A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest continually inhabited town along the Kenyan coast, Lamu has retained its authentic Moorish architectural fabric as well as its social and cultural roots, making for a rich and magical getaway
1 LAMU OLD TOWN
Where to stay: Maridhiya House (www.lamuislandproperty.com)
Must try: Sample the street food, take a dhow trip, visit the Donkey Sanctuary, browse Lamu Market, explore Lamu Fort.
The old town of Lamu is characterised by narrow alleyways packed tightly with historic houses. Women whisper by in traditional bui bui while men in simple kanzu usher along donkeys laden with goods. Sray cats slink nonchalantly through the labyrinthine maze of streets.
In a quiet corner of town nestles Maridhiya House, a homely 18th century townhouse. The property is renovated but still proudly retains much of its authentic charm, such as the customary ornate antique porcelain plates carefully displayed in wall niches (zidaka), a fixture popular in Swahili architecture. From the master bedroom on the rooftop terrace you can enjoy unobstructed views of Manda Island.
Other than regaling you with interesting tales of Lamu, making a fish curry that will hit all the right notes and making sure you are comfortably settled, Kahindi the caretaker will also help you navigate the alleyways as you stop for bhajia, halwa, kashata, makai and more along the seafront, main street or town square.
Fun fact! Locals are known to trudge around barefoot and a lot of spots even have a small bath by the door to dip your feet in to wash off the sand before walking in.
2 SHELA BEACH
Where to stay: Mnarani House (www.lamu retreats.com)
Must do: Sip a cocktail at Peponi Hotel, take a dhow trip to the Takwa Ruins, shop at chic boutiques and galleries, get a henna tattoo.
This spot has a very Mediterranean vibe with chalk-white walls offset by bright bougainvillea flowers and clean streets. Located right next to the Friday Mosque (its name translates to ‘near the minaret’), Mnarani House offers unmarred views of the sea from all floors but the panoramic view of the channel from the rooftop terrace is simply breathtaking. The doors and windows are all original Swahili antiques and the house has numerous tastefully furnished terraces from which Chef Lucas can serve up a delicious mix of whatever it is you crave. From the ground floor with a kitchen, open-plan dining room and swimming pool, two staircases on opposite ends lead to the upper floors where six sumptuous rooms snuggle (five of which are double and en suite). The ambience will lull you into a blissful state leaving you content to take leisurely strolls to the beach, responding to greetings from friendly villagers and chatting up the seafront beach boys.
3 KIZINGONI BEACH
Where to stay: Kizingoni Beach Kabanas (www.kizingonibeach.com)
Must do: Watersports such as snorkelling, water skiing, kayaking and wake boarding, swimming with dolphins, turtle tracking and deep sea fishing.
Private, romantic, luxurious and remote, this is a secluded 24-acre stretch of magnificent golden sandy beach on the southwest tip of the Lamu Archipelago. There are six single and one double kabanas. The beachfront kabanas are nestled within indigenous trees and shrubs. The High Tide Kabana has a living area with a swinging daybed below. Upstairs is a double, netted bed extravagantly accessorised with unique Swahili items and intricately carved, rustic fittings. The striking blue front door would blend in just as well on a street in Marrakech.
High Tide’s terrace is one to linger on. Sit back and enjoy a view of the beach along
which you will spot a few fishermen bringing in their catch from Kipunguni and perhaps a donkey to take you for a leisurely amble.
Plan your trip
There are daily scheduled flights from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport to Lamu (Manda Airport), often via Malindi. Getting there by road is a long and tiring eight hour trip from Mombasa with most buses/matatus leaving in the morning. The dirt road is bumpy and you will likely be escorted by armed guards at some point for extra security.
There are no cars on Lamu – only horse-drawn vehicles, bicycles and tractors are allowed on the island. You can, of course, also walk, take a donkey or a speedboat. Whatever, you’ll find the pace blissfully relaxing.
To find suitable accommodation, compare prices or make reservations, www.eastafricanretreats.com is a great resource.