Achola Rosario explores Lamu …


By Achola Rosario, Contributing Editor at

(Posted 24th January 2022)

There is something about island life that encourages the removal of shoes, which in turn removes restrictions and sets free inhibitions. You can wiggle your toes again. Perhaps this is why Lamu, with all its dualities, is such a magical place.

And then the pirate in you takes over, as you step onto the boat-taxi called Las Vegas, of the Captain Fareed fame, who picks you up from the airport to take you to your hotel on one of the archipelago islands. This time, The FOMO Travel Show chose Shela island, a lovers’ paradise with fresh cold beer available in some select locations on the beach front such as the British Peponi House. But it was Locally-owned Bahari House, our hotel without beer, that took my breath away.

Right in-front of the landing jetty with clean whitewashed stone walls, a humbly decorated ground floor reception and restaurant, the 2 story Bahari House (which means ocean in Swahili and Arabic) is the kind of place that you can relate with yourself and others in a manner that is unpretentious and at the same time unintrusive. When you come down the wooden steps from your penthouse perch with a massive private balcony on the 2nd floor to have your breakfast on the ground floor, you will find the Masaai salesmen having theirs alongside resident guests from Sweden, Germany, Italy and Kenya, right next to the local Arab and Somali fishermen hustling fresh and hot tuna samosas, an old man hawking his fresh catch of oysters and the boat taxi drivers re-checking their gear.

Tawfiq Ahmed, the manager of Bahari House, a solid jolly guy with the standard black scar on his forehead from praying 5 times a day, is a man who likes to check on his guests often and to ensure the ingredients of his food are fresh and in constant supply. He recommended the jumbo prawns for me when I had safely stashed my luggage and shoes away so I never have to think about them again. When the prawns arrived, they were so large, the three of them were having trouble staying on the dinner plate. Split open and covered in garlicky lime buttery goodness, I ate the same dish again for dinner, and possibly again for one of the breakfasts. When I was not shooting tequilas on one of the penthouse balcony-beds (there were 3 of them) and scoffing nachos while painting with ink and aquarelles. How much better could life get?!

Jasmine grows wild here, and so do you, when the night falls and the moon is fat. Manda island starts beckoning from around 5pm, when the boat guys yell at you from their boats as you bob in the buoyant salty water, about a bonfire party coming up later that night. This is confirmed by the boom-twaff reverberating from across the water at about 7pm, and the tell-tale sign of a fire around which a handful of Bazungu had gone native.

I dress in killer black faux-leather, hitch up my pencil skirt and clamber aboard the boat called Lady Gaga, complete with frilly canopy, sandals in hand and ready party. We got back to the hotel at 3am. The witching hour.

The next day was a complete about face on Lamu island itself. Dress like you want to respect your Muslim friend’s uncle. And no, a transparent mumu to your knees to cover your bikini will not do. You can however wear a loose dirah that flashes some shoulder without covering your hair, forearms or face. That, according to the local chicks, is ok. Your back wing tattoos might get a little side-eye from the imam in front of the sweet-shop opposite the mosque but he will let it pass. The narrow streets that can only accommodate 2 men side by side in some cases, are oozing history and most definitely need some sewer system updating.

But as a UNESCO National Heritage site, complete with a separate museum and info centre for Americans, you cannot touch the buildings or the layout without losing a major chunk of the last 4 centuries, at the very least. I do however recommend a lick of paint. This could easily become the next Santorini if the local member of parliament lobbied well enough. Islamist attacks are not the rule here even though it borders Somalia, and many locals support and welcome the tourist with open arms.

The two disparate faces of the Lamu archipelago are not a contradiction in themselves, but are rather a continuation of what has been going on for centuries: a co-mingling in the mangroves, emergence, receding and re-emergence of cultures, just the same way organisms combine in the ocean to create a giant eco-system that feed off each to create something wonderfully vibrant and beautiful, blessed by the full moon in all her glory, rocking on Captain Jawad’s dhow, eating freshly roasted marinated fish in the jasmine scented night.

And what a night it was.

To book at Bahari House:

Tawfiq Ahmed: +254 722 901 643

IG: Shelabahari

FB: shelabahari

Captain Jawadi- (Sunset cruise with fish BBQ):

+254 797 931 411 (also Whatsapp)

Shela Dhow- sunset cruise, day trips, camping

Jaffari boat- airport and taxi transport

To watch:

#africamagic #fomo #lamu



Contact Achola Rosario via if you are interested to have your location featured on the F.O.M.O. Travel Show and on