The greatness of a culture can be found in its festivals and a people’s way of life and culture comes to life in a festival. Well, that’s true of the several festivals that Kenya host. The Lamu Cultural Festival is held annually in November bringing together both local and international tourist as well as Corporates’ that are mainly sponsors of the four day event that culminates with the famous dhow race. There are lots of activities that take place in this spectacular event. Right from the airport you are ushered to an atmosphere full of fun and excitement, it’s amazing how the people are warm and hospitable the heat notwithstanding. The endless Ocean coupled by slow moving waves and the sight of Lamu main land from the jetty at Manda Airport marks the beginning of our three day tour into this historic and World UNESCO Heritage site of Lamu.
Our flight from Nairobi to Lamu via Mombasa felt like the longest two hour flight I have taken. Not because it’s that long…. really, it can’t be longer than Nairobi-New York route, but the anxious me could not wait to get to this famous coastal town. Anyway I deviate.
We touch down Mombasa at around 10:30am and after a 10 minutes stop over we are back on air, 45 minutes away from Lamu. I was lucky to have a window seat, the view was beautiful to say the least, the pilot informs us of the many feet above sea level we shall be flying at which is as routine of pilots. (Will blog about it some day). Well, the view from above illuminates the infrastructure that on going, there is the mangrove forest that presents itself into patches of green and there is the Indian Ocean blue, each seemingly dancing to each other’s music. At take-off from Mombasa one can see the Standard Gauge Railway skirting her way along the road, (I need to actually take this train, though I am still nostalgic about the lunatic). 45 minutes later we arrive Manda airport which as expected is a beehive of activities. Our guide for the weekend Turn up Travel, were at hand to commence the party.
We check into our respective houses, and hotels and have lunch at Waridi House. I was staying at the Msafini Hotel a relatively nice budget hotel that’s clean, has a roof top restaurant; The Mango restaurant where one can enjoy meals ordered from the hotel with a view of the ocean on the left and the Shela village on the right. The hotel also has an in-house yoga instructor, and a swimming pool where one cool off from the hot sun. Being a solo traveler on this trip I opted to have some solo time away from the group and left for a trip into the mainland.
The Mainland –Things to do in Lamu
The main street along the ocean is dawned with activities. There are traditional dancers in just about every corner of the festival revealing culture with an atmosphere of fun and excitement. At the main jetty there are young boys enjoying a swim from one jetty to another. There are groups of locals all enjoying the various activities of the day. Meanwhile several sponsors of the event that include banks, airline, NGO’s, and tour firms have erected their tents along the main street ready to offer information and hopefully create some awareness on who they or probably make a sale or two.
Budget Activities during the Festival
Visit the Museum
Top on my list was to visit the Museum, its one place I get to learn about a people’s way of life. If you are fascinated by historic artifacts, as well as edutainment then the museum is your place. This will cost you Kshs. 100 if you’re Kenyan making it an ideal budget activity to undertake on this island. There is so much to learn, I got to learn about the famous Lamu doors, the culture of the Boni People, Orma,’s Pokomo’s and by the time I left the museum, my curator had me completely immersed in the Swahili culture.
Sample Swahili food: My visit would not be worth without sampling some Swahili food. There are women with various Swahili snacks from viazi vya karai, kashata, Mkate wa Nyama which is a Swahili pizza, there are also all types of fresh juices. I sampled the tamarind juice, I must say it was quite refreshing considering the amount of heat and humidity in this historic town. There are restaurant along the main street facing the ocean. I choose to sample the Mangrove Restaurant just a few meters past Equity Bank.
Get yourself a Swahili memento: I had to get myself at least one souvenir from Lamu. The locals weave very lovely baskets, hats, beautifully decorated floor mats, table mats among others. There are also lovely sandals made from leather similar to what we have at the Maasai Market.
Heena Art: This is part of the Swahili heritage, right at the main entry jetty there were several women who for as little as Kshs. 200/- you would get some henna art on your hands or feet. I preferred one on my right foot.
Tour the Town: Walk along the narrow streets and be fascinated by architecture that dates back to the 1400’s. There are only donkeys in the town and doing your tour you are bound to encounter several of them. From the streets one can easily see the the town buildings, narrow streets that characterize the town.
Watch the Dhow race: This is the highlight of the entire cultural event. You can opt to watch the race from the jetty, however I would recommend one to take a boat and follow the race.
This is a community affair, the entire population or at least a majority of the community are out to watch and support their favorite dhow. The air is full of excitement, making it the most memorable activity of the festival. The ocean is more of a parking lot of all kinds of boats all spectating. It’s a must attend.
Enjoy Cultural Dances from various groups & Tribes
Dance is a way of life for a majority of communities in Kenya. The Lamu Festival showcased various traditional dances across the day.
Lamu is safe, it is magical, and the people are very friendly. It’s one of the places that I intend to revisit. The cultural festival is a good place to start. The town is also host to other events within the year.
This historic Island is the land of festivals. There is the Yoga Festival, The Food Festival where foodies can sample and indulge in all things Swahili foods then there is the Art Festival as well as the Maulid festival. All these festivals depict an aspect of Lamu and her people.
If you are on a budget, no need to worry, there are plenty of budget accommodations within the mainland and Shela. Traveling as a group will also be ideal for the budget traveler as one can share cost. Meals are relatively cheap thus making your trip memorable yet on a budget. There are several cheap flights that fly Nairobi to Lamu direct, as well from Malindi and Mombasa.
Alternatively you can talk to Turn-up Travel they will make your trip memorable not to mention they can throw very fun packed parties !