Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lamu in Kenya - Kenya beach and Cultural Tour in Lamu:

Kenya beach and Cultural Tour in Lamu

Travelers to Lamu can expect a cultural tour and experience from a town rich in culture and heritage. Lamu consists of seven islands and numerous islets. Pate Island, Manda Island and Lamu Island are the largest of the Islands. Smaller islands include Kiwayu Island and Manda Toto. The largest town in the Lamu archipelago is Lamu town. Lamu town is a historic town with a rich history and feel.

As Kenya’s most archaic living town it has reserved all the charisma, allure and spirit accumulated over centuries of hosting various colonisers from Portuguese to Arabs. The holiday beach on Lamu Island is 12 kilometres of immaculate sands stretching out towards the Indian Ocean. Dense mangrove forests make the perimeter of mainland Lamu and the inland sides of the islands. The seaward sides are fringed by reefs and lined with dunes. Lamu is detached from the mainland at its narrowest part by a channel just a few metres wide. All over Lamu there are various historical sites that bear testament to the centuries of rich and fascinating existence that Lamu has enjoyed.

Most settlements in Lamu started as petite trading centres that gradually expanded. By the 16th Century, Lamu was a flourishing port exporting spices, slaves, lumber and ivory.

Most of present day Lamu was built during the rule of the Omani Arabs but the British began taking interest in the late 19th century. In 1895 the British East Africa Protectorate was established until Kenya gained independent in 1963. However, it is an Afro-Arab culture that emerged out of Lamu’s exposure to different occupiers. That culture known as Swahili culture is conspicuous today and Kiswahili is the Lingua franca of East and Central Africa. Lamu architecture has Arab, Portuguese, British and African influence. Lamu buildings have elaborately carved and brass furnished doors, open verandas and interior courtyards open to the sky which guarantee cover and tranquil against the tropical sun. It’s common to find open rooftops that are used as terraces where the family and guests can lay back and relax. Fort Jesus is located in Lamu town. The Fort was once converted into a prison but it’s currently a national cultural Monument protected by the Kenyan Government. This unique architecture has resulted in Lamu being declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Lamu also has a Museum facing the oceanfront. The museum has an assortment of Swahili culture artefacts, furniture, utensils, jewellery and crafts. The prides of the collection are the Siwa, which are ceremonial horns. One belonged to a past Sultan of Pate Island, an island in the Archipelago and it’s made of Ivory. The other is from Lamu itself. Lamu being a maritime society the museum hosts a set of sea going vessels and there is a fantastic model of a rope sewn vessel known as mtepe.

It is often said that the pathways of Lamu are so constricted that one can shake hands with the neighbour of the house opposite the street. Lamu is a blasé town that continues with its activities as it has done for centuries. Njia Kuu is the main street in Lamu and is lined with children waving frantically and playing and all sorts of businesses from herbalists, grocers, fishmongers, restaurants and jewellers making silver laden ornaments. A 40-minute walk from the town (or 15 minutes by motor boat) brings you to the sleepy village of Shela. Shela village is a network of narrow sandy lanes where the only approaching traffic you are likely to meet is a donkey. This is where 12 kilometres of holiday beach begins and the complications of every day life are abandoned.

To sail the archipelago is to discover. The archipelago contains several archaeological/historical sites of great significance, such as Takwa and Manda Town both on Manda Island and Shanga on Pate Island. The Lamu archipelago islands are reputed to be one of the westernmost ports of call of the great Chinese fleet of Zheng He, or even to be the resting place of a wreck of one of his ships. Chinese pottery has been found among the ruins in Shanga to support this story.

For deserted and secluded island enthusiasts there are isolated beach hideaway at Kiwayu Island and Manda Island which are the ultimate ‘get away from it all’. From these paradise islands it is possible to visit the wildlife sanctuary at Dodori or the striking Kiunga Marine National Reserve. If that is still not enough you can visit Lamu for the Lamu cultural festival.

The accommodation available in Lamu includes;
Kijani House Hotel – This hotel is constructed in Swahili architecture style off the waterfront of Shela village. The lovely hotel has a tropical garden feel because of the pathway into the hotel compound that is lined with frangipani and bougainvillea flowers. Once within the compound there are two aquamarine pools blushing under the shade of Kunazi trees and palm trees. The hotel was restored from the ruins of three Swahili homes and it took a decade of careful reconstruction with traditional material to complete the retreat. There are10 spacious en suite rooms decorated with antiques, each with a canopied Swahili bed, and each with a private portico under the canopy of leafy trees. The cuisine offered in Kijani restaurant is traditional Swahili cuisine and Italian cuisine complimented tropical fruits and vintage cellar wines from Chile, South Africa and Italy. Kijani is closed during the off peak season in May and June.

Peponi Hotel - This resort is located on the periphery of Shela Village, 2km from Lamu Town and at the start of the stunning 12 km deserted beach. The hotel has 24 large ensuite rooms’ high Lamu style beds and safes. This hotel has been a landmark in Lamu for as long as the Islands popularity blossomed. The sea view from the rooms can be standard or superior depending on the room a guest may choose to have. There is a fresh-water free-form swimming pool, situated under two Baobab Trees overlooking the ocean. Water skiing, deep sea diving, Dhows trips around Lamu Island, scuba diving, full moon cruise with drinks, wine and lobster dinner and trips to archaic ruined forts to Takwa Ruins of Manda Islands are all activities that can be arranged for a guest by the hotel.

Kipungani Bay Hotel – This is resort is well-situated to all that Lamu Island has to offer. The Hotel has 15 en suite rooms each with a balcony/terrace. Various types of drinks are served in the cocktail lounge after meals in the restaurants that serve finger-licking international cuisine. There’s an outdoor pool where one can relax under the sun while sipping a cocktail or whatever drink. This dainty resort is only 10 km (6 miles) away from Lamu Island International Airport and is ideal for both business and leisure.

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