Shela Village from the Sky
Sleepy yet sophisticated, Shela village is probably the most relaxing and seductive place you will every visit. Sitting a mile or two south of Lamu Town, where the Lamu channel meets the Indian Ocean, Shela has a languid, undisturbed atmosphere all its own. In the past few years many of the village’s historic Swahili houses have been beautifully renovated, and a number of ravishing holiday homes and guest houses built along the pretty waterfront and jumble of narrow sandy streets.
Beyond the charming Peponi Hotel, centre of the Shela social scene, the island’s main beach stretches almost as far as the eye can see – eight miles of empty white sand facing the Indian Ocean and backed by magnificent dunes.
Most visitors to Shela are lulled into a sense of blissful indolence, content to stroll along the beach, browse in one of the village’s boutiques, enjoy a cocktail or two at Peponi’s wonderful bar, or simply to subside on a shady rooftop with a book and enjoy the rhythms of the day. Yoga and massage are available, and for the more energetic there is dhow-sailing, speedboating, sea fishing, scuba-diving, water-skiing, sea-kayaking, windsurfing and other water sports.
Lamu Town Seafront
Nestling against the beautiful, unspoilt Indian Ocean coast of northern Kenya, Lamu Island is one of the most beguiling places on earth. Little changed in centuries, Lamu is renowned for the warmth of its welcome to visitors, its remoteness and tranquility, its rich and colourful history and its distinctive Swahili culture – a unique amalgam of African, Arabian, Indian and European influences.
Enchanting Lamu Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the oldest living town south of the Sahara and the best-preserved coastal settlement in East Africa. Historic and cultural attractions include Lamu Fort, Lamu Museum and the Takwa Ruins on next door Manda Island. Lamu has always attracted and inspired the spiritual, the creative and the artistic – and the island hosts regular festivals and celebrations – from the religious and cultural to the artistic and yogic.
Lamu Town Square
One of the island’s many glories is its traditional Swahili Architecture – Lamu’s unique stone townhouses, many dating back to the early 18th Century, are celebrated for their intricately carved wooden front doors, imposing entrance porches and shady courtyards, the grandeur and elegance of their interiors and their beautiful decorative stucco plasterwork.
Lamu – Zidaka Niches
Lamu is not a place that believes much in progress – or indeed in haste of any kind – and life is lived at a leisurely pace. Less than 10 miles long, the island has no paved roads or cars (except the District Commissioner’s Land Rover and the occasional tractor) and nearly all transport is by foot or donkey, motorboat or sailing dhow. In a world that is increasingly homogenized and harried, Lamu makes a wonderfully authentic and unhurried retreat.
Lamu Town – Shopping Street
One of the many pleasures of spending time in Lamu is exploring the byways of the historic Old Town, wandering the narrow streets and alleyways and meeting the always friendly and welcoming, often highly eccentric, inhabitants. There is good shopping for colourful kikoys and kangas, local crafts, traditional carved furniture and more along the town’s main street, one ‘block’ back from the seafront. Taking a dhow safari or an evening’s sunset cruise is another ‘must’ for any visit to Lamu, and another charming and leisurely way to experience the islands.
Lamu – Dhow Races
Lamu is also renowned for its beautiful empty beaches, and the island’s main ocean-facing beach stretches for 8 spectacular miles from Shela village to Kizingoni on the southern-most tip of the island – it is a few minutes by boat or a 40-minute walk along the seafront from Lamu Town. Also recommended is the sheltered sandy beach across on neighbouring Manda Island, easily accessed by dhow or motorboat.