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Weekly Wanderlust: Kenya’s Lamu Island

Every Friday, as the working week draws to a close, my mind starts to wander off to far away lands and I sit here and salivate over exotic, come-get-me-now locations.

Instead of dribbling and drooling all to myself, I’ve decided to share my travel lusts with you in a weekly blog post. This is my very first one, and right now I’m swooning over the sultry Kenyan island of Lamu.

For thousands of years, merchants from India, the Eastern Mediterranean, Arabia and the Persian Gulf set up trading posts along the East African Coast, shipping gold, ivory, porcelain and mangrove timber on the trade winds. Lamu became a leading centre for trade and Lamu Old Town, with its winding streets and ancient mosques, is one of the oldest surviving Swahili settlements in East Africa, designated a World Heritage Site in 2001 by UNESCO.

The traditional coral stone houses are said to be exquisite, with elaborately carved wooden doors decorated with Quranic inscriptions. Donkeys and traditional dhow boats are the only means of transport and life apears to run at its own laid back Indian Ocean rhythm. There are several notable museums documenting Swahili culture, including the Lamu Museum, home to the island’s ceremonial ivory horn (siwa) blown to announce special events of the local royal family.

[slickr-flickr tag=”lamu”]

Shela beach on the North end of Lamu island looks like a postcard perfect stretch of white sand and tiny broken sea shells. The walk from main Lamu town is said to be a kilometre or so and is rumoured to give a good glimpse into rural island living, with little boys peddling samoosas on the beach and fishermen pulling-in their daily catch.

A good time to go would be during Maulidi – a festival celebrating the birth of the Prophet Mohammed that has been held on Lamu for more than 100 years and involves traditional dancing, calligraphy competitions and dhow races. If all this isn’t enough to spark your Lamu wanderlust, how about some spicy swahili-style seafood? Curried coconut-y fish with chapatis and tamarind dipping sauce. YUM.

If anyone reading this has been to Lamu, please share your travel tips, inside knowledge and advice by leaving a comment below.

To check out what type of accommodation Lamu has to offer, take a look at this list of drool-worthy traditional homes and beach lodges: http://africageographic.safarinow.com/destinations/lamu-archipelago/hub.aspx

I’m Holly - born and raised in the rural British Counties, my mother began life on a sugar farm in Zululand. After reading Anthropology at university in London, working for a political activist filmmaker in India, and doing a short stint under the bright lights of Bollywood – I decided it was time to return to the motherland. To earn a crust in the name of wanderlust, I finished up a post grad in media and hotfooted around South Africa as a freelance travel journalist.

  • Rashid Mirmohamed

    Hello Holly,
    Just read you opening line and you drew me in! It is exactly how I feel.
    So refreshing to hear thoughts that haunt me day and night. You just put those thoughts in beautiful words.
    Rashid

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