Lamu Island, Kenya’s oldest inhabited town, tells a wonderful story of unspoilt culture and heritage, of unforgettable history and magnificent architecture and most of all, a story of a people with heart and love for others. Lamu portrays an influence of a myriad of cultures ranging from the Oman, Yemeni, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, as well as the Victorian British featuring in its architecture, museums, as well as the language of the people here. Founded in the 14th century, the town is regarded as the oldest and best preserved Swahili settlement in the whole of East Africa.
The small town is populated by a majority of Muslims seeing as the early settlers were of Arab origin. Each year the people of Lamu partake in the Maulidi Festival which takes place in the month of June, Rabi-al-Awal month according to the Muslim calendar. The event is a fun-packed affair with activities like dhow races, swimming competition, donkey races, Bao competition, henna painting, cross country, Koranac recitals, Swahili poetry, football and much more taking place.
Lamu’s unspoilt culture is also reflected in its mode of transportation whereby very few vehicles can be spotted in the town hence no air pollution from exhaust pipes, the people either walk or ride on donkeys another alternative is the use of dhows and speed boats for transport. Due to its respect of heritage and preservation of culture, Lamu town had the honor of being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2001. It has managed to stay unspoilt and untouched by the mass tourism and development that has hit much of Kenya’s coastline. Lamu has retained all the charm and character built up over centuries. Most houses here have a rooftop which is used as a patio – indicative of a society where ‘hanging back’ and ‘catching the breeze’ is important. Visitors to the island can stay in one of these Swahili style Lamu villas where sandy-toed days stretch out into tropical rooftop evenings.
Flying is the best way to reach this region of Kenya and there are daily flights to Lamu. The airport is located on the neighbouring Manda Island from where one will be collected by their hotel or lodge and transferred by boat across the channel to Lamu town (10 minutes), Shela Village (20 minutes) or further afield (up to 45 minutes).
Must do in Lamu
- Dhow Safari
A day spent at sea on a Dhow is a wonderful experience and a fantastic way to explore the area. The calm waters around Lamu are perfect for sailing, and the neighbouring islands are well worth visiting for their small fishing villages, ancient ruins and deserted beaches.
- Dhow Racing
Dhow racing is the most important event in Lamu annually taking place to usher in the new year. Lamu Dhow builders are considered some of the best on the coast, and this is a culture born of the sea and sailors. Winning the race is a great honour among Dhow captains, and the race attracts the best of the best. This event brings the Island to life, and the shorelines throng with supporters. Individual Dhows are brightly decorated, and festivities on race day last well into the night.
- SCUBA Diving and Snorkelling
Private Dhow trips from Lamu often visit good snorkeling sites, and provide equipment. There are a few good dive sites to be found around Lamu and the surrounding archipelago.
- Big Game Fishing
Big game fishing can be arranged from Manda Island or by some hotels in Lamu in season (December – March). Kenya’s main coastal game fish include Sailfish and Marlin, Kingfish, Wahoo, Horse Mackerel and others. A tag and release program ensures eco-friendly fishing.
- Bird Watching
The Kiunga Marine Reserve near Lamu is an important sanctuary for shorebirds and pelagics, including the Sooty Gull, White Cheeked Tern, Bridled Tern, Brown Noddy, and many Crab Plovers and Roseate Terns.
- Islamic Festival of Maulidi
Held each year around the month of June, several special sporting events are held during Maulidi. The main event is a donkey race along the waterfront, running the entire length of the old town. Lamu residents are accomplished Donkey jockeys, and victory in this annual race is a much coveted title. The race attracts most of the townspeople, who gather along the waterfront or anchor offshore in dhows to watch the action. Both riders and donkeys are well prepared for the event and the competition is always fierce, with each competitor attracting their own loyal local supporters.The race day is a major event in the Lamu calendar, and there are plenty of festivities and celebrations both before and after the big event. Often dhow races are held around the island during the same period.
- A walking tour of Lamu old town and a visit to the Museum as well as the Old Fort which have been nicely restored and enjoy some fascinating displays.
- Shopping for beautiful clothes, kanga’s and kikoys, leather work, carved wooden furniture, silver jewellery and many more souvenirs.