KENYA: TIPS ON EXPLORING LAMU
January 1, 1970
by Justine Mutisya
Lamu: island or hidden gem?
My ideal vacation involves sandy beaches, perfect weather, beautiful sunsets, and cocktails. Lots of cocktails. When a friend approached me with the idea of visiting a coastal town, I was all smiles. With many destinations to choose from, be it Lamu, Watamu or Malindi in Kilifi, Kenya, we finally settled on Lamu since we hadn’t been there before. To ease the planning, we had a WhatsApp group where we shared ideas on places to stay and activities to do. We booked our tickets and were on the evening bus to Mombasa.
It was easier to travel by bus as we were looking to save on costs so as to have as much fun as possible. We got to Mombasa at 5.00 am. since we had a friend staying there, we freshened up, then boarded the 10 am bus to Lamu. The road was a bit bumpy since most of it wasn’t tarmacked, so buckle up guys. There were also some military security checks along the way, which required either passports or national ID for identification. This was honestly a very long trip, which would have been easier if we took a flight, which I will most definitely do next time.
At around 5 pm, we were in Lamu. Every dramatic experience we had on the way dissipated the moment we got to the town, which is picturesque. There are some boats on the jetty which ferry people to the island at a cost of 150 ksh per person. The whole vibe there is different, there are literally no cars in Lamu, save for one or two. The main mode of transportation is….wait for it, donkeys. that’s right, donkeys! This is mainly because it is a small town, and the streets are very narrow for cars to pass. The minute I was there I knew it was going to be an interesting trip. One of my friends, who is a local, made the reservations for us at the Lamu house. the staff there were very hospitable and made checking in quite easy. The house itself was uniquely designed, with beautiful decor that clearly brought out the culture of the people.
We went on a tour of the town immediately after settling in. It was easier to eat out as we were eager to explore the town at night. The locals live a close-knit life and are very friendly with tourists. Members of the community gather at the town square every day at 7 pm to watch the news together. In a town where social media isn’t paid much attention to, this was really interesting to see because this is not the case in other towns in Kenya.
The street food in Lamu is a must have. Plus with the endless options available, from the Swahili pizza,mshikaki, bhajia, viazi karai, one is spoilt for choice. We ended up at a restaurant which is right next to the jetty and the food was amazing. We tried a little bit of everything since it was our first day, and we were slightly overzealous, but it was worth it. The food also comes with an amazing view as most of the restaurants are at the seafront.
Below are a few things we go to do which are a must for anyone who wants to explore the island;
GO ON A DHOW CRUISE
This was the highlight of my trip. We set sail at around 6.30am so as to view the sunrise. We got to visit the miniature islands which were along the way, including manda toto island off the north the east coast of manda.
Our lunch was served on the dhow, by the crew who caught the fish on the trip. When we got to the reefs, we went for snorkeling, which was a first for me. The reefs in the snorkeling area prevent breaking of the coral, thus preserving natural life. The fishermen have a symbol, the eye of the sea which they believe protects them at sea and ensures their safe return home.
CHASE THE SUNSET
The sunset at the beach is quite breathtaking. There is something about the rustling of the wind and splashing of the water during the evening tides. Watching the crimson hues slowly fade away and ushering in the stars is simply calming. Here, nothing else matters but the serenity of it all. Experiencing this on the dhow on our way back was an added plus. This is truly the best place to watch the sunset in Kenya.
VISIT THE LAMU MUSEUM
The museum is a go-to place for anyone who is new to the town and wants to know more about the people, town, and culture itself. The guide is very helpful and ready to assist where necessary. It is possible, however, to tour the museum without one, as the photos have clear explanations beside them. Simple things such as the doors used in the houses have significant meanings. We also got to see that most of the houses have the same design and interior decor. Clearly, this is a town that hasn’t changed much over the years.
GET KENYAN HENNA TATTOOS
One of the things I really wanted to do during my stay, was to get henna tattoos. Henna is traditional drawings on the bodies of women, basically like temporary tattoos, to beautify them, and lasts for roughly three weeks. On the second day of touring the town, we got in touch with a professional who agreed to go back with us to the house and do it there. It took about ten minutes for three drawings, but I had to stay still for a while so that it wouldn’t smudge. The tattoos looked really good for 5 dollars/500ksh. However, the cost varies according to the number of drawings you get. Getting henna done should be on the to-do list of any traveler in coastal towns in Kenya because aside from promoting the local businesses, you get to look good in the process.
EXPERIENCE THE NIGHTLIFE IN LAMU
The nightlife there is really not that vibrant, as the clubs aren’t many. Although, there are some nice spots with good music, like the floating bar, which we went to. To get to the bar we had to get on a boat at the jetty, and there were boats outside the bar which ferry people back to the island.
TIP: I would recommend carrying your own drinks and portable speakers so that you can have your own nightlife experience where you are staying.Since we were a group of friends, we made the most of our time at the Lamu house and I have to say, it was a welcomed break from our usual, hectic lives.
So the next time you are in the mood for a vacation, why don’t you pack a bag and head on to Lamu? I promise the experience will be worth it.