Kenya : Lamu
Lamu is a place like no other, a peaceful tropical island where life is lived at its own relaxed rhythm, but a place whose history is as mysterious and fascinating as the winding streets of its medieval stone town. The town of Lamu began life as a 14th century Swahili settlement, but the island has seen many visitors and influences since, including Portuguese explorers, Turkish traders and the Omani Arabs. All have left their mark, and Lamu has developed its own particular culture, which draws many visitors today including the rich and famous. When the Oman Sultan left Lamu for Zanzibar, the island was caught in a time warp for over three hundred years. There are still no cars on the island - the donkey and the dhow remain the dominant form of transport - the narrow streets of the old town are very much as they were and in the markets and squares around the fort, life moves at the same pace as it always has.
The rest of the island is a beautiful oasis of rolling dunes and endless beaches, where tiny villages nestle among coconut and mango plantations and sailing dhows fill the enticing waters. There are lovely beach retreats here, hidden totally away from the world. Dhow safaris can take you beyond Lamu into the surrounding archipelago, where isolated villages, ancient ruins and a few luxurious and exclusive resorts lie hidden among the islands of Manda, Siyu, Pate and Kiwayu.
Peponi is in the village of Shela on Lamu Island, a pleasant walk or dhow ride from Lamu's Stone Town. It is still run by the Korschen family, who opened the hotel in 1967, and retains its family-run character and charm. Small and personal, it is the perfect contrast to safari, relaxed and away from the world and has wonderful seafood. Peponi has 24 Swahili-style rooms, all different and all looking out to sea. Five of the rooms are built right on the beach, with private veranda areas overlooking the sea, while the rest have a combination of ocean and garden views. The small pool which overlooks the sea is the perfect place to relax. Peponi is a lovely intimate hotel, very popular over Christmas and 'the' place to see in the New Year so it can be very busy. There are a number of activities which can be arranged from the hotel including water-skiing, diving and fishing.
"This hotel is a paradise on earth! The accommodation is tasteful, clean and comfortable. The location is superb and the food of a very high standard."
Kijani House is a small hotel de charme in the village of Shela and overlooking the entrance to the Shela channel. In its leafy courtyard garden and around the freshwater pool you will find real peace and relaxation. Each room has its own ambiance and character, with a terrace facing the sea or the garden. The rooms are furnished with coastal antiques and all have a huge en-suite coloured limestone bathroom. The food at Kijani is traditional and authentic, and features the fresh produce of the day. The pasta, marmalade and ice cream are all homemade. Herbs are picked fresh from the garden, honey collected from the local farms and the fruit juice freshly squeezed.
Kizingo is the ultimate 'no news, no shoes’ beach escape, where you really do get away from the world, and total chill out is top of the agenda. It is one of our favourite hideaways. The lodge is at one end of a spectacular 12-kilometre beach that stretches from Kizingo (which means 'the point' in Swahili) to the fashionable village of Shela. Kizingo has eight simple but comfortable bandas (thatched cottages) set well apart from each other, all with unrivalled sea views. In the early morning you can enjoy tea in bed and watch fishing dhows tack south to Malindi. Activities include trips to Lamu, swimming with dolphins, snorkelling, cycle rides and walks.
"Loved it! Our particular highlights were the family who run it (especially Dion!), the sand dunes and the fishing."
"Kizingo was a dream come true – total relaxation and simplicity."
Jeremy and Claudia, London
Kipungani Bay is where you leave the world behind. This glorious beach hideaway is set in a bay on a stretch of unspoilt wild white beach, on the southern tip of the sleepy Swahili island of Lamu. Fourteen thatched bandas made from mangrove poles and palm leaves sit amidst a 25 acre coconut plantation where there are no cars and no doors. The open-style bandas have a veranda facing the sea and offer privacy and complete comfort. There is a swimming pool and activities include day trips to Lamu and Kinyika Island, scuba diving, windsurfing, sailing, deep sea fishing, water skiing and snorkelling on the reef.
Manda Bay is an exclusive beach retreat on the north-western tip of Manda Island, one of the many unspoilt, idyllic islands in the romantic Lamu archipelago. With miles of soft white sand, fascinating creeks and small islets to explore, and a full range of activities, it's a wonderful retreat for both family groups and honeymooners. There are 10 spacious cottages, built from local materials, and with a large bathroom and a veranda. Five rooms are set right on the seafront and five are set in-between and slightly behind on higher ground. Manda Bay has its own fully fitted 60 foot traditional dhow - Utamaduni - for day cruises, and other activities include windsurfing, laser sailing, water skiing, creek fishing, massage, mangrove trips, scuba diving and day trips to Lamu island. There is also a swimming pool.
Mike’s Camp is a fantastic beach retreat miles from anywhere with huge empty beaches. It’s the place to go if you really want to get away from it all. There are seven spacious bandas built on the dunes which, with their palm-matting walls and floors and thatched roofs, blend nicely into the local environment. They have en-suite safari showers and flush toilets, and electricity is generated by wind and solar power. The water for your shower is brought by donkey from the well. The bandas are private and have fantastic views of the ocean. The food is simple, delicious and wonderfully fresh, with lots of seafood and Swahili-influenced cuisine, and meals tend to be around one big table (though you can have private meals if you prefer). Activities include snorkelling the reefs by boat and from the beach, windsurfing, water-skiing, scuba diving and deep sea fishing. You can also go bird-watching in the creeks, explore the Lamu archipelago by dhow or kayak and visit the local villages.