Must see attractions in Lamu Archipelago

  • Top ChoiceSights in Lamu Island

    Lamu Museum

    The best museum in town (and the second best in Kenya) is housed in a grand Swahili warehouse on the waterfront. This is as good a gateway as you’ll get into Swahili culture and that of the archipelago in particular. Exhibitions focus on boat-building, domestic life and weddings, the intricate door carvings that you're likely to encounter (from Swahili and Omani to Kijumwa, Swabu and Bajun) and traditional silver jewellery. Don't miss the ceremonial siwa (side-blow) horns of ivory and brass. Of note are the photographic displays of traditional women’s dress – those who consider the bui - bui (black cover-all worn by some Islamic women outside the home) restrictive might be interested to see the shiraa, a tent-like garment (complete with wooden frame to be held over the head) that was once the respectable dress of local ladies. There are also exhibits dedicated to artefacts from Swahili ruins, the nautical heritage of the coast (including the mtepe, a traditional coir-sewn boat meant to resemble the Prophet Mohammed’s camel – hence the nickname, ‘camels of the sea’) and the three tribes that inhabit the northeast of Kenya: the Pokomo fishermen from the Tana River delta, the Boni hunters that reside near the Somalian border and the Maasai-like Orma, famous for their animal husbandry. Guides are available to show you around for a tip.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Lamu Island

    Shela Beach

    Most people are here for the beach – a 12km-long, wide sweep of pristine white sand where you’re guaranteed an isolated spot (at least if you’re prepared to walk some way) to catch some rays. Swimming is possible, but there are places with strong rip currents (particularly around the The Fort hotel), so get some local advice before venturing into the water.

  • Sights in Lamu Island

    Donkey Sanctuary

    A man without a donkey is a donkey, claims one Swahili proverb. Or, as the staff of this sanctuary might tell you, a man who doesn’t look after his donkey is a donkey. With around 3000 donkeys active on Lamu, Equus asinus is the main form of transport here. Visitors are free to visit the sanctuary and learn about its work – donations appreciated. This sanctuary was established by the International Donkey Protection Trust of Sidmouth, UK, to improve the lot of the island’s hard-working beasts of burden.

  • Sights in Lamu Island

    Lamu Fort

    This squat castle was built by the Sultan of Paté between 1810 and 1823. From 1910 right up to 1984 it was used as a prison. It now houses the island’s library, which holds one of the best collections of Swahili poetry and Lamu reference work in Kenya, while the upstairs walkway is a gallery space for temporary exhibitions (stunning photos of the Tana River delta, when we visited). Entry is free with a ticket for Lamu Museum.

  • Sights in Lamu Island

    Swahili House

    This preserved 16th-century Swahili house, tucked away to the side of Yumbe Guest House, in a tranquil courtyard with a well, is beautiful. The entry fee for viewing the two sleeping galleries and upstairs kitchen is very hard to justify, though, especially as half the hotels in Lamu are as well preserved.

  • Sights in Lamu Island

    Matondoni

    The best place to see dhows being built is the village of Matondoni, in the island's northwest. It’s a peaceful little fishing village that receives few visitors, so the welcome is always warm. To get there from Lamu Town, you can walk the 6km (about two hours – ask for directions from the back of town and follow the telephone poles), slogging your way through sand part of the way. Alternatively, you can hire a donkey or take an organised dhow trip (which normally continues onto Kipungani for a swim and, sea conditions depending, then loops around the island and back to Lamu town via Shela). Jambo House organises guided walks to Matondoni.

  • Sights in Lamu Island

    Lamu Market

    Atmospheric and somewhat chaotic, this quintessential Lamu market is best visited early in the morning. Bargain for fresh tuna and sailfish, wade through alleys teeming with stray cats and goats, and experience Lamu at its craziest. If you're sick of seafood, this is the place to find your fruit and veg.

  • Sights in Lamu Island

    German Post Office Museum

    In the late 1800s, before the British decided to nip German expansion into Tanganyika in the bud, the Germans regarded Lamu as an ideal base from which to exploit the interior. Set up by the German East Africa Company, the old post office is now a third-rate museum exhibiting old photographs of Mombasa and scant memorabilia from that fleeting period when Lamu had the chance of being spelt with an umlaut.