Lamu Cultural Festival 2017

Since I came back to Kenya 2011 after graduating, I have been planning to go to the Lamu cultural festival. But each year something happens and I don’t get to attend. Gratefully, this year I had a chance to attend the 17th Lamu Cultural Festival.  The festival started on Thursday November 16th to Sunday November 19th.  The festival is about celebrating the island culture and showcasing the different traditions that have been passed on and persevered generation after generations. From the variety of Lamu delicacies to the dhow races and heena paintings, each activity showcasing the vibrant Lamu culture.

Lamu is located on the northern coast of Kenya, one of the world heritage sites (landmark or area which is selected by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as having cultural, historical, scientific or other form of significance, and is legally protected by international treaties). Lamu is the oldest surviving Swahili town in East Africa and the only coastal settlement to retain its original character. The narrow alleys, the donkeys and Swahili culture make Lamu unique.

Three Important things you need

I arrived in Lamu on Wednesday 15th November, a day before the festival kicked off. I wanted to settle in before the burst of activities started, and before the Turn.Up Travel  #LamuIGtour crew arrived. There three things that I noticed were significant during the festival that I needed. Small things that make a huge impact on your stay in Lamu or the nearby islands.

  • Change- make sure you travel with change, notes of 50’s or 100’s. Getting change is very difficult; you can waste your time walking around looking for change to pay for a boat ride or a food vendor.
  • Sunscreen – we were staying in Shela, every day we would take a boat to Lamu for the festival. Thanks to Nivea East Africa, for providing sunscreen for the #LamuIGtour crew. I needed the sunscreen protection from all the boat rides from Shela to Lamu, and all the walking in Lamu town for the festival. 
  • A good camera phone: as a person who likes to report in real time the Tecno Spark came in handy. The 13mp camera on the Spark gave me an opportunity to capture amazing shots where I was able to share on my social media in real time. Tweets posted in real time: 

Lamu Cultural Festival Activities

The 4-day Lamu cultural festival was full of activities to experience throughout the day, from the sea front activities to the various concerts at Mkunguni square. Each activity giving you a unique experience of the Lamu culture, to see some of the activities captured check #LamuFest on all social media channels. This year’s theme is Amani na Maridhiano (Peace and Co-existence), to promote peace in the region. The different activities that you will see and experience are:

Donkey Race

Donkeys are common form of transport in Lamu; most household will own a donkey or two to use to transport goods around the island. To measure the swiftness of Donkeys, participants are entered in a donkey race at the sea front of Lamu Town. It’s all about the balance and control to reach the finish line first. Anna’s Abdalla h was the winner for the 2017 cultural festival Donkey race. He emerged position one last year and this year consecutively.

Dhow Race

The Lamu archipelago consist of various islands, the residents use dhows to move from the islands. You will find the different kinds of dhows from Jahazi, kasa and Mashua , depending on the size of the dhow.  A Kasa dhow race and Mashua dhow race are held at the cultural festival, the race is not about winning but to show team-work, resilience and patience. The Mashua race winner for Lamu Festival 2017 was Faizuun from Faza in lamu east.  The second position went to Atfa from kizingitini and subira from bwanjumwali respectively. Kasa race winner was Marlin and Jahazi race winner was firdaus from patte in lamu east.

Street food

Along the Lamu town sea front, you will find different food vendors selling different Swahili delicacies. You will find viazi via karai, bhajiya and different cooked fish.  The prices range from 10 shillings a piece to 500 shillings depending on the purchase. 

Henna Artists

If you are fan of henna, you will find ladies around the sea front who can do your henna. They offer different designs on the hand, feet, arms, back and anywhere you desire. The prices range from shillings 400 and above based on the henna pattern design.

Corporate Sponsors

The various festival sponsors are also given an opportunity to showcase their services and products at the sea front of Lamu town.  You will find the various companies branded tents offering special offers and discounted services.  Corporate companies such as Safaricom, Skyward Express, and various Banks were present at the Lamu Festival 2017.

Concerts and Dinners

Concerts and Dinners are mostly held at Mkunguni Square or the Fort. The governor’s dinner was held on Friday to officially open the festival with the India High Commission as Guest of Honor, then followed by the Gotipua dance a traditional dance form in the state of Odisha, India. The main concert was on Saturday featuring offside trick as the main entertainment. 

To enjoy the cultural festival, you need to plan in advance, find a local who will help you find an affordable accommodation and show you around. Also, it’s not about the festival but also doing other activities around the islands. I went on sunset sails, seafood grill at the beach and many other activities that were curated by swahiligal, who is a local in Lamu. She is always ready to help with Lamu activities. Plan ahead for the next Lamu Cultural Festival, ask for recommendations and look for great deals early.

Lamu Cultural Festival 2017 moments:


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