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Lamu – a 3-day Trip to one of the Most Serene Islands in Kenya

Lamu, a small island with a population of about 2,000 people is one of the most serene places in Kenya. It's just the perfect place to be when you want to tune out all the noise.

My sister calls me on a random Tuesday and starts this conversation;

S: “What are you doing on Thursday?”

Me: “Apart from stuffing my face, nothing that would stop the world from rotating on its axis.”

S: “Okay, idler. You are coming with me to Lamu. Get ready.”

Me: “Ummm… how much will that cost me, because the way my finances are set up…”

S: “Calm down, queen of broke. This one’s on me.”

Me: “Fam, say no more!”

And that is how we set off on a three-day Kenyan adventure to one of the most serene parts of the country.

Day One: Ummm… Not What I Expected

I intentionally neglected to do any research on the Island as I wanted to be surprised, and so when we got off the plane at Manda airport and got in the speed boat that would take us to our Airbnb, I was a bit apprehensive. You see, the waterfront on Lamu is not the prettiest, especially when what you expect is a sandy beach. That’s what I get for not doing my research. Anyway, the seafront that welcomes you to Old Town is littered with dhows because the islanders are lovers of seafood and someone has to fish.

So, we alight from the speed boat and head on to our home for the next three days – Petleys Inn. This beautiful yet simple abode overlooks the ocean and is only $40 a night. We get settled and instantly feel the spirit of the Island in its people.

The Island is quite simple: the narrow streets in this Old Town are peaceful because the only mode of transport in Lamu and the surroundings – Manda Island and Shela – is donkeys. Jesus would feel right at home here!

With only three days to be here, we plan to do as much as possible, and thankfully that won’t be much because the Island is quite small. Because we get here after 4 pm, the most we can do is hit the streets for a little walk, grab some dinner, and then wait to see what the night holds.

My sister and I are both craving seafood, and so a kind stranger directs us to Seafront Café for, in his opinion, the freshest seafood in Lamu. And that it was! Being a super safe island where everyone knows each other – the islanders instantly knew we were visitors – you can walk fearlessly in the night as you enjoy the cool ocean’s breeze, which is what we did. There is a massive screen in the town square where people watch the news as a community, and so we sit to catch on and discuss politics with the locals. Can never go wrong with politics, right?

Sunsets are everything. Image: Unsplash

Later, we walk into Petleys Club, the loudest club here, and we dance our tails off. The crowd is diverse, music lovely – some Taarab, local hip-hop, Bongo Flavor, and even a bit of Kwaito. The bar is a little limited in variety, but we’re here for the music and mingling! Drinks are quite cheap too!

A little past midnight, we bid our new friends goodbye and head on back to our hotel with the moon shining gloriously on us and the ocean blessing us with some cool white sounds.

Day Two… Let’s go to Shela Village

I already knew of Shela because I had seen the beautiful white hotels and white sandy beach when riding on the speedboat last evening. So, today, after mahamri (basically fried dough), some samosas, and sweet cinnamon tea, we walk to this part of the Island because it’s only a kilometre away. It’s well past midday, and though the sun is up and smiling, the ocean’s breeze cools things down.

Shela is breathtaking, partly for the beautiful hotels and partially the extensive beach that we have all to ourselves! After the obligatory swim and lounge on the sand, we search the inner parts of the town for authentic Swahili food. We indulge in tamarind red snapper, some coconut rice infused with flavorful herbs, biriani, and some sweets for dessert then dragged our whaled bodies to a local ‘spa’ for relaxing massages that cost us $8 per person.

When evening comes, we walk the beach to experience the calming breeze and waves then catch a boat to the floating bar that is about a kilometer from the shore. This structure that is located in the ocean serves some amazing seafood and drinks, and the music is mostly international RnB. We are too full to dance and so we simply enjoy the rocking of the structure.

Day 3… History and Some Fishing

I had never fished anything before this trip, but the captain of our dhow says it’s in the menu. It’s Saturday midmorning, and the plan is to go to Takwa Ruins in Manda Island then catch our lunch that the captain and his team will grill for us as we enjoy the sunset at Manda.

Takwa Ruins is the remains of a 15th to the 17th-century city where trade with the Arabs took place. What is left of this ancient civilization is under the National Museums of Kenya, and so visitors pay $5 – Kes. 500 – for a lesson ion History. The guide launched into a monologue about the ruins and its residents, ancient trade, and how it collapsed. Later, we head to the beach that is about half a kilometer away, and if I had my way I’d have stayed there for the rest of the evening.

The ocean on this part is vicious! Crabs are almost the size of my palm – I exaggerate a little – and the guide tells us the waters here cannot be navigated in a speed boat. It would capsize instantly, obviously. We spend just a little over an hour and have to get back because we have that fishing date, remember?

Back on the other side in Manda, we manage to catch a few red snapper that we later enjoy for lunch then head to the floating boat to catch the sunset.

Just Lounge and Be

Fair to say Lamu isn’t a party or Kenyan safari zone, but some holidays are for chilling by the beach, watching the sunset, getting moderately priced yet amazing massages, and eating all the seafood your body can handle.

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