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.
23,200 sq km (8,958 sq miles).
899,598 (UN estimate 2016).
Head of state:
President Ismail Omar Guelleh since 1999.
Head of government:
Prime Minister Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed since 2013.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins are used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Petty crime is not uncommon in Djibouti. Don’t walk around town alone late at night. Keep valuables, particularly cameras and passports, out of sight.
The FCO advise against all travel to the border with Eritrea. In 2008 there were military clashes between Djibouti and Eritrea after an incursion of Eritrean forces into the disputed Djibouti border region. The situation remains fragile and further conflict is possible.
Take great care if you travel to remote areas of the country, including the border with Somaliland, in the north-west of Somalia, where the presence of security forces is low.
Avoid travelling outside city centres after dark; vehicles often have no lights and livestock may be on the roads. Roads are narrow, poorly lit and maintained. Police set up wire coils as roadblocks on some of the major roads, which are not clearly visible at night. Land mines are common in the northern districts of Obock and Tadjoura and the southern district of Ali Sabeih.
A new railway line from Djibouti to Addis Ababa opened on 5 October 2016, but passenger trains aren’t yet operating.
While there have been no successful piracy attacks since May 2012 off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, the threat of piracy related activity and armed robbery in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean remains significant. Reports of attacks on local fishing dhows in the area around the Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa continue. The combined threat assessment of the international Naval Counter Piracy Forces remains that all sailing yachts under their own passage should remain out of the designated High Risk Area or face the risk of being hijacked and held hostage for ransom. For more information and advice, see our Piracy and armed robbery at sea page.