Djibouti travel guide
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).
35.7 per sq km.
President Ismail Omar Guelleh since 1999.
Prime Minister Abdoulkader Kamil Mohamed since 2013.
Last updated: 22 April 2018
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.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to the border with Eritrea.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Djibouti. Attacks can’t be ruled out and could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
Djibouti remains one of the main routes for those fleeing the conflict in Yemen. Limited arrangements are in place to facilitate onward travel for British nationals arriving in Djibouti. However, the UK government’s ability to help is limited and you’ll be expected to cover the cost of visas, accommodation, insurance and onward travel yourself. Any travel options you pursue are taken at your own risk.
There is no British Embassy in Djibouti. The British Honorary Consul in Djibouti can offer limited help. If you need consular assistance outside office hours you should contact the British Embassy in Addis Ababa by calling +251 912 503132 or +251 911 25 54 81. You can also contact the FCO in London at any time by calling +44 (0) 20 7008 1500.
Be aware of the risk of banditry if you travel outside the capital city.
Piracy remains a significant threat in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. See Sea travel
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Safety and security
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.
In February 2016, there was an attack by rebels on a gendarmerie station at Lac ‘Assal, central Djibouti. Three people are reported to have been killed.
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. Although a passenger service is planned, this is not yet operating.
Recent piracy attacks off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, highlight that 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.
Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Djibouti. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
Djibouti and international interests within Djibouti (including several military bases and personnel) may be seen as a legitimate target by Al Shabaab because of its support to the Somali government and its participation in the African Union peacekeeping mission AMISOM. Al Shabaab has previously issued public threats against Djibouti. In May 2014, they claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing at La Chaumiere restaurant in Djibouti city, which killed 3 and injured many more, including foreign nationals.
Be vigilant at all times, especially in crowded areas and public places like transport hubs, hotels, restaurants, shopping areas and bars, and during major gatherings like sporting or religious events. Previous terrorist attacks in the region have targeted places where football matches are being viewed.
Follow the advice of local authorities, take care while travelling around the country and avoid large gatherings.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Djibouti has a predominantly Muslim population. You should dress in a conservative manner in the city.
Drinking alcohol is permitted, but drunken behaviour could result in a two-year prison term.
Homosexual behaviour is illegal. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
During Ramadan you should show respect to those who are fasting and take care not to offend Islamic values.
In 2018, the holy month of Ramadan is expected to start on 15 May and finish on 14 June.
Photographing infrastructure (such as ports, public buildings, airports, military facilities and bridges) is prohibited. Your equipment will be confiscated and you could be arrested. When taking photos near prohibited places you should take care and seek local advice if you are unsure.
French, Arabic and Somali are widely spoken.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
British nationals need a visa to enter Djibouti. You should get a visa before travelling. For further details, contact the French Embassy in London. Applications may take several weeks to process and should be made well in advance of travel. Visas on arrival are issued at the discretion of the Djibouti immigration authorities. You must also have evidence of your onward journey.
British nationals applying for a Djibouti visa in Ethiopia generally require a letter from the British Embassy in Addis Ababa for presentation at the Djibouti Embassy. There is a fee for this service payable in local currency.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Djibouti.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website.
Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
In the 2010 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 13,000 adults aged 15 or over in Djibouti were living with HIV; the prevalence percentage was estimated at around 2.5% of the adult population compared to the prevalence percentage in adults in the UK of around 0.2%. You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 35 09 62 or 35 27 12 (switchboard) and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
From May to October the climate is very hot and dry. Below average rainfall in the past four years means many regions in East Africa area experiencing a severe drought including Djibouti. You may experience difficulties travelling overland. Local services and the availability of food and water could be affected.
Djibouti is in an active volcanic and earthquake zone. To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, see the website of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Credit cards are accepted at only a very few places in Djibouti. It is not possible to get currency advances against a credit card. Make sure you have enough hard currency or travellers’ cheques.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.