Lamu is the oldest living town in Kenya, and is situated on Lamu Island off the coast of Africa. Comparable to Kathmandu, it is a place of mystery, fantasy and medieval atmosphere.
The most fascinating thing about Lamu town is the people; the men wear full length white robes and caps, whilst women cover themselves up in black. Festivals take place with wonderful regularity, utterly disregarding the presence of tourists, giving a unique experience of life in a 100% organic African coastal town.
The town itself has narrow streets which are only wide enough to accommodate donkeys and people. The main type of transport is the dhow in the waters around the island, and this lack of fast transport gives the whole town an incredibly relaxed atmosphere. The beach is still largely unoccupied by people and tourists generally, and so is a wonderful place to go and relax.
The buildings are beautifully preserved, with some dating back at least as far as the late 14th century with the construction of the Pwani Mosque. The close buildings create an intimate feeling, and the streets are cool and quiet, with the lower parts of the buildings being older, giving an interesting change in textures. The building materials are primarily coral-rag blocks with wooden floors and makuti roofs. The shutters for windows and doors are all intricately carved, and are famous; they are incredibly beautiful and no trip to Lamu will be complete without exploring them.
There are plenty of places to visit in the town too. The Lamu Museum is on the waterfront, and gives an introduction to the history and culture of the island. One of the most interesting museums in Kenya, it has a reconstruction of a traditional Swahili house, models of dhows, ivory instruments known as siwas, maps, charts and many other exhibitions which are well presented and fascinating.
For those with an interest in the Swahili culture, the Swahili House Museum is a traditionally restored house which is perfectly presented, and a real insight into the culture.
Lamu Fort is a huge building, with a walk-through display of the local environment and natural history that is colourful and informative, and is ideal for kids. The islands library is housed here, and many interesting books on the island can be found and perused at your leisure.
Other interesting sights include the German Postal Museum which exhibits photographs and memorabilia of the late 1800’s, and a donkey sanctuary which takes care of sick and old animals once they are no longer fit for use on the streets.
More lively activities to partake in include dhow trips which include fishing and snorkelling, and allow you to relax at a barbecue lunch on Manda Beach. For a bit of added luxury a full-moon dhow trip can be indulged in, which include drinks, wine and a lobster dinner.
Of the festivals mentioned above, the most interesting is the Maudlid Festival which is a celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohamed. This takes place in the middle of the year, and typically involves much singing, laughing and events such as donkey races, poetry readings, swimming galas and dhow races. This is a joyful time for the people and the happiness is infectious.
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