A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest continually inhabited town along the Kenyan coast, Lamu has retained not only its authentic moorish architectural fabric but also its social and cultural roots making for a rich, magical and unhurried retreat.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP: To find suitable accommodation, compare prices or make reservations, the best resource for unique accommodation is www.eastafricanretreats.com (you could also check out www.lamuislandproperty.com), and the owner Andrew McGhie can even give invaluable insider information to help you navigate your way around. To get in touch, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call +254726231390 or find them on Facebook.
GETTING THERE– There are about four daily scheduled departures with Lamu’s airport being in Manda. Getting there by road is a long and tiring 10 hour trip from Mombasa with most buses/matatus leaving only in the morning. The dirt road is bumpy and you will likely be escorted by armed guards at one point for extra security into the mainland.
GETTING AROUND– I heard that there were no cars in Lamu but this didn’t actually register in my mind. Not until we got to the airport and had to walk to a nearby jetty and get a boat to the Old Town! You either walk, take a donkey or speedboat.
Note– Locals are known to trudge around barefoot and if you are one to fully immerse yourself in new experiences, give this a shot. A lot of spots even have a small bath by the door to dip your feet in so as to wash off the sand before walking in. The ground however gets really hot in the afternoons and this can burn your feet.
I got to explore three different locations in Lamu, each somewhat unique from the next. You can book all these houses via www.eastafricanretreats.com.
SPOT: LAMU OLD TOWN
WHERE TO STAY: Maridhiya House
MUST TRY: Streetfood, Dhow Trip, Donkey Sanctuary, Lamu Market, Lamu Fort.
The town is characterized by close-knit houses creating narrow alleyways along which women whisper by in traditional bui bui with men in simple kanzu ushering along donkeys laden with goods all while stray cats prance about nonchalantly. In a quiet corner of this town stands Maridhiya House, a homely 18th Century townhouse which has been renovated but still proudly retains a lot of its authentic charm, such as the customary ornate antique porcelain plates carefully displayed in wall niches (zidaka), a fixture popular in Swahili architecture. Walking into the spacious courtyard, you are greeted by the kitchen area on your right but up ahead is a staircase leading to a double ensuite room with an expansive living and dining area. The former is simple yet tastefully furnished, with cushions covered in bright red leso fabrics placed on the built in baraza seats, above which sits an intricately curved mirror and beside it a small bookcase pregnant with travel books on the continent. Above this floor is the master bedroom where I stayed, the best part being the rooftop terrace from which I enjoyed unobstructively watching Manda Island and the neighbours bustling about their daily chores, giving further insight into the surrounding community. Other than regaling you with interesting tales of Lamu, making a fish curry that will hit all the right notes and making sure you are comfortably settled, Kahindi the caretaker can help you navigate the alleyways as you stop for bhajia, halwa, kashata, chili mango, makai and more along the seafront, main street or town square.
SPOT: SHELA BEACH
WHERE TO STAY: Mnarani House
MUST DO: Cocktails at Peponi Hotel, take a dhow trip to the Takwa Ruins, pop into the chic boutiques and galleries, get a henna tattoo.
From the Old Town, take a 5 minute speed boat to Shela Beach in Shela Village. This spot has a very mediterranean vibe with chalk-white walls, bouganvillea flowers everywhere and clean streets. Located right next to the Friday Mosque (its name translates to ‘near the minaret’), it offers unmarred views of the sea from all floors but the panoramic view of the chanel from the rooftop terrace is simply breathtaking. The doors and windows are all original Swahili antiques and the house has numerous tastefully furnished terraces and verrandahs from which Chef Lucas can serve up a delicious mix of whatever it is you crave. From the ground floor with a kitchen, open-plan dining room and swimming pool, two staircases on opposite ends lead to the upper floors where six rooms (five of which are double and ensuite) sit, and the ambiance will lull you into a blissfull state of being leaving you content to take leisurely strolls through the beach, responding to greetings from friendly villagers, chatting up the seafront beach boys and popping into little chic shops and boutiques. Look out for the Shela Hat Contest and Lamu Cultural Festival in the annual events calendar.
SPOT: KIZINGONI BEACH
WHERE TO STAY: Kizingoni Beach Kabanas
MUST DO: Watersports like snorkelling, swimming with dolphins, turtle tracking and deep sea fishing. Equipment including water skis, kayaks, wake boards and SUP boards are available.
Private, romantic, luxurious and remote, we were the only guests on this secluded 24-acre stretch of magnificent golden sandy beach on the South West tip of the Lamu Archipelago. It has six single and 1 double kabana, and I stayed in one called High Tide which is beachfront and nestled within indigenous trees and shrubs. It has a living area with swinging daybeds below and upstairs is a double netted bed extravagantly accessorized with unique Swahili items and rustic intricately curved fittings. The striking blue door leading in is one to behold and would blend in just as well on a street in Marrakech. The terrace offers a panoramic view of the beach along which you will spot a few fishermen bringing in their catch from Kipunguni, speed boats and a luxury dhow begging to have you aboard as well as a donkey that can take you into the dunes. Each Kabana has a private chef and rest assured that they will meticulously whip you up a fantastic array of the freshest seafood, salads, juices, local cuisine, sorbets- whatever you desire, really.
To check out vlogs of my experience, be sure to check out ans subscribe to my Youtube Channel here.