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A journey through exotic Lamu Island

By Joackim Bwana | December 27th 2020
Tourists enjoying a sunset sail aboard the Lamu dhows [Joackim Bwana, Standard]

A trip into Lamu is more of a spiritual journey from the moment one lands at Manda Airport and finally settles into the archipelago.

One bids goodbye to the noisy transport system of vehicles and tuktuks, and settles into a quiet world run by dhows. 

Just like a merchant in Venice, one gets to enjoy the silent olden boat rides from the airport into the prestigious hotels lined out across the white sandy beaches of Lamu Island.

But for those who love an adrenaline rush, they can choose to hire a speed boat to enjoy cruising the blue ocean at top speed. 

The island is best known for hosting mast sails during the famous Lamu Festival.

The dhows are a way of life, means of livelihood to the locals, and means transport for the tourists and locals.

A picturesque scene of small wooden floating boats along the bluish waters of Lamu greets the guests landing at the airport and seeking to cross to the ancient town and proceed to the four Islands of Lamu.

Traditionally, the hotels have adopted the culture of ensuring their guests get to enjoy an evening sail through the archipelago while enjoying the sunset.

If you are lucky, you might be able to experience the rare phenomena of the blue moon, lighting up the sky while embarking on the dhow cruise.

The cruises are ideal for friends, family, and couples seeking a tranquil and just a great time away from the norm.

Kivulini Planners Chief Executive Officer Wairimu Kanyi, who specialises in organising events and trips for guests said that sunset rides are a must-do experience for anyone visiting the ancient city of Lamu.

“With a serene stretch of ocean water and open clear blue skies, the peaceful and beautiful view is therapeutic to the mind soul and body,” said Kanyi.

The guests can also decide to make a one-hour sail tour deep into the mangroves as they venture into the abandoned ruins of Takwa village that was once home to the Swahilis in the 15 and 16 centuries due to salination of fresh water and endless fighting between the Takwa and Pate people.

Also during the stay, guests can sail to the upcoming modern side of Lamu in Mokowe where the multi-billion mega port project is under construction.

As the dhows ride into the channels crossing the Lamu Island to Pate and Manda one is able to experience and appreciate the different views that Lamu has to offer.

Kanyi said that hotels usually arrange to have the dhows pick their guests at the jetty at around 5pm for the sunset sail.

“Around 5pm several dhows line up at the jetty to collect guests from hotels before they sail deep into the mangroves and settle in the open to allow the tourists enjoy the evening sunset with a soothing breeze,” said Kanyi.

Like the pirate ships, the dhows raise their masts as they navigate the waters making angled turns that awe the guests aboard.

Most of the dhows are spacious with cushion seats set around to allow guests to relax and enjoy as the boat rock against the smooth waves while sailing from one island to another.

The dhow’s front deck is also fitted with more cushions where two or four people can lie down while gazing up the sky as the dhows cruise by and experience the beautiful scenery of young children swimming in the ocean with their dogs.

The sunset sails are also famous for hosting parties and most times the guests bring with them some champagne and wine to toast to and some snacks mostly Swahili dishes like Bhajias, samosas and viazi kharai.

The guests can bring with them portable hoofers and enjoy playing music as they sail through the Island.

The price range for the sunset sail ranges between Sh5,000 to Sh10,000.

As the sun sinks paving the way for the moon, the dhows stop and line up at the open sea in the mangroves to allow the tourists to watch the moonlight up the skies.

With a friendly crew, the guests are entertained with numerous stories about the sailing culture and the history of the archipelago.

“The serenity out here is priceless and gives one a perfect time to relax and reflect on life’s precious gifts and even think of a better approach to life’s problems,” said Kanyi.

As the darkness creeps in and the waves begin to rise, the crew skillfully adjusts the mast and slowly turns the dhows back to the hotels.

As the dhows dock at the jetty and disembark to the mainland, one gets to appreciate why Lamu has its own touch when it comes to being a destination for an adventure across the East African stretch.

However, for those who wish to enjoy a dhow ride in Mombasa, one can hop into the Tamarind Hotel dhow and sail across the Tudor creek while dining and enjoying music performed by a live band.

The famous dhow is known to host celebrities and politicians including President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The sail gives the guests a chance to sail under the Nyali Bridge into the Tudor creek where the dhow docks to allow guests to enjoy a sumptuous meal prepared by chefs aboard the boat while the bartender keeps the drinks flowing while the live band keeps the guests entertained.

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