Lamu Archipelago tours & holiday packagesThe best preserved port town on the Swahili Coast
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A UNESCO World Heritage Site whose rich architectural, historical and cultural heritage make this the most characterful and absorbing town anywhere along the coast of East Africa.
The urban heart of the remote and sleepy Lamu Archipelago is the town of Lamu, which was founded as an Islamic mercantile trade port before or during the 14th century. Changed little in shape in recent centuries, the old town is a knot of cobbled alleys that rises in isolation from the surrounding coastal scrub and lends itself to casual exploration on foot (there are no cars). Lamu is notable for its many traditionally constructed multi-story houses, with their shady inner courtyards and elaborately carved wooden doors, and for the rare and thoroughly satisfying sense of integration that exists between tourists and residents. Key buildings include the Lamu Museum, the 18th-century Swahili House Museum and the 19th-century Lamu Fort.
I last visited Lamu in 2011, shortly after the kidnapping incidents, and it was tragic to see how the negative publicity had gutted the (largely locally driven) tourist industry. Even so, it is a lovely, relaxed and welcoming town, and a simply wonderful place to be.
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Elsewhere on Lamu Island is Shela village, known for its fabulous sandy beach and striking Friday Mosque, with its 18-metre conical minaret that is ascended via an internal spiral stairwell of 58 steps. On the opposite side of the island, Matondoni is a picturesque fishing village whose main claim to fame is as a dhow-building centre.
Further afield, Manda Island, the smallest of the archipelago’s three main islands, is the site of the Takwa Ruins, the extensive remains of a trade port abandoned in the 17th century. Dhow trips to Takwa can be combined with snorkelling at Manda Toto ( “Child of Manda”), an uninhabited coral islet whose reefs swirl with colourful reef fish.
The largest but least-visited island in the archipelago is Pate, home to three absorbingly time-warped small towns – Pate, Faza and Siyu – which make Lamu seem positively modern by comparison.
Lamu's location on Google Maps