The Horn of Africa - Djibouti and Somaliland

Djibouti and Somaliland sit at the very edge of the African continent, a stone’s throw from Arabia on the shores of the Red Sea. This short trip takes in some of Africa’s most incredible landscapes, combining them with a fascinating collection of cultures that owe as much to the Middle East as they do to the countries further south.

Starting in Djibouti we embark upon an expedition to the harsh yet beautiful scenery of Lac Abbe. We stay here over overnight to watch the ever-changing colours of this huge salt lake, surrounded by bizarre rock structures, as the sun sets and rises. From here we continue to Lac Assal, Africa’s lowest point and home to Afar salt collectors. We then continue to the old Ottoman settlement of Tadjourah on the coast.

An overland journey through harsh, sparsely inhabited deserts takes us to the unrecognized country of Somaliland. This is a low key, laid back place that couldn’t be more different from neighbouring Somalia. Here we discover some of the most impressive rock art in the world at Las Geel, little known to the outside world. We then visit the historic buildings of the Red Sea port of Berbera.

The joy of travelling here is to feel like you are treading new ground – few people ever make it to Somaliland – and of course meeting the friendly, welcoming people who are pleased to invite visitors to their home. We explore the markets of Hargeisa, venture further afield to the rock art of Dhagax Khoure and travel into the mountains at Sheikh, before returning to the capital to end the trip.

This is a wild and untamed land, home to nomadic communities who have barely changed in centuries. Travel here is not for everyone – creature comforts on occasion can be few and far between. But for the Africa enthusiast looking to visit a truly authentic, traditional part of this enchanting land, its rewards are great.

The Horn of Africa - Djibouti and Somaliland

Highlights

  • Rock art at Las Geel
  • Explore the markets of Hargeisa
  • Lac Abbe and Lac Assal
  • Wander the streets of Berbera

Day 1 - Djibouti

Arrive in Djibouti and transfer to your hotel. Depending on when you arrive there may be time to explore the capital. Overnight Hotel Les Acacias or similar.

Djibouti

Tucked away in the Horn of Africa, Djibouti is one of the smallest countries on the continent and receives very few visitors. A French colony until 1977, it was one of the last African nations to gain independence. Djibouti’s main asset is its port, providing an outlet for landlocked Ethiopia to send goods across the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and Djibouti Town is the country’s liveliest hub, although in a country with a traditionally nomadic population, that’s not saying much. The capital is a fascinating mix of African, Asian, Arab and European influences and is divided into an African and European quarter – it is small enough to explore by walking around and although there are few traditional sights the main appeal is soaking up the atmosphere of this cosmopolitan little city, with French legionnaires mixing with nomadic Afar tribesmen, and women dressed in outrageously colourful robes. Djibouti Town has an allure that is hard to put your finger on.

Day 2 - Lac Abbe

Visit the extraordinary landscape of Lac Abbe, a desolate salt lake with hundreds of limestone chimneys surrounding it. This landscape is so other-worldly that the classic science fiction film ‘Planet of the Apes’ was filmed here. Overnight Lac Abbe Camp (simple accommodation). (B)

Lac Abbe

There can be few places in the world like Lac Abbe and it holds the distinction of being one of the most desolate places on our planet. Situated on the border between Ethiopia and Djibouti, this vast salt lake is surrounded by hundreds of limestone chimneys, some up to 50 metres high, which emit sulphurous gas into the air, and its shores are inhabited by the nomadic Afar people who use the lake to gather salt. The lake is also renowned for its birdlife, with flamingos, pelicans and ibis among other species to be found here. It is difficult to put into words such awe-inspiring scenery – this is jaw-dropping on a grand scale.

Day 3 - Lac Assal - Tadjourah

We head to the crater lake of Lac Assal – the lowest point in Africa (-150 m), as well as the most saline body of water in the world (up to 40%). One of Africa’s most impressive natural phenomena, its spectacular colours and unusual crystalline formations give it an almost alien appearance. We may see Afar herders or salt collectors on its shores. Continue to Tadjourah for the night. Overnight Hotel La Golfe or similar. (BLD)

Lac Assal

Surrounded by dormant volcanoes, Lac Assal is an impressive sight; the salt flats contrast with the black lava fields and there are numerous large crystal formations dotted around. The lake is fed by hot saline springs making it unique among salt lakes, as all others are fed by streams and rivers, and it has no outlet, which contributes to its extremely high level of salinity. As well as being the lowest point in Africa it is the third lowest depression in the world after the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee.

Day 4 - Tadjourah - Djibouti

Explore Tadjourah, with its white-washed buildings, some of which date back to the Ottoman era. Afterwards, head to the white sands of Plage Blanche before returning to Djibouti City for the night. Overnight Hotel Les Acacias or similar. (BLD)


Day 5 - Borama

A long day’s drive as we cross the border into Somaliland head to the coastal town of Zeila, once an important trading port. From here drive through the remote deserts to the town of Borama. Overnight Rays Hotel or similar. (BLD)


Day 6 - Dhagax Khoure – Hargeisa

Visit the site of Dhagax Khoure, one of Somaliland’s most important sites for rock art and situated amidst some splendid scenery. On the way out here we pass small semi-nomadic communities and stop to meet local people. After exploring the paintings of Dhagax Khoure we drive to Hargeisa for the night. Overnight Damal Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Dhagax Khoure

Although not as impressive as its better-known cousin Las Geel, the site of Dhagax Khoure holds some stunning rock art, with numerous images of cows, hunters, giraffes and other animals tucked away under overhanging rocks and in caves. The surrounding scenery is just as much of an attraction, with hills of boulders emerging from the desert plains, and if you’re lucky you may see wildlife such as gerenuk and warthog.

Day 7 - Hargeisa

Spend the morning exploring the city. Visit its markets, see the moneychangers, who sit on the street with their huge piles of Somaliland shillings and see the civil war memorial. Overnight Damal Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Hargeisa

Somaliland’s capital is a pleasant city – fairly small, unassuming and with a relaxed and rather gentle air that is often missing from African cities. Almost completely destroyed during the civil war of the 1980s, most buildings that you see are new and there are few historic sights, but one thing that you can’t miss is the unique civil war memorial in the centre of town, topped by a MiG jet that was downed during the conflict.

The central market area is the most interesting place to explore – stalls sell everything from slabs of meat to brightly coloured cloth, and your presence here is sure to attract more than a few gazes. On one street sit the moneychangers, with great bricks of Somali shillings laid out on the pavement – it is a measure of how little crime there is here that they are able to do this, and an incredibly photogenic sight. Hargeisa also has a busy livestock market on the outskirts of town, which is well worth a visit.

Day 8 - Las Geel – Berbera

Drive to Las Geel, one of the most important rock art sites in the Horn of Africa and with numerous well-preserved paintings in various different places. The quality of the art here is particularly good and Las Geel is a real highlight of the trip. From here we continue to the coastal city of Berbera. Overnight Mansoor Hotel or similar. (BLD)

Las Geel

Only revealed to the outside world a little more than ten years ago, the rock paintings of Las Geel rank among the best in all of Africa. Superbly preserved in caves and under overhanging rocks, the paintings consist of cows, dogs and people as well as the odd giraffe here and there, and anywhere else they would be a major tourist attraction. With the handful of visitors, Somaliland receives you are almost guaranteed to have this enigmatic site all to yourself. No-one has yet determined the age of the site – guesses range from five to ten thousand years, but the paintings remain a testament to the pastoral traditions of Somaliland’s ancient inhabitants.

Berbera

Berbera sits on the Red Sea coast, an important port for the whole region but with an atmosphere that belies this fact somewhat. The most interesting part of the city is the old quarter known as Darole, an area of dusty streets and ramshackle buildings, some of which date back to the time when the Ottomans held sway here. Crenelated mansions vie for space with whitewashed mosques, and pastel paint peels off walls interspersed with colourful doorways – when the heat of the day has passed this is a fascinating and very rewarding place to wander around, perhaps stopping for a tea in one of the makeshift cafes.

Not far outside of the town lie the Dubar waterworks, an ancient irrigation system that has been resurrected in recent years to provide fresh water for Berbera’s inhabitants. Berbera is locally renowned for its excellent seafood restaurants, where you can sit and eat some of the freshest fish you’re ever likely to have while looking out at the rusting hulks of ships in the port.

Day 9 - Sheikh – Hargeisa

Explore the old quarter of Berbera, Darole, with its Ottoman era buildings and atmospheric streets. From here drive into the mountains and the town of Sheikh, before continuing to Hargeisa for your final night in Somaliland. (BLD)


Day 10 - Hargeisa

Transfer to the airport for departure. (B)


The salt lake of Lac Assal - Djibouti tours
Somali women in tea shop near Dhubato - Somaliland holidays
Moneychanger in Hargeisa market - Somaliland holidays

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    You will have the services of different guides in the two countries.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • Airport taxes

    If there are any departure taxes to pay that are not included within the cost of your ticket, you’ll need to pay these yourself.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

A visa for Djibouti can be obtained upon arrival at the airport; costs at the time of writing are €90, and you should bring two passport photos – not always requested but we recommend that you don’t risk being refused entry.

Most travellers will require a visa to enter Somaliland. For British, EU, Canadian and American citizens, this can be obtained on arrival at the border without pre-arrangement at a cost of $60. You should bring two passport photos. If you are a different nationality, we can arrange for a visa to be issued on arrival but you must inform us two months prior to departure so that we can make the necessary arrangements. The visa cannot be issued on arrival without it being pre-arranged.

Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

Yellow Fever vaccination certificates are not required for entry to Djibouti and Somaliland.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Arrival and departure taxes

There are no arrival or departure taxes applicable for Djibouti. There is an arrival tax of $34 and a departure tax of $44 which must be paid when entering and leaving Somaliland. These must be paid in US dollars.

Money

The local currency in Djibouti is the franc. It is best to bring US dollars for exchange purposes. The local currency in Somaliland is the Somaliland shilling. However, almost everywhere will accept payment in US dollars and so there is little point in changing money. You should bring clean and unmarked notes that have been issued after 2009, otherwise it can be difficult to exchange them.

It’s easy to change money in Djibouti, either at banks or the hotels and your guide can assist with this. There are also an increasing number of ATMs in larger towns. However these are not always reliable and so it is best to think of them as a back up rather than a main means of obtaining money. For Somaliland, you can just use US dollars.

Credit cards are accepted in larger hotels and better restaurants (usually in Djibouti City) but are not commonly accepted elsewhere.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Somaliland is one of the more challenging destinations that we offer, and we do not recommend this trip unless you are accustomed to travel in Africa. There is almost no tourist industry to speak of and therefore people are very unaccustomed to western visitors, and what they may expect in terms of service. Having said that, the larger hotels are well geared up to cater for the increasing number of business travellers that Somaliland receives, and are comfortable.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO does not advise against travel to the parts of Djibouti that we visit on this tour.

At the time of writing the FCO advises against all travel to Somalia, including Somaliland – as Somaliland is an unrecognised country they do not distinguish between Somalia and the far more stable Somaliland.

Should you have any concerns over safety please do not hesitate to contact us and we can address your concerns. Somaliland is a very different entity from Somalia proper and does not experience the same problems. We have visited the country ourselves, work very closely with our local team and are fully confident that we can operate tours safely in this region.

Should you have any concerns over safety please do not hesitate to contact us and we can address your concerns.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

The salt lake of Lac Assal - Djibouti tours
Somali women in tea shop near Dhubato - Somaliland holidays
Moneychanger in Hargeisa market - Somaliland holidays
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
03 January 2021
Price (PP) -
£3,099
Single Supplement -
£460
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
02 January 2022
Price (PP) -
£3,199
Single Supplement -
£460
Trip Status -
Available