As the world slowly starts to open up to travel again, Lamu island, located on the northern part of Kenya, is increasingly becoming a bucketlist destination for travelers from all over the world. Up until a few years ago, Lamu island was so exclusive it mostly attracted celebrities, CEOs, and aristocrats seeking the perfect blend of seclusion and discreteness. Diversity in accommodation options has made it a popular tourist spot for locals and foreigners alike.
Lamu’s charm stems from the fact that it still remains underexplored and has mostly escaped gentrification. Not much has changed on the island over the last century. Traces of its external cultural influences from Europe, Arabia, and India have birthed the island’s unique Swahili culture evident from its striking architecture, riveting history, and indulgent culinary offerings.
However, it is Lamu’s chic and bohemian vibe that is attracting modern-day travelers looking for adventure in unusual places. It is no wonder this little island has become a hotspot for people seeking refuge from the pandemic. Easy island life, white sand beaches, sundowners in quaint seaside hotel balconies are some of the attractions Lamu has to offer.
With a population of just over 25,000 people, Lamu is not as crowded as other coastal towns in Kenya. A quick one-hour flight from Kenya’s capital Nairobi will get you to this secluded archipelago where you can absorb the incredible beauty of this must-palate island experience. You can also fly to Lamu from Mombasa. Its three main islands make for the perfect island-hopping experience especially since all three are distinctively different. The picturesque Lamu Town, where most locals live, is a 14th-century Swahili settlement that has rightfully earned UNESCO protected site status. Shela and Manda islands are more secluded and therefore more popular with tourists and synonymous with pristine beaches, sand dunes and waving palm trees.
If you would like to put Lamu on your future travel bucket list, here are ten photos to inspire your wanderlust.
- The island holds hundreds of years of history, as the oldest Kenyan town. The island comprises of a web of narrow streets, reserved for pedestrians and donkeys and the odd motor bike. There are literally no cars on the island. Walking through these narrowly- winded alleys makes you feel like you are touching ages-old history. Lamu Fort, located on the seafront, built in the early 1820s, and the Riyadh Mosque, which was constructed in the 1900s, as well as Lamu House are some of the oldest and most important attractions to visit if you want to fully understand the richness of the island’s history.
- The island’s safe and a laid-back lifestyle allows you to stroll around barefoot idly exploring while chatting up the friendly locals. You can grab a coconut water from a street vendor, purchase local souvenirs or even buy the catch of the day fresh off the boat.
- You can have a whole beach to yourself where you can enjoy breathtaking views and soak in turquoise water, strolling on seemingly endless white sand beaches under the amazing African sun.
- While there is no shortage of things to do in Lamu and activities to enjoy like snorkeling, scuba diving, water skiing, and swimming. Most importantly, in this tropical paradise, relaxing is the way of life here. You can sand board on the dunes in Shela or climb the hill behind Fatuma’s Tower to get the best view of Shela village.
- A sunset dhow tour is not to be missed. If the stunning view of the sun setting in the horizon is not enough, you will also observe panoramic views of the islands surrounded by mangroves. To add oomph to this experience, bring along a dawa (Kenya’s signature cocktail) on the tour.
- Lamu, like Zanzibar and Mombasa is home to gorgeous collections of Swahili art and decor. Eloquent designs, intricate patterns and carefully crafted textures are some of the elements that make Swahili art so unique. You will find these Swahili style symbols on furniture, paintings and doors, that date back centuries, adorning many homes and hotels in Lamu.
- Lamu is also home to numerous festivals, you will find everything from the Lamu Yoga Festival, an annual hat festival, donkey racing and not forgetting the religious Maulidi festival that celebrates prophet, Mohamed. Make the most of your trip by planning it around a festival.
- Mouth-watering cuisine boasting a distinct Swahili flair. Lamu offers a diverse range of culinary options that will leave you feeling like you have been on a culinary odyssey. For a genuine taste of local Swahili food, indulge in the contemporary traditional dishes from land and sea that capture the vibrancy of the island’s natural landscape. A personal favorite is fresh seafood seasoned with local spices and coconut rice or chapati (local nan). For an authentic Swahili breakfast do not pass on the mahamri(spiced doughnuts) often served with peas cooked in coconut milk.
- Historical architecture lovers will be pleased to know that a brief boat ride from Lamu Town will take you to the captivating Takwa ruins, an architectural gem that has maintained the original elements from its construction in the 1600s. Takwa has a fascinating history in that it was an important trading center on the East African coast before it was abandoned in the 17th century.
- Oh, hail stunning boutique hotels! Many hotels promise authentic experiences, but few deliver them with integrity. Lamu is home to cozy quaint hotels that feel like destinations in their own right. Mostly because their family-run and have maintained many of the original elements of the island’s dynamic culture.
Where to stay on Lamu island:
There is no shortage of gorgeous accommodation options in Lamu Island, from beachfront villas to all-inclusive resorts and wellness centers. Some of the best Lamu island hotels offer sea views right from the comfort of your room. In addition to hotels you can also rent Airbnbs that include spectacular private villas. Here is a list of hotels to consider:
Kijani Hotel is a recently renovated family hotel situated in Shela and features gunshot views of the sea from the room, a cozy swimming pool, tropical gardens. A very homey ambiance with décor accentuated with natural handmade furniture, lanterns, and other Swahili ornaments. Average price $ 70 B&B
Banana House and Wellness Centre is located in Shela Village, near Gallery Baraka. With a spacious outdoor sitting area and the kind of atmosphere that makes you feel Zen explains why it is home to the numerous yoga festivals and retreats that happen on the island. Average price $50
Peponi Hotel is one of the hotels with the longest tradition on the island. For decades this was the place where main events were happening on the island, and where you could spot celebrities sipping on cocktails. The hotel has spacious family rooms that are tastefully decorated, and amazing sea views. Its famous sea-front bar makes for a popular meeting spot on the island.
The Majlis boutique hotel is an exclusive hotel that has taken the exquisiteness of Swahili architecture to another level. With a pool that is famous among Instagrammers, luxurious rooms, a beach bar with the best sunset views in town. A stay here will set you off $250 a night.
OneWay House is a perfect accommodation if you want to be in Lamu Town. It is located within walking distance from the 18th Century Swahili House Museum, Lamu Museum, and Lamu Fort. Staying at One Way will make you feel like you are staying in a Swahili gallery.
Kizingoni house, also on Lamu Island is an eco-lodge where you can connect with nature and wake up to the first light and sound of the ocean.
Kasbah: If the prospect of staying in a ship anchored on the beach appeals to you then look no further than Kasbah Lamu. Its elegant Swahili architecture is simple yet luxurious, its tastefully furnished with spacious suites overlooking the beautiful Shela and Manda islands and a pool that is well…to die for.
There are so many things to do in Lamu that it is no surprise that many travelers extend their trips once they arrive in Lamu, Kenya. This country will steal your heart and you will want to come back here times and times again. If you seek to explore more read this article on top six things to do in Lamu island.
Photos courtesy of Lamu photojournalist Abdalla Barghash Instagram @abdallabarghash