Lamu, 7 years since I last set eyes on you. I have grown and changed since then, my middle slightly softer, my hair a bit more grey, however my memory of you remains as sharp as a tack. For sometime we took different paths, we both wanted wanted different things. You needed financial security that was beyond my reach, I on the other hand needed 3 square meals a day to remain alive. But the fates have seen seen it fit for us to be together again, our planets have aligned for me to once more gaze upon you aphrodite-esque beauty.
I hope you haven’t grown fat.
I feel I need to something out of the way; when mentioning Lamu comments like “Oh that place near the Tanzania border?” or worse “That unsafe place?” are common. I feel the bad rap our dear Lamu has gotten in the past is due to a bit of ignorance on our part on where it is actually located.
The main tourist areas are on both Lamu Island (yes, friend-I-will not mention, Lamu Island is actually an island) in both Lamu and Shela towns and across the channel on Manda Island. For the more intrepid there is also the Kipungani and Kizingo on the other side of the island.
A great thing about Lamu is that it has places to stay to fit all pockets, from budget to self-catering to please-fill-up-my-bath-with-champagne-today range of accommodation.
The Moon Houses
The Moon Houses are located in Shela Town a short 10min boat ride from the airport. I’m a sucker for cool spots so when I found out about Betty’s Suite I changed a previous booking immediately, so glad I did.
The suite is located atop Garden house within The Moon Houses compound composed of a number of different residences and is well set up for two or even a solo traveller who values their privacy.
The lounge area is open to the elements, the elements in this case being sunny skies and a cool breeze.
The suite has it’s own private pool with great views across the channel to Manda Island.
The bedroom has a double bed and shuttered doors that are open to the view. It’s simple and as is usually the case, simple works.
Adjoining the bedroom is an en-suite bathroom.
What a throne!
Bathtub and shower once again of course…..open to the outside.
Fun fact: The land the houses sit on were bought by Anne Spoerry of “Mama Daktari” fame a founding member of the Flying Doctors to enable her access to remote parts of the Lamu Archipelago in the 60’s and 70’s. You might have heard a little about her but I bet you didn’t know that she was once in concentration camp, she led a fascinating life a bit of which you can read here, here and here.
Meals can be taken in the common dining area down stairs or served in the suite. Here I am doing what I do best besides eating; waiting to eat.
The property is self catering but there is a chef on hand. You organize a menu and he does the shopping which is noted in a book and you settle up when leaving. For seafood lovers aiming to live on a diet of crab, calamari, snapper and oysters, budget around Ksh 500 per person per meal.
Here’s a tip though, while most things can be found on the island alcoholic drinks and any treats e,g: chocolates, teas and such like, might not be available. Pack these in your luggage.
The suite can be rented out as a whole for as low as Ksh 15,000 in the low season so plan accordingly, price varies according to season. I did make the mistake (first and last time) of booking through an agent or “He-Who-Shall-Named” who seems to find it totally acceptable to talk down to clients whenever there is any sort of miscommunication. I guess I go through these things so you don’t have to huh?
My advice is to contact Nina the manager directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +254 722 209 490 and +254 716 720 278. A lovely lady and professional to boot.
If you can somehow manage to tear yourself from the suite, the beach is located a hop, step (maybe a shimmy) and a jump away.
Nice views across to Manda, it’s much more built up from the last time I was here. Seems development is not restricted to the maze Nairobi has become. However the charm endures.
In the evenings besides a sunset dhow ride (which we did not have the budget for), a great alternative is the short 15min walk across the dunes to the tip of the island (free).
Salim becomes the unwitting subject of this photo.
Getting to Lamu Town from Shela is a 10min boat ride and costs around Ksh 200 one-way from the Shela jetty. We used Rambaramba (0717653311), his boat putters along but its all good, totally in keeping with Lamu’s slow pace of life. Alternatively you could also take the 40min walk along the sea-side, but remember Lamu gets very hot!
My previous memory of Lamu Town was not particularly pleasant, to use one of my scientific terms, I remember it being “icky”. Lamu is known as one of the oldest Arab settlements in Kenya and it showed. Good to see much has changed, the streets are cleaner and with lighting at night the town is a much more pleasant place to walk around.
Lamu Fort & Museum
There are quite a number of places to visit in Lamu Town, the fort and museum being two of them. I’m not much of a museum guy but we had fun just fooling around and talking photos. I’m constantly amazed at how the National Museums of Kenya continue to preserve our history and heritage even with their usually limited budgets.
Museums can be boring but they are usually great for photography, I hope in future the marketing department can exploit the photography angle to get more Kenyans into museums.
When visiting the town please make sure you are appropriately dressed (especially ladies). Lamu is predominantly Muslim and as such you should respect the culture. The Muse gives an example below, she’s very particular about stuff like this.
You can take in most of the town in about 3 hours wandering in and out of the little shops. Make sure to carry some money, I can guarantee you’ll find something you like. Unlike many other places you feel totally safe and with this comes the freedom of walking around with no concerns whatsoever.
There’s really not much to say here, the chart speaks for itself. Can you guess which flight I took? *cough JamboJet cough*. Remember to book early enough to get the best rates.
It would be remiss for me to concede that even with it’s all its beauty Lamu has been hard hit by the tourism downturn in Kenya. Hard as it is to admit there is an upside to this, it has never been cheaper for the domestic traveller to travel to Lamu. With so many great offers for locals and residents and the combination of affordable flights, if you have ever wanted to visit the Island now is the time.
Cheers to the Moon House team Nina, Dickson, Silas and Salim for a great stay. It was also great to meet one of Lamu’s instagrammers Angelika, thanks for taking time to meet and have a chat. To start planning your own trip visit the Lamu Tourism Association website at http://lamutourism.org/
I’m not done with this area just yet so if you haven’t already subscribed to blog please do so, there’s another article coming along soon. Till then, safe travels!