Devoid of traffic and all the noise associated with it, Lamu Kenya is a most relaxing East Africa coastal destination that seems to somewhat be stuck in a time warp. That's just fine by most visitors, who really come to appreciate the fact that little has changed here since the 1800's. Many consider Lamu to be one of the best kept secrets in all of Africa, and visitors will marvel, no doubt, at the period architecture found here. Lamu, which is actually an island in the Lamu Archipelago, has managed to maintain its old world charm and character due to the fact that it is dis-connected from the mainland. Tourists can only get here by way of boat, and there are scores of boatrunners that flood the town's narrow waterfront. Once you're on Lamu Island, the primary mode of transportation are the numerous donkeys, which can sometimes be seen wandering about town. It's an utter joy to tour the narrow streets during your Lamu vacation, and the Lamu beach experience is pretty much about as good as it gets. One of the best beaches in Kenya starts at Shela Village, which is basically a condensed version of Lamu, and much of Lamu Island is dominated by picturesque sand dunes. Lamu Africa will not disappoint, and much like the other top Kenyan coastal destinations, it's pretty easy to spend more time here than you may have originally planned.
Lamu Town is generally regarded as the oldest town in Kenya, and it is primarily a Swahili settlement. Founded in the 14th century by Arab merchants, Lamu soon became an East African base that began to really take shape in the 15th century. Wealthy Arab families from Oman and other Gulf States erected impressive mosques and homes in and around Lamu Island, and on nearby Manda Island, the 15th century Takwa Ruins are surely worth checking out on a day trip. The tomb and mosque at Takwa are evidence of the settlement that once thrived here roughly between 1500 and 1700 AD. The Pwani Mosque, which is found on Lamu Island and dates back to the 14th century, is just another example of the prosperity that once typified this region. The slave trade in the Lamu Archipelago helped to bring prosperity to the ruling factions here, and by the 19th century, Lamu Island was quite the regional power. The British, who assumed control of Kenya in the 1800"s, put an end to the slave trade here in 1873, and as such, the island began to decline. In 1890, Lamu Island fell into relative obscurity, becoming part of the Zanzibar Archipelago that is found in present-day Tanzania. Lamu Kenya would remain obscure until 1963, when Kenya finally declared independence from Great Britain. Lamu travel began to catch on as early as the 1970's, with most visitors coming not only to enjoy the Lamu beach experience, but also to see the glorious, 18th century Swahili architecture.
While many people who engage in Lamu travel come primarily to relax on a Lamu Beach, there are some cultural pursuits that you won't want to miss out on. The first recommended cultural stop for those on a Lamu vacation is the Lamu Museum, which is found in town on the waterfront. Though it is small in size, it is jam-packed with interesting cultural and historical exhibits and pieces, and you can easily spend an hour or more here. If you want to arrange a day trip to Manda Island to see the Takwa Ruins, you can likely book a tour at one of the nicer Lamu hotels, and the numerous boat (dhow) operators will be happy to take you to all the main attractions in the archipelago. Those looking for fun and interesting Lamu travel pursuits will not want to pass on a visit to nearby Shela Village. Just 2 miles from the town of Lamu, Shela not only has the best beaches in the area, but also some very interesting mosques that date back to the 1800's. 5 of the 6 mosques that were built in Shela Village were erected between the years 1829 and 1857, which is generally regarded as Shela Village's golden age. The Shiathna-Asheri Mosque is the most renowned of the Shela Village mosques, and really, all the islands here offer vestiges from the past that are worth exploring.
Lamu Africa things to do largely revolve around enjoying the water. Though some
might simply prefer to sun on a Lamu beach, others might
take interest in experiencing the excellent scuba diving
and snorkeling possibilities. You can even arrange a Kenya
safari if you please. The Dodoni Game Reserve is found
on the coast of the mainland, and it certainly is worth
checking out. Curiously enough, the Lamu cats found in
town draw plenty of attention from those enjoying a Lamu
vacation. Believed to be related to the breed of cats
that the Egyptians domesticated thousands of years ago,
these felines are really quite elegant looking. You might
take a snapshot or more of these curious creatures. Should
you want to photograph locals on Lamu Island, as well
as in Kenya in general, it's a good idea to ask
first and to offer a tip afterwards. Since Lamu is Islamic-based,
you might pay attention to the way you dress in town.
Of course, when enjoying a Lamu beach, you can feel free
to don your bathing suit, but back in town, it's
generally advised that shorts and skirts at least reach
the knee and that tops cover the shoulders. As a side
note, there are several daily flights to Lamu (Manda Island)
from Nairobi, so getting here
from the capital is fairly easy.
Top image: Conservation Concepts (flickr)