We think laidback Lamu is one of the Kenyan coast’s best-kept secrets. Our Angels can be found there regularly for good reason! The archipelago with Lamu as its main island and capital (are you still following?) is one of the oldest settlements, founded by the Swahili people. Centuries ago, monsoon winds brought Middle Eastern traders with their dhows to the idyllic archipelago in search of spices, gold, ivory and slaves. Later, the Portuguese also found their way. The result: an extraordinary melting pot of African, European and Arab influences. Add the unspoilt nature (dense mangrove forests, golden yellow beach dunes and an azure blue sea) and the super-friendly people and you have the ultimate holiday destination for young and old!
Where is Lamu?
High in Kenya’s north lies the Lamu Archipelago. Tropical islets with small, historic settlements, white sandbanks, an azure Indian Ocean and vast mangrove swamps. Two of the largest islands are also immediately the most famous: Lamu Island itself, and Manda.
A haven of peace
Lamu is an oasis of calm in a turbulent region, close to Somalia. In 2011, Kenyan military units joined Amisom, the African Union’s military mission against Al Shabaab in Somalia. Since then, Kenya has been the target of several attacks by the Somali terror groups. These include Lamu province, where nearly 100 people were killed in attacks on two villages in 2014. Things are still not very cosy in this region and violence occasionally rears its ugly head unannounced. For this reason, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues a negative travel advice for Lamu County. Not to worry: fortunately, the island is perfectly safe. Since tourism is the main source of income here, you will be welcomed with open arms! By the way, the population is largely Muslim. A little respect is appreciated (so do not walk around in your hot pants or miniskirt and you will be safe anyway).
Due to the unrest on the mainland, taking the bus is not recommended. A small propeller plane will take you from Nairobi to Lamu in just over an hour. The flight alone is quite an experience. It’s more like being in a safari van and because you fly low, you might even spot an elephant! A boat takes you from the airport to the island where a welcoming committee of enthusiastic beach boys awaits you, eager to sell you a dhow safari. The “karibu!” from all sides may come across as a bit intimidating, but smile politely or make small talk and they will eventually leave you in peace. The advantage is that Lamu is a small place. The guys will recognise you the next day, come and have a chat or leave you alone. Another advantage to this friendly village life: social control is high and the chances of something happening here are small. The army also keeps an eye on things here. So don’t be alarmed if an army helicopter suddenly appears on the horizon or a couple of men with big guns parade across the beach. Not exactly a cosy sight, but strangely enough it feels very safe!
Pole pole is the motto here: slowly, slowly. Very slowly, because time seems to have stood still here. Let yourself be carried away by the slow and peaceful island life. Get lost in the narrow alleys of Lamu Town, zigzagging between the white houses made of coral and limestone with beautifully decorated wooden doors. Behind those doors are courtyards with large shady trees and a sea of flowers. The village has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001 for a reason! No steaming exhaust fumes and cars whizzing by forcing you to pull over, like in most African cities. There are none of those on Lamu. Here, you have to make way for dozens of donkeys (and lots of donkey poop). In terms of traffic safety, this is probably the safest place in Kenya. End your day with a fresh fruit juice at one of the cozy spots by the waterfront, while veiled women stroll by, men load their carts with goods, and fishermen bring in the catch of the day.
Historical-cultural Melting Pot
Lamu is Kenya’s oldest inhabited town and the ultimate historic-cultural melting pot. Walking through the narrow alleys of Lamu town, you see Arab influences everywhere: beautifully decorated Swahili doorposts form the entrance to large courtyards. The narrow alleys are dominated by donkeys; you won’t see cars here. Turkish traders and Portuguese explorers also left their mark here. Yet the island has managed to develop and preserve its own Swahili culture.
In addition to the rich culture and history, you can also relax on the beach and sail with a traditional dhow (wooden sailboat) in Lamu, through the mangrove forests. There are endless white beaches, rolling dunes, and various accommodation options. If you want to do something a little different, opt for a multi-day sailing trip, explore the surrounding islands with a traditional dhow, camp on the beach, and wake up to the sound of the crushing waves.