For a real escape-from-it-all retreat, Manda Beach is an even more low-key and relaxing destination than Lamu Town or Shela. Quiet and unspoilt, it is likely you will have most of the beach to yourself for much of the day. Manda’s 2.5 kilometres of sheltered sandy beach sits towards the bottom tip of Manda Island, looking out across the Lamu channel to Shela village less than a kilometre away. To the south of the beach there are coral heads and rock pools and the remains of an old fort and cannons from the early colonial era.
The dense and bushy interior of Manda Island is quite different to Lamu Island’s more open landscape. The island is known for its wonderful bird life and attracts wildlife from the mainland too – it is home to wide variety of animals, from monkeys, antelopes and anteaters to a herd of buffalo and even the occasional elephant and lion.
Manda is home to the beautiful Takwa Ruins – the ancient remains of a Swahili town deserted in the 17th Century – accessed along a narrow channel through the mangroves which fringe much of the island. The ruins are highly atmospheric, particularly in the late afternoon light and make a memorable dhow-excursion. On the ocean side of Manda, through the shallow Mkanda channel, pretty little Manda Toto (‘Baby Manda’) Island is a nice place to swim, snorkel and picnic.
Takwa Ruins, Manda Island
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.
Lamu Town Seafront
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