Lamu Kenya Guide

The Arab flavour of Lamu Kenya is not nearly as old as the Lamu town itself. It derives from the later nineteenth century when the Omanis, and to some extent the Hadhramis from what is now Yemen, held political and cultural way in the town. The first British representatives found themselves among pale-skinned slave-owning Arab rulers. The cultural and racial stereotypes which were subsequently propagated have never completely disappeared.

Lamu Town Climate

The weather in Lamu Kenya is generally hot and humid throughout the year. The long rains come from April to July and the short rains from October to November. The mean daily temperature is around 22 degrees Celsius minimum and 30 degrees Celsius maximum.

Economic Activities in Lamu Town

Fish farming in Kenya and tourism has been the most important economic activity for Lamu. Mangrove export, commerce, traditional maritime activities, traditional woodcarving have provided a stable economic base for the growth of the town. Other economic activities include handicrafts such as making of kofias (traditional embroidery swahili hat), agriculture and carpentry.

History of Lamu Kenya

Lamu was established on its present site in the fourteenth century but there have been people living on the Island for even much longer than that. The fresh water supplies beneath Shela made Lamu Island very attractive to refugees from the mainland and people have been escaping here for 2000 years or more – most recently in the 1960s when Somali secessionists and cattle raiders caused havoc.

It was also one of the earliest places on the coast to attract settlers from the Persian Gulf. There were probably people from Arabia and southwest Asia living and intermarrying here even before the foundation of Islam.

Lamu Kenya is something of a myth factory – classical as well as popular. Conventionally labeled “an old Arab trading town”, it is actually one of the last viable remnants of the Swahili civilization that was the dominant cultural force all along the coast until the arrival of the British. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Lamu’s unique blend of beaches, gently Islamic ambience, funky old town, and population well used to strangers, was a recipe which took over where Marrakesh left off. It acquired a reputation as Kenya’s Kathmandu: the end of the (African) Hippie trail and a stop-over on the way to India.

Lamu town itself is unendingly fascinating to stroll through. with few monuments but hundreds of ancient houses, arresting street scenes and cool comers to sit and rest. And the museum is exceptional, outshining all Kenya’s others but the National Museum in Nairobi.

Initially confusing, Lamu is not the random clutter of houses and alleys it appears. Very few towns in Africa have kept their original town plan so intact (Timbuctoo in West Africa is another) and Lamu‘s history is sufficiently documented, and its architecture well enough preserved, to give you a good idea of how the town developed.

The division is between the waterfront buildings and the town behind, separated by Usita wa Mui, now Harambee Avenue. Until around I830, this was the waterfront, but thepile of accumulated rubbish in the harbour had become large enough by the time the fort was finished to consider reclaimingit; gradually, those who could afford to built on it. The fort lost its pre-eminent position and Lamu, from the sea, took on a different aspect, which included Indian styles such as arches, verandas and shuttered windows.

Behind the waterfront, the old town retained a second division between Mkomani district, to the north of the fort, and Langoni to the south. These locations are important as they distinguish the town’s long-established quarter (Mkomani) from the still-expanding district (Langoni)where traditionally newcomers have built their houses, often of mud and thatch rather than stone or modern materials. This north/south division is found in most Swahili towns and reflects the importance of Mecca, due north.

Lamu Town Museum

The museum has restored an eighteeth century house (the House Museum) to approximately its original appearance. Lamu‘s stone houses are unique, perfect examples of architecture appropriate to its setting. The basic design is of an open, topless box enclosing a large courtyard, around which are set inward-facing rooms on two or three floors. These rooms are thus long and narrow, their ceilings supported by close-set timbers or mangrove poles (boriti). Most had exquisite carved doors at one time, though in all but a few dozen homes these have been sold off to pay for upkeep. Manyalso had zidaka, plaster-work niches in the walls to give an illusion of extended space, which are now just as rare. Toilet arrangements are ingenious, with fish in the large water cristems to eat the mosquito larvae. On the top floor, a makuti roof shades one side. In parts of Lamu these old houses are built so close together you could step across the street from one roof to another.

The private space inside Lamu‘s houses is inseparable and barely distinguishable from the public space outside: the noises of the town – donkeys, mosques, cats – percolate into the interiors, encouraged by the constant flow of air created by the narrow coolness of the dark streets and the heat which accumulates on upper surfaces exposed to the sun. There’s an excellent display of Lamu‘s architecture at the museum in Nairobi.

The one place everyone goes on Lamu is, of course, the beach; Lamu‘s beach is the real thing. Unprotected by a reef, the sea here has some motion to it for once: it is one of the few places on the coast where, at certain times of the year, you can bodysurf. You can either walk down to Shela beach (about an hour) or you can take a motorboat or dhow.

Places to Visit in Lamu Kenya

Lamu Fort

Category: Tourist Attractions in Lamu Town

Built between 1813 and 1821 in the southern corner of the old stone town, the massive multi-story fort has a central courtyard used for weddings, meetings and theatre productions.

Lamu Museum

Category: Tourist Attractions in Lamu Town

One of the largest buildings on the seafront dating from 1892 and once the home of the local leader, Lamu Museum has the finest characteristics of the verandah-style architecture of the19th century. The two-story house was used by the British colonial government.

For more informaton visit: Lamu Museum

Lamu German Post Office

Category: Tourist Attractions in Lamu Town

Built at the beginning of the 19th century as a private residence it was later converted as the first German post office in East Africa from 1888 to 1891 when the land up to Witu, south of Lamu, was a German Protectorate.

Kiunga Marine National Park

Category: Tourist Attractions in Lamu County

Dubbed the ’Enchanted underwater world” the Marine Park has about 50 calcareous islands in the Lamu Archipelago. The coral reef runs for 60km parallel to the coastline which borders the fascinating but little known Dodori and Boni National Reserves on the mainland.

For more information visit: Kiunga Marine National Park

Accommodation and Hotels in Lamu Kenya

1. Garden House

Category: Hotels in Lamu Kenya

Garden House is situated on the edge of Shela Village, near the sand dunes that fringe the village. At the corner of a walled garden, this graceful house is shaded by neem trees that attract plentiful birdlife. The house is furnished with traditional Lamu furniture and adorned with local artefaets.There are 2 en-suite double rooms and 1 en~suite twin. The ground floor has a dining room and seating area, and the rooftop has comfortable baraza seats and sunbeds.

2. Palm House Hotel

Category: Hotels in Lamu Kenya

A striking Swahili style house, Palm House centres on an open courte yard, with a side garden. The house is whitewashed, with a thatched roof, furnished with traditional Lamu furniture and adorned with local artefacts.There are 3 en-suite doubles and 1 en—suite twin. The dining and living areas, on the ground floor, open onto the terrace.

3. Shella Island Hotel

Category: Hotels in Lamu Kenya

Shella Island Hotel is on the fringe of Shela Village, with views over the sand dunes. The hotel is a whitewashed building, decorated in traditional Swahili style with Lamu furniture. Pot plants are placed throughout the house.
There are 6 en-suite rooms, rnade up of 1 single, 3 doubles and 2 triples. The triples contain 2 small double beds and a single.

4. Sultan’s Palace Hotel

Category: Hotels in Lamu Kenya

Sultan’s Palace is a traditional Lamu house, estimated to be 100 years old. The building was renovated and converted to a hotel, and opened in 2004. It is affiliated to Petleys and Lamu Palace Hotel, both of which are on Lamu seafront.
There are 4 en~suite rooms and 2 pehthouses. The rooms are furnished with Lamu 4-poster beds, table and chair. The hotel serves breakfast; room service can be ordered from Lamu Palace Hotel.

5. Peponi Hotel

Category: Hotels in Lamu Kenya

With a name that means heaven in Swahili, Peponi Hotel is a beachfront paradise. The hotel opened in 1967 and has remained in the hands of the same family ever since.
There are 24 en-suite rooms, made up of 14 standard and 10 superior. Each room is individually designed and adorned with traditional artefacts.

6. Msafini Hotel

Category: Hotels in Lamu Kenya

In a sea of whitewashed buildings, Msafini Hotel’s bright yellow facade stands out. The hotel opened in 2009, and combines traditional style with modern architecture.

There are 14 en-suite rooms, made up of  doubles, twins and triples.

Each room has a private balcony. The  hotel can be booked for private functions, either as a whole, or part. Mango Restaurant, on the rooftop, has panoramic views of the sea, Manda Island and the sand dunes. The chef specializes in seafood, and the menu includes snapper, barracuda, grouper, calamari, prawns, oysters and lobster. Traditional Swahili food is also available. Buffets can be arranged on request. Guests are welcome to use the internet in the manager’s office. There is also a swimming pool, shaded by vivid bougainvillea.

7. Kitendentini Bahari Hotel

Category: Hotels in Lamu Kenya

Behind Lamu County Council, Kitendentini Bahari Hotel is in a convenient location for the shops and buildings of the Main Street, and for Lamu Museum and donkey sanctuary. The hotel offers budget accommodation, around a central courtyard with pot plants and coral walls.
There are 21 en—suite rooms. The rooms are furnished with double and single beds, fridge, fan, table and chair.

8. Lamu Palace Hotel

Category: Hotels in Lamu Kenya

Lamu Palace Hotel is a whitewashed building with thatched roof, located directly on the seafront in Lamu Old Town.
There are 22 en-suite rooms and 1 suite. The rooms are all furnished with laniu 4—poster beds. They are on the 1st and 2nd floors, both floors have communal sea facing balconies. The suite has minibar, satellite TV, kettle and 24~hour room service. There is WiFi throughout the hotel. The ground floor restaurant serves a wide variety 0fAfrican and international cuisine, as well as japanese tepanyaki arid Italian pizza. Dishes include tuna sashirrii, ealaniari allegro, grilled lobster, chateaubriand and crispy soya chicken. The bar is fully stocked with soft drinks, beers, wines and spirits, furnished with comfortable.

9. Bahati House Hotel

Category: Hotels in Lamu Kenya

Bahati House is a traditional Lamu house, buitt on 3 floors around an open courtyard. The house is fully staffed and is taken on a self-catering basis.

There are 5 en-suite bedrooms, all furnished with king size bed. Each floor has a sitting area. The rooftop terrace overlooks the sea and the dunes, it provides plenty of lounging space and has a Moroccan corner and a swing bed. The chef uses fresh, local ingredients; guests are welcome to discuss their food preferences with him.
Both Lamu Old Town and Shela Village provide a wealth of activities.

For further information please visit: Bahati House Hotel

10. Petleys Hotel

Category: Hotels in Lamu Kenya

Directly opposite the jetty, Petleys is a landmark on the Lamu seafront.The tall whitewashed building has attractive rooms, a swimming pool with terrace and a glass—fronted rooftop bar with views across the sea.

Getting into and around Lamu Town

The best means of getting into the town is by air. There are different flights from different cities like a direct one from Nairobi, Mombasa and Malindi. The region’s airstrip is located in Manda Airstrip, a short boat ride from Lamu Island. It can also be reached from Mombasa by road which takes about 6-7 hours. It is a bit expensive but it is faster hiring a car from Malindi and Mombasa. Donkeys are the only mode of transport in the town.

Lamu Town – Photos

Lamu Kenya - Lamu Town

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