Lamu Island is a part of Kenya's Lamu Archipelago, situated just off the mainland about 200 miles north of Mombasa. The island essentially comprises of two settlements: Shela village, in the south east corner, where Deuli House is located; and Lamu town a couple of miles north, which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001.
In modern times, the Lamu archipelago's mix of Arab architecture, Chinese and Indian culture and superb artistry (silversmiths and wood carvers proliferate) has proved dreamy to travellers since hippies hailed Lamu as Africa’s Kathmandu in the 1960s. And it still attracts curious travellers rather than flag-following sightseers; remoteness being a draw rather than a hindrance. The archipelago's three largest islands are the sandy isthmus of Lamu itself, the coralline island of Manda (directly opposite Lamu's east coast) and the biggest but least-known, mysterious Pate, which is only accessible at high tide. Resolutely traditional and almost entirely Muslim, there’s nowhere more authentically Swahili along this stretch of Indian Ocean shoreline.
To understand the blend of cultures and styles that help make the area so attractive to 'off the beaten track' travellers today, you have to go back to its distant past when a port was founded on Lamu Island by Arab traders at least as early as the 14th century. The following century, the Portuguese invaded Lamu and controlled trade along the coast until ousted by Lamu with the assistance of Oman in 1652. Lamu's years as an Omani protectorate from the late 17th century to the early 19th century mark the town's golden age, governed as a republic under a council of elders known as the Yumbe who ruled from a palace in Lamu town; little exists of the palace today other than a ruined plot of land. During this period, Lamu became a centre of poetry, politics, arts and crafts as well as trade. Many of the buildings of the town were constructed during this period in a distinct classical style. Aside from its thriving arts and crafts trading, Lamu also became a literary and scholastic centre.
The island prospered on the slave trade and, after fighting off invaders from nearby Pate Island in the 19th century, Lamu became a local power, but it declined after the British forced the closure of the slave markets in 1873. In 1890 the island became part of Zanzibar under British colonial rule and remained relatively obscure until Kenya was granted independence from Great Britain in 1963 and free-spirited travellers started to arrive and helped shape the holiday scene that visitors enjoy today.
Lamu Old Town, the principal inhabited part of the island, is one of the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlements in East Africa, hence its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in coral stone and mangrove timber, the town is characterized by the simplicity of structural forms enriched by such features as inner courtyards, verandas, and elaborately carved wooden doors.
With its incredible beaches, thriving local culture, laid-back atmosphere, friendly locals and glorious weather - there's much to experience and enjoy on Lamu Island!
Please get in touch and we can get you booked in to Deuli House.
Below, we feature a video created by The Lamu Marine Conservation Trust about life in and out of the sea in the beautiful, thoughtful and thriving Lamu Archipelago.