Lamu County is located on the Northern Coast of Kenya and is one of the Six Coastal Counties of Kenya. Divided into two constituents (Lamu West and Lamu East ) Lamu county borders the Tana river in the southwest, Garissa county to the north, and the Indian Ocean to the South. With 130 kilometers of coastline, Lamu county stretches across 6273 kilometers of land surface and is home to over 65 beautiful islands that form the Lamu archipelago and 43,920 people, according to the 2019 census.
Believed to have been established around the 1370s. not only is Lamu town one of the original Swahili settlements along the coast of East Africa, but also Kenya’s oldest continually inhabited town. Its most popular attraction – Lamu
Old Town, was accorded the UNESCO heritage site status in 2001, making it the only cultural landscape in Kenya to be bestowed a cultural title. Lamu town is also one of the few places on earth where there is almost no motor vehicles, and life moves at the pace of a donkey or a dhow.
It also contains several historical sites including, the German Post Office, the Lamu Museum, and the Lamu Fort.
Main Attractions In Lamu County
Lamu Old Town
Lamu Old Town is the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa. Characterized by narrow streets and magnificent stone buildings with impressive curved doors, influenced by a unique fusion of Swahili, Arabic, Persian, Indian, and European building styles. The well-preserved buildings show the development of Swahili building technology.
By far one of the best museums in Kenya, Lamu Museum is dedicated to giving its visitors a glimpse of the past including, boat-building, domestic life, weddings, intricate door carvings, Swahili ruins, and the nautical heritage of the coast.
There are guides at the reception who will happily walk you around while offering an in-depth explanation about the available artifacts.
Located in a central position of Lamu town, about 70 meters (230 ft) from the main jetty on the shore, Lamu fort 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 only library, which holds one of the best collections of Swahili poetry and occasional holds community events. Entry is free with a ticket to Lamu Museum.
German Post Office Museum
The German Post Office Museum once housed the first German Post Office ever established along the East African coast. Established on November 22nd, 1988, by the Germans. The German Post Office was under the leadership of Clement Denhardt. It was in full operation for more than two years before its closure on March 3rd, 1891, following the withdrawal of the German settlement in Witu.
The donkey sanctuary was established in 1987 by Dr. Elisabeth Svendsen from the UK. Following her first visit to Lamu Island in 1985, Dr. Elisabeth was moved by the treatment and health condition of the donkeys in Lamu and decided to open a donkey sanctuary to help the abused or sick donkeys. The Sanctuary currently provides treatment to the 3000 donkeys on Lamu county for free.
A 15-minute dhow ride from Lamu town or a 45-minute walk along the sea shoe will land you at Shela Village, a bohemian beach paradise known for luxurious beachfront accommodation properties, unfussy, barefoot atmosphere, friendly residents, and unclouded pristine beaches.
Besides the allure of the beautiful quiet beach, Manda Bay is home to some lavishly luxurious beachfront accommodation and the only airstrip on the islands. Manda Bay is also known for its archeological sites including, the ruined towns of Takwa and Manda.
Manda Toto Island
Manda Toto island lies to the west of Manda Island, an uninhabited island known for its abundant sea life, stunning coral reef, and pristine waters. Though not regularly visited Manda Toto Island offers one of the best snorkeling locations in Kenya.
Manda Maweni Kisumu ndogo
Although located on the mainland of Manda island, the easiest way to get there is by boats or dhows that regularly cruise on the Lamu waters. Unlike other villages around the Lamu archipelago, Manda-Maweni was founded by quarry workers in the 1980s, and stone mining is still the main occupation of the 1000 residents. Guided Walks around the village and the quarry sites are offered at a small fee. The mining of the coral blocks is done manually with the aid of a few hand tools. The bricks are ferried to the shores of Lamu, where the growing population is driving the increasing demand for housing.
Founded around the 1500s and probably abandoned around 1700. Takwa town was tactically placed at the narrowest part of the island. A strategy that was supposed to render the Takwa town inaccessible during the low tides. Notable structures still standing include the Jamaa mosque, the perimeter wall, and the Pillar Tomb, which has an inscription with the date 1681–1682. The village has later abandoned due to the salination of its freshwater. Its inhibitors settled across the bay, now Shela village but twice a year, the people of Shela come to the Pillar Tomb in Takwa to pray for rain. The Takwa Ruins were designated a Kenyan National Monument in 1982 and are under the primary care of the Kenya museums.
Matondoni lies at the NW coast of Lamu island, 7.3 km (4.5 mi) near Kenya’s border with Somalia. The village is equipped with a modern jetty which makes the logistics of the more than 3000 village residents easy.
The village is famous for the production of some of the finest dhows in the world, a craft that is quickly disappearing due to the emergence of the more modern and low-maintenance fiberglass boats.
The village is known for its hand-woven straw mats, baskets, hats, and kifumbu (a woven strainer used to squeeze milk from mashed-up coconuts) KipunganiVillage can be easily reached by boat or walking.
Pate Island is situated 20 kilometers to the northeast of Lamu Island. Pate island comprises several smaller settlements including, Faza, Pate, Siyu, kizingitini, and Shanga.
Compared to other parts of Lamu county, Pate Island receives a significantly small number of tourists although, it has some of the most well-preserved ruins in the region. The ruins are found at Nabachani and further up the coast at Shangu.
Located in Pate Island Shanga Ruins is an archaeological site that covers an area of 13 acres. First settled between the 8 and 9 centuries by the Swahili people, it was dated back to 200 years. The excavation of Shanga ruins took place in the 1950s under the leadership of Dr. James Kirkman.
Siyu settlement is located on the North Coast at Pate Island and is believed to have dated back to the 13th century. Unlike the Mombasa and the Lamu forts (which were constructed by foreigners), the Siyu fort was built by a local -Bwana Mataka, in the 19th century, with the sole aim of safeguarding its residents from Omani Arabs domination. It is now under the management of the Kenya museums.
Kiwayu Island is arguably the most beautiful of all the islands along the Kenyan coast. It is also a renowned biodiversity hotspot in the greater Kiunga Marine National Reserve and a priority conservation site in the Western Indian Ocean.
Kiunga Marine National Reserve ( Kiwayuu )
Stretching about 60km along the coastline Kiunga Marine National Reserve lies in the confluence of northern East Africa – coastal currents and the South flowing, nutrients rich Somali current.
The Kiunga Marine National Reserve is known for its teeming marine life, coral reefs, seagrass, and extensive mangrove forests that provide a refuge for sea turtles and dugongs. The reserve offers ideal opportunities for windsurfing, diving and snorkelling, water skiing, and sunbathing.
Main Festivals celebrated in Lamu County
Lamu county annually hosts the historic Maulidi festivities. Maulidi or Maulid is the popular name given to Milad-un-Nabi an Islamic festival held during the third month of the Muslim calendar (Rabi ul Awwal) to celebrate the birth of the Prophet Mohammed. The Maulid festival attracts thousands of Muslims from Kenya as well as other parts of East Africa. During the last four days of the festival, the National Museums of Kenya organizes various community-building competitions such as swimming, dhow races, henna competition, tug-of-war, and donkey races.
On the last day of Maulidi, the men of Lamu gather at the town cemetery and surround the town of Habib Swaleh. Following quiet prayers, groups of men and boys join together and begin a procession (Zefe) into town, holding hands and interlinking arms. The colorful, energetic procession winds along the seafront towards the center of town, with the crowds reciting qasidas together.
Lamu Cultural festival
Each year, Lamu comes to life during the annual Lamu Cultural Festival. Several competitions and races take place during this week-long festival. These events are designed, to encourage local skills or practices that are central to Lamu’s life including, traditional Swahili poetry, Henna painting, and Bao competitions.
Lamu Yoga Festival, mid-March.
Initiated by Monika Fauth of ” Banana House and Wellness Centre ” the event features, over 150 yoga classes taught by 26 professional practitioners during the four-day festival. The participants have an opportunity to try the many, and perhaps yet unknown, yoga varieties. Activities include numerous yoga workshops and meditations, a chance to taste the Swahili cuisine, sail on a dhow and interact with yogis from all around the world. The festival activities are held in Manda Island, Lamu Old Town, and Shela Village.
Dhow Racing-various dates throughout the year.
The renowned Lamu Dhow Races occur on New Year’s Day, at Easter, in August, and also during other annually scheduled Lamu Festivals as their final celebration.
Accommodation In Lamu County
Ranging from private beach villas to barefoot luxury resorts, Lamu has enough options to suit all tastes, budgets, and trip types. Whether you’re looking for an exclusive island getaway or a remote off-the-beaten-track beach holiday, our selection of Lamu accommodation is sure to inspire you. Browse through the accommodation section or contact us for your perfect Lamu stay.