Lamu Archipelago

Shanga, south of the village of Siyu, is the world's most complete example of a medieval Swahili town. Arguably the oldest archaeological site on the Kenyan coast, it includes the ruins or foundations of some 130 houses and 300 tombs. Be on the lookout for a 21-sided pillar tomb topped by a 15th-century celadon bowl, five town gates, ‘Lamu’ arches constructed of sandstone bedrock, coral ragstone and sand gathered from the nearby dunes, and tablets marked with Arabic inscriptions.

Legend says it was originally settled by stranded Chinese traders (the name being a corruption of ‘China’), but this version of events is disputed.

You may be able to hire a guide in Siyu (several men here helped dig Shanga out in the 1980s), but otherwise you’re on your own and, if you have any sense of imagination, feeling very Indiana Jones. There's no official Museums of Kenya presence here, so your visit is free, but remember not to remove anything from the site.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Lamu Archipelago attractions

1. Siyu

3.75 MILES

It’s hard to believe today that Siyu was once the major city of the Lamu archipelago, with 30,000 inhabitants and several major universities. The only…

2. Faza

5.71 MILES

Connected to the mainland by a causeway, the biggest settlement on the island has a chequered history. Faza was almost totally destroyed by the Paté town…

3. Nabahani Ruins

6.79 MILES

Located just outside Paté Town, these ruins are slowly vanishing under a riot of tropical vegetation and banana plantations. There is nothing to stop you…

4. Paté

6.95 MILES

Paté vllage, on the west side of the island, is a maze of streets carved out of orange and brown coral ragstone. The modern village itself is almost…

5. Takwa Ruins

13.37 MILES

What sets these ruins, the remains of a city that existed between the 15th and 17th centuries, apart from other archaeological sites on the coast? Quiet…

6. Kiunga Marine National Reserve

15.2 MILES

This stunning, little-visited marine reserve covers 270 sq km and includes beautiful coral reefs. The reefs are ideal for snorkelling and whale sharks can…

7. Donkey Sanctuary

16.09 MILES

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…

8. Lamu Museum

16.1 MILES

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…