Lamu Island, Kenya's Indian Ocean Paradise

A view of the Lamu Island beach.
This dreamy island sits in the warm Indian Ocean off Kenya's coast where time has all but stopped. It has somehow forgotten to keep up with the rest of the world and remains in it own time warp. Donkeys are the main form of transport and its strong Swahili Muslim culture has remained unchanged for centuries. Don't let its first appearance put you off because the peeling paint and scruffy narrow alleyways are all part of its charm. External appearances are deceptive and the interiors of houses are usually spotlessly clean with cool Arabic-style courtyards filled with tropical plants and shaded roof terraces with Lamu balcony-beds for afternoon snoozes.The Lamu people are friendly and local guides and dhow captains waiting on the town jetty for your arrival, will insist on showing you around for whatever you decide to pay them. Lamu town can be strolled around in about half an hour and your guide will reveal its Arabic trading history and its warlike fort built by the Sultan of Oman in 1810.From the fort you can look down on the busy market place trading in fruit, vegetables and large white blocks of coral used for building. Lamu doors are famous for their size and intricacy of carving but their grandeur contrasts amusingly with the crumbling walls.There is no beach in the port of Lamu, but a hot slow walk or a short dhow trip around the island reveals the deserted long golden sands of Shela Beach. This is where the gorgeous Peponi Hotel is situated - renowned for fantastic food and offering total relaxation. Once there it will be quite hard to leave.On the far side of Lamu, only accessible by boat is the Swiss Family Robinson-style Kipungani retreat. In age-old Lamu tradition, time stands still at Kipungani and you can live out a real-life Robinson Crusoe fantasy, but in more style and comfort. This is to be highly recommended.It is easy to forget that some cultures find bare legs and shoulders offensive - especially when displayed by women - and although Lamu residents are quite used to scantily clad visitors, it is polite to respect the local dress codes. That is not to say that you have to cover up completely with only your eyes showing, as many local women do.

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