Somaliland and Djibouti – Volcanoes, Salt and History!

I had a great time in Somaliland and Djibouti – but to get there I needed to push a little bit beyond the means. Still the sun’s good lightning, the volcanoes, the brown and yellow landscapes and rocky hikes made every effort worth of it! The chance to experience one of the most colorful coral reefs in the world is priceless!


This could have cost me the trip!

Not only the destination belongs to the travel itself – the commuting can be very energy and time consuming too – it even makes or breaks the whole thing! When I was enjoying my time for almost three weeks in the mountains in Pakistan, I could not foresee the gruelling journey to Djibouti.

I planned to fly from Karachi (a megacity in Pakistan with a population over ten million) to Hargeisa (the capital of Somaliland) with a layover in Al Sharjah, a city 5km close to Dubai. Al Sharjah is the third most populous city in the UAE after Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

In Pakistan I started having the first troubles but I managed to go through the boarding. Since the connection Sharjah – Hargeisa was a brand new one recently inaugurated in the last months, it was still unclear under which COVID-19 rules they should operate or which are the visa requirements.

Country 170/206 (Somaliland is an independent, but unrecognised state).

I needed to spend a long time in the transit counter in Sharjah – so long that they considered going to the police to get me out 🙂 Here a tip for everyone traveling: be persistent! Don’t let the complicated processes, unclear requirements and not-helpful employees stop you! I was allowed to step into the plane towards the capital of Somaliland after having done a few phone calls and spent around three hours in the transit counter.

The Republic of Somaliland – The Horn of Africa’s self-declared country

Somaliland is the area between Somalia and Djibouti and has been pushing for an international recognition as an independent state since 1991. Unfortunately, no foreign government recognizes its sovereignty, some only acknowledge the region as a separate part from Somalia. The territory was a British protectorate until 1960 until its unification with Somalia.

When I arrived at the airport of Hargeisa, the troubles continued, since I arrived from Pakistan blacklisted for the coronavirus by Somaliland. I was already preparing myself mentally to negotiate a way out of an eventual quarantine for two weeks 😪

I indeed needed to stay under police protection for about two hours until they took me to the hospital, so I could do THREE covid tests. Yes, three! We all heard about that three is the golden number – one is too less, two is ok but three is ideal. One PCR test was upon arrival and the other PCR was for my departure in two days. In addition to that, there was also the antigen test in order to check in in the hotel.

Discovering the country in a land cruiser

When I arrived at the hotel, my friend Jannis was already there waiting for me so we could have our late lunch and start our tour around town. We could clearly see the British influence due to the museum and a memorial for US planes. There is also the Hargeisa War Memorial with a fighter jet to honor the brutal bombardment in 1988 during the fight towards Somaliland’s independence.

Somaliland bank. 1 USD equals 8500 shillings, but the biggest note circulating is only 5000 shillings. Quite some money to carry around 💰

First glimpse of Somaliland. Old jet from the war against central government ✈️

Happiness is usually found in the coast – so let’s go!

In the next day, we moved toward the animal market outside of Hargeisa.

Livestock market Hargeisa

Camel is one of the most common “goods” traded in the region, with about 800+ Camels available.

Cattle trading is the main income of most Somalis

There are also other types of animals, like cows, goats and sheeps.

A camel is worth 1000 USD 🐫

… and a goat 50 USD 🐐

The main attraction were the cave formations dating back 20,000 years ago. The Laas Geel displays some of the oldest known cave paintings of cattle and domestication of different animals in Africa. It was a pretty rocky hike until there, so we needed to drive to a point offroad first. The experience was breathtaking!

What a view!

The impressive stone age rock art of Las Geel dates back 20.000 years ago!

It was “just” discovered in 2002

I had goosebumps just by seeing it!

For the lunch time, we headed to the coast – Berbera. We also decided at short notice to have a snorkeling experience, since the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden are famous for their coral reefs and great diversity of the marine environments with unique species.

Camel meat. Typical Somali staple food

Pirates of Somaliland

We went to the Berbera Sea Port but the conditions were not the best to snorkel. We didn’t go far, we were around 500m from the coast. Although the water had not the best visibility, it was fun! Jannis said, he even managed to see a stingray!

Berbera lighthouse

Snorkeling with view of Berbera Port. It is the main port for landlocked Ethiopia.

Another day has passed and there was I heading back to the airport. On the way we took an off-road detour to enjoy the mountain scenery and nice viewpoints. I was even able to save a turtle from the road and to look at buildings from the ancient and colonial times.

Saved this fellow last minute from becoming turtle soup

Oops! Truck Accident

We planned to go to Djibouti and took a 45-minute flight to get there. Many people accomplish the trail by car – a task that takes up to 13h!! I can however imagine that the way until there must display much more of the hidden gems of Somaliland.

A quite hot, salty and moskitoish experience in Djibouti

Upon arrival, there he was again: the covid test 🙄

In order to explore Djibouti, we aimed to discover the lakes – especially the Lake Assal (Lac ‘Assal). This lake has dormant volcanoes, black lava fields and a very green emerald water, which is the highest in salinity on the earth – with almost a 35% salt concentration – higher than the one from the Dead Sea. The Lake Assal is also very deep, lying around 155m below sea level. It was a long but fun drive until there with a few steps on the way – the final 80km – being not paved at all.

Lac ‘Assal: the saltiest lake in the world

The Great Rift 


Djibouti has also a big military base with ships to protect the land from Somali and Yemen pirates. The piracy shows the geopolitical tensions and conflicts between the regions, given the historical context of Djibouti of being a strategic and economic hub in the western Indian ocean.

Djibouti has a lot of volcanoes, salt and is therefore a very dry and extreme hot country, with daily temperatures above 40 °C. There is constantly smoke getting out of the ground. We went off to the desert to visit the Danakil Depression – one of the deepest points in the world. The Depression is located in the Afar Triangle, which is the Afar Triple Junction located along a divergent plate continentally wide. The Junction divides the African plate (Nubian), the Arabian plate and the Asian plate. It looks therefore like a huge canyon!

Canyon between African and Asian tectonic plate

The landscape of the country is simply amazing! We enjoyed nice hikes and an epical sunset.

Since there was no village, we stayed in a home stay with no electricity and no internet and where we needed to sleep outside within a moskito net. The night sky was terrific, but it was quite hard to sleep at night due to the temperatures and some nasty moskitoes that found a way to go through the net. Therefore, I was happy to see the sunrise in the morning kissing my cheeks.

One of the most beautiful coral reefs of the world!

Since Jannis needed to proceed with his schedule, I had the last day ahead on my own. I went to the north part of Djibouti, around the bay to a long beach. It was nice to visit the fish market, discovering the town to talk with some locals. I also saw the highest mountain of the country – the Mousa Ali – since it is the highest point, there is no way not to see it 🤓 it is over 2000m high and is a volcano truncated by a caldera containing rhyolitic lava.

I went to the Plage des Sables Blancs beach and had a great time snorkeling this time in clear and calm waters. I couldn’t see any big fish, but the coral reef was beautiful, colorful and pretty much intact. What an experience! Before that, I needed to chill a little bit in the shadow due to the hot weather, as long as my snorkeling equipment was being organized.

Would you like to go snorkelling in the Red Sea?

Sables Blancs Beach. Excellent reef and views 🐡 🐠 🐟

On my way back to Djibouti city, I had the chance to explore the last landscapes and sceneries from this amazing country, took some pictures. The Airport is however very tiny (get prepared!) but I had the privilege to sit while others must stand due to my height 😅

Definitely a must go destination!

When I left Djibouti, I flew to Munich over Qatar in the Business Class, which is also a recommendation from my side for travelers. If you have a chance to fly Qatar Airways Business – do it! I woke up in Munich refreshed and got ready to explore Azerbaijan one day later and the French Guiana afterwards. My discovery cannot and won’t stop!

First time Doha since Covid started. And my first glass of alcohol in one month! 😉