Lamu Island Archipelago, Kenya's Swahili Coastline and Beaches Featured

Lamu Island Archipelago, Kenya's Swahili Coastline and Beaches 

The islands of the Lamu Archipelago grew wealthy on riches brought in from the Far East in the yester years as a calling point for the Arab dhow traders trading spices, mangrove poles and ivory. Now they offer the luxury of empty sandy beaches, a laidback lifestyle and beautiful private villas and houses. On a small island governed by tides and seasons, nothing happens quickly, and The UNESCO World Heritage site Lamu Town looks much as it did in drawings executed 200 years ago.

Lying just off Kenya's far north coast is a string of beautiful Indian Ocean islands - Lamu, Manda, Pate, Kiwayu and Manda Toto - known collectively as the Lamu Archipelago are found. The Lamu Archipelago is an area of archaeological and historical interest as well as great natural beauty, rich and colorful maritime trading history and its distinctive Swahili culture – a unique amalgam of African, Arabian, Indian and European influences. The islands are well worth visiting for a more tranquil and away-from-the-crowds Kenya beach holiday, especially when compared to the busier and more developed central and southern parts of the coast.

Lamu Island, a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2001 and a centre of Swahili and Islamic culture for over 700 years, is the most popular and most developed of the islands and its hotels have gained a well-deserved reputation for delivering a superb 'barefoot luxury' experience. Expect great beaches, dazzling coral reefs, a wealth of activities, great cuisine and friendly, discreet service while on a Lamu holiday. The Swahili culture and style of Lamu are a mix of East African, Omani, Yemeni, Indian, and some Portuguese and Victorian influences. Of all the old Swahili towns of East Africa, Lamu is one of the very few remaining substantially intact.

Largely unvisited until quite recently, the Lamu Archipelago is now home to some lavishly luxurious accommodation in stunning settings. Popular as a post-safari add-on, activities include snorkeling and scuba diving (best between November and March when the water is clearest), historical walking tours, dhow sailing trips, sea kayaking and diving with dolphins. Flying is the best way to reach the archipelago and the airport is located on Manda Island from where you will be transferred to your hotel or lodge by boat.

Lamu Old Town on Lamu Island is worth exploring, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the oldest living town south of the Sahara and the best-preserved coastal settlement in East Africa. One of Lamu’s many glories is its Traditional Swahili Architecture. Lamu’s unique stone townhouses, many dating back to the early 18th Century, are celebrated for their intricately carved wooden front doors, imposing entrance porches and shady courtyards, the grandeur and elegance of their interiors and their beautiful decorative stucco plasterwork. Some have described Lamu Town as a magical, atmospheric, slightly crumbling old Arab port, in whose narrow alleys, intricate craftwork, unique Swahili traditions and customs have been preserved from outside influence. There are no cars in Lamu town, as the alleyways are too narrow, so your transport is by donkey, dhow boat or on foot!  Life appears to have changed very little over the years: the streets are lantern-lit at night, the scent of spices and seafood mixes in an irresistible way and you can while away happy hours watching the fishermen, the traders, the donkeys. While touring Lamu Island Old Town there are plenty of shopping opportunities available to pick up traditional clothing, silver jewellery, leatherwear and local woodcarvings or crafts. Note that Islamic Lamu Island is conservative and visitors would do well to respect local customs and adhere to recommended dress codes while away from the beaches.

On the other side of Lamu Island, a 10 minute boat ride away, low-profile European super-rich have renovated old houses in the nearby village of Shela and some of these are let as exclusive use villas. Activities include windsurfing, creek fishing or deep-sea fishing, sailing, day trips to Lamu Town or the ancient ruined forts of Manda Island. From November to March, there is snorkeling and diving on offer.

Less developed Manda Island offers a more exclusive feel just across the narrow channel from Lamu Island. It's virtually uninhabited but besides the archipelago's airport, the island is home to several archeologically important sites including the ruined towns of Takwa and Manda. Excavations at the sites have revealed their historical legacy, finding Chinese porcelain and Islamic pottery.

Remote Kiwayu Island is set in the north of the archipelago and has the finest beaches in the island chain. As part of the Kiunga Marine Reserve, Kiwayu offers some of Kenya's best diving and snorkeling off some very impressive coral reefs.

Transport is by donkey, boat or on foot, beaches are deserted and the most common sounds are the wind in the grass or the creak of a dhow.


Why Visit Lamu Island Archipelago, Kenya's Coastline.

  • It is the humidity; It is the heat; it is the aroma of the town; the scent of the tropics; experience at Lamu Island Archipelago.
  • The donkeys and their droppings; the bui-bui's of the women; the kanzu's and kikoi's of the men; at Lamu Island Archipelago.
  • The intense brilliance of the midday sky, demanding a nap; at Lamu Island Archipelago.
  • The glare of the whitewashed stone houses at Lamu Island Archipelago.
  • The strong winds blowing off the ocean, rustling the strands of the makuti roofs at Lamu Island Archipelago.
  • The mix of Arabic, Indian and African tongues and cultures, lovingly called Swahili.
  • The Portuguese cannons on the waterfront; the absence of cars; the narrowness of the streets at Lamu Island Archipelago.
  • The majestic architecture of the galleries and harem rooms of the patrician Stone Houses at Lamu Island Archipelago.

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