Even before I actively wanted to visit Kenya, I’d heard so much about beautiful Lamu. Several social media connections had posted pictures on a sunset dhow—and honestly, I wasn’t sure Lamu would be my kind of island. It seemed so remote, so far away, so still, so old. But one weekend on this slow-paced island changed my view.
If you’re contemplating a visit to the Kenyan coast, put Lamu on your radar. This Lamu travel guide will provide all the information you need to make your trip a success.
All You Need to Know About Visiting Lamu, Kenya
Here are some of my best tips and answers to common questions about traveling to Lamu, Kenya:
Where is Lamu located?
Lamu is located on the Kenyan coast, close to the Somali border. It is one of the farthest coastal regions from Nairobi. Several small islands make up Lamu, including Lamu town, Shela, Manda (where the airport is), Manda Toto, and Pate.
What is Lamu famous for?
This region has several Unesco Heritage Sites, including Lamu Old Town. It is the most well-preserved Swahili settlement in the East African region. Lamu is also well known for its dhows, a unique sailing boat, the unique Swahili cuisine, and the refreshingly laidback pace of life on the island.
Fun Fact: There are no cars on Lamu Island. You’ll see plenty of donkeys, a few motorbikes, many boats, but no cars! Prepare to walk a fair amount.
How to get to Lamu
The best way to get to Lamu is by taking a flight from Nairobi or Mombasa. We flew with Skyward Express, and the return flight cost 56,240 KES ($355) for two passengers. The flights were on time, and our return flight even arrived earlier than expected, but the plane was a bit stuffy, as some small planes with poor air conditioning can be.
You can also fly Safarilink or Jambojet, although Skyward tends to be cheaper.
How many days should you spend in Lamu?
Three days is the sweet spot. I felt like our 3-day stay was perfect, but if you really need to rest and recover or explore more than we did, you could do 5 days.
What to do in Lamu, Kenya
Lamu is the perfect island to do little or nothing. I recommend plenty of rest, strolls, and dining out. If you want to do a teeny bit more, here are the things we did that I enjoyed:
Take a tour of Lamu Old Town
I’m not a huge guided tour person, but I do them when I know I’ll gain more than just walking around on my own—even though I inevitably get tired and bored before it’s over. So, always take my guided tour reviews with a grain of salt.
Despite the caveats, we did enjoy the first 30 minutes of our tour (it lasted two hours), and I would not advise walking around Lamu town on your own (although I did see a few tourists doing this). It’s not exactly a well-mapped-out city, and with the cultural differences, I was afraid to offend or go somewhere I shouldn’t be. I was glad to see the town with a guide.
Our guide charged us 2000 KES ($12), and the boat ride into the town cost us 1000 KES ($6). Our return trip was free because our hotel sent a speedboat.
💡 Know Before You Go: We were surprised by how much donkey poop was on the streets of Lamu town. If you’re super sensitive to smells, it might put you off. Also, bring a big bottle of water, especially if you’re visiting in the summer months. It gets HOT!
Shop cute silver jewelry
The best part of the tour for me was all the silversmith shops we visited. Sadly, I can’t even remember the name of my favorite one (but it wasn’t the popular Lamu Silversmith, although I did buy a ring in that store).
Pop into as many as you can if you like jewelry. They sell genuine silver rings, earrings, anklets, necklaces, and other funky jewelry pieces.
Sail on a sunset dhow
This was the highlight of our trip! For 12,000 KES, we took a 60-minute sunset dhow from 5:30 PM till sunset. The price also included snacks (a plate of samosas), and our hotel sent us with a cooler of drinks charged to our room. It was such a relaxing experience, and our captain was just the right amount of chatty. I almost took a nap on the boat. Perfect experience!
Stroll along the coastline
We stayed on Shela Island and enjoyed strolling to Peponi’s and other surrounding areas for lunch. Our hotel advised against going out after sundown for safety reasons, so we kept our dinner plans to the hotel restaurant. Breathe the sea air, browse the small shops, or take a boat to one of the other islands if you fancy an activity.
Eat delicious Swahili food
While the food scene on Lamu is nowhere near as bustling as Nairobi’s (my favorite Nairobi restaurants here), the one thing they do excellently on Lamu is Swahili food. So we gorged ourselves on curries while we were here. The samosas were also particularly good in Lamu.
Where to stay in Lamu, Kenya
I recommend staying on Shela since Lamu Old Town is not as scenic to me. Most of the hotels and nice restaurants are there.
We stayed at Kijani Hotel on Shela island, and we loved our time there. The food in the hotel restaurant was reliably good, and when Peponi’s had no crab, Kijani’s crab dishes were available. On our final night, we even ate whole lobsters!
If you want a more luxurious experience, two other options are Peponi Hotel and The Majlis—the latter is on Manda Island. This means you’ll need to take a quick boat to try out most of the restaurants on Shela. I hear you can also pay for day passes to the Majlis, but we never tried this.
📝 Lamu Booking Tip: Wherever you decide to stay, be sure to book early especially in the high season (October-December) when the small hotels book up quickly.
How to dress in Lamu
Since Lamu is a largely Muslim island, you’ll need to dress conservatively. This means no exposed knees or shoulders or super tight-fitting clothes for women, and especially in Lamu Town, men should not be shirtless. When on hotel property or on the hotel beachfront, you can dress as you like.
Is there alcohol in Lamu?
Yes, there is alcohol in certain hotels. Peponi’s serves cocktails, and we had beers and cocktails at our hotel (Kijani), too. However, when we visited Bahari Shela, the waiter told us they didn’t serve alcohol.
Where to eat in Lamu
We ate at three restaurants during our stay. Here’s what I thought:
Peponi Hotel Restaurant
This restaurant was highly recommended, but I found their meals mid at best and frequently disappointing. Interestingly, their starters are fantastic—great spring rolls and tuna tostada (excellent, this one!), but their green curry (their curries were so watery — why?) and spaghetti bolognese (which they served in three separate dishes—sauce, parmesan, and pasta) were MEH. I did enjoy their seafood vodka pasta and the location is unbeatable.
Kijani Hotel Restaurant
I was pleasantly surprised by this little hotel. The food was mostly good. We loved the chili crab curry and the grilled lobster, and their drinks were always so nice. We had breakfast here throughout our stay, and the French toast and Spanish omelet were highlights for me. Most importantly, the service and attention to detail here won me over.
This is located between Peponi’s and Kijani and was great for when we arrived starving from Lamu Town and discovered we’d missed the lunch hour at both hotels. Since it isn’t a hotel, this small restaurant saved us. Their fish curry was excellent, and their fresh juices were refreshing on a hot day. I also had the best chapati on Lamu here—perfect thickness and texture. No complaints!
A Couple Other Lamu Travel Tips
Bring cash: Like the rest of Kenya, most shops in Lamu are cashless, but when boat captains will need cash or Mpesa. I regretted paying with Mpesa because many small businesses in Lamu used the Family and Friends option on Mpesa, which means you pay an additional small fee for sending them money. Businesses using the Pay Bills or Buy Goods option can receive money with Mpesa at no charge to you. So bring cash. You can also withdraw money at ATMs in Lamu Town, which we ended up doing.
On safety: We met an American couple in Nairobi who’d been discouraged from visiting Lamu for safety reasons. If you’re worried about the same, I’d say don’t be. We saw so many Brits and French people on Shela, and they even took cheeky strolls after dark (which we were too scared to do) to get gelato at a nearby shop.
Lamu is a warm island steeped in culture and tradition—certainly worth a visit!
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