The Spirit Of Lamu
Located off the East Coast of Africa, Lamu is a tropical idyll untainted by the frantic pace of modern living. It remains a relic of the past which is immediately evident in the absence of cars, instead the main modes of transport are the placid donkeys and ancient sailing dhows. Lamu is steeped in a rich history blended with Arabic, Indian and Portuguese influences. It is a culture that remains distinctively Swahili – from the poetry and architecture to the carving and calligraphy.
Friendly faces and broad smiles contribute to the warmth and magic of Lamu making for an unforgettable holiday. This is a little piece of paradise where endless palm-fringed beaches merge with the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Here the heat of the African sun is dissipated by the steady breeze of the monsoon winds.
The island has always attracted the wanderers, the individuals and the creatives. It has been a refuge for artists, film-makers and writers as well as celebrities and royalty who all enjoy the low-key lifestyle.
If you can tear yourself away from The Kasbah, there is plenty to do and see on Lamu and the surrounding islands.
Lamu Old Town
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lamu Old Town is notable for its narrow streets filled with historical houses built from coral limestone, their austere exteriors only enlivened by the ornate carved doors.
Lamu’s history has been preserved in several museums including from the main museum set in a former palace, and the Swahili House, a recreation of life in Lamu’s Golden Age. The fort in the busy main square is an austere reminder of the Omani occupation in the 19th century.
Just behind the seafront, the main street buzzes with activity. Local traditions and customs are evident in the numerous workshops that manufacture traditional furniture and the highly-desirable Lamu doors. Silversmiths and woodworkers jostle with small shops filled with local fabrics and woven basketry. It is into the Baraka Galley which is filled with African artifacts.
If you need a respite from the heat, enjoy a fresh mango juice or traditional Swahili food in one of the cafes and restaurants that line the waterfront.
Dhows are an integral part of Lamu life and gracefully cruise up and down the Manda channel. A tranquil evening sail through the mangrove-fringed channels of Manda, as the sun sinks into the sea, is magical.
A dhow trip to the ruined 17th Century town of Takwa on Manda is worth a visit although this is only accessible through a narrow channel at high tide.
Taking a dhow to Manda Toto for snorkelling, followed by a barbecue on the beach is a perfect way to spend a lazy day.
For the bird watchers, a dhow under sail is the perfect way to watch the rich birdlife that inhabit the sandflats and mangroves.
Mind, Body & Soul
Just step outside The Kasbah to Banana House for one-on-one yoga or join a regular class taught by internationally qualified instructors. Nearby is the Natural Lamu Spa which offers a range of massages and treatments using their home-made products sourced on the archipelago (www.natural-lamu.com). Shela’s wellness services are constantly growing and a full range of masseuses beauticians and physiotherapists are also available for housecalls.
Whether you have a passion for kitesurfing or paddleboarding, there are plenty of watersports on offer.
For the underwater enthusiasts, snorkelling in the sea between Manda Island and Manda Toto is highly recommended, while Peponi Hotel can arrange a multitude of activities including paddleboarding, kayaking and windsurfing. Waterskiing can be arranged through Peponi or locally while the winds off the Kipungani beach stretch are ideal for kitesurfing.
Lamu is considered a top rate game fishing destination and both Cheza from Manda Bay or Little Toot from Peponi Hotel are available for charter. There is also the opportunity to try the traditional method of handline fishing in the creeks and inlets.
If those activities seem too strenuous, a walk along the breezy 14km long Shela beach is a perfect way to clear out the cobwebs. And after all that exercise, treat yourself with a coffee or fresh coconut water at the famous Peponi Hotel.
Lamu has a vibrant festival scene with various events taking place through the year. The religious Maulidi Festival follows the Islamic calendar and attracts pilgrims from all over the world while the Swahili Cultural Festival in November is a celebration of Swahili music, dance and cusine.
The Shela Hat Festival (www.shela-hat-contest.com) is a biannual event, where the local population show their ingenuity and creativity with elaborate hats made from local and recycled materials. The festival culminates in a large exhibition and the always popular dhow race.
The annual yoga festival is popular with all levels of yogis and is led by international instructors (lamuyoga.org).
Celebrating New Year’s Eve in Shela is not exactly a festival, but it feels pretty much the same. The village is full of people and everywhere there is a party. On January, 1st the Peponi Hotel hosts a very popular dhow race, which, under the tropical sky, is definitely a perfect start into your new year.