Lamu is a ‘hidden gem’. You think you know much about it until you actually visit it and realize that you don’t know anything at all. It is very secluded and I wouldn’t be surprised if it decided to secede and join Zanzibar in becoming their own country. Lanzibar, Zanzimu or Zamu would be a nice name. I would actually want that to happen as it doesn’t seem like any other Kenyan town, even the ones already at the coast. It is one of the richest places we have.
I was able to deduce some common characteristics of the town that are quite new to anything I have experienced living in Nairobi that i’m sure many of us would be happy if they were implemented.
-Everyone is friendly.
-Every man’s wife makes the best Swahili food in Lamu
-Every corner is picturesque
-Everyone knows everyone
-There are only 2 cars on the island
-Donkeys are everything
-Barefoot luxury is possible.
In early January, my friends and I took a quick 4 day trip to this quaint town and with Kelly Campbell’s help (founder of Experience the Village), we got the best budget travellers guide to Lamu which we were able to squeeze in 72 hours. So without further ado, here is how to spend 72 hours in Lamu.
Wednesday: Shella Bahari Guest House & Peponi Bar
Check-in to Shella Bahari Guest House , one of the budget guest houses found in Shela ,which is 45 minutes away from Lamu town by foot and around 10 minutes away by boat. Shella Bahari has the best views of the Indian Ocean right outside your bedroom door. A common dining area and lounge allows guests to mingle and interact as they get a grand view of the Ocean. They also have a restaurant downstairs that provides amazing Swahili food.
Head to Peponi Bar in Shela Village for a drink or two. This sea front bar & hotel provides a fun ambiance for travellers looking to meet and interact with locals and even travellers.
Thursday: Explore Lamu, Shela & Sunset Dhow ride
Take a boat from Shela village to Lamu Town and explore the architecture, the food & the tradition. Lamu Museum is one of the attractions showcasing the vibrant history and the traditions of the Swahili people where you can learn everything and anything Lamu.
Ride a donkey and take a walking tour of the town to the Old Fort, the main square, the sea front..etc. Discover the town and its rich history.
Take a break and have lunch at the Labanda restaurant, which is one of the budget restaurants in the town known for authentic Swahili food. From Pilau to Biryani to Kaimati, indulge in the tastes of the Swahili culture.
Take a walking tour of Shela Village which is one of the unknown parts of Lamu island by people who haven’t visited the island and is definitely the best place to seek accommodation whilst on the island. What started off with a few wealthy Arab families in the 1800s , soon became for the Swahili people and is now the centre of tourism.
Immerse yourself in Shela’s unique architecture with the bougainvillea flowers giving it a certain unique aesthetic. Stop by Ali Lamu’s shop to view and even purchase some authentic Lamu art and bags (the handmade postcards are quite a treat)
Shela is also known for its picturesque beach.
Lamu sunsets are the best and must be experienced on a dhow. Sunset dhow rides last nearly an hour but are the only way to view it with some Swahili snacks and the sun in your face of course.
Friday: Matondoni Island & Manda Beach.
Take a speed boat to Matondoni Island which is where most dhows are made by hand. This process takes about 7 months to a year to make a single dhow having only one artisan who makes all the nails used for the dhows. You get to learn the process and appreciate the art that is dhow-making.
Matondoni island is also quite different as it isn’t the most glamorous, but has the richest stories. Buy weaved baskets & bags and support the community.
Head over to Manda Island and have a beach day. Here, the water is clear and calm. I would say it was the best beach I have been to in my life. If you have the stamina you could even swim across to Shela and back or even try out some water sports.
Have pizza at Diamond Beach Village. This is one of the only restaurant in Manda Beach and has been compared to the Alchemist here in Nairobi as it has one of the most vibrant scenes in Lamu.
Eco-friendly accommodation is available in Diamond Beach Village with timber & makuti being the main construction materials while still upholding stunning aesthetics and interiors. There are 6 beach huts called bandas, a treehouse and a small block house available for guests. So if you fancy sustainable living & travel, this ought to be your accommodation of choice.
Take a final boat ride to Manda Airport
As you can see, Lamu has a whole lot to offer even to budget travellers.
As this post is already long enough, for general tips on pricing & accommodation check out this article I wrote on Lamu On A Budget.
Have a lovely week.