Peponi is in the heart of Shela village, but is only a short dhow ride from Lamu town.
Peponi: Our full report
One of the oldest lodgings on Lamu island, Peponi is a stylish, beachfront hotel in the prime spot in Shela village overlooking the eastern end of the Lamu Channel and the start of Lamu beach. Owned and managed by the Korschen family, it dates from the 1960s and has been successively expanded, modified and refurbished over the years. Unfortunately, as of 12 July 2014 we cannot recommend this property because the UK's foreign office has advised against travel to this area – the Lamu archipelago.
The hub of the hotel is its seafront terrace, open to the public, directly behind the flanking sea wall. If you arrive by boat from Lamu jetty you’ll pull up on the beach – or occasionally at high tide by the steps – and staff will hop down to carry your bags. Behind the terrace is the bar, with an impressive range of tipples on offer; then a shady courtyard which acts as the reception area and activities information centre; and to the left of the bar the main dining room, which has its own residents-only terrace and a private dining room at the end, which you can book for romantic soirées, noisy birthday celebrations or other private gatherings.
From the bar-dining area, most of the hotel’s guest rooms are ranged in rambling fashion through the delightful gardens on the south side, to the left. To the right, on the north side of the hotel across a public path, is the “palm garden" – a large lawn dotted with mature coconut trees – backed by a row of Peponi’s standard rooms.
These 8 standard rooms (#5-12, in four pairs) are comfortable and homely, on the stylish side of “simple", with wooden-shuttered windows, ceilings supported by mangrove poles, floor-to-ceiling mosquito nets, ceiling fans and plainly functional bathrooms with single wash basins, showers (hot water is all solar-powered) and flush loos. Cinnabar Green naturally sourced toiletries are provided. Rooms #7–12 are the ones to go for here. The bedroom furnishings are basic but not cheap or rustic, with plenty of clothes storage space on wooden shelving behind curtains, rugs on the floors, and electric sockets for 24-hour battery charging. Outside, the palm garden rooms have a sea-view veranda, with recliners, separated from the garden by a low wall.
Peponi’s 10 superior rooms (#17–25, and the “Top room"), 6 other standard rooms (#1, #4, #14–16 and #16a) and 5 suites (#26–30) are all located on the south side of the property. The superior rooms definitely have the edge on the standard rooms, and get snapped up more quickly. With better appointed bathrooms (though these vary considerably), their own private roof terraces (with a variety of recliners and swinging day beds, they’re all very nice. Like the standard rooms, they don't have air-conditioning. The most popular superior room is probably “Top room", the large double room accessed up a staircase from the courtyard, and located directly above the dining room and terrace. With it’s L-shaped layout, sizable roof terrace and superb views in three directions, it’s the sort of room people come back to year after year. Also very good are the thatch-roofed #21, set back near the Friday Mosque, and #17 which has French doors from its bedroom to the terrace. If you want to be close to the boats coming and going by the beach, choose #22 to #25, which have private beachfront verandas and whose roofs form a common terrace that all guests can use. Like #18 to #20, just behind them, they are close to Peponi’s pool and the Baobab garden, with its venerable specimens of the bulbous-boled tree.
The 5 suites – good sized, air-conditioned apartments (#26–30) – are large, stylishly furnished and with well-equipped kitchens. They would suit larger families wanting to keep themselves to themselves or people staying for longer periods.
Peponi is a very popular spot for a meal, a sundowner or a drink at any time and is always humming with people passing through. It’s worth knowing that there can be occasions when the nicest places to hang out – well-positioned dining tables, perfect sundowner perches by the wall – can be at a premium. Staff always do their best to ensure room guests have priority over casual visitors, but there can be quite a house party feel at times, especially when regular guests are entertaining friends who are staying elsewhere. Such crowding can sometimes put a strain on guests and staff alike, especially as being so well integrated into the life of Lamu, the hotel tends to give all-comers a strong sense of entitlement. At busy times of year, you can sometimes feel a bit sidelined by the robust anglo-Kenyan scene playing out heartily all around you.
Peponi is in a perfect location if you want to participate in activities, with Lamu’s 12km beach, the ocean and the rest of the Lamu archipelago on one side, the village of Shela immediately behind the hotel, and Lamu town a 15-minute boat ride (or 45-minute creek shore walk) away. You can do entirely your own thing – safely stroll along the beach at dawn, or pop into the back streets of Shela at any time. Or you can ask for a hotel guide to accompany you.
Shela has a number of small shops and café-restaurants (the hotel has a map and leaflet). A guided visit to Lamu town costs around US$15 for 3 hours plus your boat fare each way (US$2–20 depending on whether you share a public vessel or charter a boat to yourself).
As well as water-skiing (US$160/hour), windsurfing lessons (US$20/hour) and sailing in a Laser or a Mirror (US$15–20/hour), sea-based excursions that can be arranged at Peponi include the following, all for four people:
- 1½ hour sunset dhow cruise (US$40);
- 3-hour sailing trip to Takwa ruins on Manda, with birdwatching (US$50);
- Half-day speedboat trip around Lamu island (US$130);
- Half-day rod and line fishing (US$70);
- Half-day snorkelling/dolphin watching at Kinyika rock or Manda Toto (US$185);
- Full-day historical visit to Pate island by speedboat (US$240);
Our viewAs a beach hotel and Lamu institution, Peponi ticks every box. The wonderful location, excellent facilities and superb food make this a very reliable base for a beach holiday. If only our brief stay in December 2013 could have been longer…
Ideal length of stay: 3 nights-plus
Directions: Peponi is 15 minutes by boat from Lamu town or Lamu airport jetty.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Owner: Owned by the Korschen family since 1967.
Food & drink
Usual board basis: B&B
Food quality: Peponi has an excellent reputation for its food: Ray Cournede, Carol Korschen’s nephew and reputedly one of Kenya’s best chefs, still visits frequently to oversee the kitchen, though he no longer works at Peponi full time.
Breakfast is served from 6.45am to 10am (and you can order morning tea or coffee in your room), lunch from noon to 3pm and dinner from 7pm to 9.30pm. Special diets are no problem at all. They keep almond milk and soya milk and can cater to most requirements if you request when booking.
Breakfast comes with a wide range of options including, if you order the night before, special Swahili breads and cakes. There’s an array of delicious homemade marmalades for your toast – apple, tomato and passion fruit, mango and ginger, tomato and lime and orange and carrot – and expertly prepared cooked breakfasts, pancakes, waffles… name it.
For lunch you can order from a tempting list of seafood, continental and grilled snacks and mains. I had a very tasty dark rye Panini with a nutty, peppered fish fillet.
Dinner is also à la carte, and goes across the spectrum, from sushi and sashimi to a tuna ceviche salad, pastas and risottos, shellfish from oysters to lime and chilli crab, burgers, Thai chicken curry, and Swahili dishes from whole reef fish to mkate wa mayai (“egg bread" with sides). Everything is well-prepared and efficiently served.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: £15-20
Drinks included: Drinks are not included, but are reasonably priced. Beers are around US$4 and a glass of house wine about US$5.
Further dining info: You can enjoy the excellent output of Peponi’s kitchen in a wide variety of locations – by the pool, on your balcony, in the main dining room or the private dining area. “Eat anything, anywhere!" we were told.
Attitude towards children: Children are welcome.
Property’s age restrictions: None.
Special activities & services: Early suppers and child menus are available. If parents want to eat in peace, women are available from housekeeping to act as babysitters.
Equipment: High chairs, baby cots and buckets and spades are all available.
Generally recommended for children: Generations of upcountry-based children have come on holiday to Peponi, though it does retain an adult mood that’s more ideally suited to couples and older teens.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Power supply notes: Peponi is on the island’s mains grid and has an 80 kva backup generator. All the socket variations are available in each room, where charging can be done 24/7. All the superior rooms have hair-driers, while the standard rooms have hair driers on request.
Communications: There are two Wi-fi networks. Safaricom mobile phone coverage is generally fine, but Airtel is poor. The use of mobiles and laptops is not allowed in the dining room.
TV & radio: There is no guest TV at the hotel, but somewhere in Shela village will always have a TV available when a major match or other sporting event is on.
Water supply: Other
Water supply notes: Peponi relies on its own three wells. Water is desalinated, carbon-filtered and subjected to UV filtration. Flasks are provided in every room and you can get as many refills as you want of “Peponi water".
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: There are first-aid kits and a defibrillator and staff are regularly trained and updated. There is a nurse on-call, and doctors from Lamu Hospital and the children’s hospital in town are all available if necessary. There is space for a helicopter to land, but in 30 years only two guests have ever had to be evacuated.
Dangerous animals: Low Risk
Security measures: Askaris patrol the hotel day and night.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in every room. Fire training is planned for staff but had not happened at the time of our visit in December 2013.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Laundry is available at an extra charge. It is hand- and/or machine washed, line-dried and ironed.
Money: All rooms have safes. Foreign exchange services are available.
Accepted payment on location: Most currencies (US dollars, pounds sterling, Euros and Kenyan shillings) can be accepted for cash payments (foreign currencies are accepted at the hotel’s daily exchange rate against the Kenyan shilling). There’s no surcharge for payment by Amex, Visa or MasterCard, unless it’s for a payment that the hotel has to pay for on your behalf – such as an excursion with another operator – in which case the surcharge is 6%.