I've wanted to visit Lamu for years and finally had the opportunity to do so this September. Thought I'd share some reflections.
Firstly safety and security. Lamu is subject to the UK governments 'avoid all but essential travel' advisory. This poses problems with travel insurance, but there are companies that will insure against UK FCO advice, albeit at an additional premium. Not going to second guess why Lamu Island continues to carry a health warning with the UK and other western governments. Suffice to say that my trip was trouble free and Lamu felt as safe as just about anyhwere else. Probably a different matter if wanting to travel off the islands. I enquired about a couple fo trips to the near mainland but these couldn't be arranged without complex security arrangements, armed escorts etc, so I gave them a miss. Interestingly, and alarmingly, fear of corruption and informers within the Kenyan police service was cited as the main security threat to foreigners.
Costs. Doesn't need to be expensive. You can get a return fligh from the UK to Nairobi for $5-600 (Turkish Airlines) and a Jambojet rtn Nairobi to Lamu for $100-120. Lots of options on hotels as so few tourists; bargains to be had with minimum negotiation. Check out airbnb. Think $30-50 per night for en suite with fan (and pool.) Lots of great food for very modest sums.
Lamu Town. Dirty, smelly, captivating, unique, noisy, boisterous, bustling, challenging, beautiful. Yup Lamu lived up to expectations. Loved the narrow streets between high buildings,views over the Lamu skyline, the life lived on the streets, the sensuality scarcely hidden beneath the outward dispays of Islamic conservatism. Great for people watching, random meets, random chats I guess that many aspects of social and commercial life and their visual manifestations have not changed for hundreds of years. Can't think of a better place on the planet to sit in a cafe with a fruit juice and watch the world and his donkey go by. Despite so few foreign visitors not much in the way of hassle or hustle, and nothing that couldn;t be disarmed with a respectful 'no thanks'. A few words of Swahili go a long way.
Shela. The second settlement on the Island. The people of Shela sold their land and property to the wazungu some time ago, The proceeds funded relocation to Mombasa and realisation of dreams. Good luck to them. What they left behind is now a sanitised, polished and ethnically cleansed version of a Swahili village. Lovely beach undoubetdly. But otherwise this dollar fuelled, tropcal artifice left us cold. The consensus amongst the Lamu folk we spoke to about Shela was that they felt it no longer belonged to them. Enough said.
Other stuff. Weather was pretty cool during the evenings; think maybe it was unusually chilly for time of year. Days were hot. Mornings could be a little cloudy but always cleared after midday. Walked just about everwhere, including across the Island to the village of Matondoni. Start early and it's an interesting excursion through the bush and small farms. Varied birdlife. If you like to run or jog, there's an easy promenade and beach run to Shela and back.
Takwa ruins on Manda Island were atmospheric. Not as extensive or as well preserved as Gede, but very peaceful amidst the mangrove and bushy scrub. Big rollers for body surfing on the deserted beach nearby if that takes your fancy. You can walk the few miles to the Manda ruins from here and arrange to get picked up from the hotel at Manda Bay. Suprising amount of wildlife on Manda that you might see en route.
Lamu needs the income that comes from tourism. I hope my musings have at least inspired you to contemplate a visit. I will guarantee there is nowhere quite like it on the Kenyan coast and possibly the rest of East Africa. Happy to try and answer any questions...