The Island Lamu: the most relaxing place in whole Kenya!

Last Updated on by Charlotte van de Sande

Donkeys walk freely through the streets while we hear a mosque in the background. Along the water are dozens of boats, the catch of the day is just being brought in. We are on the island of Lamu, just off the coast of Kenya, a place where life has a slower pace and you have the impression of being far away from Africa.


Recharging after months of travelling through East Africa

We have been travelling through Madagascar, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda for more than three months now. Both of us are exhausted from all the new impressions and constant being on the move, so we decided to spend the last nine days in East Africa, recharging in one and the same place: the island of Lamu. The moment we are on the boat that takes us from the airport to Lamu island, we already feel that we have made the right choice: this is a place where you can really take it slow!

Lamu: one of the first Swahili settlements!

Cosmo, the captain of our boat, tells us all about Lamu and Shela, the city we are heading to. Lamu island is one of the first Swahili settlements and Lamu Town is one of the oldest cities in Kenya. The city was founded around the fourteenth century and has long been an important trading hub for the Arabs. Later it was occupied by the Portuguese and reclaimed again with the help of the Turks and later the Omanians. Lamu flourished under the protectorate of Oman. It became a centre for artists, writers and poets and many new buildings, mosques and a fort (now Unesco Heritage) were built.

When we walk through the small town of Shela together with Amani, one of the hosts of the Bed & Breakfast Jua House *, we immediately notice the strong Omani influence. It doesn’t feel like we are in Kenya, but in a beautiful, oriental country, far away from our actual location. We see buildings in Arabic style, mosques, narrow streets and the people are often dressed in a djellaba, a long caftan. The inhabitants of the island of Lamu are largely Muslim and even now, almost four centuries later, you can still see the influence of Oman in their features.

Relaxing in Jua House

Amani leads us through a maze of narrow streets and alleys to the heavy stately doors of Jua House. We will stay here for the next nine days. With seven rooms you could call Jua House a hotel, but that actually diminishes how nice this place is. As soon as we enter it feels like coming home. Everywhere in the house are cosy seating areas and sofas. There are three floors with rooms, each floor has a shared living room with a balcony, the most beautiful art, and shelves filled with books and magazines to read.

Our own room is also a gem: next to the large stone bed (with of course a soft mattress on it) are hanging shelves which Ries likes so much that he takes some pictures which he sends to my grandfather to ask if he could build this for our home as well. I like the small details like a straw beach tote and beach towels which hang in every room, an antique chair and the most delicious smelling shampoo (from the brand Cinnabar Green, which is sold throughout Kenya), conditioner and body wash. We peek in at the other rooms and see that all rooms are unique and are decorated differently. I absolutely love this decoration style that is the perfect mix between a classic Swahili design, African and modern elements and lots of light. Jua House is a plastic bottle free zone. Thanks to the in-house filter system, you can drink the water from all the taps in the house.

The owner Thomas, an Austrian guy with a warm personality, tells us that he, together with local craftsmen, has rebuilt this entire house and designed the interior. And that personal touch is exactly what makes Jua House feel like home!

Yoga followed by a delicious breakfast

Soon we have a nice rhythm. Every morning we wake up around 6 am and walk to the upper roof terrace. With a view of the dunes on one side and the white roofs of Shela and the sea on the other side, we start our day with half an hour of yoga. While the sun slowly rises, we roll up our mats and I go one floor down to the second roof terrace, also a shared living room, to get some writing done.

Just before 8 a.m. Amani, Francis or John, all hosts of Jua House, arrive on the roof terrace and begin to set the long table for breakfast. Home-baked buns and sourdough bread, fruit salad, fresh coffee, tea, and homemade mango jam and yoghurt. This mouth-watering breakfast opens my appetite, and whilst I cut open a crusty bun, other guests join the long table for breakfast. It’s a shared breakfast, so cosy sitting all together at the same table. Everyone shares their travel experiences and enjoys the food on the table. It is so delicious that we finish everything, after which we take some time to take it easy and get some more work done.

In the afternoons we relax! We walk to the beach, which is close to Shela, sunbathe on the roof terrace or walk to Lamu town in search of souvenirs. In the evening we take a long walk on the beach and eat fresh tuna whilst looking out at the sea.

Thomas: the owner of Jua House

And so the days fly by. We relax, sleep and after all those months of impressions, lots of travelling and new things, we really recharge our batteries. After a few days, Thomas the owner of Jua House comes home from a road trip through Canada. Originally from Austria, he has travelled all over the world and lived in Uruguay and Egypt, amongst other places such as Ibiza. After years of adventures, which he can tell a great story about, Thomas decided to come to Lamu in 2013 with exactly the same purpose as we have: to relax.

Initially, he rented Jua House, but he liked it so much here that he decided to buy the place. After a thorough renovation, in which he was closely involved and designing of all the details, Jua House was finished. It was exactly what he had had in mind and had been searching for for years: a place for people who live a nomadic life to come home to.

Festivals and a sailing trip

But, says Thomas, that does not mean that there is nothing to do here in Lamu or in this village of Shela. For example, there is an annual yoga festival as well as a large art festival, where artists from all over the world are flown in to make art on the island for a month. There is also a hat contest, a food festival and  every Friday evening there is a pizza and open-air film evening on the beach. One can also swim with dolphins here in the winter months. But, what we really should not miss during our time on Lamu island, according to Thomas, is a Sunset Dhow trip.

And so on our last evening, we set foot on Captain Cosmo’s beautiful wooden Dhow, a local sailing boat. We sail between the mangroves, past tiny villages, sandbanks and deserted settlements, while watching the bright red sun sink into the sea. The perfect end to a wonderful time in Lamu and a great journey through East Africa!

Equipped back to Nairobi!

We decided to go to Lamu to rest and recharge from all the impressions we gained in recent months and looking back on it, I am very happy with that decision. Lamu is a wonderful place and Jua House a beautiful bed and breakfast! Thanks to the warm welcome from Thomas and his hosts, the great location, the beautiful rooms and the relaxed atmosphere, our time here has been great! And we can return to busy Nairobi full of energy!


Practical information about Jua House

Jua House is located in the town of Shela, one of the nicest places in all in Lamu. You walk from Jua House in about five minutes to the port of Shela and from there you can get to Lamu Town in about ten minutes by boat. Jua House has seven rooms including a suite with its own kitchen. Hosts Amani, Francis and John ensure that you feel right at home. A tasty breakfast is served every morning and on request, you can also dine here in the evening. In addition, Amani, Francis and John can always help you in sorting out fun activities, trips or boat trips.

Lamu Town or Shela?

Jua House is located in Shela, a city that we like a lot more than Lamu Town. It is cleaner, the buildings are better maintained and there are nice shops and restaurants. In addition, you are within walking distance of the only beach, a white sandy beach of 12 kilometres long.

Do you also want to stay at Jua House? Then click here to book a room directly. You can stay in a double room starting at 80 USD per night (including breakfast) or a single room starting at 60 USD. Wi-Fi is available throughout the house.

For more information take a look at the Jua House website or contact owner Thomas directly.

Jua House
Shela, Lamu, Kenya
+254 701 303 598
reservation@juahouse.com


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* We stayed here at the invitation of Jua House, however, everything above is true to me, as I always express my own opinion and experience.

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