On the Kenyan coast, north of Mombassa, the island of Lamu is a small archipelago that is worth seeing when you go on a trip to Kenya. We take you to discover Lamu, the authentic island of Kenya, like a confidential setting on the edge of the Indian Ocean.
Lamu bathes in a peaceful and relaxed atmosphere. On the east coast of Kenya, north of Mombassa and on the outskirts of Somalia, the island of Lamu boasts magnificent sandy beaches, palm trees and endless mangroves. To discover Lamu is to discover a hidden side of Kenya. An island which has above all preserved its thousand-year-old civilization and its charm of yesteryear. Coral walls, whitewashed houses, makuti roofs, chiseled wooden doors in a typical Arabic style, minarets…. The island of Lamu is strongly marked by Arab, Persian, Indian and European influences, but retains an authenticity that cannot be found anywhere else. It reveals a fascinating history and culture, tinged with local traditions and Islamic riches.
Discover Lamu, a historic and authentic island
Very popular during the 1960s and 1970s, Lamu was a destination of choice for hippie travelers in search of escape, but above all freedom. Today, Lamu still remains this “African nirvana”, where one comes for a moment of tranquillity. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lamu Island is now the oldest inhabited island and town in Kenya. Founded in the 14th century, Lamu is the best preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa. Formerly a commercial stopover having played a major role on the route to India, Lamu today has a unique charm of mixed cultures.
The island of Lamu has as one of its greatest attractions the great cultural influence that is reflected not only in its customs, but also in the architecture of its city and the structure of its streets. And it is that cultures as diverse as the Arab, the European and even the Hindu have coincided for more than 700 years.
The houses built with coral stone and wood collected from mangroves are striking. The architecture of these, although simple, is decorated and enriched thanks to the narrowness of its streets, the creation of interior patios and spectacular carved wooden doors.
Furthermore, from the 14th century Lamu became one of the most famous religious centers in East Africa. Here the ideals of Swahili culture are still kept and preserved thanks to the efforts of its inhabitants. In fact, in 2001 Unesco recognized its great cultural value as it is the oldest and best-maintained Swahili settlement in all of East Africa .
Nor should we let it pass that the island of Lamu has a pure and relaxed air , perfect for those who travel in search of places to enjoy peace. In fact, you will not hear the noise of the engine of any vehicle, since here the traditional means of transport are still donkeys, although we can also rent a bicycle.
There are no cars here. Everything is still intact. The winding streets of the cities can be explored on foot or by donkey, which makes the experience even more authentic. The donkey is still used to transport goods. There are about 6,500 throughout the island.
For the past five years, Lamu has also hosted an annual yoga festival, attracting enthusiasts from around the world for four days of classes, meditation sessions and workshops on the beach. From the port of Shela, board a ‘dhow’ and set off to explore remote villages, ancient ruins and some luxurious and exclusive resorts hidden within the islands of Manda, Siyu, Pate and Kiwayu.
Discover Lamu and its treasures
The Lamu Museum is one of the largest buildings on the seafront. The interior looks exactly like a Swahili house, where you can find traditional everyday objects, furniture, jewelry and two huge trunks Siwa. The museum is a great introduction to the rich history of the island.
Built by the Sultan of Paté between 1810 and 1823, Lamu Fort, now transformed into a library, served as a prison during British colonial rule.
On a more unusual note, the donkey sanctuary, run by the International Foundation for the Protection of Donkeys, takes in donkeys exhausted by work, and who end their days in this peaceful retreat. A must see.
Discover Lamu: Where to sleep?
The Majlis Resort
To have time to fully discover Lamu in Kenya, stay there at least two days. To spend the night there, we recommend The Majlis Resort. This 5-star hotel, located on the island of Manda, ten minutes by boat from the center of Lamu, offers 25 magnificent, warm and intimate rooms. The views of the beach and gardens are spectacular.
Full Moon House
For more authenticity, we rent one of the villas of the Full Moon House, in the heart of the village of Shela. Intimate and charming, the villas are all furnished with local antiques and built in traditional Swahili style. The houses also allow you to hire the services of a butler, who can help you organize local activities and excursions. The must of the must? Bask in the swimming pool, a real bubble of serenity.
Useful tips during your stay
To get to Lamu Island quickly and safely, it is best to take a direct flight , either from Mombasa or Nairobi. In addition, the prices are low and the trip is not heavy. You land at the Manda Island airport. Here you have to get on a boat to get to the island, this will cost us less than 3 euros.
Lamu Island is a good destination to start your visit along the Kenyan coast. From it, due to the tourist demand in recent years, we can follow several routes to visit some of its most famous beaches, such as Watamu, Nyali or Diani .
Despite the fact that the island is small, it has a wide and affordable offer of accommodation and other services such as restaurants. One of the best known is the Floating Bar, a floating bar in the middle of the channel that separates Lamu from the island of Manda. It is the only bar where we can drink alcohol on the entire island. It is important to remember that the majority of its population is Muslim.
What to see on Lamu Island
Although at first the island may seem like an unattractive destination due to its small size, it offers possibilities for tourists who come to visit it. Of course, we can visit it all in just one day . For this reason, we want to share a small guide so that the visit is as complete and attractive as possible.
The first thing we should visit is its old town. Here is also the Lamu fort, which dates from the 19th century and was built by the Arabs. Access to it will cost us about 5 euros, but it is worth it, since this ticket also includes access to the Lamu Museum. Inside the museum we can enjoy all kinds of pieces typical of Swahili culture .
In addition to this, you have to make a stop at the Market Square. Here, those who like to taste the products of the land can buy coconuts, bananas, sweet potatoes and even juicy mangoes at a low price.
Meanwhile, lovers of unique landscapes should not miss a dhow ride right at sunset. At this time, the calm waters that surround the island offer an unforgettable postcard.
And if we wake up early, we will be able to take part in the tasks of the locals , and they will even teach us their fishing techniques. Fresh fish are barbecued and excursions and the opportunity to swim with the dolphins are offered .
Discover Lamu: When and how to go there?
To discover Lamu, you have to take a boat from Mombasa. And not just any boat! The famous dhows or “dhows” are a type of traditional Arabian sailing ship that takes you to Shela Harbor in 1.5 hours.
Daily flights are also scheduled from Nairobi, Mombasa, Diani Beach and Malindi. The island is served by an airstrip on Manda Island.
Prefer the months of January and March to discover Lamu. The island has a long rainy season between April and May.