Travel guide Lamu: all you need to know about this delightful Kenyan island

Last Updated on by Charlotte van de Sande

We spend our last week in Kenya at Lamu. Mainly to relax and to recharge before flying back to the Netherlands. But also to get to know this beautiful island, which is so different from the rest of Kenya. In this blog, we will tell you everything you need to know about the old Swahili settlement: Lamu.


Everything you need to know about Lamu island, Lamu town and Shela town!

As soon as we walk away from the tiny airport, it already feels like we are in a completely different world. With a wooden boat (a dhow) we sail towards Shela, a little town on Lamu island. From the boat we see palm trees, mosques, an Omani fort and beautiful white villas and houses. Once out of the boat, while we make our way through the maze of narrow streets, we are no longer in Africa, but in an oriental country, full of donkeys roaming the small streets, Egyptian cats and melting pot of Maasai men and veiled Muslim women. I immediately fall in love with this special place, it is so different from anything I have ever experienced before!

Read the blog about the history of Lamu and our time on the island here!Lamu

Shela, Lamu Town and Manda Island

The coming days we are being hosted by Thomas, owner of Jua House, a beautiful boutique hotel located in the city of Shela. Shela is very different from Lamu Town, which you can walk to in forty minutes. Shela is a bit cleaner and more spacious, it is located next to the only (12 km long) beach of Lamu. Most expats live here and there are some really beautiful villa’s located in Lamu. Did you know that in the nineties lots of royalty, aristocrats and celebrities such as Kate Moss, Princess Caroline of Monaco and Sting bought a house on Lamu? They came for the quiteness and the relaxed vibe. Luckily, since then, not much has changed. Shela is still a wonderfully quiet place, with locals and foreigners living peacefully together resulting in a cool cultural mixture. There are just a few hotels and restaurants but boy, what is the food good here!Lamu Jua House

Lamu Town is different. It is busier, a bit dirtier and many more local people live here. This doesn’t mean that you will not find locals in Shela, since Lamu is growing and growing, many local families move to Shela to have a bit more space and quietness.  Lamu is a lot bigger and you can buy alcohol here (something that is only sold in restaurants in Shela). Here you will find the famous Lamu Fort, the Lamu Museum and a big market.Lamu

Finally, you have the island of Manda opposite to the island of Lamu. You reach this by dhow in about ten minutes. Manda is a lot more modern and has a number of luxury resorts. However, this is not a village and you won’t find anything outside of hotels and restaurants here. Note: Manda is not on Lamu island!Lamu

We chose the city of Shela on Lamu

We enjoyed Shela as our base while making the occasional trips to Lamu and Manda. The activities described below take place at all three locations, but focus more on Shela. I prefer a stay in Shela myself, but of course, the choice is yours.LamuLamu donkey


The best activities: What to do while staying on Lamu?

The main activity that I can recommend at Lamu is to unwind. This is a place where the island and its inhabitants determine your rhythm and where you can fully relax. Take a long walk on the beach, eat fresh fish, chat with the locals and go to bed early. But besides all the relaxing, there is much more to do on Lamu:

Get lost in Lamu Town:

Lamu town is a maze of small streets, cute corners and beautiful old buildings. Nothing better than to wander through this and be surprised on every corner with what you see again. Pay special attention to the beautifully carved doors, nowhere in the world will you find designs like these. The old harbour is also beautiful to see, as is the fort (Unesco Heritage Heritage) and the busy local market. Along the way you will come across dozens of donkeys and Egyptian cats. The animals roam free on the island, very cool!Lamu

Relax on the beautiful 12-kilometre long beach next to Shela

Shela borders a long white sandy beach. There is almost no one here: the perfect place to relax in the afternoon and read a book. If you get too hot, jump into the azure blue sea and when you fancy some exercise, walk to the old fort or even a bit further: you have 12 kilometres of empty beaches ahead of you!Lamu

Pizza and movie night at Diamond Beach Village in Manda

Every Friday evening at 7.30 p.m. there is pizza and movie night at hotel Diamond Beach Village on Mandu island. They show quirky, art-house movies and bake delicious brick oven pizzas. In advance, you can take a yoga class at 17.00. It takes you only 10-20 minutes to get here from Shela or Lamu by dhow (local sailboat).

Follow a yoga class

Every day at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. there are yoga classes at the hotel Banana House. The Dutch owner Monica often teaches herself and is also the organizer of the annual Yoga festival.Lamu Jua House

Shop in Shela or Lamu Town and buy beautiful jewellery, art or clothing!

Do not expect large shopping streets or tourist bazaars, but there are a number of beautiful shops in Shela and Lamu Town:

Nice shops in Shela:

  • At the luxurious Aman, you buy the most beautiful clothes, jewellery and interior pieces (certainly not cheap).
  • In the African Corner, there are a few shops which sell nice caftan’s, jewellery and African art.
  • On the boulevard, you will find Maasai men who sell jewellery. There is also a number of nice shops where you can buy self-painted pillows, interior pieces and clothing.

Lamu

Nice shops in Lamu Town:

  • Mohammed Silversmith: you will find a silversmith in Lamu that makes silver jewellery. Among other things, he makes beautiful rings from washed-up ceramics. These shards come from ceramic pots on a 15th-century Chinese-Dutch ship. Here, I found a pretty ring with a Maastricht emblem (the Dutch city where I studied) which I gave to my mom. You can find the silversmith on the main street (Kenyatta Road).
  • Isiah’s Wooden Fish workshop: Isiah makes wooden fish for on the wall from a washed-up wood. We gave such a fish to Ries his father as a gift. You can find Isiah’s workshop on the main street (Kenyatta Road).
  • Gallery Baraka is attached to Whispers coffee shop and has art and jewellery from all over Africa. It is not cheap but definitely worth a look around. You will find Gallery Baraka on the main street (Kenyatta Road).

Lamu

Sunset sailing trip with a dhow

It is absolutely worthwhile to make a beautiful sunset sailing trip with a dhow. We did this with Captain Cosmo (arranged through our hotel Jua House) and it was a great end to our time in Lamu. It is also possible to make a snorkelling trip, a lunch trip or to go fishing by dhow.

Finally, with a bit of luck (depending on the date) you can see sea turtles hatching out of their eggs and walking towards the sea. This activity is facilitated by the organization Lamu Marine Conservation Trust (Lamcot). There are also all kinds of water sports that you can do at Lamu such as windsurfing, supping or kite surfing (rent your gear at the shop next to Peponi Hotel).Lamu Dowh

Additional tips for Lamu from Thomas Krakhofer, owner Jua House

Thomas Krakhofer, the owner of the beautiful Jua House where we stayed for nine days, has been living at Lamu since 2013. He himself has travelled all over the world and still does so, but Lamu is his real home, the place where he comes to rest. Below are some tips from Thomas that will make your stay in Lamu and in Shela even more special!

1. Ask for the posters of the Lamu Museum

The museum of Lamu, in Lamu Town, has a special collection that tells about the local history. But perhaps even more special are the beautiful posters that are made every year for the museum. Ask in the small museum shop (hardly recognizable as a shop) about the posters, choose one and take it home as nice art piece. A perfect reminder of Lamu.Lamu

2. After your time on Lamu, also visit Kiwayu Island

Lamu feels far away from civilization, but if you are looking for even more peace and quiet, then a multi-day trip to the island of Kiwayu might be for you. This island, which is an hour and a half boat ride from Lamu, contains only one accommodation: Mikes Camp, an eco-lodge run by Mike, a friend of Thomas. On this beautiful private island you can go kiting, surfing or doing nothing. Click here for more information about Mike’s Camp.

3. Multiple festivals: Yoga, art, food and hat festival.

Lamu is known for the annual Yoga festival that takes place in March (click here for more information). But there are a number of other special festivals such as a large art festival (in February), a hat festival and an annual food festival that attracts many Kenyans from the mainland!Lamu

4. A self-built plastic processing system

Most places in Kenya do not have a plastic processing system, including Lamu. But that has recently changed. Angelica, a beautiful lady from Germany who has been living at Lamu for a number of years, has devised and set up a plastic collection and processing system. With the help of lifeguards cleaning up the plastic from the beaches and a brand new plastic incineration system, a community kitchen is nowadays heated, while the plastic is processed in the most sustainable way possible.

Ask around and pay a visit to the community kitchen.Lamu

5. The Factory – from art dealer Nicholas Logsdail

Well-known art dealer Nicholas Logsdail, the owner of Lisson Grove gallery in London, settled on Lamu in 2002. Here he has converted a large palm oil factory into an art gallery where he invites a number of artists to create and exhibit art every year.

Thomas himself is currently busy with the opening of the first coffee shop in Shela. Opposite Aman, the interior shop, it will sell among other things, the delicious home-made bread that is served every morning for breakfast at Jua House.


The best restaurants in Shela

You can eat very well at Lamu. Often at restaurants that are part of a hotel. Our favourite restaurants are all located in Shela, below you will find them:

1. Peponi restaurant
This is thé hotspot of Shela, the place where locals come together to chat, where with a bit of luck a celebrity can be spotted and where we celebrated that we were engaged for half a year! Peponi serves the most delicious tuna, has good wines and the best finger food we have ever had. Restaurant Peponi is part of the hotel with the same name. Prices for food are relatively high here, but so worth it!Lamu Kenya

2. Kijany
Kijany is part of the Kijany hotel that overlooks the sea. The restaurant sits on a nice terrace and has a relaxed atmosphere. I ate delicious tuna steak here and Ries a good Poké bowl. The curry seems to be great here too. The prices are a bit higher than you are used to in Kenya but as soon as you taste their food, you understand why!

3. Banana House
When you want to eat at Banana House you have to make sure to call in advance. This cool hotel-restaurant serves delicious local dishes with a western twist. We went for tuna carpaccio and curry, both very tasty. The food is served in the garden, you often sit at a large table with other guests.

4. Stopover
This was our go-to place for tasty and simple food. They have delicious samosas and great (yes, again) tuna steak! Stopover is part of the Stopover Guesthouse and is located on the shore.Lamu

5. Sea Suq
Sea Suq is a nice restaurant that sells local dishes such as Swahili Pizza, mutton biriyani and samosas. There are always some locals playing cards or chatting and the atmosphere is very pleasant. Sea Suq is located by the sea.

6. Rangaleni Café
Rangaleni is a small local place where you can eat tasty stews, chiappati or rice for very little money. It is recognizable by the bright green walls.

Lamu


The best hotel in Shela: Jua House

We stayed in Jua House, a boutique hotel in Shela. It’s a wonderful place where you will immediately feel at home by the warm hospitality of owner Thomas and hosts Amani, Francis and John who ensure that you lack nothing. The hotel is beautifully decorated by Thomas (who is more than welcome to also decorate our future home in the Netherlands ;-)). With both local and international art and modern and African furniture, it is an eclectic house where you can easily come into contact with other guests.Lamu Jua HouseLamu Jua House

Every morning a breakfast is served at the large communal table on the roof terrace. Thinking about this food, I still crave it! Homemade bread, freshly squeezed juice, fresh honey and delicious fruit salads.

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 whole 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

Lamu Jua HouseLamu Jua House


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


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