Tucked away in the Horn of Africa, diminutive Djibouti offers ethereal landscapes, traditional tribes and mega marine life by the camel load – little wonder this slice of East Africa is being touted as the next big thing.
Refreshingly devoid of large-scale tourist developments (for now, at least), you won’t find international hotel chains outside the eponymous colonial capital. Tourists are still something of a rarity and it is not uncommon to be invited into a family’s home to share a pot of tea.
Contrasting strongly with the bright blue skies and the colourful macawis worn by locals, the flat plains outside Djibouti City have a harsh and otherworldly aesthetic, which are celebrated by the local tribespeople in poetry and song. The loose rocks that litter the khaki-coloured ground amid semi-wild herds of camel speak of the country’s volcanic past.
Away from the capital, which is wafted by a cool Red Sea breeze, Djibouti becomes oppressively hot in the summer months. Locals move slowly and purposefully; at least until the daily delivery of khat, a semi-narcotic plant chewed like gum, which seems to stop daily life in its tracks.
If you do manage to defy the heat, there are ample opportunities to connect with the natural world. Visitors can scale the dormant Ardoukoba volcano, explore Lake Assal, the lowest point in Africa, or go snorkelling with whale sharks in the Red Sea. Found in the Bay of Ghoubbet, these slow-moving giants trawl the Djiboutian coast, gorging on plankton.
Exhibiting a blend of African and Arabian culture, the people of Djibouti are equally fascinating. Gracious and welcoming to foreigners, their country still largely works along tribal lines, but it is quiet, unthreatening and small enough to get to grips with. Above all else, though, it’s absolutely stunning.