There are two main places to stay on the island, the old town of Lamu or Shella Beach located about 2 miles from town. I (being a beach bum) stayed in Shella. It is a tiny but packed in little area, that is probably 2/3s guesthouses and 1/3 local people.
My hotel was originally a house built in the 18th century by a wealthy man as a gift for his wife. It was been restored beautifully into a hotel…and was probably my favorite part of the stay. A close second would be that it was safe to walk absolutely anywhere (including to Lamu), which was really nice after being chauffeured around for a few weeks.
Shella Beach was beautiful -- 7+ miles of completely empty beach with sand dunes on the edge…and, oddly, a giant fort that I don’t know much about. The main downside was the incredibly strong wind…which didn’t go away…and made trying to sit on the beach pretty painful because you were pelted by sand. May/June are the off season, so the rest of Shella was pretty much shut down…I was the only guest at my hotel. On my last day (July 1), apparently someone alerted the tourists, who started flooding in and a bunch of hotels re-opened. It was very strange, especially because it was pouring rain on 7/1.
Lamu Town had a lot more action, and is the oldest town in Kenya (also one of the first Swahili settlements).
he streets are very narrow (Main Street is maybe 5-6 feet wide, others 3-4 feet) and most of the buildings are 4/5/6 stories tall which makes it a bit claustrophobic. It definitely still has a small/authentic feel to it…no cars (lots of donkeys). I’m surprised I didn’t like it more, but I was pretty happy I stayed in Shella, even without much quality beach time.
Monday I flew from Nairobi to Lamu Island, off the coast of Kenya. The plane was small but not super-tiny (maybe seats for 40 people), but it was an absurdly bumpy flight. We were clearly descending to land, when at some point we started gaining altitude again. The pilot came on and said something that should be banned from pilots’ vocabularies…”There’s no need to panic, but…”. Apparently the plane couldn’t land because it was too rainy/windy…so we flew in circles…in the rain & (probably more troublesome) extreme wind. We finally landed and (thankfully) the hotel manager met me with a boat across to the island.