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Lamu Old Town, Kenya
Fast Facts
Historic Interest
Market / Fair
Boat Tours
Tourist Attractions
Kid-Friendly Hotels
Points of Interest Nearby
Family Travel Tips

Lamu, Kenya


Photo by Alfredo De Simone

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The old town of Lamu is quick to get under your skin. Not only is this 12th century community steeped in the Swahili culture that once dominated the East African coast, it's tightly built along narrow lanes and characterized by intricately carved wooden doors and historic homes made of coral stone. Donkeys, the only means of transport at this UNESCO World Heritage Site, are sure to fascinate children. Shela and its unspoiled beaches are but a short stroll along the coast. Archeology ruins, mangroves and snorkeling are just a dhow ride away. What's more, the atmosphere is relaxed and this backwater town is yet undiscovered by the masses. That said, families in search of beach bars, sun loungers and banana boats should think twice before booking a Lamu vacation as there are few tourist trappings anywhere in the archipelago.
Getting There
Lamu is situated on the north Kenyan coast and is located roughly 220 km north of Malindi and 150 km south of the Somali boarder. The old town and island can be reached by airplane and bus. Airkenya, Fly540 and SafariLink offer flights between Nairobi and Lamu. Mombasa Air Safari, Fly540 and SafariLink connect Mombasa and Lamu. Airkenya, Fly540 and Mombasa Air Safari fly between Malindi and Lamu. Lamu airport is on Manda Island; ferries connect the old town and the airport. Several bus companies operate between Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu. The bus trip from Mombasa is roughly 6 hours, the last two of which are on a rough dirt or murram road. Ferries operate between the bus station and mainland. Family Travel Tips: Families considering bus travel should check government sources for updated travel advisories before booking a ticket. Bus tickets are best booked at least two days in advance.
Getting Around
There are no cars or buses on Lamu or Manda islands. Transport is by foot, donkey or dhow. Shela, 4 kilometers from Lamu, can be reached by footpath or water taxi. Trips to Manda Island, Matondoni and other points in the archipelago can be arranged through local hotels or directly on the waterfront.
When to Travel
The best time of year to visit Lamu is from mid-December to February. Not only is the weather hot and dry, it's ideal for water sports. The short dry season from August to September also boasts good weather but the ocean is rough and underwater visibility is low. There are two rainy seasons, April through July and November. There are pros and cons to traveling in March; humidity is on the rise but the tourists have all but disappeared. The peak tourist seasons are mid-December to February, the month of August and Maulid Celebration, held during the third month of the Islamic calendar each year.
Health & Safety
Lamu is a malaria risk area and because of its proximity to the border with Somalia, the area is subject to instability. Thus all travelers should check government sources for travel advisories, consult a health care provider or travel medicine clinic prior to booking a trip and review medical coverage to ensure it applies abroad and covers emergencies. Other health risks include sunburn, strong tidal pull, and travelers' diarrhea. Family Travel Tips: Safeguard against the southern sun. - Wear sunglasses and a hat with a brim. Apply high factor sunscreen to all exposed areas. - Don't swim during the outgoing tide, never swim alone and supervise children carefully. Be careful about what you eat and drink can help, it can help prevent traveler's diarrhea. - Wash your hands before eating. Avoid raw foods. Peel uncooked fruits and vegetables. Drink bottled water only. Avoid unpasteurized dairy products, including milk, cheese and ice cream. - While prophylactic treatment is recommended for visitors to risk areas no drug is 100% effective in preventing malaria hence it's important to avoid mosquito bites. Here are three tips: 1) use insect repellent with DEET. 2) Wear trousers and long-sleeved shirts after dark. 3) Sleep under a treated mosquito net or in a screened or air conditioned room.
Things to Keep in Mind
Lamu is a Muslim community so dress modestly as a courtesy to locals and refrain from public displays of affection. Alcohol isn't served in local restaurants but is available in some hotels. Beach boys, hawkers and touts can be a bit of a nuisance but there's little one can do but be firm and polite.
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Travel Trivia
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