Lamu Town is the kind of place you go to feel beautiful again.
At first glance, all you see is a bunch of old buildings, boats, donkeys, and people, but then you tap into its history and the magnificent energy of the people and the ocean and you start to understand how it could heal you.
You’re forced to leave behind the hustle and bustle of the city, the noise, and air pollution, the unfriendly faces you encounter on the streets every day, the business of being busy. You’re forced to let go and let the breeze wash over you and the people be kind to you.
It’s a pretty small town. You could tour it all in a day, if you’re in a hurry. But then you’d need a little bit more time to indulge in the cuisine, visit its museums and learn its rich culture, delve into the ocean and its pleasures, and banter with the locals.
Perhaps the most challenging thing about Lamu town is getting there. But if you are a good timer, you could get a great deal. My recommendation would be to check the airline’s direct website first. Flysax, for example, has rates as low as KES 4,950 for a one-way ticket to Lamu, but it goes up as more people buy tickets.
You could opt to go by bus, or SGR to Mombasa and then fly from there but it is more trouble than its worth. For accommodation, you could get decent spots by the seafront for as low as KES 3,000. As expected, prices go lower as you move away from the seafront. Shela Island is also a good option but may be more expensive because it is touristy than the town. I’m worried, though, that the place is being gentrified and that soon Lamu will be a ridiculously expensive destination. Word from the locals is that a lot of white people have been buying land in the area and are building or refurbishing homes. Many of them are retiring to Lamu.
If there is one thing the people of Lamu do right, it is the food. Swahili delicacies like curries, biryani, grilled fish (fresh fish from the ocean) are only a tip of the palate. Walk around the market and taste everything. Haluwa, mkate wa sinia, mshikaki, coffee, grilled cassava, you name it. If you can, make time to go fishing and have the guides grill you a live catch as you sail.
If you’re trying to get a drink in Lamu, Petley’s Rooftop Bar is your best bet. Seeing that the greater percentage of the population is Muslim, there aren’t a lot of outlets that serve alcohol. If you do stop by, sit at the counter with Ali the bartender, he’ll keep you entertained. The place is almost always empty, but they have a DJ on Friday nights so you can enjoy a night out. The other place would be the Lamu Palace Hotel, but it’s a tad pricey. If you want to try the local brew, Mnazi, have a local take you to Mararani village.
I almost left out the Floating Bar which you can get to via boat or dhow. Not for the fainthearted, though, because you’re surrounded by deep waters and the only way out is by boat.
Ride a donkey all the way to Shela village. Visit the donkey sanctuary and make a donkey smile. Some of them are sad and it shows. Donate to the cause because no one loves donkeys the way Lamu people do. Visit the Lamu Museum and learn the history of the Swahili people. Learn that even before the white man came, we had blenders and grills and royalty. Go to the Fort and sit at the market square and just watch the people. Drink madafu and eat its meat. Ladies, the little birdies whispered that it is good for your ladybits.
There are lots of water sports to engage in, like snorkeling, water skiing, swimming and many more.
Most importantly, hire a dhow for the sunset sail. I did and I saw God; at the end of the Mangroves, where the sun meets the horizon in the reddest of glories.