The Lamu experience

Harriet James @PeopleDailyke

I had been anxiously waiting to arrive in Lamu and see first hand the amazing things the archipelago has to offer. The best and safest means to get there is by air but for the adventurous type, taking a bus from Mombasa up the Coast is another option, though not recommended for safety reasons.

Flying in from Wilson Airport, Nairobi, I was surprised to find out that you can only get to the main island by boat from the airstrip on the adjacent Manda Island. The guesthouse had organised for me a speedboat to Shella.

Most hotels will send their own boats and/or porter to pick their guests. Lamu is a peaceful place where life is lived at its own relaxed pace. There are no roads here. Donkeys or boats are used should you desire to visit the other islands or go to Lamu town.

The more than 3,000 donkeys on the island are used for transport. Tourism is the island’s economic backbone as hundreds are involved in giving trips on dhows to tourists. However, the majority of youth are waiting anxiously for the construction of the proposed regional deep-water port.

Hoteliers see it as a means of attracting business travellers as more investors and workers fly in. Boat operators and tour guides were trying to get clients in their boats, a sign that tourism is recovering after a long period of travel advisories by Western countries had warned its citizens against visiting this picturesque island.

Constant threats of terror attacks and kidnapping of tourists by suspected Al Shabaab militia forced many hotels to close. Shella has several guesthouses and is home to the most spectacular beaches. It’s mostly renowned for wellness and yoga, something many guesthouses on the island offer.

Next to Manda Island is Manda Toto Island, which lies to its west. It is said that both Manda town and Takwa were abandoned because of lack of water in the first half of the 19th century. The islands are a sharp contrast to Lamu town, which lacks a beach but functions as a relatively busy port.

A Unesco World Heritage site and the headquarters of Lamu County, this old town was founded in 1370Ad comprise many fine examples of Swahili architecture. It’s inscribed on the World Heritage List as “the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa”.

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