Lamu Island, Kenya – Maxin’ And Relaxin’



Introducing Lamu Island…

Lamu Island is part of Kenya’s Lamu Archipelago. Lamu Old Town is the capital of Lamu, and is the most populated part of Lamu Island. Of all Swahili Settlements in East Africa, Lamu town is the oldest and best preserved. It was founded in the 14th century.

lamu kenya

Lamu boasts some of the best beaches in Kenya, and so do the nearby Islands of Kiwayu, Mande, and Pate. To the east of Kiwayu, there are impressive tidal pools and coral reefs. The location is ideal for diving.

No Police

Police are not needed in Lamu, especially in the small village of Shela, because there is hardly any crime. The few problems that come up are effectively solved by the locals themselves.

Dying to go to Lamu already? You won’t have to worry about someone grabbing your wallet or purse. Likewise, the probability of a police pulling you over, well, let’s just say is zero!

Here is a video showing police brutality. There’s no such thing in Lamu.

A Universally-Recognized World Heritage Site

In 2001, UNESCO honored Lamu town with this designation (a World Heritage Site) to show how important and valuable the town is as a global cultural asset.

Being a well-known historic coastal town, Lamu has its fair share of archaeological and historic assets. There are several ruins distributed throughout the archipelago. The routes are indicative of the battles fought centuries ago, to control the nearby waters, together with the great trade routes.

lamu kenya architecture

The architecture of the town itself is also proof of outside influences from Europe, Arabia, Persia, India, and other locations.

Lamu Island–a laid-back place

In Lamu, time doesn’t seem to move. But despite the relaxed nature of the town, it has lots of historical sights worth seeing.

Here are places to visit for a comprehensive introduction to the local culture:

  • Lamu fort
  • Swahili House Museum
  • Lamu Museum
  • Traditional Swahili houses made of stones
  • The towns’ mosques (they’re over 23 in total)
swahili house museum
Swahili House Museum, Lamu

Lamu Beach, Kenya—How to Get there

The easiest, and perhaps the most convenient, way to get to Lamu is by air. You can take a flight either from Nairobi or Malindi. There are scheduled flights from these two towns every single day. There is an airstrip on Manda Island that services Lamu Island. Private Charters can also use the airstrip. From the neighboring Manda Island, there are boats that ferry passengers to Lamu town or Shela. Yachts are also available; they serve the same purpose: transporting visitors/tourists.

Lamu from the air
Lamu from above…

An alternative way of getting to Lamu is by bus. From Mombasa, the trip takes at least eight hours, while from Malindi it’s about approximately six and a half hours.

How to Get around Lamu Beach in Kenya

Lamu is a car-free island; no vehicles are allowed. What! How do people get around then? 

The best way to explore the winding streets of this town is on foot. You can go as far as Shela village, as well as other beaches. But if you are not a fan of walking, you can hire a donkey; it’s a fun and less tiring way of getting around the Island.

Another alternative is to use dhows; they carry passengers form Lamu town to Shela and back.

What to Do in Lamu

  1. Bird Watching: The nearby Kiunga Marine Reserve is a perfect sanctuary for pelagics and shorebirds, such as:
  • Sooty Gull
  • White Cheeked Tern
  • Bridled Tern
  • Brown Noddy
  • Roseate Terns
  • Crab Plovers
  1. Big Game Fishing: this is a popular activity between the months of December and March. It is usually organized by hotels in Lamu or in Manda Island.

Here are examples of the common coastal game fish:

  • Horse Mackerel
  • Wahoo
  • Kingfish
  • Sailfish
  • Marlin

To ensure eco-friendly fishing, there is a tag and release program. It is always good to book for these trips early, through various hotels in Lamu, so as to avoid any hassle.

  1. Snorkeling and Scuba Diving: there are great snorkeling sites in Lamu and the surrounding archipelago, and if you sign up for private excursions, you’ll be provided with the necessary equipment.

In addition, there are also good dive sites. And since diving is not so advanced in the area, you’ll be the among the very first people to explore these quality sites— if you are a diver that is.

  1. Dhow racing: This event usually marks the dawn of a new year in Lamu. On January 1, Lamu residents show up in big numbers to celebrate this important event. Lamu Dhow builders get to show their prowess too; in fact, they are known to be among the best dhow builders on the coast.

To the residents of Lamu, dhow racing is a cultural event, that is passed from one generation to another. For that reason, this sporting event is seen as the most important one throughout the Island. The competition is very stiff since the race attracts only the best.

Those who win the race, are accorded much respect, by both dhow captains and locals. On the day of the race, all dhows are adorned with bright colors. Celebrations run deep into the night.

  1. Donkey racing: this important event is carried out along the waterfront. It is held during Maulidi (an Islamic festival marked around the month of June).

Townspeople abandon their daily activities, and gather around the waterfront to support their favorite riders and donkeys.

Since the event is very important to the residents of Lamu, there are several celebrations and festivities before and after the event. Winning the race is an achievement every rider looks forward to.

Where to Stay

The best places to stay in Lamu include Peponi, Kiwayu, Kizingo, and Kizingoni Villas. Other equally great accommodations are Majis Resort, Manda Bay, Kipungani, and Kijani Hotel.

places to stay in lamu

The best time to visit Lamu

The warmest months are from January to March. But between July and September, temperatures are relatively cool. The long rainy season commences in April and May, and ends as the month of June approaches. Short rains begin in November. Plan your trip while considering the weather that favors you most.

Food and Drinks

Lobster (Crayfish) is one of the most popular dishes in Lamu. It’s easily accessible at the Hapa Hapa or New Star restaurants.

Drinking is not so common is the town of Lamu, because of the widespread Islamic culture of the town. However, various hotels, such as Peponi Hotel in Shela offer refreshing drinks at very affordable prices.

lamu lobster

Peaceful Village of Shela

Shela village is quieter, as compared to Lamu old town. Also, the pace is more relaxed. Once you get to Shela, you’ll wish to stay there forever.

tn_Aerial_Shela lamu


About the author: Patrick has the record of travelling the most out of everyone, visiting over 30 countries around the world in 15 years, and sleeping in the most tents with the least amount of blankets and cushions.  He can literally sleep anywhere! A few countries Patrick has lived in include India, Mexico, Tanzania, and Morocco, and currently he lives in Peru.