A vacation at the Kenyan Coast wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Lamu Island- one of the country’s most historic destinations. From beautiful, sandy beaches to architectural marvels that date back to medieval times, this tropical archipelago is truly magical. And it’s not just the places! The local culture- too- is amazing; with tourists often coming to experience the island’s numerous festivals and ethnic cuisine.
Best Tourist Attractions and Activities in Lamu
Visit Lamu Fort
Fancy a glimpse of pre-colonial Swahili architecture? Try Fort Lamu! The Sultan of Pate built this outstanding castle during the early stages of the 19th century. The fortress was originally situated on the waterfront, which later retreated. Today, Lamu Fort sits at a central position in Lamu Town. Initially, the sultan used the fort as a military and administrative base, allowing him to cement his rule along the East African Coastline.
However, as the town later declined, the fort was turned into a penitentiary facility by the colonial authorities. In 1984, however, the government ceded control of the fort to the National Museums of Kenya and approved of its restoration.
Currently, the museum houses a ground floor exhibition, with a special focus on environmental conservation and sustainability. Occasionally, visitors get to see local performances; which are usually held inside the fort’s courtyard. Meanwhile- a conference room and a workshop sit on the second floor. And if you wish to truly immerse yourself into some Swahili literary history, step inside the museum’s library, which houses an abundance of Swahili poetry works. Finally, you can head to the fort’s ramparts for breathtaking views of Lamu Town.
Ride a Donkey in Lamu Old Town
Considering the town’s narrow streets, it’s perhaps unsurprising that donkeys- and not cars- are the only authorized means of transport in Lamu Old Town. A ride atop one of these beasts of burden costs about 50 shillings per kilometre. There’s even a donkey stop-something akin to a bus stop, where donkey owners and their priceless assets line up awaiting passengers. What’s more, if you’ve never ridden a donkey before, the donkey owners will be more than willing to coach you.
Donkeys are also quite friendly and get accustomed to new people rather quickly, much unlike their cousins-horses. The donkeys here have also undergone courtesy training, so you won’t have to worry about being on the receiving end of the infamous donkey kicks. The rocking motion as one rides a donkey for the first time is eerily enjoyable; while the scenic views you’ll get to enjoy as you ride one of these hard-working beasts down the town’s main road by the seafront is unforgettable.
And if you don’t fancy a ride, why not pay a visit to the island’s donkey sanctuary, where you’ll get to witness just how much the staff there love and treasure these animals. The sanctuary is a veterinary facility for ailing donkeys. Since the facility doesn’t charge donkey owners for their services, feel free to make a philanthropic donation while there.
Sample the Local Cuisine in Lamu
You won’t want to leave Lamu Island without sampling their seafood dishes. Numerous restaurants line up along the seafront, offering diverse culinary delights. At Tamarind Café- for instance- patrons get to choose from a wide array of delectable seafood dishes including lobster, squid, grilled calamari, and prawns. Besides, its strategic position also means that you’ll get to enjoy beautiful views of the dhows on the waterfront as you dine away. At Hapa Hapa, meanwhile, the affordable pricing of their seafood curries is a huge attraction. If you fancy a little small-talk, you’ll also get a chance to mingle with the locals here, as the eatery is often packed.
It’s not all about seafood in Lamu, though, as you can also indulge in local Swahili delicacies whose recipes date back centuries. Numerous roadside shacks sell tasty delights like mshikaki (meatballs roasted on a skewer), mkate wa mayai (meat pieces, greens, and eggs rolled up in a thin pastry and deep-fried), and viazi karai (deep-fried potatoes).
Take a Stroll along Lamu’s Beaches
Lamu is as much a beach destination as it is a historical destination. You can take a long walk along any of the island’s beaches while taking in the cool Indian Ocean breeze. While at it, don’t forget to bring your camera with you and take a few pictures. The white, sandy beaches provide the perfect backdrop for some envy-inducing vacation photos. What’s more, Lamu doesn’t quite experience the tourist overflow like other coastal destinations; meaning you’ll enjoy serene strolls without having to bump into hundreds of other tourists. Topping off the tropical magnificence of Lamu’s beaches are the numerous mango and coconut trees that dot the shoreline.
Tour Lamu Old Town
The picturesque setting that is Lamu Old Town is quite captivating. Narrow alleys separate medieval stone buildings and lead into open-air marketplaces. This place will- quite literally- thrust you back into a gone era. The scenic historic architecture bears testament to the diverse foreign influences on the coastal region over the centuries; as Indians, Arabs, Persians, and Europeans had set camp in Lamu at various points in history.
Go on a Dhow Tour
Dhows have been used as the primary mode of water transport in Lamu Island for many centuries. While they were mainly used to transport goods during the Arab-Swahili trade heyday; today, they also serve as a recreational tool.
Visitors pay for guided dhow tours and get to sail along these ancient trade routes. The waters around Lamu Island are rather gentle so you won’t have to worry about having a rough sailing experience. What’s more, these dhow safaris take tourists to surrounding destinations within the larger Lamu archipelago, with lots of attractions to experience.
In Pate Island, for instance, lots of historic Arab architecture dot the area, with Siyu fort being the most outstanding of them. In nearby Manda Island, meanwhile, you can visit Takwa Ruins, which date back to the 1500s.
These are just but a few of the hidden gems that you can uncover during a single dhow tour across the Lamu Archipelago. Night-time dhow safaris are – perhaps – the most captivating, as nothing beats the joy of enjoying a packed meal under the moonlight. Dhow tours can take just a few hours or even whole days depending on how much you wish to explore.
Enjoy Water Sports in Lamu
Being as it is an island destination, Lamu is the perfect spot for those who love the adrenaline rush that comes with water sports. Some local travel companies organize kitesurfing and windsurfing experiences for their clients. They also have instructors who take beginners through safety lessons – therefore – being a novice doesn’t mean you have to skip out on these fun activities.
With its calm waters, it’s quite a surprise that Lamu Island is still quite undiscovered as a water sports destination.
Other water activities that you can try out while in Lamu include kayaking, kitesurfing, wakeboarding, and water-skiing.
Visit Lamu Museum
Alongside the Swahili House Museum, this historical repository is considered one of the best in Lamu. Situated just five minutes away from the old jetty by the seafront, consider this museum your introductory lesson into Swahili culture. On the ground floor is an elaborate exhibition of the works of Muhammadi Kijuma- one of the most multitalented artists to ever come out of the region. As a literary scribe, poet, and a woodworker; his literary and carpentry works now form the core of this exhibition. The space also houses a variety of traditional Swahili furniture. Intricate design patterns characterize these chairs and tables, pointing to the advanced carpentry skillsets of the Coastal region’s early inhabitants.
Meanwhile- on the second floor- you’ll find lots of artifacts from the Coastal region’s indigenous tribes. These include the Pokomo, Giriama, Taita, Taveta, Swahili and Dawida tribes. From a mbuzi (traditional coconut shredder) to a display of a Swahili bride and a groom in ethnic wedding regalia, there are lots to be seen and learned about coastal culture and heritage here.
Go on a Fishing Trip
A deep-sea angling trip would be a great way to cap off an exciting Lamu vacation. The Lamu Archipelago is home to a wide variety of fish species including barracudas, tuna, and sailfish. Each one of these fish species has their migration seasons, therefore, while you may be lucky to land a broadbill in April, you may not be able to catch any in June. The location you choose may also determine what type of fish you may be able to catch. Clients can opt between deep-ocean and creek fishing. Your angling captain will guide you on the ‘catch and release’ procedure.
How to Get to Lamu
From the mainland, Lamu Island is easily accessible via Mokowe, where you can take the ferry or hire a speedboat. Alternatively, you can take a direct flight to the island.