of Lamu Island
Arrival in Lamu
Most importantly upon arrival in Lamu is to adjust to Lamu life, which is in my opinion: ‘pole-pole’, Kiswahili for ’take it slowly’. Lamu isn’t about tourist sites or ’top 10 attractions’. Lamu is a place of rest, a place to reconnect with yourself as you are immersed in a laid-back, carefree way of life.
Lamu house boasts beautiful Swahili architecture with quaint courtyards, an indoor and outdoor pool as well as a rooftop terrace with panoramic view of the town. Enjoy drinks on the rooftop while trying your hand at a game of boa, a traditional board game enjoyed across East Africa.
Depending on the tide, it’s a beautiful 3km walk along the shoreline from Lamu to Shela, passing traders, food markets and dhow builders. You might catch a few locals running along the coast but keep a look out for BodaBoda (motorcycle taxis) using the same route.
Despite their close proximity, Shela and Lamu Town couldn’t feel more different. Though beautiful and more polished than Lamu Town, Shela appeared to be the place for people to retreat to their homes and villas and was more dominantly occupied by expats.
Sunset Dhow Ride
You can’t leave Lamu without taking a dhow ride which can easily be organised by your
accommodation or one of the hotels that line the shorefront. We picked up some local street food for the ride including Kitumbua, a deep fried sweet dough, bhajias and samosas.
Peponi is a popular restaurant boating beautiful sunset views and offers a great opportunity to taste beautiful local Swahili fish, traditionally served with coconut rice and chapati.
Old Lamu Town
Try to explore Old Lamu Town early morning before it gets too busy. Venture through the narrow streets and explore the local market as well as shops ranging from traditional woven baskets to hand carved furniture.
After a morning exploring the old town, Whispers café is a great spot to grab a fresh juice and rest in their beautiful courtyard space.
Fresh local ingredients, Kijani’s menu changes daily but you’re certain to enjoy Tahitian-style fish overlooking the Indian Ocean.
Before you travel
- Always ask for permission before taking a photograph of someone. *Informed* consent is incredibly important and like anywhere in the world, people in Lamu might not want their photograph taken. Explain why you want to take their photograph and where the photograph will be shown. It’s often best to explore with a local if you are planning on taking photographs at the market or in busy, congested spaces.
- Organise airport boat transfers with your accommodation to make your journey from Manda airport to Lamu as simple and stress-free as possible. You’ll get the best rate and won’t have to worry about cash/costs. In general Kenyan Shillings are preferred to USD so try to change your currency before arriving in Lamu, although some hotels and restaurants do offer exchange at a fee.
- There are two dry seasons: July to October and January to February. Lamu is equatorial so the weather is generally warm with the beginning of the year being optimal for those who enjoy the heat.
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