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Lamu Island Lamu Island Kenya island in Kenya Lamu Archipelago Swahili
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Lamu Island

 
 

Tourist destinations in Africa in general or Kenya specifically, are not always about the pristine wildlife, game viewing, or climbing high mountains. While those are indeed the main attraction almost always associated with the country, it still has at least one more place to give different perspective to all visitors: Lamu Island. Part of the Lamu Archipelago in Kenya, the island is home to one of the best preserved Swahili settlements in east Africa. Civilization in the island is concentrated in Lamu Town, which is characterized by simple structural forms enriched with verandas, inner courtyards, and elaborate details on wooden doors. It is a cultural tourist destination sprinkled with lessons about their civilization and reminiscence of generations gone by.

Lamu Island is separated from Kenya mainland, so you have to get here by water or air. Many people who have visited Kenya claimed that this island was the real highlight of the visit, neither the wildlife nor the mountain hike. The residents call the island as Kiwa Ndeo, which translates to Vain Island. As you sink deeper in the atmosphere of the town, you should realize that it has two prominent cultural features: Islamic and Swahili.  Lamu has in fact hosted major Muslim religious festivals since the 19th century. You will see shops, mosques, donkeys, traditional market, and everything you can expect to see in a cultural site. This is the oldest living town all across East Africa and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When to Visit

If you start your visit from Kenya Mainland, you need to remember that Lamu Island has slightly higher humidity level. The highest happens between January and March during mid-day through afternoon. Average temperatures in those months can reach 32°C during daytime and 26°C at night. From July to September, both humidity and temperature are at lower points. Dry season starts from January through February and July through October. During those months, Lamu Island enjoys longer hours of sunlight.

Attractions to Lamu Island

Historical values of the Lamu Island (especially Lamu Town) are the best attractions you can get. It was once the most important trade center in East Africa; and today you can see the mixture of multiple cultures of Arab, Indian, Persian, and Europeans in the architectural styles. The good thing is that the indigenous culture of Swahili is still the most prominent marked by the use of coral stone as part of construction.

One thing that separates Lamu Town from other cultural sites is the absence of cars. Lamu Town bans the use of car for general public. Regardless of who you are at home, you are here as part of the general public, so there is no special treatment. Traveling from point A to point B means you have to walk or ride a donkey. The distance between an attraction and another is not that great, so walking or riding donkey should suffice in most cases. The most popular attractions in Lamu Island are as follows:

  • Takwa: in the 15th to 16th centuries, the village of Takwa was thriving in Lamu Island, but soon after that it was abandoned. Descendants of people who once lived in the village believe that the place has some sort of spiritual power. You can’t really blame them because the history and ruins of the village showed that Takwa was once a religious place.
  • Lamu Museum: housed in a Swahili warehouse, the museum is probably the best introduction to the cultures of the Lamu Town. Among many items displayed in the museum, one of the most eye-catching is head-to-toe dress made of tent-like garment called shira. It even has a wooden frame to be held over the head. Back then it was a dress code for the respectable local ladies.
  • Donkey Sanctuary: in Lamu Town, donkeys are not only good for transportation. They are status symbols; if you have a lot of donkeys and you take good care of them all, you deserve the front row at any festival. Believe it or not, Donkey Sanctuary was established by the International
  • Donkey Protection Trust of Sidmouth, UK. The purpose is to ease the burden for donkeys which have to work hard helping us human. You are free to visit and donate.
  • German Post Office Museum: during the late 1800, German East Africa Company decided to build a post office as part of the effort to exploit Kenya or Africa in general. The building still stands, but now it has been repurposed as museum. Old pictures and memorabilia of the period are well-preserved.
  • Lamu Fort: it took 13 years to build Lamu Fort. Construction started in 1810 and finished in 1823. From 1910 to 1984, it was used as prison. Now the big building is used as library in which the best collections of Swahili poems and reference works are kept.
  • Lamu Market: it has all the bells and whistles of a traditional market for examples alleys with stray goats and cats, stinky fish, and noises from people bargaining on something. Try to visit the market in the morning to experience a little bit of Lamu at its craziest.
  • Shela Beach: if you walk (or ride a donkey) as far as 2 miles south from Lamu, you’ll come across a village called Shela. The village itself is nothing out of the ordinary, but the beach is extra ordinary indeed. It has no lifeguards, no busy roads, and no night clubs nearby, just sandy beach hit over and over again by violent currents. It is wild, pristine, empty, and beautiful.

Lamu Island has successfully maintained its true culture and traditional values despite the fact that it has always been bombarded by foreign influences since a long time ago. Today the inhabitants remain living their conservative lives with no complaints. It is far from primitive; as a matter of fact, the locals demonstrate how a community can survive and thrive without the complexities of modern technologies. Make time and efforts to visit Lamu Island, so at least at one point in life you have the opportunity to not only learn about traditional lifestyle but actually embrace and practice it.

 
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