The island of Lamu is one of the most popular destinations of Kenya and is known for its calm and peaceful environment. The island has been a trading port for centuries and is now a certified tourist attraction. Located just northeast of Mombasa, Lamu’s main town, which shares the island’s name, is the oldest living town in East Africa and thus, is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Because of Lamu’s narrow streets and compact layout, riding a bicycle or donkey is the most practical and fun way of exploring the town. Walking around Lamu’s old settlement, whose history goes all the way back to the 12th century, is like walking into the past. You will see narrow streets with labyrinth-like layout, where donkeys still dominate the scene, and you will appreciate structural masterpieces that are inspired by Arab, Indian and European architecture. And yet, Lamu Old Town exudes that distinct Swahili design with its charming courtyards, rooftop patios, and coral stone buildings.
The Lamu Museum is one of the main attractions in town. Visiting the museum offers a great insight to the Swahili culture and to the region’s marine history. Head out to the Lamu Fort for another date with history. This two-story World Heritage Site was built in the early 10th century and features exquisite Swahili architecture. These days, the fort assumes the role of a public library and environmental museum.
After immersing yourself with the past, it is worthwhile to spend time with adorable and hardworking creatures in the Donkey Sanctuary. This facility was built with the intention to take care and maintain the donkey population in Lamu as they are the only means of transport on an island that has barely any motorized transport.
Lamu is a Muslim populated town, and visiting here promises to be a rich cultural experience, especially when most inhabitants still wear traditional attire. A strong representative of the religious culture reigning in Lamu is the Riyadha Mosque, which is the centerpiece of the annual Maulidi Festival, held to celebrate the birth of Prophet Mohammed.
Another great festival you may want to experience in town is the Lamu Cultural Festival. It is a four day celebration held every November and highlights grand artistic exhibits and cultural events. People in Lamu are known for their warmth and friendliness and many locals can converse in English. So don’t be afraid to engage them in conversations especially when you are in a traditional café trying out an authentic Arabian coffee.
The best way to reach Lamu Town is by air. There are regular direct flights coming from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, and the Moi International Airport in Mombasa. Once you land at the airport on Lamu Island, you will need to take a short boat or ferry ride to the opposite side where the town is situated. An alternative albeit less convenient option is to take a bus or hire a car to drive to Lamu from Mombasa.
Finding accommodation is not an issue in this African town as there is a range of lodging options. Beach hotels are quite popular but guesthouses are available for the budget conscious. Lamu also has a growing luxury accommodation industry.