Lamu

Travel Guide Africa Kenya Lamu

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Introduction

Lamu is a town in coastal Kenya. Its old town is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. This is the main town on Lamu Island which is in turn part of the Lamu Archipelago. Lamu is vastly different from most cities in Kenya, most particularly due to the almost complete lack of motor vehicles and corresponding traffic. Culturally Lamu also differs from interior of the country as it has retained its historic character as the oldest continually inhabited town in the country and one of the most important Swahili settlements. Lamu's religious history as an Islamic center is also immediately evident as most residents wear traditional robes and headscarves along with the dozens of mosques that broadcast the call to prayer throughout the day.

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Sights and Activities

  • Visit Shela beach on the South end of the Lamu island is a beautiful stretch of white sand and tiny broken sea shells. The walk from main Lamu town is only about a mile and a half and well worth it due to the locals you meet on the way. Watch for the young boys selling homemade samosas on the beach. They are delicious!
  • Lamu Museum: Built in 1891, the Lamu Museum was the former residence of the British Governors during the colonial era. Here, you will experience and learn about the rich Swahili culture that is ever so evident in Lamu Town.

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Weather

Tropical with a short rainy season from mid-April to mid-June.

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max30.9 °C31.3 °C32.1 °C31.1 °C29 °C28 °C27.4 °C27.5 °C28.3 °C29.5 °C30.8 °C31.2 °C
Avg Min24.5 °C24.7 °C25.5 °C25.6 °C24.5 °C23.7 °C23.2 °C23.1 °C23.5 °C24.3 °C24.6 °C24.6 °C
Rainfall6 mm4 mm25 mm130 mm329 mm164 mm75 mm40 mm39 mm40 mm39 mm28 mm
Rain Days1131015151187563

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Getting There

Lamu town on Lamu island is best reached by air at Manda Airport, either directly from Nairobi (Jambojet and Fly 540 from Jomo Kenyatta airport; Safarilink and Air Kenya fly from Wilson Airport), Mombasa (Mombasa Safari Air), or Malindi (Jambojet and Fly 540). The airport is on Manda Island opposite the main village necessitating a short five minute boat ride. This short trip should not cost more than Ksh 200.

For those on a tighter budget a daily bus service does run from Mombasa via Malindi. This route was notorious for attacks by Somali bandits and buses have in the past been stopped and robbed.

The trip from Mombasa to Lamu (Mokowe on the mainland) takes 5-7 hours depending on road conditions. The last part from Garsen to Mokowe is a mud road and can be rough. Get a seat in the front of the bus (book in advance) to get a pleasant trip. Several bus companies operate the route but few are express (no unnecessary stops). Two express buses are Tawakal and Najaah.

To get to Lamu from Mokowe on the mainland you must take a slow and crowded ferry, a shared speed boat, or hire your own speed boat. All options will take you to Lamu Town. You can usually negotiate to be taken to Shela if this is your final destination.

It's also possible but expensive to hire a car from Mombasa or Malindi.

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Getting Around

There are no options for transport apart from boat or donkey, though everything is within walking distance. Donkeys create an unfortunate mess on the main streets as they are the primary form of heavy transport on the island and are allowed to go to the bathroom wherever they want. As such be cautious about where you are walking as you may accidentally step in something you wish you hadn't.

It should also be noted that lighting at night of the narrow streets is very minimal. A flashlight is a recommended accessory for walking around at night. If you don't bring one with you, many of the tiny shops sell cheap lighters that come with small built in LED flashlights.

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Eat

The seafront restaurants in Lamu Town offer excellent seafood at reasonable prices. Delve further back from the dock for more traditional Swahili fare. Traditionally, the food is eaten with your fingers. Sometimes it is good to bring your own utensils, otherwise you will find yourself trying to eat oil-soaked rice with your fingers - not the easiest task. All better restaurants provide cutlery, if you want. In the streets around the covered market you will find many stalls with cheap and delicious street food.

Labanda (At the seafront), ☏ +254 726 724884. Medium standard restaurant, but with the best sea view. Good selection of local and continental, also Italian dishes and also with license to sell beer and wine. Not all restaurants have that because Lamu is predominantly Muslim and alcohol is banned both in the public and at home.
Umalila. This very basic restaurant offers delicious authentic Swahili food. They offer what they have just prepared, but it is always delicious, especially the crispy fries, grilled fish and the fresh juice are a real recommendation. If you want to try something special, ask the chef and he can prepare it for you the next day!
Peponi Hotel Restaurant (In Shela Village), ☏ +254 42 633421.
The Seafront Cafe, Corniche Path, ☏ +254 728 711832. Is an excellent value and the locals eat there. Try the garlic crab or crab soup.
Whispers Café, Kenyatta Rd, ☏ +254 42 4632024. Good coffee and cakes

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Drink

The nightlife is rather quiet, also because in a Muslim place only in licensed places alcohol are sold.

Petleys. Meet up and drink beer with fellow travellers,at 'Petleys' one of the few bars in the town.
Lamu Palace hotel. You can also enjoy a Tusker at the Lamu Palace hotel, but this is more expensive than Petley's, and very quiet, but OK if you want to hear the waves crash against the sea wall and read a book.
Social Club. However, the cheapest beer on the island is at the Social Club, hidden away in the bush, down the coast after the power station. This is where all the locals go, and thus has the best music and cheapest beer and pool table. Definitely go to the social club on a Saturday night for boogie boogie disco! - A mixture of traditional African and reggae. Everyone screams and goes crazy when Bob Marley is played! When you find the music too hot and loud, go round the side and enjoy a game of 8 ball pool. The locals willingly play winner stays on, but you might have to pay for their game too, but at 50c a game who cares! There will be a pool attendant to keep you cue well chalked and to set up the table for you (buy him a couple of Tusker for his trouble!). The walk to the social club can seem a bit daunting especially as the sea wall isn't lit too well, but basically just walk away from the town centre towards Shela keeping the sea on your left, go past the hospital, past the power station, and keep going until you see a sand path through the mangroves into the bush on your right, and a few dim lights at the end of it. On a Sat night you will definitely hear the music before you arrive. If you are still concerned about taking the walk, ask one of the local beach boys to show you the way just buy them a beer for their trouble. Make sure that they realise that you are only buying them 1 beer otherwise they will keep asking for more!
Floating Bar. Very busy bar on Friday and Saturday evenings. Floating between Manda and Lamu islands. They have an alcohol license.
Whispers Coffeeshop. In the middle of the turbulent old town Lamus a wonderful place to relax with good coffee and great cake.

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Sleep

When choosing accommodation that is listed and rated in the most popular Internet hotel booking sites, you can book either in Lamu City, Shela Beach or the beach in Kipungani at the end of the island. Depending on whether you prefer more peace and quiet or the life in the city. Especially Kipungani is quite remote, but also very romantic.

Most of the year, it's possible to simply show up and book through a tour guide, if you're willing to spend the first day of your trip tromping around in the heat.

The Red Pepper House.
Kijani Hotel, ☏ +254 20 2435700.
Peponi Hotel, ☏ +254 42 4633421.
Shella Bahari Guest House, ☏ +254 42 4632046.
Jua House.
Jambo House. B&B.
Kizingo Lamu. 8 natural huts built directly on the beach with good service. Especially popular with young people (updated Jan 2019 | edit)
Jahazi House.
Kipungani Explorer.
Kizingoni House.
Cabanas Lamu (Barefoot Lamu).

You can use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

Booking.com

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Keep Connected

Internet

As far as communication technology is concerned, Kenya has gone through a tremendous modernization. Nowadays visitors to Kenya can carry their portable digital devices, ease of use is guaranteed with the advent of wireless (hot spots) environments within upmarket tourisms resorts. In some restaurants, a cup of coffee can allow you the use of the free hot spot for your laptop. However in most places the bandwidth is severely limited. Internet cafés are common throughout Kenya and usually offer decent link quality. Expect prices around 1KSh per minute. Most cyber cafes now charge 0.5KES per minute.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

Kenya boosts a number of good mobile phone operators like Zain, Safaricom, Orange, Yu and Telekom. Roaming is easy with most European contract mobile phone tariff plans. Prices can be high though, so try and get a local SIM card or avoid data roaming.

Post

The National Postal Company offers services throughout the country and abroad. Prices are reasonably but services, although better than in the past, are still not very good. It is pretty slow and not always reliable. If you want to send a package, you'd better use international companies like DHL, TNT, UPS or FedEx, as they are not much more expensive yet reliable and fast.

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Accommodation in Lamu

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Lamu searchable right here on Travellerspoint.

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This is version 8. Last edited at 14:15 on Nov 11, 20 by Utrecht. 4 articles link to this page.

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