Lamu Travel Guide

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Lamu, the oldest living town in Kenya lies on Lamu Island in the northern corner of Kenya. Lamu truly like a different country. More than 95% of the locals are Muslim, and you’re just as likely to hear Arabic as Kiswahili.

Although the beaches near Lamu may be the best in all of Kenya, Lamu has not yet been over-developed, like Zanzibar. It still has the feel of a small town instead of a tourist trap.

As with any other town on the coast, or any in Kenya for that matter, remember to be considerate of the local’s beliefs. When sunbathing or in your hotel, it’s not so important, but when you’re in town, remember to dress conservatively, with tops that keep the shoulders covered, and skirts or pants that reach at least to the knees. Also, be aware that most people in Lamu and elsewhere on the coast do not want their picture taken. Always be considerate and ask permission first.

There are two towns: Lamu Town, the larger one, is where most of the official business takes place, and it has more shopping and hotels, but no beach.  Shela is small, and can be more expensive at high season. 

It makes sense to hire a local tour guide.  These guides can get you prices 15-20 percent below anything you can negotiate on your own, and you are doing something to help the local economy, which is based entirely on tourism.  Try to use tour guides who are licensed by the government and have passed a police check.

Although the best beach is in Shela, it's worth spending some time in Lamu Town.  Some of the island's best food is found at the Seafront Cafe there.  For about $5, the garlic crab is the best on the island. 

If you have time, one of the best experiences you can have is to go camping on the island of Kiwayu.   There is also a more expensive, but very nice, eco-lodge option.  Again, if you use a local guide, rather than booking through a hotel, you are likely to get a better price and a more fun experience.  One company that is both professional and committed to using locals is nature + culture, the only outfit on the island that lays claim to promoting ecotourism.  Their website is www.lamutravel.com.  Alternately, you can do your own research and wing it, but it will take longer and you will end up pretty much with the same information, and probably pay more.   Everyone knows, for instance, that a guy named "Freedom" is the best dhow captain, and he's the one nature + culture (and several other guides) use for their trips. 

Lamu is 165 mi/265 km north of Mombasa.

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