LAMU ISLAND, KENYA : THE COMPLETE GUIDE
Lamu Island is part of the Lamu Archipelago off the Kenyan Coast (coast of northern Kenya), the island is one of the main islands of Lamu Archipelago and like the coastline of Kenya the island has some Arab and Portuguese influence which tells the history of the coast.
Lamu Island has a trade history dating back to the 14th century and abundance of fantastically preserved Swahili and Island architecture, for travelers with an interest in the colorful heritage of East Africa, Lamu is an ideal destination to visit. Lamu consists of no paved roads, pedestrians and donkey carts still ply on the sand alleyways of the island which has been like this for hundreds of years. This is the best place to witness tells stories of trade between Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
HISTORY OF LAMU ISLAND
Lamu Island has been inhabited continuously for over 700 years since the 14th century when the Arabs established a port on the Island, in the following centuries the port became a major seaport for trade between the native Africans of the Swahili and visitors of the coast namely Arabs, Persians, Indians and Europeans. In the period of the slave trade, the town grew tremendously, for a brief time. Lamu Old Town was once governed by the Sultan of Zanzibar (a one-time Omani ruler of Zanzibar Archipelago in Zanzibar).
Following, Kenya being granted its independence from the British colonialists in 1963, Lamu Island’s reputation as an excellent tourist destination gradually grew and in 2001 its reputation was cemented following the inscription of Lamu Old Town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, Lamu Island is recognized as the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in the entire East Africa region.
TOP THINGS TO ON LAMU ISLAND
Exploring Lamu Town
One of the most fascinating activities to take part in during your Kenya wildlife Tour this island is the Lamu Adventure which starts in the Lamu Old Town, where the original Swahil homes and landmarks vie for space on narrow labyrinthine streets. The town comprises of buildings with intricate architecture featuring elaborated carved doorways leading to cool inner courtyards, breezy verandas and sea-facing arcades. These buildings were built from coral stone and mangrove timber.
During the Lamu adventure you will visit the Lamu Museum which is a must visit site for travellers interested in the Swahili culture, the museum displays a range of items from artifacts collected at local ruin sites to traditional boat-building tools and ceremonial wedding attires. You will also visit the 19th Century Lamu Fort which acts as a library now for the valuable collections of Swahili poetry and various historical reference books.
Visiting Shela and Matondoni
Shela and Matondoni are rural villages offering a different experiences of both Lamu Old Town and from each other. Sheila village is known for its collection of 19th century mosques, the villages has also become an upmarket destination with several luxury eco-lodges and yoga retreats. Sheila Village hosts some of the best dining and boutique shopping opportunities, the village has the bohemian atmosphere which attracts plenty of artists and designers.
Matondoni is a fishing village which still remains untouched, the village attracts a few visitors however it is worth exploring a walking tour or dhow trip. In this village there are see master boat-builders repairing and constructing new dhows using the traditional methods which is fascinating to watch.
Visit the beaches and enjoy water sports
Lamu Island has many beautiful beaches with the most famous being Shela Beach, the Island has over seven miles of idyllic white sand though swimmers should be wary of rip currents. Lamu Island offers exciting water sports as dhow cruises and speedboat cruises one at Kiwayu Island, snorkelling offering an eye to eye encounter with the marine life including turtles, dolphins and rare dugongs and deep sea fishing a favorite activity for Keen anglers. The seasonal trade winds experienced at Lamu Island provide excellent opportunities for Kite surfing and windsurfing.
Festivals and Religious celebrations
Lamu Island is a vital centre for education in Islamic and Swahili culture, the town hosts many different festivals happening throughout the year. Some of the prominent festivals in Lamu include the Lamu Cultural Festival and the Maulidi Festival, The Lamu Cultural Festival celebrates Swahili traditions with donkey and dhow races, swimming competitions, poetry readings and performances of age-old crafts and dancing. The Maulidi Festival is a week-long celebration of the birth of Prophet Muhammad, this festival attracts pilgrims from all over East Africa and the Indian Ocean. The celebrations include music, dancing and street parades.
Other popular festivals hosted include
- Lamu Food Festival which celebrates the Island’s diverse culinary heritage
- The Lamu Yoga Festival among others
WHERE TO STAY IN LAMU ISLAND
In Lamu Island there are many accommodation options to suit most tastes and budgets, these accommodation establishments include
- Lamu House Hotel
- Baytil Ajaib
- Peponi Hotel
- Kizingo Eco-Lodge
- Jambo House Lamu
- Makubwa House
- Andavelo House
- Jamala Guest House
- Jua House
- Subira House
- Mandarina Beach Cottage
- The Majlis Resort
- Jannat House among others
GETTING TO AND AROUND LAMU ISLAND
The Island is a very accessible safari destination in Kenya, the easiest way to get to this fascinating Island is by flying to Manda Airport (LAU) which is located on the neighboring Manda Island. Domestic flights are available from Wilson Airport, airline offering these flights include AirKenya Express, Safarilink, Fly 540 and Mombasa Safari Air. From Manda Island, you use a ferry to get to the Lamu Old Town. In case you need to head to Shela or any other part of the island you will need to use another dhow to reach to your final destination.
Alternatively, it is also possible to travel from Mombasa to Mokowe by bus which is an 8 hours journey, there are several bus companies offering daily transfers and one of the besy is Tawakal making 2 daily departures and their bases are air-conditioned.
Once you get to the Island, you can easily get around on foot, for long journeys between the towns, you can hire a donkey or travel around the coast by a dhow.
Note: the Pathways in Lamu Old Town are not lit, if you are planning to travel to the town after dark, you will need to take a flashlight with you.
BEST TIME TO VISIT LAMU ISLAND
Like the rest of the Kenya Coast, Lamu Island experiences tropical climate with high temperatures and plenty of humidity all year round. The hottest and most humid time of the on Lamu Island is January to March which is one of the dry seasons, July to October is also a dry season however it is slightly cooler with less heat. This time of the year is the more pleasant time of the year to travel to Lamu for travellers that don’t do well in the intense heat.
Lamu Island experiences long rains from April to early June and short rains from November to December, the long rain season should avoided, however the short rain season can be excellent time to travel to Zanzibar because the rain showers are usually short with sharp thunderstorms with bright sunshine in between.