6 Best Sights in Lamu, Kenya

Donkey Sanctuary

Mkomani Location

Donkeys are the main transport in Lamu. The sanctuary was started in 1987 by Elisabeth Svendsen, a British doctor who founded The Donkey Sanctuary in the UK. Its main function is to protect and look after the working donkeys, and it's managed by the Kenyan branch of the charity. There's a treatment clinic where locals can get their donkeys wormed, a training center, and a resting place for a few of the old animals that can no longer work. The staff will show you around in the mornings, otherwise you can eyeball a few donkeys over the low wall in front of the yard. An annual prize is given to the Lamu donkey in the best physical condition.

Waterfront, Lamu, Kenya
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Rate Includes: Donations accepted

Kiwayu Island

This strip of sand known as Kiwayu Island is 50 km (31 miles) northeast of Lamu. Its main attraction is its proximity to Kiunga Marine National Reserve, a marine park encompassing Kiwayu Bay. The confluence of two major ocean currents creates unique ecological conditions that nurture three marine habitats—mangroves, sea-grass beds, and coral reefs. Here you have a chance of catching a glimpse of the most endangered mammal in Kenya, the manatee; because of its tasty flesh, this gentle giant has been hunted to near extinction all along Africa's eastern coast.

Your lodge or hotel can arrange a trip for you; it's 90 minutes by speedboat and about $100. Stop by the laid-back, charming, owner-run Mike's Camp Kiwayu for a delicious lunch and even better cocktails. Ask Mike for the best spot to harvest and shuck rock oysters, or to find mud crabs in the mangrove.

Kiwayu Island, Lamu, Kenya
0714-333--916-Mike's Camp
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Rate Includes: Reservation required

Lamu Fort

This imposing edifice, which was completed in 1821, is set one street away from the seafront. It was used as a prison from 1910 to 1984, when it became part of the country's museum system. Today, it is a central part of the town as it hosts conferences, exhibitions, and theater productions. If you have a few moments during your walking tour, climb up to the battlements for some great views of Lamu, and pop into the vegetable and meat markets, which are just to the left of the fort. If you see a man pressing sugarcane, limes, and ginger to make juice, buy a glass—it's delicious. The entrance fee is a package and includes entry to Takwa, Pate, and Siyu Ruins, as well as Lamu Museum, Swahili House and the German Post Office. The latter was established in 1888 by the Germans and is now also a small museum on local history and is just across the street from the fort.

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Lamu Museum

You enter this delightful museum through a brass-studded door that was imported from Zanzibar. Inside there are archaeological displays showing the Takwa Ruins excavations, some wonderful photos of Lamu taken by a French photographer from 1846 to 1849 (you'll be amazed at how little has changed in Lamu), some intricately carved Lamu headboards and throne chairs, and a library. In the Balcony Room upstairs is a fascinating display of musical instruments including the famed Siwa Horn, which is made of brass and resembles elephant tusks; the Pate Siwa horn, made of ivory, is now in the Nairobi National Museum. Dating from the 17th century, they're reputed to be the oldest surviving musical instruments in sub-Saharan Africa.

Manda Island

Just across the channel from Shela, the mostly uninhabited Manda Island once held one of the area's largest cities. The once-thriving community of Takwa was abandoned in the 17th century, and archaeologists have yet to discover why. The ruins can be explored and the Friday Mosque with a large pillar on top is among the most notable features. Reached by taking a dhow up a baobab tree-lined creek, this is a popular day trip from Lamu and Shela, perhaps with a picnic.

Swahili House Museum

This beautifully restored 18th-century Swahili merchant's house has original period furniture, and is a great depiction of a traditional Swahili house, and gives insight into how people lived back then. Notice the traditional beds with woven bases of rope, and the finely carved Kalinda screen in the main room. There's a garden full of flowering tropical shrubs and trees and the original well.