When it comes to island vacations, most people will name somewhere in Mexico or the Caribbean before even thinking about Africa, but I’m here to tell you that Kenya is home to some of the most beautiful beachfront vacation spots in the world.
This summer, my girls and I took a trip to Lamu Island, on the Swahili coast of Kenya and the entire trip was a dream. The area is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its 14th-century architecture has been extremely well-preserved, making it a truly beautiful place to explore, relax, and soak up the sun. The locals use the term Lamu Tamu to refer to the vibe of the island and a lifestyle that is sweet, slow, and absolutely beautiful — our stay was all that and more.
Here are some of my tips for making your stay on Lamu the best one ever!
How to Get there
I took a 13-hour flight from New York City to Nairobi which cost about $1,000CAD/$800USD and then a 1-hour flight from Nairobi to Lamu which cost about $100CAD/$80USD. Once we landed, we were taken to our villa by speedboat.
Boat rides from different parts of the island are usually 500 KES, around $5CAD/$4USD. Kenya is a tipping culture, so it’s best if you have small bills on you to tip anyone helping you on and off the boat. We tipped between 50-100KES (about fifty cents to a dollar) every time.
Because you’re on an absolutely gorgeous island, at some point you’ll want to go on a sunset boat ride using a dhow, a traditional sailboat, or take a day trip to another island on a speedboat. If that’s your idea of a good time, make sure to plan to pay upwards of 2500KES or $25CAD/$20USD per person for each trip.
We took a dhow to The Floating Bar which faces Manda Island — enjoying a cool drink and watching the sunset with my friends was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Shoutout to Asif, aka Captain I’ll Be Back took us on all of our boat rides between the islands.
Where to Stay
If your stay on Lamu Island is for more than a week, I would highly recommend that you book a locally-owned villa, especially because most villas come with a cook who will prepare fresh food for you every day. Our villa at Tunusuru House was bright, airy, and extremely comfortable. I want to give a special shoutout to the staff there, especially Mauris, Syria, and Chef Robert for making our stay an incredible one.
In Shela, a village about 2 miles from Lamu Town, all of the restaurants and businesses like Bahari and Sea Suq Cafe are on the oceanfront, so it’s easy to walk from place to place but in Lamu Town, it’s a little harder to figure out where you’re going, so keep your phone’s map app handy to help you get around!
What to Eat
All of the food we had in Lamu Town and in Shela was fresh, well-made, and truly delicious. You can expect to find chai and samosas on every menu along with chapati (flatbreads), bajjis (vegetable fritters), and mahamri (an airy donut made with coconut milk).
In general, the food costs on the island are pretty comparable to big city prices in North America when you go to the tourist hubs — usually 1000KES/$10CAD to 2500KES/$25CAD for a meal. In locally-owned restaurants or bakeries like Whispers Café in the less touristy areas, there’s usually a 50% markdown and you can buy snacks like tea and samosas for no more than 500KES or $5CAD/$6CAD.
You can also eat at The Peponi Hotel in Shela which has a completely Instagram-worthy back patio that sits right on the ocean.
Eating at home is the most cost-effective option if you have a chef where you’re staying, since they are purchasing groceries from the market and making it at home for different meals, but going out to eat at least once is a nice treat.
Keep in mind that Lamu is a Muslim island, so whenever you’re in public, dress respectfully: all women must cover their shoulders, knees, and midriff and men must wear at least a t-shirt and pants.
There are a lot of travel guides online with tips for place to go and things to do on Lamu, but if you just want to relax and chill on the beach, this is the island for you, too!