Lamu County is located on the Indian Ocean along the northern coast of Kenya. Unlike its neighboring counties, Lamu had managed to remain isolated from modern technology and the Western world until shipping and the wave of tourism brought a resurgence to its economy in the 1960s.
Today, most travelers get lost in cultural shock as they step into the Lamu Island. There are no cars here; the main mode of transport is donkeys and they and their droppings are everywhere. The most-visited area is the archipelago of islands, which lie between Lamu in the south and Kiunga in the north. Most of the streets of Lamu are eight feet wide or less making them impassable for motor vehicles.
There are over 160 historic houses clustered in Stone town, all built to the same traditional design, with a central courtyard surrounded by long narrow galleries and a flat open roof, sometimes shaded by a palm- frond thatch shelter. These stone houses are the best legacy of Swahili architecture.
There are plenty of local boatmen to take you fishing or sailing on a show around the other islands. But the best way to spend your days in Lamu is to wander through its back streets, or simply sit on a rooftop or in the main square by the old fort, watching the world go by.
Highlights & Key Facts of Lamu
- Lamu is a dominant cultural center reputable for its historic past and traditional socio-cultural traditions. Today visitors can enjoy some of this culture at Lamu Museum: known for its exquisite Swahili ethnography exhibits, Lamu Fort: built in 1814 by Bwana Zeid Ngumi the last Sultan of Lamu, Swahili House: a restored 18th-century house, reflecting the life of privileged Lamu Swahilis. German Post Office: showing the post office when it was operational in the late 19-20th Century and Yumbe the former house of a Lamu Sultan.
- Lamu Old Town was inscribed as a world heritage site by UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in December 2001. It was described as the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa, retaining its traditional functions.
- As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lamu was once the most important international trade center in East Africa — as is evidenced by the Arab, Indian, Persian and European influences in the local architecture.
- The largest of the islands in Lamu County is Pate Island, Manda Island and Lamu Island. Smaller islands include Kiwayu, which lies in the Kiunga Marine National Reserve, and Manda Toto.
- Lamu has a land surface area of 6,474.7 Km2 that includes the mainland and over 65 Islands that forms the Lamu Archipelago. The total length of the coastline is 130 km while land water mass area stands at 308km.