Located in the Indian Ocean just off the east coast of Kenya, this tropical island is quiet and peaceful with a laid-back atmosphere. Established in the 14th century, the largest town is Lamu Town, described by the World Heritage List as “the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa.” Here travelers will find distinguishing architecture, carved doors, narrow streets, several mosques and bui bui clad women. Automobiles are not allowed on the island, so expect to travel the old-fashioned way – on foot. Donkeys can also be hired for transportation, but dhows are the most common ways of getting around. These boats of Arabian origin are widely used on the East African Coast and there are about 250 between the mainland and the archipelago. Dhow safaris frequently carry paying passengers back and forth from Lamu town to Shela Village and can be used to access the neighboring islands of Manda, Siyu, Pate and Kiwayu.
PLAN YOUR TRIP SHELA SLEEPS: Stay at the family-owned Peponi Hotel. Swim in the pool that was built around ruins or explore the dunes on the eight-mile stretch of beach just steps away. This house-turned-hotel has a restaurant that features Swahili cuisine. Rates from $230, including breakfast. www.peponi-lamu.com
Or, stay at the Kijani House Hotel. The hotel is nestled in tropical gardens, and each of its 10 rooms has a private balcony or veranda. Rates from $150. www.kijani-house.com
ANCIENT TRANSPORT: Explore the waters and surrounding islands of Lamu by dhow. Peponi Hotel management can make all arrangements; or better yet, sail on the Jah Love itself. Call Yusef on his cell phone: 011-254-072-391-8316. Prices start at $75 for Yusef’s private charter; prices average $100 for arrangements made through the Peponi.