Lying just off Kenya’s far north coast is a string of beautiful Indian Ocean islands – Lamu, Manda, Pate, Kiwayu and Manda Toto – known collectively as the Lamu Archipelago. An area of archaeological and historical interest as well as great natural beauty, these islands are well worth visiting for a more tranquil and away-from-the-crowds Kenya beach holiday, especially when compared to the busier and more developed central and southern parts of the coast.
Rich in history and culture and blessed with exquisite natural beauty, the Lamu archipelago has welcomed travelers for over a thousand years. Lamu is a magical place of long white sandy beaches, rolling sand dunes dotted with palms and acacia tortillis trees; turquoise seas, bounteous marine life and tranquil back waters; lush mangrove forests, river estuaries, deep forests and yellow grassy plains which hold some of Africa’s last truly wild game and bird life.
Lamu Old Town is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa, retaining its traditional functions. Built in coral stone and mangrove timber, the town is characterized by the simplicity of structural forms enriched by such features as inner courtyards, verandas, and elaborately carved wooden doors. Lamu has hosted major Muslim religious festivals since the 19th century, and has become a significant centre for the study of Islamic and Swahili cultures Lamu Island, a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2001 and a centre of Swahili and Islamic culture for over 700 years,.
Peaceful, tropical, laid-back, bohemian—and still unspoiled by mass tourism: Lamu is a place like no other. Life here revolves around long beach strolls, dhow sailing and exploration of the old Swahili settlements—with their unique coral-stone townhouses, But it’s the white sandy beaches that are the most breathtaking.
What to do in Lamu
Visit to Shela beach
Visit Shela beach on the North end of the Lamu island; it is a beautiful stretch of white sand and tiny broken sea shells. Shela is also home to the most spectacular beaches on Lamu island with its almost pure white sand, traditional dhows, and clean appearance.
Built in 1891, the Lamu Museum was the former residence of the British Governors during the colonial era. The Lamu Museum gives an excellent introduction to local culture, and might inspire you to visit the 19th-century fort, check the town’s 23 mosques, seek out traditional Swahili “stone houses”, or eye up the crustaceans in the crab and lobster market.
Visit Takwa Ruins
The Manda Island once held one of the Kenya coast’s largest settlements, but this once-thriving community abandoned the town in the 17th century. The cause is debated, but the most probable reason was the depletion of fresh water on the island. The Great Mosque at Takwa is relatively well preserved. The other structure of importance is the Pillar Tomb, which has an inscription with the date of 1681-1682.
Walk along deserted beaches
The best spots for a beach stroll is couple of kilometers south of Lamu Town, on the eastern tip of island where the channel opens to the ocean, around the Shela village. Not much more than a pretty waterfront and a jumble of narrow sandy pathways, in Shela you are never far from sand dunes and the deserted beach.
Explore the narrow streets of lamu town
Dating back to the 12th century, Lamu Town is the oldest inhabited Swahili town in Kenya.
With its ancient fort, its wood carved doors, bustling markets and the ubiquitous donkeys the town is charming and authentic—no wonder UNESCO recognized it as a World Heritage Site.
Sail the traditional dhow
Dhow and donkey remain the only forms of transport on and around Lamu. Cars are banned in so there are only two cars on the entire island: one belonging to the governor, for official occasions, and one is an ambulance… for the donkeys. Hiring a dhow for a leisurely cruise around the archipelago is a must-do.
Sunset gaze on manda island
Just across the channel from Shela, the mostly uninhabited Manda Island provides the best spots for watching the wonderful african sun setting behind the Lamu island. Looking towards the village and the Fort of Shela, the palm-fringed, vast, empty and unspoilt beaches of the Ras Kitau are the gem of Lamu area. Plus, you can actually have a sundowner, for example in a lovely setting at The Majlis, where we stayed.
Feast on the swahili food
The international trade with Oman, Zanzibar, India and beyond brought goods and influenced building style, but it also altered cuisine of Lamu. It created a unique and sophisticated blend of the African and the Eastern, more nuanced than the austere nomadic diet of the mainland Africa. Biryanis and curries, couscous and pasta, coconut rice with mango chutney, and most of all the varied seafood: it’s a rich palette of flavours enhanced by cinnamon, clove, cumin seed and fresh coconut milk.