Lamu Tourist Attractions
Lamu is Kenya's oldest living town and it has retained all the charm and character over the centuries. Lamu Old Town is a well-preserved Swahili settlement built of coral stone and mangrove timber.
Features include inner courtyards, verandas, and elaborately carved wooden doors. Most of the dwellings in Lamu date from the 19th C with rooftop patios. The architecture of Lamu demonstrates the many influences that have come together from Europe, Arabia, and India, while still utilizing traditional Swahili techniques. Founded in the 13th C, Lamu was one of many small villages that stretched from Somalia to Mozambique. Lamu was a thriving port in the 1500's exporting timber, ivory, amber, spices and slaves.Much of the culture and way of life have remained intact. The Maulid Festival, a century old event that includes dancing and special foods is a celebration of the birth of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. It takes place in May or June each year. Since the 1960s Lamu has been the Katmandu of Africa and has been a highlight of the coast for many tourists.Only one motor-powered vehicle exists on the island, most of the local people in Lamu use donkeys for transportation and to carry things.The majority of the population is Muslim, and both men and women wear traditional attire. The traditional white kanzu and embroidered cap are common while women cover up in black cloth when they travel outdoors.
Paté Island, the largest of the Lamu chain, contains a number of historical sites, including the Siyu fort.
Swahili House Museum
Lamu's Swahili House Museum is a renovated example of an 18th C Swahili house. The interior of the house features cookware, beds and other furniture that allow a glimpse of a classic working Swahili home.An onsite museum attendant provides an informative tour of Swahili life during the 18th and 19th C. The ceremonial deathbed is on display, it is where deceased family members would lay before burial. An echo chamber is another part of the house. This is where women could greet visitors when men were not around, without being seen.Close family members and friends were the only people to access the central courtyard. It was used for daytime activities such as washing. The kitchen, located on the second floor, has a large wooden pestle and mortar, a pasta maker, a water boiler and a flour-grinding stone on display as well as other common kitchen instruments.
Donkeys are the main method of transport in Lamu, thus the Donkey Sanctuary was started to treat the working donkeys. The Donkey Sanctuary is located in northern Lamu, near the waterfront. An estimated 2,200 donkeys are used for agriculture as well as to carry household provisions and building materials.Regular treatment clinics have been established, including a worming program every six months that are offered free of charge. Courses and training are offered including harnessing and donkey care. Local donkeys that have been injured are also are brought to the stable for rehabilitation and rest.Animal welfare is promoted with an annual donkey competition that gives a prize for the donkey in the best condition.
Kiwayu Island is in the northeast of the Lamu archipelago and part of the Kiunga Marine National Reserve. Many visitors to the island come to snorkel on the coral reefs, on the eastern side of the island.The Dodori and Boni Game Reserves are off to the west of Kiwayu. The wild areas protect the fauna and flora of eastern Kenya. The animals found on the reserves are often migratory such as elephant and buffalo. The permanent residents are lion, cheetah, serval, caracal, lesser kudu, monkeys and the rare African hunting dog.Kiwayu has gained a reputation as a retreat for the rich and famous but that is within a luxury resort found at the far end of the island.
Lamu - Surrounding Villages
Shela is a traditional Swahili village with tall stone houses, smaller thatched dwellings, mosques, ruins and it is located only 5-minutes from Shela Beach. Shela was settled in the 17th C by migrants of Takwa and still has the atmosphere of a medieval town.Matondoni is located about 2 hours from Lamu. Take in the ancient art of dhow building or watch them being repaired by the shipwrights.Kipungani is a small village on the southwest tip of Lamu Island. The locals make straw baskets, hats and mats. Kipungani means "the place of fresh air" in Swahili and Kipungani Bay provides all the makings for desert island relaxation with lots of sun, sand and fresh air.
Manda is an island of the Lamu Archipelago and well known for the towns of Manda and Takwa. Both towns were most likely abandoned due to lack of water.Manda Island is only accessible by boat or air; thus privacy and seclusion are reinforced on the sandy white beach lined with tropical vegetation.Manda Toto Island , just off the coast, is noted for its snorkeling opportunities.The town of Manda was established during the 9th and 10th C through trade relations with the Persian/Arabic Gulf. Excavations have uncovered Chinese ceramics dating from the 9th C onward, Islamic pottery and glass as well as local pottery. Manda was prosoperous until about the 13th C and then finally abandonded in the early 19th C.
The Takwa ruins on Manda Island was a flourishing town in the 16th and 17th C. It was abandoned in haste and no one knows why. Proof of its existence lie in the houses, mosque, pillar tomb and a city wall.Jamaa Mosque is the largest surviving structure, with a large pillar on top the qibla wall. It is among the most notable features, although the significance of the pillar is not known, some believe there is a Sheikh buried below the wall.It appears that Takwa was a holy city, as all doors faced Mecca. Some residents of Shela, who believe they are descendants of Takwa, still visit the ruins to pray.Even though the ruins of Takwa are overgrown, it is well worth visiting.
Shela Beach is a dune-backed beach that runs for 12 kilometers along the headland. From Lamu, it is a 40-minute walk or 10 minute trip by dhow. Located at the start of the beach is a mock fort built by an Italian entrepreneur.Shela is in the channel between Lamu and Manda Island, a perfect spot for windsurfing, sailing and water skiing.Manda Beach is located on Manda Island, about a 20-minute dhow ride from Lamu. It is smaller and less busy but still excellent for snorkeling, swimming, and sunbathing. Manda Island provides the backdrop of mangrove forest, baobab tress and a variety of animals for a walking safari.
Lamu Fortis located in the island's main square. The Sultan of Oman reportedly commenced construction of this imposing structure in 1813. Upon its completion in 1821 the fort served as a garrison for Baluchi soldiers sent by the Sultan of Oman. Its protective presence encouraged new development around it and some Lamu merchants erected shopfront and buildings.Lamu Fort served as a prison from 1910 to 1984 for the British colonial regime and the Kenyan government. After a complete restoration, the Fort now houses the Lamu branch of the Department of Coastal Archaeology, the Lamu Old Town Conservation Office and the Public Library.
The Lamu Museum is on the waterfront, housed in a building once occupied by Jack Haggard, Queen Victoria's consul in this outpost. Displays on Swahili culture include a reconstructed Swahili house and relics from Takwa. Other exhibits include Lamu's nautical history, the Maulid Festival and tribes that lived along this part of the coast, including the Boni who were legendary elephant hunters. The nautical section of the Lamu museum features a variety of dhowsCeremonial horns, or siwa, are an important part of the collection. The Lamu siwa is made from engraved brass but the siwa from Paté was carved from a single elephant tusk.
German Postal Museum
Lamu's German Postal Museum was originally built as a private residence in the late 1800's. Later it was converted and used as the first German Post Office in East Africa, briefly from 1888 to 1891. Lamu was a major sea port with well-established links to the outside world.The building was restored and now houses a museum with photographic exhibits and memorabilia showing the long historical relationship between Germany and Kenya. It also depicts early industrial development through the form of communication via postal services in Kenya.