North of Mombasa sits Lamu; a town that was banned by the foreign office for a number of years, but it has since been reopened and is a real African Indian Ocean gem once again. Watch this space Zanzibar, Lamu in Kenya is back on the map! With beautiful stretches of beaches, some amazing boutique lodges and luxury villas just screaming to be noticed – you can’t go much wrong with an Indian Ocean getaway in the thriving, friendly and pristine island of Lamu.
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Lamu is a captivating East African island with a thriving fishing population and a scattering of well-appointed hotels. The blend of Arab and Swahili settlements creates a peaceful, laid-back environment that can overflow into what seems like classic Swahili chaos in the towns, which are mazes of winding alley ways, walked by donkeys and their masters. Some clients like to dip into one of the towns for a night or two to soak up the atmosphere, before spending the majority of their time on the beaches in Southern Lamu or the nearby Lamu Archipelago islands of Manda and Kiwayu, linked by beautiful old sailing dhows.
Dating back to the 14th century, Lamu was a trading post for the sultanate of Oman and was once one of the most important locations in East Africa for the slave, ivory and gold trades. Today it offers fascinating and charming insight into the Swahili way of life and their rich Muslim culture, not to mention the dreamy Indian Ocean beaches which surround it.
Lamu Kenya - A travel guide
Once you hop off your international flight in Nairobi, or maybe you are book ending a Masai Mara safari, you are greeted by a wealth of beach options... Firstly, if you are looking for a more town and cultural experience, consider Peponi,
which is on the Eastern South point of the island on the seafront. Just behind Peponis sits the charming Shela Village, where you can watch the Swahili town way of life go by at the docks with the bustle of boats coming and going. In Peponi itself, the bar and restaurant area is somewhat of a rendezvous for resident islanders, and is a great place to go for a taste of the Lamu lifestyle. Although it lacks a beautiful beach, its undeniable atmosphere and character have made the hotel very famous over the years and it still offers reliably good service and accommodation.
Lamu Old Town is slightly bigger and a little busier than Shela, so we would probably recommend a stay in the quieter corner of the island rather than Lamu Town itself for a slice of peace, as well as a fair dosage of traditional Swahili culture, narrow streets and dainty dhows
Further west, to the southernmost point of the island, is a fantastic array of really amazing lodges, offering neatly placed villas on the white and expansive beaches which the area boasts. See Kizingoni Villas
and Kizingoni Kabanas
for a really secluded, white-sandy Kenyan Indian Ocean beach retreat.
From both the East and the West of Lamu, in any accommodation option you choose, 8km of beach is easily accessible on the southern face of the island. Here, if you are feeling fit, take a long stroll along this fantastic stretch of white sands and turquoise waters, or simply go and relax for a day in the sunshine with the sand in your toes and the warm Indian Ocean breeze on your skin.
Alternatively, for a bit more seclusion, yet more choice of activities, take a hop over to Manda Island, and in particular Manda Bay
. It is true that the beaches are not as pearly white as on areas of Lamu, but this lodge provides a really unique mixture of luxury and really amazing water sport activities – a big plus when considering that much of the time, if water sports are involved, so are a bunch of tourists!
Lamu - When to go?
As for most of East Africa, April and May are best avoided due to the heavy rains. November brings the short rains, but these should not deter travellers, especially in the light of some fantastic special accommodation rates on offer at this time.