Arriving by plane on Manda Island, the narrow alleys of Lamu Town welcome you into a magic world. You’ll be able to hear the muezzin calling for prayers, but otherwise only the sound of the wind, the donkeys & the tranquillity of the waves will reach your ears. Time passes by, unrushed & friendly.
The Swahili people have their roots in Africa (Bantus), Arabia (Omani or Shirazi) and Persia. Men with bright kikoys or djellabas and women wearing the traditional bui bui give the town a full variety of colours. The labyrinthine streets are always cool and shady. Life goes ahead hand in hand with the rhythm of the passing donkeys and dhows, no traffic disturbs the gentle swing of things, all the transport is by handcart or donkeys.
Since 2001 Lamu Town, with its hundreds of historical houses made of coral limestone, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Strolling along the lanes you can enjoy the rich beauty of historic Swahili architecture. The centre of the town is its great fort on the popular main square, built by the great Sultan of Lamu in 1822.
Get into close contact with ancient Swahili life by visiting the Lamu Museum, established in the palace of the last English governor. Here you’ll find the most exiting collection of Swahili exhibits reflecting the history and cultural life of Lamu Island and the surrounding Swahili towns. The historic houses are all built in the same traditional style. In the Swahili House Museum you stroll through an upper-class Lamu home, dating from the 18th century. The ornate carved doors of these houses are their most eye-catching adornment. The fashion of elaborate, carved and decorated wooden doors is regarded as a symbol of luxury and dignity.
In the meander of the narrow alleyways, hardly more than eight feet wide, the patio of the Bustani Café is a lovely location to linger, to find coolness and calm. There’s the waterfront‘s boardwalk where to find a number of restaurants that meet everyone’s gusto: traditional African cooking, Indian food, Swahili specialities and European cuisine.
Walking down Main Street you will find the Baraka Gallery. Mama Baraka organizes art exhibitions and various events that take place in a restored former mosque, a terrific place, which makes history alive. The local traditions and customs are still thriving in the numerous shops selling handicrafts and many timber workshops continue to manufacture the traditional furniture and the famous Lamu doors.
The vibrant Main Street separates the old Stone Town from the 19th century sea front. Here, in this African atmosphere with its exotic scents and images, the magic of Lamu Town is exceedingly perceptible. Afar from all bustle and rush, watching the artisans, carpenters or fishermen working is an experience that enriches the soul. As the saying goes: Europeans got the watch, Africans the time!