Every self-respecting adventurer must do an African safari at least once. While it is a quintessential travel experience, it’s also pretty tough on the body and the mind. So, if you’re wrapping up a safari in Kenya, we recommend you tack on a few days on gorgeous Lamu archipelago in the Indian Ocean – a perfect antidote to the thrill-packed bush experience.
Once a major player on the Arabian trade routes, the islands of Lamu have turned into an off-the-radar travel destination and a secret celebrity hideout. It’s quite common to see Hollywood stars and random royalty wandering around Lamu Town, East Africa’s oldest and best preserved “living” Swahili settlement, protected as a World Heritage Site. Many of the rich and famous own homes in nearby Shela village, a prime locale for those who prefer not to be found.
Thanks to two recently opened luxury beach hotels, mere mortals can also have their share of this island paradise with its signature mix of African and Arab flair.
The Majlis is a family-run beachfront retreat on idyllic Manda Island, blending contemporary and traditional architecture. The 25 rooms and public spaces inside three villas (each with its own pool) showcase handcrafted furniture and a rich art collection, including paintings by Julian Schnabel who stayed here in 2005. Through the end of 2011, rooms start at $828 per night for a deluxe double, which includes three meals per day (drinks are extra), Internet, and airport transfers. These intro rates will go up slightly in 2012 but they will include a sundowner sailing on a traditional dhow boat.
The other new hotel, on Lamu Island across the way, is Red Pepper House (pictured above), an intimate hideaway housed inside a former vacation home of a Spanish family. Each of the five Swahili-styled rooms and suites features its own mangrove garden opening up to the white-sand beach that fronts the property. All-inclusive rates start at $635 per person, per night, covering all meals and most beverages as well as a variety of excursions and activities, services of a private butler, and roundtrip transfers from the airstrip on Manda Island. Don’t miss a visit to the orphanage behind the hotel, which Red Pepper House supports.
No matter where you choose to stay on these car-free islands, the hectic pace of jeep-based safaris soothes down with Lamu’s “pole, pole” (slowly, slowly, in Swahili) mantra. So before getting back on the plane for the long-haul journey back home, hop aboard a short flight from Nairobi to Lamu first. Several scheduled planes ply this route daily; flight time is between 1:15 hours and 2 hours.
To create the perfect package without having to do any legwork, have a reputable U.S.-based tour operators book the Lamu extension. We highly recommend Travel Beyond, which works closely with ground operators and ensures high quality as well as direct benefit of tourism dollars to the local communities.
For general trip-planning information, see our Kenya Travel Guide.