Imagine a place of ancient Swahili traditions. An archipelago of remote islands. A town with no cars. A town with only donkeys and dhows. A place with mesmerising sunsets and a lively atmosphere. It nearly sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But this magical place does exist.
I’ve been to Lamu many times. I love this place. The first time I traveled to Lamu was in 2011. I took the bus from Malindi, being escorted by an armed guard! Who pretty much slept the entire trip. Not sure if I was really save.
All the other times, I did it the bumpy-free way. There are several airlines flying directly from Nairobi Wilson airport to the tiny airstrip on Manda Island.
It’s always a little exciting adventure. As soon as you step off the plane, you’re catapulted into a different time.
Keep the phrase ‘Pole Pole’ in mind. This is the entire theme for your stay. Pole Pole means ‘slowly slowly’ in Kiswahili. And this is what the mellow island rhythm is all about. A dhow takes you across the channel to Old Town Lamu. Be prepared to get a little bit hassled as every boat captain wants you to hop onto his boat. Don’t let this put you off. Simply enjoy the beautiful sight that awaits you when the sea front with restaurants, bars and shops appear behind a forest of dhow masts.
The only way to get around the island is either by foot, dhow or donkey. No traffic and no crowds.
Sorry, I forgot there’s one car on the island – the ambulance! Make sure you don’t need it.
Lamu’s traditions are over a thousand years old. It is one of the most complete Swahili town in existence with a mix of East African, Omani, Yemeni and Indian influences. You most likely wake up at dawn to the first call to prayer, the Al Fajiri. And the hee-haw of donkeys protesting to going to work at such an early hour.
It’s nearly my favourite time of the day; sitting at the seafront and experiencing how Lamu wakes up. Men sipping their tea. Women passing by in full-length “bui-bui” doing their market shopping. Street vendors setting up their stalls and fishermen coming in with their catches.
Do you wonder what my most favourite time is? Sipping a G+T and watching the sunset on the ‘floating bar’. There’s no better place to sit on comfy cushions waiting for the sparkling stars to appear above me…
The Lamu Cultural Festival celebrates Lamu’s unique heritage. There’s musical performances and dances and local artists showcasing their traditional craft. Not to be missed the dhow and donkey races. And many more… this little place boasts with festivals.
If you are a beach lover, you’ll love Shela Beach – a 12km long stretch of sand, dunes and nothingness. And there are loads of dhow safaris. Take a trip to the many ancient ruins in the Lamu Archipelago – the most popular one is Takwa Ruins. A village that thrived in the 15thand 16th centuries.
Or explore the other islands such as Pate or Kiwayu Island. There’s nothing more beautiful than sailing through the mangroves and blue waters and eating freshly cooked fish!
Lamu hasn’t gained a lot of positive media coverage over the last few years. Many countries have also issued travel warnings. It’s a shame! I’ve been to Lamu several times and many of my expat friends living in Kenya go there for a weekend escape. It’s a wonderful place that will leave you mesmerised. The only scary things that could happen? You could get run over by a donkey, and I’m not kidding. They do have a built-in right of way. You could step into donkey poo or into the tiny open sewage system that runs through town – be especially careful if there’s a power outage. Or you could simply be killed by the friendliness of the locals.