Djibouti Travel Guide
A tiny place that often gets lost in the shuffle when it comes to African countries, Djibouti is a former French possession that is worth a detour for those looking to get off the beaten track in Eastern Africa.
Despite drawing blank stares from 99% of travelers, this country is home to the lowest point on the African continent, a lake that is saltier than the Dead Sea, and a curious mix of Somali, Arabic, and French culture.
If you are looking to get some serious street cred with your fellow travelers, getting this stamp in your passport is a great way to do that.
Currency: Djiboutian Francs
Languages: French, Arabic, Somali, Afar
What To Do
Start your time in Djibouti by spending time in its capital city. Bearing the same name as the country, Djibouti still has many remnants of its French colonial past throughout its downtown core. One of the best architectural specimens that can be found in this city is Place Menelik, which functions in the present day as a hotel.
In addition to its beauty, it also has the distinction of being one of the few places in this Muslim country where foreign travelers can buy alcoholic beverages. Prices are expensive at 5 Euros per bottle, but it is a price worth paying if you desperately need a drink.
As with anywhere else in the world, one can get a good idea of a country’s culture by heading straight for their best open air market. In Djibouti, that place is the Grande Pecherie. As the name suggests, this market does have its fair share of fish for sale, but it also trades in a variety of local fruits, vegetables, meat, and other necessities of daily life.
Watching as the average resident goes about their business is the key attraction of visiting this place; just be sure to be respectful about taking pictures … always ask permission before snapping someone’s photo.
While most of your time in Djibouti will be spent in the capital, there are some worthwhile trips that can be taken from there. Chief among these is the voyage to Lake Assal, which has the distinction of being the lowest place on the African continent.
Sitting at 150 meters below sea level, this body of water has a salinity that exceeds the Dead Sea, allowing visitors to float freely in the water with a buoyancy that is unlike any other body of water you have swum in before.
However, we strongly recommend that you wear goggles before getting in, as this water’s high salt content will react rather nastily with the surface of your eyes. Other sights worth seeing in the area include salt farms, where mass amounts of this versatile mineral are harvested for export.
On the whole, Djibouti is a very arid country, with desert predominating throughout the land. However, in the highlands of this country, the uplifting of air masses allows more precipitation to fall in places like Day Forest National Park.
In this preserve, enough rain falls to allow the survival of a handful of tree species, making for a rare bit of green in a country that is dominated by browns and whites.
Preserving it has been a challenge due to climate change and the fact that Djibouti is one of the poorer countries in the world. As a result, only a tenth of what originally existed still remains in the park, so be sure to see it while the rest still lasts.
The stresses of traveling in such a poor third world country and the heat of the desert climate in which it exists will take its toll on you throughout your time in Djibouti. When you need a break from the grind, we recommend taking a day to enjoy Khor Ambado Beach.
Nicknamed the French Beach by locals, this beach is one of the top places where French military service members have gone to enjoy their time off during their deployment in this country.
While there certainly are more attractive beaches around Africa, its brown sand and lukewarm waters of the Gulf of Aden will be more than sufficient if you are looking for a relaxing day off from the travel trail.
What to Eat
Djibouti’s location between Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa means that the cuisine here borrows elements of both cultures in its preparation. Lahoh is a textbook example of this, as this fluffy pancake-like flatbread resembles Ethiopian injera.
Popular as a breakfast food, it is smaller and thinner than its Ethiopian counterpart, but it is also used in a similar way. Used to scoop up stew or curry, it is a food, utensil, and serving plate all in one.
Borrowing from Somali cuisine, Camel Meat and Rice is a popular dish to have at lunch or dinner in Djibouti. Stemming from the region’s long history as a food-constrained place, camel was often the only major source of protein for people in the Horn of Africa and in Arabia, hence its place on the dinner plates of locals even in the present day.
Travelers that do not have the stomach for camel will be happy to find an abundance of baasta, or pasta dishes owing to Italy’s colonial presence in nearby Ethiopia and Eritrea in the previous two centuries.
India has also had a historic influence on the region, as they had established trade relations with nations in the Horn of Africa over previous generations. As a result, it shouldn’t be too surprising if you find plenty of Sambusa (the local version of samosas) available for purchase as snacks on the street.
Djibouti’s version of this triangular snack contains green chilies and ground goat meat or fish. These pastry pockets can be insanely hot, so take your time eating them!