Updated: Oct 17
On a whim, I took off and landed in a country that (technically) doesn’t even exist. This is Somaliland. No, it’s actually NOT a part of Somalia. Somaliland is now a country on it’s own, with its own currency and government. This is yet another country that shattered my every preconception this year. It was a pleasant surprise and beyond beautiful.
It was a far cry from the usual Western media fear mongering you see in the media. Somaliland is NOT a part of Somalia either. It is now an independent country with its own government, currency, and story - but its not still recognized by the international community as a country.
It really shakes up your preconceptions too - you can’t go 10 meters without a smile from a stranger, offering you qat or khat (more on this later). It was an enthralling and surprisingly fun trip.
On this blog post, I will tell you can go here safely and have a fantastic travel experience.
Hargeisa. Berbera. Sheikh Mountains. Laas Geel.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Flights + Visa
I flew directly with Fly Dubai on a short direct flight to Hargeisa, the capital.
For the visa, from anywhere in the world, you will need to apply at a Somaliland mission; remember you CANNOT travel to Somaliland with a Somalia visa and vice versa. Your visa has to be through Somaliland. If in Dubai, you can visit their office with a confirmed return ticket, tour + hotel booking. Pay $60 and get an e-visa copy by email in 48-72 hours. Once you land, you won't be asked to pay extra - if you are, then it is likely a bribe. Carry your payment receipt from here with you and get a stamp. That is all. Simple.
Solo traveling. Are you required to wear a scarf?
As with any country in the world, be aware of your surroundings. Even more so in a country like this since you are not allowed to venture out without a guard irrespective of your gender.
People don't see a lot of tourists, there will be some curiosity. If they are up for a chat, be friendly. Most people are kind and welcoming of travelers.. since it's a rare sight in these parts of the world.
Best time to visit
Avoid the summer. I went in November and it was still warm.. but it's still the best time to visit.
Dollar is best in most parts of Africa. Change to local currency for tips + souvenirs.
Is is true you need an armed guard?
A guide/local help is better to avoid unnecessary confusion after you land. Someone who knows the local language and ways is highly recommended unless you have unlimited time to do this trip... in which case, independent traveling is doable as well. Although remember, as a tourist, you cannot venture out of the capital without an armed escort. This is the law.
The armed guard will just be with you in case of any emergencies, they don't really do much. Rest assured this is merely a precaution set in place after a kidnapping of a foreigner many years ago. Either way, it's a cool story to tell when you something like this for the first time.
Costs: varies depending on number of people. Supply demand is real. Expect to shell out $50-60 for a hotel/night. For the tour, if you are three people, for instance, it could cost somewhere between $300-400 for short 3/4 day trip; the math is $150/day for a guard + car with fuel.
Not much fresh veggie food is available once you leave Hargeisa... but on one night, I got very lucky finding a veggie pizza in Berbera. Heaven after no food for a while.
Where I stayed
Mansoor Hotel in Hargeisa. The manager of the hotel, Khalid, will be happy to set you up with a local guide + armed guard. He can point you in the right direction. Please get in touch me via DM on Instagram if you need his information.
In Berbera, I stayed at Allore Hotel. Nothing to rave about and a bit steep at #30 for one night.. but what can you do?
As I got my passport stamped and exited the airport, I was greeted with cheerful smiles of “Welcome to Somaliland”. I was now officially in a country that wasn’t recognized by any government entity. So what’s the story? The world recognizes Somalia as being made up off one country with three areas - Somalia, Puntland & Somaliland. However, in the early 90s, Somaliland fought a war with Somalia, won and declared themselves an independent country. While Somalia continues to have violent terrorism issues, this country has largely resorted law and order and is a safe place to visit.
There is not a lot to do in this chaotic capital.. you can take a walk around, if you fancy. A visit the camel market and the money market is kind of cool.
It’s hard to believe places like this exist in a country like Somaliland. This mountain is off the guide books even for a country as off the beaten track as this.
The drive up to Sheikh mountains in Somaliland came as a breath of fresh air and a reprieve from the arid landscapes we have at home in Dubai.
There are a few different view points you can hike to as well. The lush green mountains, the winding drive up, the picturesque scenery, and to top it off, the moody weather. What an exciting experience.
If you happen to make it to Somaliland, I highly recommend taking this long route on the way to Berbera. As I mentioned on stories, you will need a guide/drive + convoy + armed guard(s) to venture anywhere in the country. It turned out to be the favorite part of my trip. The jungle girl in me was happiest.
Berbera, a partly ruined seaport city that sits amidst beautiful empty beaches. The first picture is me hopping onboard a boat laying still on the Somalian waters.
It was once an important trading hub in the region, the largest of its kind. As you can see here, it stands out for its colorful crumbling buildings.
It was damaged in the Somali civil war.., so it reminded me of our trip to Massawa, Eritrea.
The beach could have easily been one in Dubai.. so deserted and so incredibly cool to hang all by your lonesome.
From meeting Tariq the fisherman to the random men on the port, I got to meet many strangers, who insisted on taking a picture and said “tell the world you met people in Somaliland and that they are very nice!” I get to interact with so many people from all walks of life on these trips & as I often say, they help keep life in perspective.
As the convoy car with an armed guard made a stop on an empty road, I finally arrived at the last stop on the trip - Laas Geel , an isolated site of prehistoric cave art. Discovered by a French team in 2002, this site is one of Africa’s (and perhaps the worlds’) greatest prehistoric art sites.
It is undoubtedly the highlight and the biggest “tourist attraction” in a country as off the beaten track as Somaliland.
The best part was that the cave was still In impeccable condition, given they are exposed to air, the colors and patterns are so vivid. This is said to be one of the oldest and most beautiful cave paintings in Africa, estimated to be somewhere between 5000-10000 years old. What blows my mind is how are these colors so well preserved? Incredible right?
There are a few different caves you can walk to but the first one is the most impressive with over 300 simple drawings of human relations with cattle - a depiction of their lives back then. I thoroughly enjoyed hiking to the different caves and couldn’t recommend it enough.
🍃 this is a must-do on any trip to Somaliland, it’s the most touristy thing to do to in the country.
🍃 It’s open to travelers BUT you need to apply for a permit to visit, it costs $25 per person and could take 2 days to process.
🍃 It a easy day trip from Hargeisa or you can stop on the way back from the coast. .
Unreal, unequivocally beautiful & as untouched as it gets. That defined my trip to this unheard of country.
Tourism still barely exists here.. in fact more people travel to Antarctica than they do to Somaliland in a year.. but IF you are adventurous enough to cross its borders, you will discover it's long struggle for freedom and the nomadic heritage. In just a few days, you can travel from its busy capital Hargeisa to the ancient port of Berbera, to its vast deserts and empty beaches, to discovering beautifully preserved rock art. Pretty great going for a country that isn't even a country right?
Negative emotions about a place are often rooted in fear and it holds us hostage, preventing us from discovering magical places like Somaliland. As I left the smiling people behind, there was hope that this will be a super epic trip and it was definitely all that. Go with an open mind!
Drop your comments below and show some love. Feel free to shoot me an email with your feedback.
To explore more African destinations, be sure to check out other blogs for additional insights.