In the extreme north are the intriguing islands of Lamu, which make for a fascinating excursion into the old Swahili way of life. Here visitors can experience the coast's cultural heritage at its most evocative and it is often said that Lamu is similar to how Zanzibar in Tanzania was 30 years ago, before the onset of mass tourism.
Lamu Old Town, known locally as Mkomani, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 for its cultural importance and for being the oldest, best-preserved and still-functioning Swahili settlement on the East African coast. And yet, it is one of the most cosmopolitan few square miles of Kenya, where you are as likely to bump into stockbrokers from Wall Street and Hugh Grant lookalikes from London as you are Aussie backpackers.
In Lamu town, Shela and the small settlements on the other islands, the alleyways are barely wide enough to pass an oncoming donkey, and the whitewashed walls and Arabic arches contribute to some of the most elegant architecture on the continent. Without the sounds of traffic, the atmosphere is pleasantly peaceful interrupted only by the low rumblings of electric juicers in the waterfront cafés and the infectious chatter of Kiswahili. The evenings are enchanting, when the dimly lit alleyways are full of warm shadows and fragrant hues. The islands have some wonderful deserted beaches, very atmospheric places to stay and seafood to die for. Whilst embracing tourism, the people of Lamu want to retain the islands' mystic, religious sanctity and cloak of romance, and it should not be forgotten that they belong to another, older Africa. Lamu really is a paradise; it is so serene and beautiful that you are likely to want to stay forever.
Dhows make the short hop between islands. Manda Island is quite close to Lamu Island, Pate Island is about 20 km away, and Kiwayu Island is 50 km away.
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