The Lamu Archipelago with Lamu Town being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated on the Indian Ocean in Kenya and is the oldest and best preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa. Built in coral stone and mangrove wood, this sleepy fishing port is steeped in history and tradition.
The Town, which only has three cars and since recently a handful of piki pikis (motorcycles) servicing the seafront, reveals a maze of narrow alleyways. Lamu Town can be reached by walking at low tide from Shela, a thirty minute donkey ride or a few minutes by one of the many taxi-boats. Here you will find historical museums set among an array of Swahili shops displaying traditional artwork and artifacts, unique fabrics and furniture and exotic jewelry.
Lamu Town dates back to the 12th century and due to its unique location along the Arabic, Portuguese, Indian and African trading routes, Lamu flourished as an ancient trading port. With its intricately carved doors, well preserved Swahili architecture and numerous mosques, this Muslim community is welcoming and the people are gracious, helpful and friendly.
Take a tour through the Lamu Fort from 1800s, the Riyadha and Mnarani Mosques and the Lamu Museum and retrace the history of the archipelago.
Visit “Baraka Gallery” displaying fine antiques and arts from all over Africa and finish off your explorations with sipping a fresh juice at “Whispers Café” to be taken back in time.
The impressive “Flipi Flopi” is a dhow made from plastics collected on the beaches and road sides of Kenya to tackle #PlasticRevolution. The dhow was built in Lamu using traditional techniques by local craftsmen. The very first 100% recycled plastic dhow which can be booked to sail the East African coast to as far down as Cape Town.
Shela Village, situated on the edge of it’s 14 km pristine beach, is only a ten minute stroll along the beach from The Fort.
Historically Shela’s famous event is the “Battle of Shela” where the superior forces of the Sultans of Pate and Mombasa decided to challenge the Lamu Sultan. Around 1810 their armies sailed to fight the battle when Lamu gained an unexpected victory over the forces of Pate and Mombasa. The story is that the tide unexpectedly retreated and left the invaders stranded on the beach to be slaughtered by the enemy. According to the historical writings the event must have taken place after the borders of Shela between the dunes and Shela Beach very close to the today’s location of The Fort.
Today a maze of narrow, sandy alleyways, where the only oncoming traffic is likely to be a donkey or two, Shela hosts a number of guesthouses and restaurants including the infamous Peponi Hotel Restaurant & Bar, the island’s meeting and melting point. Here you can relax with a drink or meet with many of the international guests and residents of the island or mingle with the local fishermen and artists.
Wandering the paths of Shela Village, you will come across a variety of boutique shops showcasing unique souvenirs, arts & crafts, fine clothing and jewelry. Not to be missed are Nyambura with “African Corner”, Josephine with “Pearl of Shella” and the high end boutique “Aman” owned by Sandy.
This is the largest island of the Lamu Archipelago and is almost entirely surrounded by mangroves.
The history of Pate Island dates back to the 9th Century, to an era dictated by trade, battle for power, extreme wealth and astounding architecture.
The chronicles narrate of ships loaded with slaves and ivory arriving from Madagascar stopping at the Island of Pate enroute to the Red Sea to trade at the East African coast. The Portuguese occupation of Pate took place around 1500 and was ended when the Omanis expelled their occupants from the island around 1660.
Unlike the “Lamu Fort” and Mombasa’s “Fort Jesus” which had been built by foreigners Pate’s “Siyu Fort” had been constructed by Pate’s inhabitants. It is worthwhile visiting the history rich Pate Island and “Siyu Fort” which is a must see for history lovers.