I’ve been a solo traveller for a couple of years now but this time I’m doing things a bit differently. I’m travelling with Ken. We chose Lamu because neither of us had been there before but more importantly so that we could experience the strong cultural heritage and see what it’s like to live in a town without any cars.
We only had five days to go on this holiday, so, to save on time, we booked a flight. To say the least, Lamu was AMAZING!!! It unveiled more beauty and adventure than we had expected to find. It’s an unconventional place with an unusual means of daily transport. That got me thinking of the various ways you can actually get to Lamu from Nairobi. Here’s what I came up with…
There are a couple of domestic airline carriers that fly to Lamu on a daily basis with the majority departing from Wilson airport. The average time on a commercial flight to Lamu is approximately 2 hours with a stopover either in Mombasa or Malindi depending on the airlines. If you want to depart from Wilson airport then you can hop onto AirKenya ($270), Safarilink ($160), Skyward Express ($118) or Silverstone Air ($119). On the other hand, if you prefer to depart from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) then you would need to take Fly 540 and that would cost you approximately $136 subject to availability, of course. In case you’re wondering, the figures in brackets are the return ticket prices.
Ken and I flew into Lamu on Skyward Express as it was a combination of the earliest, most affordable ticket. The stopover in Mombasa with Skyward was about 15 minutes – for passengers to get off and new travellers to come on board. Because we wanted to spend more time at the beach getting some tan lines, we took Silverstone Air back, which was the latest out of Lamu at the most affordable price. This time we stopped over in Malindi for some passengers to alight and the new ones going to Nairobi to get onto the aircraft.
2. Fly then sail
If we had more time and money I probably would have convinced Ken to take this option with me. This would involve taking a flight to Moi International Airport in Mombasa then take a dhow to Lamu. If you’re like me and don’t have your own dhow (yet), you could rent one, plus a captain. The flight would take about an hour and my calculated guess is 2 to 3 days on the dhow.
3. Fly then windsurf
You could fly down to Mombasa and then windsurf to Lamu. It might sound crazy until you read about the story of eight guys who kite- and wind-surfed their way from Lamu to Zanzibar. That’s 600km of windsurfing!!! The 240km stretch between Mombasa and Lamu doesn’t sound so crazy now, right? The trip took the guys nine days to get to Zanzibar, so, if you do some quick math, it would take about three days to get to Lamu from Mombasa.
4. SGR then fly
I love the Madaraka Express because it is such a scenic route and takes a much shorter time than the old Rift Valley Railway (RVR) train did. I remember once my mom and I took the old train to Mombasa. It was such an adventure – first we had to board the train from Athi River because the train had broken down there. “Thankfully”, they were organised enough to shuttle everybody there. After boarding at around 11pm we went to sleep expecting to be in Mombasa by morning. When we woke up we were only in Kibwezi because the train had broken down again during the night!!!!! It took us almost 48 hours to get to Mombasa. The one good thing about the old trains is how comfortable they were – the carriages had beds with nice, clean, linen sheets and a fully equipped 4-star restaurant. That sort of made the inconvenience more bearable.
Assuming you decided to take the train to Mombasa then take a flight to Lamu, it would cost you Ksh 700 ($7) on economy or Ksh 3000 ($30) on first class and 3000 Kenya shillings for the flight on Skyward Express respectively. It would only take you five hours to get to Mombasa then you would hop into a taxi or better yet a tuktuk to get to the airport (about 15 minutes) to catch your plane to Lamu. Ideally, this option would take you ±7 hours.
This sounds like a pretty rational alternative but I’m not too sure how practical it is, given that there are no roads wide enough for cars in Lamu. I’m also uncertain exactly where you would leave your car, probably somewhere on the mainland in a place called Mokowe. Then, you would have to take a boat to Lamu Island. The bigger concern though, would be the drive from Malindi to Lamu which should typically take 4 to 5 hours but in reality could take 7 to 8 hours because of the condition of the road coupled with multiple security checks along the way.
This is my least favourite option because it just seems long and stressful without a truly remarkable story to tell at the end. So, for option 6, you would need to take a bus from Nairobi to Mombasa then connect from Mombasa to another bus that would take you to Lamu. If I were to take the bus all the way, I would take a night bus from Nairobi so that I could get to Mombasa early in the morning and get the 9 a.m. bus to Lamu. If you took the day bus to Mombasa, chances are that you would have to spend a night there in order to get the morning bus the next day. Bus-ing there could take an approximate time of 18 to 40 hours depending on whether you end up spending an extra night in Mombasa. This would be the cheapest in terms of cash (Ksh 3000/$30) but not so much in terms of time and stress.
Before you rashly judge my sanity, I want you to know that people actually do this stuff. In 2017, I had wanted to join Baiskeli Adventures’ Capital to Coast Charity Cycle but found out about it too late in the year. It’s an event organised by cyclists to raise funds for Child of Mercy Orphanage Centre by cycling over 600km from Nairobi to Mombasa. If I’m not mistaken, it takes them about five days. The distance between Nairobi and Lamu by road is about 700km so we can add an extra day or two to our imaginary cycling trip. The beauty about this option is that it would be killing two birds with one stone. You get a year’s worth of exercise in only one week (two if you decide to cycle back) and you get to admire Kenya’s beautiful landscape at your own pace.
8. Cycle then fly
This option doesn’t seem very practical to me because on top of paying for your own flight ticket, you would have to pay extra fees for your bicycle – assuming it was categorised as special luggage. Alternatively, you could probably chain it somewhere at the airport although I’m not certain that you would find it when you got back and if you did, it might be unrecognisable due to rust. In summary, I would probably not go for this option.
9. Ride a camel
I think this would also be a very exciting option. Depending on how wild your imagination is, this adventure could take you back to the medieval times of the Arabian Nights. Ken and I actually found a herd of Maasai cattle grazing at the beach in Shela. If the Maasai could get there with their cows, so can you! I reckon it could take you around 10 to 14 days on the camel’s back.
Mario Rigby, a Canadian fitness instructor, walked 12,000km from Cape Town to Cairo in just under two years!!! Now that’s crazy. I haven’t a clue how long it would take to walk to Lamu from Nairobi, but, if I were you, I would put aside a month in case of any contingencies. I think one month of straight walking is as good as it gets for me to self actualise.
11. Sky Dive into Lamu
I think this is the most exhilarating option because I’ve never done it. I also think it involves the least amount of pain and physical discomfort compared to the other “creative” ways we’ve explored along the way. There are two skydiving locations in Kenya: Diani and Watamu. In this case, it makes the most sense to go with Watamu because it lies along the flight path. Take an hour’s flight to Malindi, disembark, take a taxi to Watamu, board the aircraft and you’re set. I’m pretty sure you would have to pay a little bit over the $350 skydive fee for the extra fuel to fly to Lamu. If I had the money, this would totally be worth the experience.
In conclusion, there’s more than one way to peel an orange. Obviously, the means you decide to use is dependent on a couple of factors like how crazy you are, how much time you have, how much money you have, what kind of adrenaline junky you are, among many more. The sky is no longer the limit, as NASA has proven to us time and time again.
What option would you take? Can you think of more bizarre ways to get there?