"Lamu, A Jewel on the Coast" Lamu by Waxbag

Lamu Travel Guide: 35 reviews and 23 photos

Similar to the more famous Zanzibar 500 km south, Lamu was a busy island trading post exporting mangrove poles, tortoise shells, ivory and African slaves. The first overseas visitors along the east African coast were Omani Arabs and by the 9th century Swahili city states popped up along the coast all vying for supremacy. Lamu dates back to the late 14th century. It became more prominent after defeating the forces of Pate, from a nearby island, becoming the regions major center for slave exports. Lamu’s success ultimately ended in 1873 with the British band on the slave trade. Lamu rapidly declined under the British East African Company and has escaped the rapidly developing coast maintaining its Swahili culture and traditional architecture. The town is built with traditional materials with beautifully wood carved doors and lintels as its hallmark. Many buildings have flat rooftops to overlook the old town. The streets are usually no more than three people wide. The only mode of transportation is by foot, dhow, or donkey. From our room we watch the slow paced town go about its daily business as lines of stone carrying donkeys are lead through the narrow streets below to a work site and dhows crisscross the channel dragging their fishing nets. As the sun sets behind the town hundreds of fruit bats simultaneously leap from the vertical dormitories in the trees leading zigzagging lines to the horizon as screeching speakers beckons their followers to prayer. The only real decision to make here is what to eat and the only worry is stepping in donkey dung in the narrow streets. When your sandal step is soft at first and then you slip a little you know you just stepped in a fresh one.

What is Swahili?

The Swahili people are descendants of the Bantu tribes, who are native to Africa, and the seafaring Arabs and Persians. The word Swahili means “of the coast”. Swahili culture first started to take root around the 11th century with the rise of Islam. Swahili people consider themselves morally and culturally distinct from the peoples of the interior of Africa. However, they practice a much more liberal version of Islam than there Peninsular Arabic brethren. The language is a mixture of Arabic and Bantu and is spoken throughout East Africa. Here are some words to know:
Jambo – hello
Habari – How are you?
Nzuri – fine/good
Asante(sana) – thank you(very much)
Karibu – welcome
Sawa – okay
Pole pole – slow slow
Lala salama – good night
Hakuna matata – no worries
Kwa heri – good bye
Choo - toilet

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Very Relaxing, amazing ambiance, friendly people, good food, authentic feel
  • Cons:Beaches are not spectacular but don't come here for the beaches anyway
  • Last visit to Lamu: Jul 2005
  • Intro Updated Aug 16, 2007
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