The historical stone-town of Lamu on Lamu Island, one of the many islands of the Lamu archipelago on the Indian Ocean, was founded in the 13th century. It is said to be the oldest town in Kenya with several Swahili buildings branded by the plainness of structural forms enhanced by features such as ornately carved wooden doors, inner courtyards, and verandas. The town has a rich fusion of African, Arabic and Indian cultures. It is the oldest and best-preserved example of Swahili settlement in East Africa and unlike other Swahili settlements, which have been abandoned along the East African coast, Lamu has continuously been inhabited for over 700 years.
Lamu is a place like no other, a peaceful tropical island where life is lived at its own relaxed rhythm, but a place whose history is as mysterious and fascinating as the winding streets of its medieval stone town. The island itself is a beautiful place of rolling dunes and endless beaches, where tiny villages nestle among coconut and mango plantations and lateen sailed dhows ply the waters.
The people bring the Coastarean chill vibe to a whole new level with its calm pulse lifestyle. There are no vehicles used as the streets are too narrow in Lamu town. On the mainland – streets, donkeys and camels are the major means of transportation. You can explore the town on foot, by bicycle, or by donkey for paying customers. Apart from hanging out at the beach there are several other incredible attractions that you may not have even realized are available to explore.
The Fort is a popular tourist attraction and a World Heritage site, located in Lamu town. It was built between 1813 and 1821, a two-storey building with stylish Swahili architecture. The fort is now an environmental museum and a library. The massive multi-story fort has a central courtyard used for weddings, meetings and theatre productions.
For the lover of art and all things historically significant this is a safe haven. The Museum is a grand Swahili building established to illustrate the Lamu’s history and culture. 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 veranda-style architecture of the19th century. Today it showcases an unrivalled collection of ethnographic material from the Swahili, Orma and Pokomo ethnic groups, including-traditional Swahili craft, furniture, jewellery and the siwa an elaborately carved ceremonial blow horn.
Considering the fact that donkeys are the main tools to transport goods and sometimes people, it is beautiful to see that the Lamu people are trying to take care of them. Donkey Sanctuary is a facility that provides treatment for all donkeys in Lamu. There are about 2000 to 3000 working donkeys on the island. The Donkey Sanctuary is a little haven that provides the donkeys with treatment free of charge. You will find several donkeys resting and enjoying the peaceful atmosphere of the Lamu culture in this environment.
Kiunga Marine National Park
If you would like to explore a little even around the town you will find Kiunga about 150k.m east of Lamu town. It’s definitely a bit of a drive but totally worth the experience as Soft Kenya shares this little, unspoilt village that hosts this Marine Park, dubbed the ’Enchanted underwater world” has about 50 calcareous islands in the Lamu Archipelago. The coral reef runs for 60km parallel to the coastline which borders the fascinating but little known Dodori and Boni National Reserves on the mainland.
The larger and more sheltered inner islands are covered with thorny scrub including grasses and aloes. The small outer islands provide nesting sites for migratory seabirds. The reserve conserves valuable coral reefs, sea grasses and extensive mangrove forests. It is a refuge for sea turtles like the Green and the rare Olive ridley and dugongs. The coral gardens are home to many species of reef fish, lobsters, sea stars and sea cucumbers. It is an important site-for wind surfing, diving and snorkelling and water skiing.
Coming back into the city itself we have the Riyadha Mosque which on its own account is an interesting site. The mosque is the centre for Maulidi Festival which is held to celebrate the birth of Prophet Mohammed. The festival takes place every year and attracts pilgrims from other cities and towns in East Africa to celebrate with Lamu people. During this festival, lots of fun activities take place such as dhow racing, singing and dancing, donkey racing and local exhibitions.
Magical Kenya has shared that Lamu is best accessed by air. There are scheduled flights daily from Nairobi, Mombasa, Diani Beach and Malindi. The island is serviced by an airstrip on neighbouring Manda Island. The strip can also be used by private charters. A dhow ferries arriving passengers to either Lamu town or Shela.
There are wide ranges of accommodation that are spread across Lamu town and surrounding areas, it is very easy to get a suitable accommodation for your vacation. Whether you want to lodge in a beach hotel or guest house, there is something available for a luxurious holiday in Lamu, exceedingly appealing and comforting.
It is my bet that this idyllic island will speak to the heart and soul of even the hardened of hearts, and it should be no surprise that a trip to Lamu is a romantic experience that can become a lifelong affair.
This past weekend Lamu had its annual Lamu Cultural Festival. Find out more about it and why you should visit Lamu during this time by reading this post Travel: The Lamu Cultural Festival.
Shingai is an upcoming writer with a passion for words and expression through writing. She lived in Zimbabwe as a child and has traveled to over ten countries. She craves adventure and hopes to be an inspirational writer. She is currently pursuing a degree in English Literature with a minor in Psychology at Daystar University.