A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the oldest continually inhabited town along the Kenyan coast, Lamu has retained its authentic Moorish architectural fabric as well as its social and cultural roots, making for a rich and magical getaway. Women whisper by along the narrow alleyways in traditional bui bui while men in simple kanzu usher along donkeys laden with goods, as stray cats slink nonchalantly through the labyrinthine maze of streets.
There is a lot to see and do in the archipelago, and a great starting point would be the quaint and charming Shela village with its distinct Mediterranean aura characterised by chalk white walls offset by vibrant bougainvillea flowers and the most pristine of white sands begging for a barefoot excursion. If you have a free weekend coming up, here are some things not to miss in this village:
Stay at Forodhani House
Shela is teeming with fantastic accommodation options, and yet, I am always seduced by the sheer beauty and magnificence of Forodhani House. Imagine a majestic three-storied white villa where five lavishly furnished rooms that can accommodate up to 13 guests in total snuggle, all en suite and with large windows and private, tastefully furnished terraces overlooking the azure ocean. These are complemented by a swimming pool located right next to an indoor coconut tree complete with an open dining room from which the friendly staff serve up an array of Swahili cuisine or whatever else your heart desires. This beachfront property offers unrivalled panoramic views and the perfect vantage points for people watching: amiable fishermen at the jetty, the excitement of arriving guests and the numerous dhows as they cruise gently past the periphery. The ambience will lull you into a blissful state leaving you content to take leisurely strolls to the beach, responding to greetings from friendly villagers and chatting up the seafront beach boys.
Shop at Aman Lamu
In an island where the weather calls for lightweight clothing, this quirky boutique located at the heart of Shela offers visitors beautifully embroidered breezy kaftans, kimonos, trousers, baskets, satchels, jewellery, sandals and more, handmade from extraordinary fabrics carefully selected from India and Africa. With their distinctively Moroccan vibe, these bohemian yet chic designs are inspired by the rhythm of life in Lamu itself, by owner Sandy Bornman who was born and raised in South Africa but has lived in Lamu for almost two decades now, her outspoken love for the place knowing no bounds.
Hop on a speedboat for lunch at The Majlis
This boutique luxury resort tucked away on a quiet and picturesque private spot on Ras Kitau Bay promising barefoot luxury offset by towering palm trees and hammocks dotted along a strip of gorgeous beach overlooking the sea is a must visit. The open plan restaurant with a traditional makuti roof features the finest in Italian and international cuisine including Swahili classics and fresh seafood which is brought in daily by the local fishermen and is open to both residents and the public. I absolutely love tuna and would therefore recommend the tuna tartar or smoked yellowfin tuna which I had for lunch with a side of roast potatoes coupled with the resort's excellent signature Majlis cocktail, enjoyed from the terrace on the first floor. Dinner can also be quite the romantic al fresco affair.
Yoga at Msafini Hotel and Mango Top Roof
The obvious spot for a yoga class would be Banana House and wellness Centre, an excellent spot no doubt, and origin of the Lamu Yoga Festival. Owned by an indigenous family, however, Msafini is only a 2-minute walk from the sea, with 14 spacious rooms, all ensuite, each with a private balcony offering a glimpse into life in this enchanting village. An evening class with the owner's son and yoga teacher Awham Mohamed is recommended as you take in the sunset from the serene rooftop restaurant of this budget hotel. Afterwards, tuck into a delectable authentic Swahili dish or seafood under a twinkling carpet of stars while gazing onto the incredible views of the entire village, dunes and the shimmering sea beyond.
Sundowners at Peponi Hotel
The excellent food and rooms at this family owned hotel are definitely worth composing ballads about, and yet sundowners here are a custom that any visitor must simply participate in. This bustling social hub is the place to see and be seen. With a glass of their signature dawas at hand, mingle with the locals, trade stories with the fishermen and dhow captains, say hello to the personable manager Andrew as he makes his rounds, meet an eclectic array of travelers from far and wide, or simply kick back for some interesting people watching. What's more, the view from the bar of this beachfront property is nothing short of spectacular.
Enjoy a magical cruise aboard the Hippo Dhow
Imagine catching the setting sun as it splashes the sky in vibrant orange and golden hues while you cruise along the ocean sipping a glass of merlot and being momentarily lulled out of your worries by soothing Taarab music, or whatever you prefer, really. For an extra fee, Captain Yusuf can even organise to have the Shela Swahili drummers and singers come entertain you on board the grand Mozambican-style dhow for an even more memorable experience.