Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius, eat your heart out. Lamu is the new lovey dovey place to be. This super cute little island on the Kenyan coast has no roads or cars; just motorcycles, boats and many donkeys. Where Africa meets Arabia in the most alluring, stunning, extraordinary and cozy way.
Ever heard of Lamu? No? Well, then we’ll gladly provide an introduction. It’s the most adorable island, just off the Kenyan coast – where only 25,000 people ánd about 6,000 donkeys live. Since there are no roads (only some alleys), it kind of feels like travelling back in time. So peaceful, so tranquil! Okay, okay, apart maybe from some motorcycles blowing their horns while trying to pass through those alleys in Lamu town. But hey. This idyllic island is one of the oldest Swahili settlements – founded in 1370 – and was a protectorate of Oman between the 17th and 19th century. Which makes it a truly unique island: Arabia and Africa merge here, in the most charming way.
Indulge yourself in beautiful Swahili architecture, magical and mystical Arab influences, topped off with a tropical African sauce.
How to get to Lamu
You can fly to Lamu directly from Nairobi. But I visited Kenya’s pretty coastal town Watamu first. If you stop by there too which is highly recommendable, then stay at either the gorgeous Temple Point Resort or the romantic fairy tale castle Watamu Treehouse. It’s only a twenty minute flight to Lamu from here. When I touched the Lamu soil, I really didn’t know at all what to expect from this little funny island, but it just instantly felt good to be there. It felt like a warm embrace, like coming home.
At 16KM long and 7KM wide, in a turquoise sea with white sandbanks, it resembles a miniature version of Zanzibar, but at the time, much quieter. There are basically only two ‘villages’ on the island: Shela and Lamu town. Shela is where you enjoy the beach, with not even a handful hotels and restaurants. This is where the tourists go to and where life is most enjoyable. In Lamu town you’ll find the harbour, the markets, labyrinth streets, and sounds of braying donkeys and singing from the mosques coming from all directions. So the hustle and bustle, basically. Which is also quite fun, but not for a stay of more than a few days if you came on a holiday to relax.
Then there is also Manda Island, which is just a five minute boat ride away, crossing from Shela. Where there is a stunning, very wide and long beach, and you have a few nice hotels and restaurants too. Manda is even quieter than Lamu, apart from an occasional movie night at Diamond Beach Village, or sundowners with a campfire on the beach. I recommend you to stay at Majlis resort.
Where to stay in Lamu
My first stay on Lamu was at the lovely and very laid-back Banana House. This yogi style, easy going hideaway, is located in a lush tropical garden with all shades of green and colourful flowers. The Banana House offers yoga lessons twice a day, and have wellness treatments. Besides this, they offer the most amazing healthy, clean but oh so delicious food. I joined the yearly Lamu Yoga Retreat, where people all over the world gathered to do yoga on the beach and on rooftop locations, and have Swahili dinners on long tables in the garden in the evening. You will love it!
There’s only very few places in the world where I’ve seen all walks of life mix with each other
Then, I stayed at Peponi Hotel, which is really The Place To Be. And it displays what I like best of the island: that everyone mixes and mingles. The rich and famous with the ‘normal’ tourists and the locals. The jetset with the yogi’s and the fishermen. They all hang out at Peponi’s terrace to have a morning coffee or sundowners. There are very few places in the world where I’ve seen this. As an illustration, I’ve spotted Anton Corbijn and Charlotte Tilburry on the terrace, greeting and smiling at everyone passing by. The week before Naomi Campbell was chilling there, the Prince of Hannover and his wife Princess Caroline of Monaco own the mansion next door. Also Mick Jagger, Madonna, Sting and Kate Moss have been spotted there.
Also visit the Cabanas, which again, totally blew me away.
If you wish to go more seclusive and private, then definitely go for a stay or a visit to the Cabanas, which again totally blew me away. Only thirty minutes by speedboat to the other side of the island, and it felt as touching ground somewhere that holds the middle between Hawaii and the Seychelles. So secluded, so stunning, yet so laidback with a surf style vibe. With crazy beautiful panoramic views from the Cabanas, overlooking forest, beach and ocean.
History & Culture
Apart from the relaxed beach life, great food, and beautiful accommodations, the island of Lamu is filled with history, art and culture. For example, the Swahili culture is a mixture of traces from European, African, Arab and Asian (Chinese and Indian) traditions, religions and ways of life. The island was also visited by many sailors, traders, hippies and curious travellers in the early years of this island’s settlement. Therefore became as diverse, extraordinary and interesting as a small place like this could ever become.
You’ll find little art galleries in the sleepy small lanes in Shela Village, while the donkeys pass you by, find tiny boutiques selling African and Arabian art, clothing and boho jewellery. Eat Ali’s famous chocolate ice cream and drink a fresh coconut everyday. Have an amazing Asian or Malay dish at Kijani (they also offer beautiful sea view rooms).
All in all, there’s just one way to describe this unique tiny place: a true hidden gem, a little piece of paradise. Falling in love with Lamu is inevitable. You may never want to leave again.
Text & photos Yvette Bax
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