There are numerous sights in and around Lamu worth exploring. The architecture of the houses and buildings is especially unique. Most buildings date back to the 18th century or before and are constructed out of local materials including coral-rag blocks for the walls, wooden floors supported by mangrove poles, makuti roofs, and intricately carved shutters for windows. The villages of Shela and Matondoni, Lamu Fort, the Swahili House Museum, and the Donkey Sanctuary should also be included on every traveler’s itinerary.
Lamu - Swahili House Museum
Lamu's Swahili House Museum is a renovated example of an 18th C Swahili house. The interior of the house features cookware, beds and other furniture that allow a glimpse of a classic working Swahili home. The ceremonial deathbed on display is where deceased family members would lay before burial. An echo chamber is another part of the house. This is where women could greet visitors when men were not around, without being seen. Close family members and friends were the only people to access the central courtyard. It was used for daytime activities such as washing. The kitchen, located on the second floor, has a large wooden pestle and mortar, a pasta maker, a water boiler and a flour-grinding stone on display as well as other common kitchen instruments.
Shela Beach is a dune-backed beach that runs for 12km along the headland. It is a 40-minute walk or 10 minute trip by dhow from Lamu. Located at the start of the beach is a mock fort built by an Italian entrepreneur. Shela is in the channel between Lamu and Manda Island, a perfect spot for windsurfing, sailing and water skiing.
Manda Beach is located on Manda Island, about a 20-minute dhow ride from Lamu. It is smaller and less busy but still excellent for snorkelling, swimming, and sunbathing. Manda Island provides the backdrop of mangrove forest, baobab tress and a variety of animals for a walking safari.
Since donkeys are the main method of transport in Lamu, the Donkey Sanctuary was started provide treatment for working donkeys. Located in northern Lamu, near the waterfront hosting, an estimated 2,200 donkeys used for agriculture as well as to carry household provisions and building materials can be seen here. Regular treatment clinics have been established, including a worming program every six months that are offered free of charge. Courses and training are offered including harnessing and donkey care. Local donkeys that have been injured are also brought to the stable for rehabilitation and rest.
Animal welfare is promoted with an annual donkey competition that gives a prize for the donkey in the best condition.
German Postal Museum
Originally built as a private residence in the late 1800's, it was later converted and used as the first German Post Office in East Africa, briefly from 1888 to 1891. Lamu was a major seaport with well-established links to the outside world. The building was restored and now houses a museum with photographic exhibits and memorabilia showing the long historical relationship between Germany and Kenya. It also depicts early industrial development through the form of communication via postal services in Kenya.
Located in the northeast of the Lamu archipelago and is a part of the Kiunga Marine National Reserve. Many visitors to the island come to snorkel on the coral reefs, on the eastern side of the island The Dodori and Boni Game Reserves are off to the west of island. These wild areas protect the fauna and flora of eastern Kenya. The animals found on the reserves are often migratory such as elephant and buffalo. The permanent residents are lion, cheetah, serval, caracal, lesser kudu, monkeys and the rare African hunting dog. Kiwayu has gained a reputation as a retreat for the rich and famous but that is within a luxury resort found at the far end of the island.
Paté is the largest of the Lamu islands with a number of historical sites. Paté was originally settled in the 7th C by an Arabic colony. The island is surrounded by mangrove swamp and can only be reached at high tide.
There are many ruins on Paté Island but the most spectacular is the fort at Siyu. Other highlights include overgrown tombs and ruined mosques. Paté town is an interesting maze of winding alleys and three-story homes. Founded in the 9th C, Paté became a center of trade and learning. The outskirts of town are outlined by a set of ruined medieval walls belonging to Nabahani. Tobacco has been planted among the ruins but houses, mosques and tombs are visible. Even though Nabahani has not yet been excavated, pottery and household objects can be seen in the interiors of many of the buildings. Faza is another settlement that should not be missed. The town was destroyed in 1587 and later resettled.
Located in the island's main square. The Sultan of Oman reportedly commenced construction of this imposing structure in 1813. Upon its completion in 1821 the fort served as a garrison for Baluchi soldiers sent by the Sultan of Oman. Its protective presence encouraged new development around it and some Lamu merchants erected shop front and buildings. Lamu Fort served as a prison from 1910 to 1984 for the British colonial regime and the Kenyan government. After a complete restoration, the Fort now houses the Lamu branch of the Department of Coastal Archaeology, the Lamu Old Town Conservation Office and the Public Library.
The Lamu Museum is on the waterfront, housed in a building once occupied by Jack Haggard, Queen Victoria's consul in this outpost. Displays on Swahili culture include a reconstructed Swahili house and relics from Takwa. Other exhibits include Lamu's nautical history, the Maulid Festival and tribes that lived along this part of the coast, including the Boni who were legendary elephant hunters. The nautical section of the Lamu museum features a variety of dhows
. Ceremonial horns, or siwa, are an important part of the collection. The Lamu siwa is made from engraved brass but the siwa from Paté was carved from a single elephant tusk.
The Takwa Ruins
The Takwa ruins on Manda Island was a flourishing town in the 16th and 17th C. It was abandoned in haste and no one knows why. Proof of its existence lie in the houses, mosque, pillar tomb and a city wall.
Jamaa Mosque is the largest surviving structure, with a large pillar on top the qibla wall. It is among the most notable features, although the significance of the pillar is not known, some believe there is a Sheikh buried below the wall.
It appears that Takwa was a holy city, as all doors faced Mecca. Some residents of Shela, who believe they are descendants of Takwa, still visit the ruins to pray.
Shanga was a large Swahili town approximately 1000 years old, occupied between the 8th and 14th C. Located on the south coast of Paté Island; Shanga is best visited with a guide as the undergrowth inhibits many travellers. The Shanga Ruins contain the remains of coral walls, two palaces, three mosques and a cemetery outside the walls with hundreds of tombs. A white pillar tomb is one of the first remains to be seen but the large Friday mosque and another mosque near the sea are also quite obvious. Local legend says that the town was settled by Chinese traders from Shanghai thus the name of Shanga. Chinese pottery has been found among the ruins to support this story.