By Allan Olingo
Lamu Old Town is a unique and rare historical heritage with more than 700 years of continuous settlement. Lamu can be accessed from Nairobi,?Mombasa or Malindi by air, road and sea. Kenya Airways, Safari Link and Air Kenya operate connecting flights via Nairobi and Malindi from where you can connect to Lamu.? You will land at Manda Island airstrip, where ferries transport you to either Lamu or Shela Islands.
The Lamu Archipelago comprises of six large islands and countless smaller ones.? These islands include- Lamu with towns of Lamu and Shela, Pate, Mada, Siyu, Kiwayu and Mada Toto.? With unspoilt?white-washed beaches and rich Swahili culture, Lamu is a must visit for any visitor.
Ever since Unesco declared it a World Heritage Site in 2001, the Lamu Cultural Promotion Group with support from international embassies and local stakeholders has been organising an annual cultural festival to promote and preserve the unique Swahili heritage of Lamu.
The Lamu Cultural festival successfully showcases Swahili culture and traditions through this landmark event. Featured in the festival are traditional dances, historical masterpieces, Kiswahili poetry competitions, donkey races, dhow races, displays of traditional handicraft, henna painting, Swahili bridal ceremony and a Swahili food bazaar.
The festival offers a modern sampling of these time-honoured traditions against a rich backdrop of the beauty and splendour of the Lamu archipelago.
This festival also features musicians from different parts of Coast province and Africa in general and draws crowds as large as 20,000. Any visitor wishing to experience the fuller Swahili cultural aspects in Lamu needs to make a date with this extravaganza.
Lamu’s material culture is best shown by its carved doors and traditional furniture, which can be viewed all over the town. There are almost 20 woodcarving workshops in Lamu mainly producing Swahili doors, furniture and smaller artefacts that are popular with tourists.
There are a variety of accommodation places within Lamu including Shela House Hotel, Beach House Hotel, Palm House Hotel, Garden House Hotel, Kijani House, Kizingo Beach Resort, Kipungani Explorer and Kiwayu Safari Logde amongst others. Accommodation costs within Lamu varies from Sh7,000 per night to Sh70,000 per house (12 people) per day.
Despite its remote location, Lamu has a large number of tourist attractions that include the donkey clinic and sanctuary, dhow making, the Lamu museum that exhibits the history and culture of the people of Lamu and the Swahili House Museum, a recreation of a traditional Swahili house with cookware, beds and other furniture.?
There is also the Lamu Fort built by the Sultan of Pate between 1810 and 1823. The German Post Office Museum built by the Germans exhibits colonial era photographs.