Get a head start with some local knowledge of all the tips, tricks, contacts, and activities on how to have the best family holiday in the historical and characterful Lamu Archipelago, Kenya.
TOP TIP 1: Booking – There are private houses & small hotels scattered around Shela Village, Manda Island and the Old Town, each with various standards of website & social media or no online presence at all … to get it right, we suggest booking through someone who knows the place well and no one knows them better than Chania at email@example.com
TOP TIP 2: Fixing – We all love Lamu because it’s so very relaxed …. in order to get anything done though, it’s key to have a ‘fix-it’ person, who can sort everything out for you, we recommend Nassir who is contactable by phone/message/Whatsapp on +254 (0) 722 726233.
How to Travel:
Boat – Contact Nassir to book boat taxis between Lamu town, Shela village, Manda island & Kizingoni. It shouldn’t be more than Kshs500 to 1,000 per crossing.
A donkey in Shela, in Lamu or on the beach – There are no roads on Lamu island, there are streets and the form of transport is walking or donkey-riding. Pick up a donkey taxi, and you’ll probably be overcharged… but that’s what holidays are all about.
Walk on the beach – FOC!
Lamu is the main town on Lamu Island which is in turn part of the Lamu Archipelago. Located around 350km north of Mombasa, Lamu Old Town and Shela Village are the oldest and most well-preserved examples of a Swahili settlement in East Africa. The town is characterised by narrow streets and magnificent stone buildings with impressive carved doors, influenced by a unique fusion of Swahili, Arabic, Persian, Indian and European building styles. The town is a patchwork of different influences and styles, as it was once a highly important trade port.
Lamu’s religious history as an Islamic centre 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. Expect an early wake-up call, but this is part of the relaxed nature of the town, where you will experience first-hand that there is truly no hurry in Africa. The intricate history that is still the lifeblood of this town is seen in the people of Lamu, who have managed to maintain age-old Swahili traditions and techniques in everything from culture to architecture and woodwork. This has contributed to its being a World Heritage Site.
Explore The Sand & Sea … for free …
Swim across from Shela to Manda Island, and maybe have a little drink at The Majlis (4*) or Diamond Beach village (2*), if you run out of energy, you can get a boat taxi back!
Or explore 12km of Shela Beach. This stretch of pristine beach and adjoining sand dunes is perfect for sunset or early morning beach walks… maybe go for lunch at The Cabanas (4*) and walk or get a boat back.
Snorkelling, Goggling & Swimming …
Manda Toto – Snorkel & have a BBQ lunch on a dhow or speedboat bobbing around Manda Toto. A small, unspoilt, natural dream island just off Manda, one of the few islands left worldwide which are uninhabited, completely left to nature and very rarely visited.
Kinyika Rock – Snorkeling at Kinyika rock is a must-do activity in Lamu .. it’s only 1km in a boat and then feast your senses with this incredible underwater world.
Swim with whale sharks on Mwamba Kitau for a life-long memorable activity (make sure to ask if they’re around first).
For all the fun, we recommend Nawaf at The Majlis, +254 (0) 702 690555, on Manda Island, opposite Shela village.
Kayaks – Another great way to see more of Lamu. They can be rented from The Majlis as well as the Peponi Hotel.
Tubing & waterskiing – The most enjoyable watersports for those of all ages… being pulled along behind a speedboat on a tube, leaping over waves and screeching with joy. Or learning the incredible life skill of waterskiing, again contact Nawaf at The Majlis.
In our opinion, SUP – Stand Up Paddleboarding is like a gentle on-sea game drive, a beautiful way to see Lamu. We’d also highly recommend this.
Sundowners on a Dhow, this is a ‘must’ when staying in Lamu. Go on a dhow, take your own drinks and sail the waterways of the Lamu Archipelago. Best to ask Nassir which dhow is perfect for your needs. NB. An annual Dhow Race occurs on Shela Beach, Lamu Island on January 1st. It is part of the town’s New Year celebrations and the most prestigious race of the year attracting dozens of local watermen along with hundreds of curious spectators.
Explore the Land & its History
Takwa Ruins – The remains of a thriving 15th and 16th-century Swahili trading town before it was abandoned in the seventeenth century. Take a boat here (1 hr) and we recommend spending an hour here before heading back.
Lamu Town – Give Nassir a buzz and go for a wander around the historical Lamu Town. Visit the Lamu Museum & Swahili House, both these places showcase Swahili history and give you an idea of how life was in Lamu before colonization. Visit the donkey sanctuary if you’re an animal lover. Other places you can visit if you are indeed a historian are the Old Fort and the German Post Office Museum.
Treat Yourself 🧘♀️ : Yoga in Banana House – holds daily 9-10am yoga classes, +254 (0) 721 275538. NB. The Lamu Yoga Festival is from the 5th to the 9th of October 2022.
Spa Treatments ☺
Healing with Hannah, acupuncture & cupping, hypnotherapy – 0796480008, WhatsApp +447500114639. Mercy’s Salon, Mind, Body & Soul – waxing, massages etc. – 0722350614.
Transformative sound work – Marcella 0703 812281.
Heavenly Hands – That Healing Feeling – Massages, Pedicure & Manicure – Virginia 0722 506093.
The Spa Moyoni House, Alberto is a healer & Ibrahim is a life coach – 0114 212321.
The Ocean Spa Wellness Centre Yoga & Massage – 0725573658.
ThaiVedic, Movement, healing Bodywork – 0701 303430.
Natural Connection, a natural holistic energy healing – 0722 669950.
Natural Lamu Beauty Spa – Whatsapp 0791 332919
Henna: You can’t leave Lamu without Henna. A semi-permanent traditional ‘tattoo’. Henna designs are used to decorate the hands, arms and feet of Swahili women from Lamu Island. The henna dye is made from a powdered leaf mixed with water and the juice of unripe lemons. The designs are traditionally drawn with a fine twig. We suggest Zainab or Hadija (contact them through Nassir).
Shopping For Necessities: All the ‘supermarkets’ are in fact characterful local corner shops (not quite Carre Four).
Groceries, Fruit & Vegetables: Mpale and Abu’s shop – These are the most popular because of the variety (but still very basic). Taufiq, Musenango, Twaha’s shop and Munta – the list is long. Bakery – Jua Bakery, call +254 (0) 724 678228 to order. Alcohol – Remember Lamu is a ‘dry’ island, but you can buy Dion wines, call Olivia at 0740 931182… for all other alcohol. We recommend you bring it with you. Also, most international restaurants serve alcohol.
Medical, we suggest: Shella Chemist or The Safari Doctor
Shopping for Fun:
Art & Design: The Beach Shop – Rustic but attractive woodwork and fish wall art. Peponi Gift Shop – we love this shop for everything you need. Ali Lamu. Shela House & Gallery – Dhow eyes & trinkets. African Corner – Nice art as well as jewellery. The list is long.
Clothes, Jewellery & Homeware: Aman & Ikeno– Boutique, beautiful clothes, soft fabrics, bedspreads, carpets & handcrafted jewellery. Take your credit card. Peponi’s Gift Shop – Great for Kangas, kikoys & gifts to take home. Lulu Stories – Hand-woven fabric, wooden fish sculptures & jewellery.
Curio Shops: Neema – Next to Peponis, The Masai Market – Masai trinkets & woven wear, Natural Lamu – Kenyan craft – carvings, earrings etc.
Kenyan wear – Kangas, Kitenge & Kikoys: Marion’s shop – tailor, Furaha Collections – tailor, Alisha design – tailor. Amina’s Shop – Beautiful Indian cotton fabric, kanga, kitenge, kikoy as well as some made-up shirts, trousers, balloon pants, etc. She is brilliant and can copy anything. NB. Joseph or Amina are great tailors.
Best Places To Go To Eat In Lamu:
Please book or ask us to book for you to avoid disappointment (and please advise us if it is for a special occasion). TOP TIP: Remember to take mossi-cream for under-the-table biters.
The Best Food:
Peponi – Breakfast, lunch, sundowners or supper, in our opinion, you just can’t go wrong here… Did I say they have great Margaritas?
Snorkelling on Manda Toto – take a Dhow to Manda Toto, snorkel and have a BBQ lunch on the Dhow (take your own drinks).
Kijani Hotel – It’s a vibe with cool music. A lovely location overlooking the sea & attractively decorated… their spiced tea is amazing.
The Majlis (on Manda Island, overlooking Shela) – The food is OK, but we would rather recommend it for sundowners & cocktails and you’ll love it…
Faleria – A little pizzeria in the centra of Shela. Nice food and great for being in the centre of Shela life.
Pizza-O – Pizza on the Pavement (Shela) is a nice pizza restaurant that overlooks the teeny town square & sea beyond.
Diamond Beach Village (Manda Beach) – It’s an attractive back-packers beach-side place where they have pizza & movie night on Thursdays.
We highly recommend you go to at least one of these!
Sea Suq Café – Our favourite local restaurant for lunch – We recommend Creamed Mchicha, Coconut Beans, Coconut rice & Tamarind juice. It overlooks the teeny town square & sea beyond. NB. They also offer wonderful Lamu cooking courses here.
Bahari – Similar food with an upstairs overlooking the sea… have some spare time.
Stopover– Again similar food, but downstairs overlooking the sea… Again have some spare time.
Rangaleni – Very simplistic with a basic menu of chips, beans, fish etc.
Gelamu – A little Gelati in the centre of Shela. Serves ice cream and has dairy-free or vegan options and is great for being in the centre of Shela life.
Places To Stay:
Our Family Experience in Lamu
To Book Any Of The Above – An adventure (safari &/or beach) whilst staying in small, off-the-beaten-track lodges, camps, or villas throughout Africa, contact this enormously knowledgeable team that will offer you 100% personalized safari planning … Email Chania.
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