Sand Dunes in Lamu

Ivy Gathu
9 min readDec 30, 2019

Lamu Tamu

Swimming in The Majlis — Picture by Ivy Gathu

Last year, I wrote a list of places I would love to visit and experience and so far I have crossed off two places; Kikuletwa Springs in Tanzania and now Lamu in Kenya.

View from Peponi Hotel — Picture by Ivy Gathu

I started saving for my Lamu trip in January, each day I set aside a hundred bob. I then decided it would be a good idea to rope in my best friends, but we all know how group trips end up, people start dropping off like flies as the trip gets nearer. Thankfully, my mind was so set on visiting Lamu even if I had to do it alone, so when I noticed my girls flaking and not committing — I booked my flight and started looking for accommodation for one. Like any normal Millennial, I decided to post it online, and one of my best friends (who was to be on the trip) re-committed to joining me on the trip.

Swimming Dip in Waridi House —Picture by Ivy Gathu

Accommodation in Lamu

Then our search for affordable accommodation began.

The Lamu Archipelago has 5 islands which include; Lamu, Manda , Pate , Kiwayu and Manda Toto. Tourists mainly visit Lamu and Manda Island.

We opted to stay on Lamu Island in Shela Village. Airbnb had some really good accommodation options which ranged between KES 1,500 — KES 20,000 per night for both Lamu and Manda Island. Before my friend joined me on the trip, I had settled for a place on Manda Island which would have cost me KES 9,500 for 3 nights. My friend coming into the equation meant we had to settle for a new place — comfortable for both of us. We settled for Waridi House which cost us KES 10,500 per person for 3 nights. The house is located 6–7 minutes away from the beach. Beachfront accommodation in Lamu and Manda Island is expensive if you are travelling solo or in a pair.

I loved that from the rooftop of the house you could see a lot of trees — it made me feel like I was in Bali (throwing that into the universe).

Praying for the Bali Trip — Picture by Ivy Gathu

How to Get to Lamu

There are several travel options to get to Lamu;

  1. A direct flight from Nairobi to Lamu ( costs between KES 10,000 — KES 20,000 return ticket)
  2. A bus ride/train to Mombasa and then a flight to Lamu ( Costs between KES 6,000 –12,200 return) — * I went with this option
  3. A bus ride to Malindi and then a flight to Lamu ( Costs between KES 6,000– 8,000 return)
  4. Or a bus ride to Lamu County. *This is the cheapest travel option however the road to Lamu has bad roads and is not secure.

disclaimer: These prices are likely to change depending on the season.

Ass! Ass! Ass! — Picture by Ivy Gathu

Activities to do in Lamu

Before my trip, I felt like the universe was speaking to me (more like Google spying on me) because a lot of blogs and vlogs on what to do in Lamu started appearing on my timeline, which helped me curate my Lamu itinerary, which included:

Hike to the dunes

Footprints to Paradise — Sand Dunes — Picture by Ivy Gathu

The dunes are located on Lamu Island in Shela Village, this is what makes the beach here unique. The walk to the dunes from our house was quite an adventure. The caretaker of our house had directed us to climb a hill behind Fatuma’s Tower and that once up the hill we would see the dunes. So my friend and I embarked on a hike that we had not foreseen, once we were up the hill we did not see any dunes instead we got a scenic view of Shela Village.

Shela Village from the top of the hill — Picture by Ivy Gathu
Shela Village from the top of the hill — Picture by Ivy Gathu

We decided to stop and soak up the views and have a mini photo shoot, and then continued our search for the dunes. After what seemed like an eternity we got to finally see the dunes and the breathtaking view of the Indian Ocean.

View from on top of the dunes — Picture by Ivy Gathu

We later learned that we could access the dunes from the beach which is a short walk from Peponi Hotel(One of the best hotels in Lamu).

Views from Peponi Hotel — Picture by Ivy Gathu

Visit Lamu town

Lamu Town — Picture by Ivy Gathu

On our first day in a Lamu, we knew we wanted to experience the culture and the people of the Island. Luckily, we had come during the Lamu cultural festival — and the best place to experience this was in Lamu town. To get there from Shela Village we had to take a boat — which is the common mode of transportation in Lamu.

Entrance of Lamu Museum — Picture by Ivy Gathu
Front entrance of Lamu Fort — Picture by Ivy Gathu

Here we got the opportunity to visit both the Lamu Fort and Museum which cost us KES 100 each (this is the price for Kenyan Citizens). The museum had a balcony where we got a clear view of the Lamu cultural dances — we could not have picked a better time to travel to Lamu.

Lamu cultural festival celebrations outside the Museum — Picture by Ivy Gathu
A street in Lamu Town — Picture by Ivy Gathu

Lamu town compared to Shela Village is quite busy and less clean than Shela Village. The streets had open sewers, donkey poop, and plastic bottles in the ocean — not the Lamu they show you in the blogs.

Street to the beach in Shela Village —Picture by Ivy Gathu

Watch the Sunset on a Dhow

Captain Abu — picture by my best friend

I had seen so many vlogs which featured the sunset dhow cruise and there was no way I was going to miss out on this. Unfortunately, the sunset dhow is not cost-effective if you are only two travellers unless you are rolling in dough..lol! So we nearly missed out on this because it would have cost us between KES 4,000 — KES 5,000 for two people, which was above our budget. Luckily, Captain Abu who had been taking us around the Islands decided to take us on the cruise at a special rate. I am an avid sunset chaser and the sun setting in when you are in the ocean between two islands hits differently.

Cue in Orange coloured Sky by Nat King Cole —Picture by Ivy Gathu

Dance, Swim and Eat on Manda Island

Lavish villas on Manda Island — Picture by Ivy Gathu

The island is directly opposite Shela Village and it is the first island you interact with once you land in Lamu County. From Shela Village, you can see the lavish beach plots owned mainly by foreigners

Majority of beach plots in Lamu Island are owned by foreigners.

This is the life — Picture by Ivy Gathu

One of the most expensive hotels — The Majlis Resort is found on this island. The hotel managers were kind enough to give us a tour and allowed us to swim at a reasonable fee- it usually costs KES 800, but feel free to negotiate.

Our Pizza posing for the Gram — Picture by Ivy Gathu

We also got to eat the best pizza on the island at Diamond Beach Village which was highly recommended by several tourists.

‘The pizza in Diamond Beach Village is better than pizza in Italy.’ -A tourist we met

To be quite honest the pizza was amazing — I can’t wait to visit Italy and compare the two.

The following night, we decided to go dancing in Diamond Beach Village which was hosting a party — the DJ was playing some jazzy tunes. My biggest regret that night was not dancing because I was busy worrying about how we would get back to Shela Village at night, not many boats operate at night and the ones that do cost around KES 1,000 per person. Fortunately, we got a boat to Shela Village but it was not a pleasant experience because some beach boys who happened to be on the same boat as us started harassing us — travelling as a woman is an extreme sport. Once we safely got to our side of the Island we gave the boat captain a piece of our mind.

If you cannot afford the sunset dhow cruise you can catch the sunset on Manda Island which is just as spectacular.

Peeking at God’s Perfection on Manda Island— Picture by Ivy Gathu

Boat ride to the Mangroves

Mangroves — Picture by Ivy Gathu

We nearly crossed this off our list, but Captain Abu made sure we did not miss out on seeing the mangroves. On our way there we stopped to catch a glimpse of the dhow race courtesy of the Lamu cultural festival — the winners of the race were locals from Pate Island.

The Lone House on the Mangroves — Picture by Ivy Gathu

We got to see the only house built on the mangroves — Captain Abu explained to us that the person was able to build their home on a small section of dry land next to the mangroves — the house however does not have access to fresh water and I am not sure how their electricity is supplied.

Stone mining — Picture by Ivy Gathu

Captain Abu also took us to a place on Manda Island where the locals mine stones used for building houses in Lamu.

Drink and Swim in the Floating Bar

Floating bar — Picture by Ivy Gathu

Yes! Lamu has a bar. I thought there would be no bars or alcohol on the Island because it is a predominantly Muslim town. However, you can find reasonably priced alcohol in the floating bar and other hotel establishments.

At the bar, we got the opportunity to have a drink and swim in the middle of the ocean. Captain Abu had already explained to us that the water between the Islands did not have dangerous sea creatures such as sharks so we jumped into the ocean (around 23 meters deep) — our goal was to fully enjoy Lamu with no regrets. It was amazing to share the experience with one of my best friends who was the perfect travel buddy.

Living life — Picture by My best friend

We did not go to the floating bar at night because we did not want to be disturbed by beach boys who can be very persistent. Captain Abu had mentioned that most of them are usually high on brown sugar also known as heroin which is a big issue among the Lamu youth.

Swimming pool at the Majlis Resort — Picture by Ivy Gathu

Experiencing Lamu was a dream come true for me, from the minute I landed I knew I would be back — hopefully, visit the Takwa ruins, and Pate Island and explore more of Lamu town.

Lamu is the perfect place to disconnect from the world and just enjoy Mother Nature's beauty. It is surprising to imagine the government wants to develop a coal plant in the county.

My milkshake brings all the boats to the yard…. — Picture by Ivy Gathu

My total expenditure for the trip was KES 31,417 — inclusive of refreshments and tips, Uber transfers, flights, accommodation and boat rides across islands . From the moment you set foot into Lamu be prepared to tip the porters who will help you carry your luggage to the boats.

Waridi house contacts — +254 722994974

Captain Abu contacts — +254 729476695

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Ivy Gathu

Words inspired by my feelings on life, gender, sexual reproductive rights, mental health, youth 🤓