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Lamu Island, Lamu

Kenya's insider take:

Far from the tourist overdrive of Kenya's southern coast, low-key Lamu is an idyllic island of swaying palm trees, gliding dhows, and donkeys plodding through a maze of narrow, winding streets. Settled by Swahili traders in the 14th century, the namesake town is one of East Africa's treasures, its alleys abuzz with barefoot children, women in swirling bui-bui robes, and clattering carts piled high with coconuts. Keep your eyes peeled for the ornate door carvings that are a Swahili trademark. On the island's southern shore, glorious Shella Beach embraces the warm waves of the Indian Ocean in a long ribbon of powdery sand. It's a favorite among the well-heeled expats buying up the pleasure palaces nearby. Neighboring islands Manda and Kiwayu are home to some of Kenya's most exclusive hideaways; a speedboat can zip you to the archipelagos farthest reaches in under an hour, though for our money, a long, lazy dhow ride suits Lamus laid-back rhythms to a tee. After hours, expats gather for sunset drinks at the breezy waterfront Peponi or for seafood at the rooftop restaurant of the Baitil Aman Guest House.

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