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Lamu Town is a town on Lamu Island. Its situated 341 kilometers (212 mi) by road northeast of Mombasa that ends at Mokowe Jetty, from where the sea channel has to be crossed to reach Lamu Island and its 30 minutes from Manda Bay Town. It is the headquarters of Lamu County and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Lamu Town is Kenya’s oldest continually inhabited town, and was one of the original Swahili settlements along coastal East Africa. It is believed to have been established in 1370.

Lamu is a place like no other, a peaceful tropical island where life is lived at its own relaxed rhythm, but a place whose history is as mysterious and fascinating as the winding streets of its medieval stone town.

The island itself is a beautiful place of rolling dunes and endless beaches, where tiny villages nestle among coconut and mango plantations and lateen sailed dhows ply the waters. But Lamu’s real attraction is its Old town.

The town of Lamu began life as a 14th century Swahili settlement, but the island has seen many visitors and influences, including Portuguese explorers, Turkish traders and the Omani Arabs. All left their mark, but Lamu developed its own particular culture, which has ultimately endured.

Lamu’s narrow streets remain unchanged, and in the markets and squares around the fort life moves at the same pace as it always has. There are no vehicles on this island, and the donkey and the dhow remain the dominant form of transport.

The people of Lamu are great believers in tradition and custom, and this is a strong society built on a respect for the past.
For the traveller, Lamu is a hypnotically exotic experience, made even more enjoyable by the relaxed and welcoming attitudes of the locals. To visit Lamu is to enter another world, and the visitor finds themselves becoming a part of this world. Life slows down, and long days are spent strolling along the waterfront, exploring the town or relaxing on the beaches.

Dhow safaris can take you beyond Lamu into the surrounding archipelago, where isolated villages, ancient ruins and a few luxurious and exclusive resorts lie hidden among the islands of Manda, Siyu, Pate and Kiwayu – Magical Kenya.


According to Wikipedia, Lamu’s economy was based on slave trade until abolition in the year 1907. Other traditional exports included ivorymangrove, turtle shells and rhinoceros horn, which were shipped via the Indian Ocean to the Middle East and India. In addition to the abolition of slavery, construction of the Uganda Railroad in 1901 (which started from the competing port of Mombasa) significantly hampered Lamu’s economy.

Tourism has gradually refueled the local economy in recent times, and it is a popular destination for backpackers. Many of the locals are involved in giving trips on dhows to tourists. Harambee Avenue is noted for its cuisine, and has a range of stores including the halwa shop selling sweet treats and miniature mutton kebabs and cakes are sold at night. Coconut, mango and grapefruit and seafood such as crab and lobster are common ingredients. The town contains a central market, the Gallery Baraka and Shumi’s Designs shop, and the Mwalimu Books store.

The oldest hotel in the town, Petley’s Inn, is situated on the waterfront. Other hotels include the American-restored Amu House, the 20-room Bahari Hotel, Doda Villas, the Swedish-owned Jannat House, the 3-storey 23-room Lamu Palace Hotel, Petley’s Inn, the 13-room Stone House Hotel, which was converted from an 18th-century house, and the 18-room Sunsail Hotel, a former trader’s house on the waterfront with high ceilings.

Mangroves are harvested for building poles, and Lamu has a sizeable artisan community, including carpenters who are involving in boat building and making ornate doors and furniture.

The town is served by Lamu District Hospital to the south of the main centre, operated by the Ministry of Health. It was established in the 1980s, and is one of the best-equipped hospitals on the Kenyan coast.

China has begun feasibility studies to transform Lamu into the largest port in East Africa, as part of their String of Pearls strategy.


The town was founded in the 14th century and it contains many fine examples of Swahili architecture. The old city is inscribed on the World Heritage List as “the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa”.

Once a center for the slave trade, the population of Lamu is ethnically diverse. Lamu was on the main Arabian trading routes, and as a result, the population is largely Muslim. To respect the Muslim inhabitants, tourists in town are expected to wear more than shorts or bikinis.

There are several museums, including the Lamu Museum, home to the island’s ceremonial horn (called siwa); other museums are dedicated to Swahili culture and to the local postal service.


Lamu is home to the Maulidi Festival, held in January or February, which celebrates Mohammed’s birth. It features a range of activities from “donkey races to dhow-sailing events and swimming competitions”.The Lamu Cultural Festival, a colourful carnival, is usually held in the last week of August, which since 2000 has featured traditional dancing, crafts including kofia embroidery, and dhow races.The Donkey Awards, with prizes given to the finest donkeys, are given in March/April.Women’s music in the town is also of note and they perform the chakacha, a wedding dance. Men perform the hanzua (a sword dance) and wear kanzus.

Lamu Old Town was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001, based on 3 criteria:

  • The architecture and urban structure of Lamu graphically demonstrate the cultural influences that have come together there over several hundred years from Europe, Arabia, and India, utilizing traditional Swahili techniques to produce a distinct culture.
  • The growth and decline of the seaports on the East African coast and interaction between the Bantu, Arabs, Persians, Indians, and Europeans represents a significant cultural and economic phase in the history of the region which finds its most outstanding expression in Lamu Old Town.
  • Its paramount trading role and its attraction for scholars and teachers gave Lamu an important religious function in the region, which it maintains to this day.






Getting Around

There are hardly any vehicles on Lamu. The winding streets of the towns are best explored on foot. Shela village and the beaches are also accessible by foot and you can take your baby beach tents there. Alternatively dhows regularly carry paying passengers back and forth from Lamu town to Shela. To access the surrounding islands of Manda, Pate or Siyu, you either take an organized Dhow Safari or for the adventurous traveler, just hitch a ride on a passing dhow and explore. It is also possible to hire donkeys to ride around the island.

Lamu is best accessed by air. There are scheduled flights daily from Nairobi, Mombasa, Diani Beach and Malindi. The island is serviced by an airstrip on neighbouring Manda Island. The strip can also be used by private charters. A dhow ferries arriving passengers to either Lamu town or Shela. Many yachts also come to Lamu, often sheltering in the channel near Shela -Magical Kenya.


In 2011, proposals were being advanced to build a deep-water port which would have much greater capacity in terms of depth of water, number of berths, and ability for vessels to arrive and depart at the same time than the country’s main port at Mombasa and this project was to be undertaken through LAPPSET.

Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor project, also known as Lamu corridor is a transport and infrastructure project in Kenya that, when complete, will be the country’s second transport corridor. Kenya’s other transport corridor is the Mombasa – Uganda transport corridor that passes through Nairobi and much of the Northern Rift. Some basic LAPSSET infrastructure has been built (a police station and harbor office in Lamu and lengthening of the Lamu airport runway). The construction of LAPSSET’s main components (ports, pipelines, roads, railways) is currently ongoing with construction of the first berth at Lamu Port completed in October, 2019 (situation as per October 2019).

The LAPSSET Corridor Program is part of the Kenya Vision 2030 Strategy which is the national long-term development policy that aims to transform Kenya into a newly industrializing, middle-income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens by 2030 in a clean and secure environment. The Vision comprises of three key pillars: Economic; Social; and Political. The Economic Pillar aims to achieve an average economic growth rate of 10 per cent per annum and sustaining the same beyond 2030.

The development of a 32 berth deep-sea port in Lamu by the Government of Kenya has thrust the County into the infrastructural development limelight and is now perceived as a development hub with both local and international investors considering the opportunities presented by the LAPSSET developments in Lamu County. Other infrastructures within the LAPSSET Program that will be developed in Lamu County are Resort City, Interregional railway, interregional highway, crude and product oil pipelines, and an International Airport. LCDA has also set aside land meant for the establishment of a Special Economic Zone.

Owing to the developmental benefits envisaged as a result of the LAPSSET Projects, Lamu has seen an increase in population especially due to migration into the county by the people from other parts of Kenya, in quest for a share of the numerous trade, employment and business opportunities presented by the infrastructural developments in the County.

The once humble town of Lamu renowned for the traditional, transportation means, chief among them donkey transport, handcarts is gearing up to becoming East Africa’s Largest port city and transportation hub. This is as a result of the growth and development envisaged through the implementation of LAPSSET Corridor Program infrastructural components in the County of Lamu.

In conclusion, the song “Lamu” by Christian singer Michael W. Smith is inspired by the island. In the song, Smith refers to Lamu as “an island hideaway…the place we soon will be a rebirth from life’s demise…where the world is still”.



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