Imagine a town with streets so narrow no car can pass. Pretty amazing right? No honking, pollution, or road rage. No parking tickets, fender benders, or traffic. Where does this car-free utopia exist? Lamu Town on the island of Lamu in northern Kenya. What makes visiting Lamu Town even better? Donkeys. Plenty of donkeys.
The Skinny on Visiting Lamu Town
Established in 1370, Lamu Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site and considered one of the first Swahili settlements along the coast. As such, Lamu Town is seemingly stuck in the past. With tight corridors between properties, this tiny Muslim village is much the same today as it was 100’s of years ago, and that’s a wonderful thing. While staying at the Kizingo Lodge I had the opportunity to visit Lamu Town. On a tour through it’s winding streets, I got a glimpse of what life is like without vehicles.
Total Grid Lock
The first thing that sticks out when visiting Lamu Town is the sheer number of donkeys on the streets. Some were loaded with construction materials, others farting their way passed us as a local gave them a kick to go faster. Others were just walking themselves to the next job site unsupervised. Apparently, they’re easy to train and can learn a route with a simple treat. From this outsiders view it was interesting to see. It was also hilarious to have to yield to a donkey several times during our tour.
Muslim Life in Lamu Town
Past the donkey hospital and the butcher shop we made our way into the heart of Lamu Town. Our guide Abdullah gave us a great look into the quiet life of the Muslim families that live there. He explained the houses and how they all include a garden no matter the size of the place and that they all have a meeting area out front. There are also houses that join together. This happens when families combine. It is a fascinating spot and reminded me of my time touring the windy streets of Tangier in Morocco.
Business in Lamu town
Construction and continuous upkeep of the buildings in Lamu Town is a full-time job. The continuous stream of donkeys carrying materials to the construction sites can attest to this.
The docks at Lamu Town are very busy as well. Supplies, construction materials, and curious tourists like myself keep the waterfront busy. Ships in the area are almost in as dire need of repairs as the houses. During low tide, waterfront is full of activity with workers patching the old junk boats to not only keep them afloat but their lifestyle as well.
Day & Night
We finished our tour visiting Lamu Town with lunch in nearby Shela, a tourist spot with high-end hotels and celebrity sightings. It was a stark contrast to the simple life we found while visiting Lamu Town and surprising to see after our tour. As I would later find out with visiting a Maasai village, the sense of pride, simplicity, and how things are done shouldn’t be seen as sad or disadvantaged. This should be celebrated for what it really is, keeping heritage alive in a world that wants us to conform. I’m thankful for these places and fortunate to be visiting Lamu Town in between posh safari camps and beachfront bandas. In a way, it has kept me grounded and acts as a simple reminder of how great the world is.
What say you?
Thoughts on the visiting Lamu Town?
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My time visiting Lamu Town was made possible by The Safari Partners through a travel professional educational trip. Although my trip was discounted, the experience, opinions, and donkeys photographed are my own.
Donkeys are very practical by the sound of it.
And very smart!
Northern Kenya is nothing like I imagined. Thanks for sharing Shaun!
No worries Harly! It was a pleasant surprise for me too!