How a floating hotel 'gamble' has paid off

The floating bar and restaurant on Lamu Island in Lamu County. [Robert Menza, Standard]

Travelling to the idyllic Lamu island and never setting foot on the floating bar and restaurant, operating between Shella and Manda, is an incomplete tour. 

Here, a mother of two, Fridah Njogu, aged 40, calls the shots. For the last 12 years, she has operated the floating bar and restaurant where revellers watch as the sun rises or sets.

Ms Njeri hails from Kirinyaga County, but moved to Lamu in the late 90s to live with her uncle (now-deceased) and later joined the Lamu Girls High School in 2002.

Later, Njeri, a member of the Lamu Tourism Association, relocated to Nairobi, where she stayed to pursue a course in accounting at the Vision Institute of Professional Studies in 2005.

After her college stint, she returned to Lamu and worked at Lamu House Hotel and Boutique Hotel as a manager assistant, in the accounts department. In 2009, she joined a non-governmental organisation but quit in 2013.

“This is when I bought the floating bar and restaurant from a British investor who lives in Lamu but had decided to sell it as it was not a profitable venture by then due to low tourist levels,” she said.

Hotelier Fridah Njogu. [Robert Menza, Standard]

The premises are located in the middle of the ocean off Lamu island and are a floating platform on pressurised plastic drums with authentic Makuti thatch to give it the Swahili architecture.

It lies in the middle of the channel between Lamu Old Town and Shella-Manda, 700 metres from the shore, where you need a boat to ferry you over.

“We offer a variety of foods and drinks to give you a taste you will remember. Mostly, we have varieties of food like seafood, African, and Swahili cuisines, and drinks -beers and a variety of Lamu-inspired cocktails using Lamu ingredients like Lamu limes, tamarind, coconut, and baobab. We are mostly open throughout serving a few lunches, and the vibes start during sunset time when we have the magical Lamu sunsets from the floating bar serving the magical cocktail,” she said.

At the facility, grilled seafood is the favourite, with on-menu seafood like grilled fish (floating special), lobsters, prawns, calamari, octopus, and crabs.

To ensure the safety of the premises, the Kenya Maritime Authority (KMA) officers usually inspect the facility before issuing seaworthiness certificates and licenses.

‘’When I acquired the premises from the white owner, I had to invest all my savings to start this business. I took a gamble since I had no idea how to navigate through such a business. I was lucky since the previous owner,” she said.

Daily chores

In 2020, she used almost Sh500,000 to refurbish the floating bar and restaurant, giving it a new lease of life.

The floating bar and restaurant on Lamu Island in Lamu County. [Robert Menza, Standard]

She says she never took any bank loans to finance her project.

She relied on her savings, which she described as adequate then. To help her in her daily chores, Fridah has employed a barman and chef on the floating deck, where she takes orders from clients who come for hearty meals and drinks. Her immediate family and close friends come in handy to help with work, especially when there are booked events at the premises.

The floating platform is moored on moorings and does not move but floats and can be moved after being towed by a tug to any convenient place within the scenic channel.

Fridah says owing to their popularity, they have had a steady increase in several international guests and locals from upcountry who keep flocking to the floating hotel.

For Sam Edington from Birmingham in the United Kingdom, a sip of his popular beer and grilled fish is a must whenever he comes holidaying in Lamu. “I like this place. Its services, food, and drinks make me feel at home away from home,” he summed up.