If the east coast of Africa with its colourful history and powder-sand beaches has always appealed, you can’t get much better than Lamu. Zanzibar’s smaller sibling lies adjacent to littoral Kenya and is one of the best-preserved snapshots of Swahili culture – a rich amalgamation of Afro-Arabic and Indo-European heritage – with an Old Town built entirely from coral stone and mangrove timber, complete with exquisitely carved wooden doors, courtyards and verandas.

Order Volume 19 While the town is perfect for mornings spent wandering the labyrinth of winding streets, the village of Shela is where you’ll want to base yourself. Attracting an arty, continental travel crew, traditional Swahili dwellings have been renovated into palatial holiday homes which stand proud among luscious palm fronds overlooking the water, beckoning visitors to return time and time again.

These are our favourite places to stay, eat, drink and play in Lamu. The best bit? There are no cars on the island, so you’ll have to do it all on foot, donkey, dhow or boat…


The Moon Houses

The Moon Houses consist of nine suites, ideally located within a short walk of the Shela jetty from where you can catch boat taxis and dhows to the airport, Lamu Town and neighbouring islands. With their beautifully manicured gardens blooming with magenta bougainvillea and scattered with Swahili plantation chairs, the residences are ideal if you want your own sanctuary but also the opportunity to mingle with other guests. Spacious rooms are tastefully decorated and finished with a keen eye for detail, complete with eco-friendly toiletries made on the island. A personal chef and steward will cook you up meals using the freshest local ingredients charged at cost price, meaning generous portions but a reasonable bill.  If you want to really indulge, book the Betty suite which has a private infinity pool.

Rooms from £140.

Baytil Ajaib

Baytil Ajab offers an oasis of calm in Lamu Old Town in the form of a restored Swahili residence with sweeping views of the rest of the archipelago from the roof terrace. Thick walls are built from coral stone, marble dust and lime, with rooms decorated with original “zidakas”, quintessential Swahili wall niches and intricately carved murals. Each floor wraps around an open courtyard lined with foliage from palm trees and tropical plumerias which bring in regular visits from colourful bird and butterfly species, alongside harmonious arrangements of global artefacts and modern objet d’art. The passion invested in the sensitive restoration of Baytil Ajaib by hoteliers Norbert and Malik is palatable, and if you are lucky enough to have either of them in residence when you stay, they’re sure to enlighten you about this history of both Lamu and the house itself.

Rooms from £90.

Ndoto House

This exclusive-use villa is ideal for those travelling in a group. The regal homestead is decorated in traditional but toned down interiors, with four expansive double rooms looking out over adjacent islands – perfect for admiring the procession of dhows across the estuary and revelling in the tranquility of the archipelago. It’s not hard to see why it’s become a firm favourite among world-renowned African tribology and culture practitioners who use it as a home away from home.

Villa hire from £450.

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Kizingo Lodge

This eco-lodge has six irresistibly isolated beach-front bandas (thatched bungalows) at the southern tip of Shela beach. It’s perfect for those who are content in visiting the hustle and bustle of Lamu town or trendy Shela village or one-off day trips, but are more inclined towards a secluded holiday submersed in nature. If your idea of East Africa is simplicity and sleeping under a large mosquito net, this is the perfect antidote to 21st-century living.

Conservation and sustainable tourism are top of Kizingo Lodge’s priorities (the bandas are all hand built using local materials, and the lodge is solar powered) so you can lounge in a hammock, swim with wild dolphins or travel to Lake Kenyatta to watch the hippos safe in the knowledge that you’re being eco-friendly. Visit between October and June when green turtles come up the beach to lay their eggs and you can take part in ensuring as many baby turtles make it to sea as possible.

Rooms from £140.

The Moon Houses

Baytil Ajaib

Kizingo Lodge

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