Kenya: Lamu Island-
Where 1001 Nights meets the Blue Lagoon.

What?
An island paradise off the coast of Kenya, where donkeys are the preferred mode of transport.

Why visit?
Most visitors to Kenya head for the Rift Valley and the big game parks. But Lamu represents a different part of Kenya- Swahili, Muslim, culturally connected to Arabia and the Indian Ocean. A little paradise where cars are banned, and the beach is never far away.

This is where “Arabian Nights” meets “The Blue Lagoon”. Come visit before the crowds descend- or Al-Shabab takes over...


Where?
Off Kenya's Swahili Coast, about a 100km south of the Somali border. Map.


ALTHOUGH LAMU CERTAINLY sees a fair number of visitors, it pales in comparison to the attention given to the Maasai tribe and the wild beasts of the Kenyan game parks. Until recently, Lamu's airport terminal looked like this:
Unfortunately the duty free selection was rather limited at Lamu Airport. 
The fact that there is an airport at all is a good thing as the road along the coast from Mombasa is long and arduous, and for a while was pretty dangerous as well. 

Now, thanks to the blessings of budget airlines, it's become a lot easier to visit Lamu, although the proximity to Somalia, perhaps unsurprisingly, manages to keep visitor numbers down. 
Your first view of Downtown Lamu coming in from the airport.
And so Lamu remains a little paradise on earth. Lamu town, situated on Lamu island, remains quaint and traditional in many ways. It's not a place to be in a hurry. The island is blessedly car-free, the most ubiquitous mode of transport being donkeys. The lack of shopping malls, fast food chains and branded stores means the shopping is atrocious, save for local food stuffs and some hand-made tourist trinkets. 
A typical Lamu parking lot. 

Rushing by on his donkey.
Other than that, you can take a dhow (a traditional boat) and sail around the island, pretend you're Robinson Crusoe on one of the nearby deserted beaches, or work on your tan. 
Prime beach front property- without the property. 
Actually, scrap that. Lamu is a fairly conservative Muslim place. Those looking to stumble around town near-naked with a cocktail in hand will find their welcome will wear out quickly. (Although if you're discreet and know where to go, debauchery is still feasible.)
The narrow alleys of Stone Town are short on bikini shops and cocktail bars, but awash in couleur locale.
If however, your interest is in seeing (even staying in) traditional Swahili architecture, perhaps sleeping in a traditional Swahili bed, wander around the 1001-night like atmosphere of Lamu's old town (known as Stone Town), and charter a bunch of local beach boys to test your (and their) seaworthiness, you've come to the right place.  
Who's faster?
Minor Sight's beach boys were a fit bunch!
Stone Town is renowned for its traditional features- Swahili architecture constructed from coral spiced up with beautifully carved wooden doorways. The similarities with Jeddah in Saudi Arabia or India become quickly clear- for centuries the Indian Ocean was a great conduit for cultural exchange. Of course, the Indian Ocean was also a great conduit for the slave trade- the proceeds of which funded many of these old beautiful houses. 
My home is my castle. Note the beautifully carved door. 
Another piece of 1001 Nights. 
Stone Town's main square is where the action is... 
... if playing board games is your idea of action, and if you're male!
Getting there:
Flying is the quickest option. There are flights from Nairobi and Malindi. Hard-core travellers can take the chicken bus from Mombasa. 

Minor Sights does believe that to live with fear is a life half lived, but do keep an eye on official travel security warnings. Lamu is practically shooting distance from Somalia and the fundamentalist Al Shabab has occasionally ventured into Kenya for attacks and kidnappings. 

Useful links:
Lamu at UNESCO World Heritage


2 comments:

  1. Wow it looks the same as it did in 1985 - the food was great as I remember - there was the Yoghurt Inn and a place on the seafront that did great King Fish and mixed fruit pancakes with custard. The walk from the beach at Peponi's in the full moon, Shariff and Hydari who did the dhow trips - wonder if they are still there.......Ahh the memories !! We took the chicken bus from Malindi and even back in those days we were warned there could be Somali Bandits.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess it's one of those places where time goes slowly and things don't change much...although I've heard theft have a real airport arrivals hall now.

      Any plans to go back?

      Delete

Have you been here? Or are you planning to go? Either way, we would love to hear about it.

 

Find Minor Sights on a map

What is this site all about?