Our Lamu restaurants guide offers a quick overview of the dining options available in Lamu and the surrounding islands.
Being a Muslim community finding alcohol outside of bars & restaurants on Lamu Island is limited to the Police Canteen located between Lamu Town and Shela Village. The selection of beer, wine and spirits is decent including even some luxury items such as champagne and cognac but be ready to pay a small premium. If visiting for only a short period it is preferable to bring your alcohol from Nairobi or abroad.
There are more and more internet cafes shooting up in Lamu and Shela. There are several in Lamu town (one at the Fort) and in Shela (wifi is available at the Sea Suq Cafe).
Another option is to buy the mobile internet “dongles”. Both Safaricom and Orange have service in Lamu and offer this option. Prices are roughly the same. The 3g dongles are purchased for a few thousand KES and after that you simply “top up” with prepaid cards from either carrier. The dongles can be bought in Lamu town (cell phone shop to the right of the Fort on the central square) and the prepaid cards can be purchased in most small and large shops throughout the island. Ask for help to transfer the phone credit into data credit – it will save you a lot! The dongles work with both MAC and PC and only require a USB port.
The currency in Kenya is the Kenyan Shilling. There are no restrictions on the currency and it can be traded freely at all major banks.
In Lamu Town, you will find a KCB (Kenya Commercial Bank) and a Gulf Africa Bank. Both banks have ATMs that accept VISA cards. The KCB will change cash and traveller’s cheques.
There is a KCB ATM at the main jetty on the Lamu seafront and further down the seafront toward Shela there is a Gulf Africa Bank ATM. Be careful when taking out money – do not allow anyone to see your pin. If someone offers to help you use the ATM kindly, but firmly, reject the offer and let the person know that you do not need any assistance.
The post office is in the building right in front of the Fort in Lamu Town – on the backside of the Telecom office. However, to enter, you have to slide through the alley and enter the seaside. Ask a friendly old face on the square for “posta”. Mail is slow but also very cheap.
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Lamu District Hospital is situated between Shela and Lamu Town. The hospital has 2 doctors and several nurses and they can take care of any immediate health matters. There is a health centre near the Lamu Palace Hotel on the waterfront in Lamu Town. For life threatening situations and serious illnesses, it is advised to travel to either Mombasa or Nairobi.
There is malaria in the Lamu area. It is, however, very, very rare that tourists get it. As long as you are careful with mosquito repellent and mosquito nets at night, you should be OK.
The people in Lamu are very friendly and the majority of people are well-meaning and helpful. However, there are also a few who have made it a habit to hassle tourists. Some hang out in Lamu town around the main jetty where tourists come in on boats. They can be very aggressive and insist on offering you all sorts of help that you probably don’t need. They will offer to show you directions, carry your things, sell you small items, etc. They may abuse your openness toward the local culture and insist that they are your friend and that they are just helping to be nice. When you reach your destination they may insist that you give them something “brother to brother” or “sister to brother” for their effort. They will often charge you large amounts for their efforts and they will be very bullish if you refuse to pay. To stay safe, kindly, but firmly, refuse anyone approaching you on the jetty with any sort of offer. It is often a good strategy to stop and say once with determination “No, thank you”. If there is something you need, it is probably best to approach people that do not use these tactics.
Lamu and the surrounding villages and islands are surprisingly safe relative to other Kenyan destinations and while petty theft may occur from time to time simply use common sense and remember that you are still visiting a sub-Saharan developing country. Do not leave valuables lying around, avoid the beach after dark and lock your house/hotel room whenever possible. The police station (042 633120) is at the southern end of Lamu town and the tourist helpline is (020) 604767.
In late 2011 two separate tragic events sparked intense media attention questioning the safety of tourism in the Lamu archipelago. While these are the first tragic incidents targeting residents and tourists in Lamu over the past 3 decades, travel advisories have been issued for areas within 150km of the Somali border.
Despite government advisories based on exaggerated media coverage, Lamu.org maintains that visitors to Lamu are likely to face far less risk of violent crime, theft and kidnapping than in almost any other area of Kenya and many major tourist destinations worldwide. While it is too early for embassies to lift their travel advisories given the Kenyan military’s incursion into Somalia no threats or major incidents have taken place since early October 2011 to suggest that there is a continued security threat.
The Kenyan police and tourism authority have taken the incidents very seriously and have closed marine borders with Somalia. In addition to a navy base in Shela Village, two police posts on either side of the Lamu channel have been added and discreetly armed police patrols by land and sea and helicopter support at Manda airport are some of the additional measures being taken to ensure that tourists in Lamu continue to remain safe. Residents and tourists in Shela Village, Lamu Town and Manda Beach continue to feel very safe.
The tides in Lamu are very prominent and the currents are deceivingly strong. Be sure to tell people if you plan on going swimming. Be sure to discuss tides with the local fishermen. Try to avoid going swimming on Shela beach when the tide is going out. Keep an eye out for each other and make sure that people on the beach know that you are swimming. Have fun but do not underestimate the forces of nature. Accidents happen too frequently when tourists forget to pay attention to not so obvious dangers.