Getting There & Away
Lamu can be reached by air from Nairobi, Mombasa, and Malindi. Air Kenya (tel. 042/463-3445; www.airkenya.com), Safarilink (www.safailink-kenya.com), and Fly540 (www.fly540.com) all have daily services. All flights land on Manda Island, just across the channel from Lamu; from the quaint and slightly surreal little airport, it's a short walk (with porters from your hotel waiting to carry your luggage) to the jetty, where a boat will be waiting to whisk you off to your hotel. Some of the flights also stop at Kiwayu's little airstrip, but this is happens only by demand.
If you choose to travel here by car or bus, it's around 3 hours from Malindi on variable roads. You arrive at the Mokowe jetty and wait for the ferry, which regularly transfers people to Lamu town; you can also arrange for your hotel to send a boat.
Part of the enormous charm on Lamu Island is the near-total absence of motorized transport. With the exception of two hospital vehicles (one of which is a tuk-tuk) and the District Commissioner's seldom-seen Jeep, only a few tractors and the odd motorbike account for any sort of land-going, engine-driven transport. For the most part, locals and visitors must rely on boats (wind-powered dhows being the more traditional choice), donkeys, and shank's pony. I don't personally recommend using a donkey, as these poor beasts are overburdened enough as it is -- they are, however, astoundingly tough. Walking around the villages is mandatory, while cruising between the islands by boat is part of the great adventure of being in Lamu in the first place. It can also be a source of great frustration, given the number of "local fishermen" willing to sell you all kinds of trips on their motorized dhows. Travel between the islands can be tide-dependent; although it's a 10-minute boat hop between Lamu and southern Manda, getting to Kiwayu is best achieved by private air charter (15 min.), by speedboat (100 min.), or, more romantically, by dhow, which may take 8 hours or more. Finally, as much as it sounds like an ecologically unfriendly activity, there is simply nothing to beat a scenic flight over the archipelago. Studying the patchwork of blue and green from the sky is mesmerizing. You fly for miles passing above nothing but water, mangroves, palm trees, and acacias, and in the water, occasional sandbars and sand islands dotted throughout the marblelike blue, green, and indigo water channels. Waves break over the reef banks farther out to sea, and dhows and fishing boats motor by -- then suddenly you're passing over white-and-green mosques, their minarets towering above the makuti roofs of tiny waterside fishing villages. Both Manda Bay and Majlis have their own light aircraft and can offer scenic flights, not to mention transfers between the islands.
Culturally, the most interesting time to visit Lamu is during Maulidi, a festival celebrating Mohammed's birth. Events range from donkey races to dhow sailing events and swimming competitions, but there are also literary performances and displays of traditional dance. The festival, which happens in the spring, draws religious pilgrims, so you should secure accommodation well in advance. A more recently introduced celebration, the Lamu Cultural Festival is held for 1 weekend in November. Information about both these festivals and Lamu can be found at http://lamuheritage.org, a fairly comprehensive website operated by Kenya's National Museums authority. If you're interested in the developments around Lamu's fragile marine ecology, check out postings on http://lamumarine.wildlifedirect.org. If you need cash, the KCB ATM directly opposite the main jetty in Lamu town accepts Visa and MasterCard credit cards, but you need to know that if electricity goes down, so will your chance to withdraw money; the same problem is likely if and when the machine runs out of cash.