Explore and experience Lamu’s Swahili culture and beach this December

Lamu Island aerial
An aerial view of Lamu Island by Cessna 206. Used under the Creative Commons Licence.

Kibo Slopes Safaris have put together a holiday package to give travellers the perfect Lamu beach experience while also giving you the opportunity to experience the area’s rich Swahili culture.

If you’re wondering what attractions Lamu has to offer, read on to find out:

LAMU TOWN

The town of Lamu is a preserved treasure of both architecture and town planning. The town consists of over 40 individual areas or mitaa, with a main thoroughfare separating the original stone town from the comparatively recent 19th century seafront.

The streets of Lamu are never much more than eight feet wide, making them accessible only on foot or by donkey. This is for a good reason, as proximity of the stone walls cools the air and blocks the rays of the sun.

There are hundreds of historic homes throughout the town all built to the same traditional design, with central courtyard surrounded by narrow rooms, with ceiling made of boriti mangrove poles and a flat open sometimes shaded by the thatch makuti shelters.

Lamu Musuem
Lamu Musuem

The Swahili House Museum shows the form and function of a typical home while the main museum has exhibits on the life and history of the town. Other attractions include the Fort Environmental Museum and old German Post Office Museum, a sanctuary and hospital for donkeys, open Lamu market and many local handicraft and carving shops.

AROUND LAMU

Also on Lamu, the small village of Shela has several important historic homes, and upmarket hotels and guesthouses with easy access to nearby beach. The village of Matandoni is a small sleepy village, locally renowned as a center for dhow building.

Lamu Beach
Lamu Beach

On Manda,the ruins of the town of Takwa,deserted in the 17th century, are easy day trip from Lamu. Further afield on Pate Island are the crumbling Nabahani ruins which have merged with the more recent town of Pate. The Nabahani were a group of dispossessed Arabs who settled into existing Swahili settlements here sometime in the 13th Century. Also on Pate are the ruins and monuments of the Swahili towns of Shanga and Faza, and the imposing fort at Situ.

Lamu Musuem
Lamu Musuem

To the North, Kiwaayu has beautiful beaches and snorkeling and diving in the Kiunga Marine Reserve.

The Lamu Museum can provide assistance and guides for exploring the archipelago.

TRAVELLERS LAMU

Lamu is easily accessible to travellers, with daily flights from the capital Nairobi, and from both Mombasa and Malindi on the coast. There are also bus and road connections available from Mombasa and the Coast.

Kjani House
Kjani House

The area offers a wide selection of lodging available to suit all tastes and budgets. There are hotels, guesthouses and lodges in both Lamu town and Shela, and self-contained resorts on some of the more remote bays and beaches of the archipelago.

Lamu also has many private houses available for hire, at affordable rates. Ideal for a group or family, these houses provide a genuine insight into local life; most houses are available with excellent cooks and service staff.

To experience an integral part of Swahili culture, travellers must experience local cuisine, which blends best local ingredients into a tantalizing fusion of tastes. Abundant fresh seafood, coconut and tropical fruit are all combined with the exotic spices that have been traded along the East African coast for centuries.

Lamu accommodationTo travel further afield in the archipelago, transport is by local sailing dhows, and accommodation is limited to very basic hotels or guesthouses.

The people of Lamu are very proud of their culture and heritage, and are very happy to share their Island with visitors. A measure of respect for local custom goes a long way so seek local advice about where to go, what to do and wear.

THE ARCHIPELAGO

The Lamu Archipelago is a cluster of seven Islands sheltered within the northernmost reaches of the Kenyan coast. Warmed by the equatorial sun and cooled by the trade winds of the Indian Ocean, The Islands have a balmy, pleasant climate for most of the year, with an average annual temperature of 26 degrees Celsius.

The three main Islands of Lamu, Manda and Pate are a blend of deep blue channels and coral reef, wide sandy beaches and protected bays. To the North, Kiwayu is a narrow strip of beach surrounded by reef. The rolling dunes of the beaches give way to thick vegetation and stands of coconut palms, tropical mango and citrus trees, while the low lying areas are covered in dense mangrove forest.

Dhou cruise from Manda Bay Resort at sunset
Dhou cruise from Manda Bay Resort at sunset

The nearby mainland Dondori Reserve is a wild remote region populated with herds of Topi and other plains game. Elephant have been known to leave the reserve and swim across the channel to graze on Manda Island.

Three separate species of sea turtle come to the archipelago to lay their eggs in the sands of the remote beaches, and the islands are visited by rare migrant birdlife including the Crab Plover and Roseate Tern.

The protected waters of the Kiunga Marine Reserve are a sanctuary for populations of Endangered Dugong or sea cow, and the coral rich reef home to many tropical fish species, including giant wrasse, barracuda and rock cod.

LAMU CULTURAL FESTIVAL

Lamu holds an annual festival dedicated to celebrating and preserving the local culture of the archipelago. This is timed each year to coincide with high tides that create ideal conditions for the large Jahazi and smaller Mashua Dhows that gather to take part in a series of races.

Other competitions include swimming and canoe races and a fast paced donkey race along the seafront. These events celebrate the integral elements of the Lamu way of life the sea and the dhows and donkeys that are the main forms of transport on the island.

Lamu Cultural Festival
Lamu Cultural Festival

By showing the value of local traditions and customs, the festival strengthens community values and instills a sense of pride in Lamu residents young and old.

Held each year since 2001 by the Lamu cultural promotion group, the festival also showcases the many diverse customs of the archipelago, including reading and presentation by the local poets and writers, storytelling and musical performances.

This is a rare opportunity to see traditional dance from all the islands in one single venue, including the Ngoma la Barani from mainland Kiunga and Mambore, Ngoma la Siyu from Pate, Chama from Matondoni and the Shabwani and Uta from Lamu town.

There are also displays of Henna painting, Muhunzi (Iron smithing), kutema (wood carving), dhow making, Kusuka (mat making), makuti (palm weaving) and much more.

Visiting artists from East African Coast and other Islamic counties often join the festivities, encouraging cultural exchange and pride in their united heritage.

Kibo Slopes Safaris are offering two packages this December.

The Jamhuri Package departs on 11 December for Ksh 34,500 while the Christmas Package departs on 23 and 30 December for Ksh 39,900. Both packages offer 3 nights and 4 days accommodation and return flights.

You can book by emailing info@kiboslopessafaris.com or telephoning +254 719 381 519.