Ins and outs


Getting there

Air Kenya
,
Fly 540
,
Kenya Airways
, and
Mombasa Air Safaris
have flights to the
Manda Island airstrip
, www.kenyaairports.com
. Flying to Lamu is a fantastic way to get a handle on the geography of Kenya's coast: tarmacked roads become dirt tracks criss-crossing each other and leading to tiny rural settlements shrouded in palmy forest, sand spits stretch tentacles out into the blue Indian Ocean, and after less than an hour the island of Lamu comes into view. Planes land on the airstrip on Manda Island, just to the north. This is a delightfully simple airport with just a few benches set under
makuti
thatch for waiting passengers and a hand-drawn luggage trolley that takes bags down to the waiting boats to take you across the Lamu Channel. Some of the more expensive hotels will ferry you and your luggage over from the airstrip, otherwise there is always the motorized ferry and
dhows
to meet the planes at the jetty that will take you across for a few shillings.

The road to Lamu is tarmac to Malindi, a rough track to Garsen then a further 20 km of tarmac after which there is a good graded coral and sand section to Mokowe. Buses to Lamu go fairly regularly but the route is popular so you should book in advance. The trip takes about four to five hours from Malindi. They leave in the morning and will have come from Mombasa first with departures approximately two hours earlier. If possible sit on the left side of the bus (in the shade) and keep your eyes open for wildlife. In previous years, these buses have been targeted by armed robbers, and consequently armed guards ride on the bus for the last few kilometres to Lamu. However, there hasn't been an incident for a number of years and the buses are regarded as safe these days. The bus will take you as far as the jetty at Mokowe on the mainland from where you get a ferry, about 7 km, taking about 40 minutes, across to Lamu. All the bus companies put their passengers on the same boat and there's plenty of help with your luggage. The bus trip to and from Lamu is long, so ensure you have enough water, although every time the buses stop in the tiny settlements along the way, hawkers are waiting to throw hands through the windows with drinks, bananas and other snacks. If you are in your own vehicle it is also possible to park it up at the Mokowe jetty, which is effectively Lamu's nearest car park, but you will have to pay an
askari
to look after your car.

Getting around

There are no vehicles on the island except for the District Commissioner's Land Rover, a tractor owned by the town council and an ambulance at the hospital, and on Manda Island there's a fire engine at the airstrip. Donkeys,
dhows
and bicycles dominate and everywhere is walkable. The two main thoroughfares in Lamu town are the waterfront, also known as Kenyatta Road, and the Main Street, which is one block back from the waterfront, also known as Harambee Avenue. The maze of streets mean that it is easy to get lost; just bear in mind that Harambee Avenue runs parallel to the waterfront and the all the streets leading into town from the shore slope uphill slightly.

Safety

Safety is not a major problem in Lamu, however, there have been a number of incidents over the last few years. Avoid walking around alone after dark in secluded areas of town and don't go to remote parts of the island unless you are with a group. On the beach, stay within shouting distance of other people. The increase in tourism has led to an inevitable rise in the number of touts or 'beach boys'. If they accompany you to your hotel, a substantial 'commission' will be added to your daily rate. To avoid using their services, try and be firm with them that you don't want their services or carry your own bags to a waterfront restaurant first, have a drink and look for accommodation later. You will have no problem finding a room. Also be aware that while the presence of touts can be annoying and they can be pretty persistent, they also elicit some aggressive attitudes in some visitors, which does not always bode so well among the local people. In short, some travellers complain bitterly about them, while others actually make firm friends and enjoy their additional helpful local knowledge and services (
dhow
trips for example). It's just a case of your personal attitude and patience on how to deal with the touts.

Tourist office

Lamu Tourist Information Centre
 and the
Lamu Tour Guides Association
. Both have friendly staff, and can organize walking tours of the town and
dhow
trips to islands. A three-hour walking tour of the town is also available.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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