Lamu Island, Kenya: The Complete Guide : Lamu is one of the main islands of the Lamu Archipelago located off the coast of northern Kenya, this island has an amazing history dating back to the 14th century and poses an abundance of fantastically preserved Swahili and Islamic architecture making it an ideal destination for travelers in East Africa’s colorful Heritage.
Lamu Island, there are still no paved roads. There are sandy alleyways and pedestrians and donkey carts are a daily encounter, these alleyways are still the same as they have been for hundreds of years offering tourists a chance to feel like steeping back in time.
Visiting Lamu Island also offers travelers an opportunity to disconnect from technology and revel in the beauty of the island’s white – sand beaches and magical views of the Indian Ocean.
History of Lamu Island
Lamu Island has been inhabited for over 700 years since the establishment of a port by the Arab traders in the 14th Century, in the following years the island became a major seaport for the trade between the native Africans of the Swahili Coast and the foreigners that are Arabs, Persians, Indians and Europeans. During the slave years, Lamu Old Town grew and was under the governance of the Sultan of Zanzibar – a one – time Omani ruler of Tanzania’s Zanzibar Archipelago.
When Kenya was granted its independence in 1963, Lamu Island gradually grew as a tourist destination and in 2001 its reputation was cemented with the inscription of Lamu Old Town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Currently, Lamu Old Town is recognized as the oldest and best – preserved Swahili settlement in the entire East African region
Things to do in Lamu Old Town
Every adventure on Lamu Island starts in the beautiful Lamu Old Town comprising of original Swahili homes and landmarks accessed through narrow labyrinthine streets, these spectacular houses are made from coral stone and mangrove timber. Many of these houses/buildings have stand out because of their architectural style featuring carved doorways leading to cool inner courtyards, breezy verandas and sea – facing arcades.
Visiting the Lamu Museum
Lamu Museum is one of the main points of interests on the Lamu Island for travelers interested in getting an insight into the Swahili culture, the museum displays artifacts collected from the local ruin sites, traditional boat building tools used in construction of boats and ceremonial wedding attires.
While visiting the Lamu Museum, you can also visit the 19th Century Lamu Fort on the same ticket, the fort now acts as a library for valuable collections of Swahili Poetry and historical reference books.
Shela & Matondoni
Shela & Matondoni rural villages offer two different experiences of the island, the Sheila Village is known for its collection of 19th – century mosques and it has also become an up market destination with several eco-lodges and yoga retreats. The village offers some of best dining and boutique opportunities at the island, also offers a bohemian atmosphere attracting plenty of artists and designers.
Matondoni is a fishing village is an untouched village on the island with a few visitors, during a visit to this beautiful village you can do a walking tour or a dhow trip. You will also see master boat builders repairing and constructing new dhows using traditional methods.
Beaches and Water sports
On Lamu Island, there are so many beautiful beaches with Shela Beach being the most famous of them, at land island you will find over 7 miles of idyllic white sands. For swimmers you should be wary of the rip currents, in addition to swimming you can do a dhow and speedboat cruises to Kiwayu Island, Kiunga Marine national park, and snorkeling for an encounter with marine life including turtles, dolphins, sailfish, marlin, kingfish and rare dugongs and beautiful coral reefs. Kite surfing and windsurfing, these activities are facilitated by the seasonal trade winds.
Festivals and Religious Celebrations
Lamu Island is a vital center for education in Islamic and Swahili culture and hosts many different festivals throughout the year, the most prominent of these festivals are 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 – this is a week – long celebration of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad attracting Pilgrims from all over East Africa and the Indian Ocean. This festival includes music, dancing and street parades.
Other popular festivals at Lamu Island are Lamu Food Festival – celebrating the island’s diverse culinary heritage and the Lamu Yoga Festival.
Where to stay at Lamu Island
On Lamu Island there are many accommodation options to suit all types of travelers ranging from budget to Luxury, some of the beautiful accommodations include Lamu House Hotel, Baytil Ajaib, Peponi Hotel among others…
Getting There and Around
The easiest to get to Lamu Island is by flying into Manda Airport (LAU) located on Manda Island – the neighboring Island, these flights are operated by several domestic airlines such as Airkenya Express, Safarilink, Fly 540, and Mombasa Safari Air
Another alternative is by using a ferry departing from Manda Island and Mokowe to Lamu Island, if you are heading to Shela or anywhere else on the island you will need to take another dhow to reach your final destination. It is also possible to travel from Mombasa to Mokowe by bus on a journey of approximately 8 hours.
Once at the Island, you can easily get around on foot, for longer journeys in between towns you can hire donkeys or travel around the coast by dhow. If you are planning to move after dark, you will need to take a flashlight with you.
Best Time to Visit
Lamu Island is has a tropical climate with high temperatures and plenty of humidity all year round just like other Kenyan Coast, the island is at its hottest and most humid in January to March which is a short dry season, in the long dry season, July to October it is slightly cooler and more pleasant making it the best time to visit the Island while on Kenya Safaris Tours.
From April to early June, the island receives long rains and it should be avoided, from November to December it is a short rainy season at the Island and it can be an excellent time to visit the Island as it receives short, sharp thunderstorms with bright sunshine in between.