Last updated on May 21 2020

Lamu Archipelago

Lamu is a peaceful, relaxed, tropical island on the Kenyan coast with a fascinating history. The island is full of beautiful beaches, rolling dunes, and small villages that exist amidst the many mango and coconut plantations. While there, lateen dhows can be spotted on the Indian Ocean waters and the people live their lives on their own rhythm.

Visiting Lamu is a must for both Kenyans and people from across the globe. It offers an experience like no other and an opportunity to enjoy authentic aspects of the East African coast, Islamic religion, and the Swahili culture.

Lamu Old Town

Lamu - UNESCO World Heritage City
Lamu - UNESCO World Heritage City - © Africa Originals

The island’s biggest and most popular attraction is Lamu Old Town, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. This is owing to the fact that the town has managed to retain its ancient traditions. The town started as a settlement for the Swahili people back in the 14th century and despite receiving people from different parts of the world such as Portuguese explorers, Omani Arabs, and Turkish traders, it managed to remain true to its original culture. As such, it remains the oldest, best-preserved settlement of the Swahili people in East Africa.

Lamu Old Town is constructed in both mangrove timber and coral stone and is characterized by simple structures with beautiful features to enhance them, like unique wooden carved doors, inner courtyards, and verandahs. The streets are narrow and there are no vehicles on Lamu Island. Donkeys and dhows serve as the main means of transport. The people strongly believe in their customs and have great respect for the past and traditions.

Port in Lamu Kenya
Port in Lamu - © Africa Originals

The island has since the 19th century played host to a number of religious Muslim festivals and is a significant destination for those who wish to study more about the Swahili and Islamic ways of life.

Best time to visit Lamu

While Lamu is a great place to visit throughout the year, it is particularly popular during the festive season, from December all the way to February. These are the drier months and they offer a fantastic, summery break from the busy city life as you will get to enjoy Lamu’s slow pace at the seaside. 

July is also a great time to visit as it is generally dry. In fact, you can combine a great safari with a trip to Lamu in July.

Other months could see more rain, but it doesn’t mean that it will rain all day, every day. And while in the dry months, prices rise and the town gets quite busy with Kenyans and foreigners looking for a great getaway. So in case you are looking to save on costs, travel during the rainy periods. During that time, the cost of rooms and apartments decrease and it will be easier to get a good deal on your excursions.

Generally, whichever time you choose to visit the island, you will get to enjoy the long hours of great sunlight. This makes it more convenient for you to participate in the many activities the island has to offer.

You will, however, spend more in December, November, and March in respective order. Hotel rooms and flights become more expensive as they are the peak months. If you would still want to visit during these months but save some money, make accommodation bookings in advance and buy your tickets months before.

Waterfront in Lamu Old Town
Lamu waterfront - © Africa Originals


Lamu climate

Lamu’s climate can best be described as tropical savanna, warm throughout the year but with both wet and dry seasons.

The average temperatures on Lamu Island range from 26°C/79°F to 31°C/88°F so the Island is generally warm, especially between January to March. It gets cooler between July and September with temperatures ranging from 23°C/73°F to 26°C/79°F. The water temperatures range from 26°C/79°F and 30°C/86°F, making swimming so much fun.

The Island is also humid with midday to the late afternoon being the most humid hours. January to March make for the most humid months.

The Island receives short rains between October to some days in December although, in April and May, more rains are received that could go up to June. This is because Lamu is a bit further up north compared to other popular beach destinations in East Africa such as Diani.

View from window in Lamu Old Town
View from Lamu Old Town - © Africa Originals


How to get to Lamu Island

Lamu Island can easily be reached by plane from Nairobi, Mombasa, and Malindi. Cheaper options include the train (SGR) and the bus.


Things to do in Lamu

There are many exciting and relaxing things to do on Lamu Island. Travelers get to fully immerse themselves in the rich Lamu culture while exploring the beautiful town and relaxing on the warm sandy beaches. The warm and welcoming nature of the Lamu people will certainly make you feel at home.

The Island offers a range of activities:

  • Walk around

    Simple, but very effective in Lamu. Just walk around, get lost (you won't have to try hard) and discover market places, tiny shops, cute restaurants, and amazing architecture. Do watch out where you step because there are open drainages throughout the town. On top of that, donkeys have free reign and are not picky about where they do their business.
Square in Lamu Old Town
Square in Lamu Old Town - © Africa Originals


  • Visit the Fort

    The Lamu Fort, located in the central part of Lamu Town was constructed by the Sultan of Pate with assistance from the Omani between 1810 and 1823. It initially served as a base for the Omanis to control the coast of East Africa from. It, however, lost its economic importance and was later used as a prison during the colonial period.

    It currently houses a museum, a library with a collection of Swahili poetry, and a gallery space for exhibitions. It is also often used for community events.

  • Sail in the sunset on a traditional dhow

    There are no motorized vehicles in Lamu for transport purposes. As such, dhows and donkeys are used. You could take a sunset sail by hiring a dhow in the evening. It’s a nice, quiet, and romantic experience, as the dhows use the wind to sail.

    You get to cruise around exploring the archipelago and mangrove bushes, and watching the different birds. You can have a cool drink while you are at it as the dhows have cooler boxes.
Dhow sailing in Lamu Kenya
Dhow sailing in Lamu - © Africa Originals
  • Enjoy Swahili dishes and street food

    Lamu offers great Swahili cuisine that is a unique blend of African and Eastern culture. This blend is a result of the trade with Oman and the Indians.

    While on the island, you can enjoy foods such as biryani, coconut rice, seafood, couscous and pasta, among others. The food served is often enhanced by different popular spices such as cinnamon, cumin seeds, cloves, and coconut milk.

    You can also enjoy jelebia, vitumbua, kaimati, bhajias, mahamri and mbaazi za nazi, just to name a few.

  • Visit the donkey sanctuary

    As mentioned already, in Lamu donkeys are the main means of transport and exist in large numbers. Visiting the Donkey Sanctuary allows you to learn more about the over 3,000 donkeys that exist on the Island.

    It is a special project that was set up in order to take care of the old donkeys and those that are almost terminal. It also creates awareness about the need to treat donkeys worldwide better.

  • Attend a festival or event

    Lamu hosts an array of historical, cultural and religious festivals. These festivals are accompanied by spectacular activities such as donkey races, swimming competitions, dhow races and tug of war competitions.

    Among the many festivals is the Lamu Cultural Festival, it promotes Swahili culture and is very popular amongst Kenyans and foreigners. You'll get a great feel for the local culture.

Things to do in Shela

  • Visit Shela Village

    When you find yourself in Shela, navigating the pathways that are made up of donkey-wide alleys is a must-do. The alleys wind among a number of small thatched huts, mosques, ruins, tall townhouses made of stone, and some market stalls. Walking through them is quite an interesting experience.

    Shela village is popular among celebrities and people in general who just want to unwind. You should, therefore, consider renting one of the beautiful townhouses that exist. These townhouses are stunning and full of character.


  • Visit the beach

    The beach in Shela is one of the main attractions for tourists and locals alike. It’s a 12 kilometre stretch of pristine sand, next to beautiful blue waters. The water temperature is very pleasant and there are chances of dolphin sightings.

    You can relax and enjoy the sun while there or practice yoga as it offers a great environment for relaxing and meditation. The further away from town, the more deserted the beach becomes.
Shela Beach Kenya
Shela Beach - © Africa Originals
  • Visit the Shela Fort

    For some culture, visit the Shela Fort which is located on Shela Beach. With its unique architecture, the Fort which was built in 2001 overlooks the Indian Ocean in a peaceful and secluded setting.

    It was built with local coral stone and is elegant with heavy entrance doors, wooden in nature, built in Omani style. The Fort offers personalized hospitality and is full of staff always ready to attend to you.


A visit to Lamu Island feels like going back in time. Especially if you’re coming straight from Nairobi, or even from out of Kenya, you’ll be amazed to step into what feels like a completely different world.

The climate and lifestyle will force you to take a well-deserved step back.

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