Somaliland Travel Guide
Let’s just start by saying that some people will think that you have gone insane for even thinking about traveling to Somaliland.
While it is pertinent to remember that most (if not all) Western countries have advised against all travel to this region, anecdotal evidence on the ground has suggested that travel to Somaliland is remarkably safer than other places in Somalia.
Somaliland is a de-facto republic that has not been recognized by any other nation on Earth, yet it has established its autonomy over the region, and most importantly, has provided enough security to allow its citizens to carry on a normal life.
While it is important to note that this country is very poor, and thus, its ability to keep foreigners and its own citizens safe is greatly diminished compared to more developed nations, a number of hardcore travelers have completed trips to this region in recent years without having a serious incident.
While Somaliland is not a war zone, know that its infrastructure is primitive at best, the security situation is as such that the local government will not allow you to travel outside the cities without a convoy and armed guards, and travel insurance agencies will not provide cover should things go wrong.
However, if you are aware of the dangers and risks, there are a number of authentic experiences and world-class attractions you can have and see within its borders.
Currency: Somaliland Shillings
Languages: Somali, Arabic, English
What To Do
When you enter Somaliland via air, Hargeisa is where you will land. The largest city and capital of this unofficial state, it is home to 800,000 citizens. While there isn’t much in the way of traditional tourist attractions in this city, the fact that you will one of only a handful of foreigners here will ensure that you are the attraction.
Expect people to come up to you in the street to speak with you, shake your hand, or just to stare at you in wonderment. However, you would do well to remember that a few hardliners will disapprove of your presence, as travelers to Somaliland have reported that rocks have been thrown at them, while others have been slapped or yelled at by more politically active and fundamentalist members of the community.
It is worth reiterating again: this destination is not for the faint of heart. However, if this does happen to you, countless other citizens will leap to your defense and admonish the perpetrators, as they want to have their city and country to be seen by outsiders as a safe and peaceful place.
If you are looking for specific things to do while in Hargeisa, the camel market is recommended, as is the Lion Zoo. Hikers might enjoy climbing a pair of twin hills located outside the city, which are cheekily known as ‘The Breasts of Hargeisa’. They give great views of the area, and they are also home to a number of sea anemone fossils.
If you have time for only one day trip during your time in Hargeisa, make sure that you check out Laas Gaal. Within these caves, you will find the oldest cave paintings ever discovered on the African continent.
Dating back to 9,000 BCE, they may become this country’s biggest tourist attraction (as well as being a potential addition to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list) should this region become stable enough to support recreational tourism in the future.
When you have had your fill of Hargeisa, make your way to Berbera, Somaliland’s port city on the Gulf of Aden. Filled with economic activity as this unofficial country continues to grow in regional clout, this place is another excellent spot for people-watching.
If the heat and chaos of Somaliland are starting to get to you, Baathela Beach is a mighty fine place to relax and unwind, if only for a day. A lengthy beach that stretches out into the horizon with its brown to off-white sand, those that tire of resorts rife with package tourists will rejoice at the sight and sound of empty sands and rolling breakers that hypnotically pound the shore.
However, don’t limit yourself to the beach, as there are plenty of other amazing sights to be had beneath the waves. Contact the Maan-soor Hotel before leaving for Berbera, and inquire whether they would be able to offer a SCUBA diving expedition to the many spectacular coral reefs that lie off-shore.
Lacking the overdevelopment that other tourist markets in the region have experienced over the years, the water here is remarkably clear, the corals are in pristine shape, and sea turtles and a plethora of tropical fish thrive.
Back in the years before the security situation in Somalia collapsed, America’s space agency had built an extra-long tarmac near Berbera as an insurance policy against an unforeseen incident with one of its space shuttles.
Though it has cracked and worn over the years, the NASA Runway still stands out remarkably against the surrounding desert. The improving situation in Somaliland that means that as recently as 2012, the local airport authority has begun to make improvements to the neglected runway in the hopes of using it as a springboard for future economic development.
What to Eat
When you are eating breakfast in Somaliland, you will likely end up having some Laxoox at some point. Similar to Lahoh, which can be found in Djibouti and Yemen, this thin fluffy pancake is covered with honey or ghee and is washed down with a piping hot cup of tea.
For lunch or dinner, be sure to track down some Maraq. This lamb stew has its origins in Yemen and is typically made with tomatoes, limes, and a variety of spices. If you are looking for something just a little bit more familiar, there is plenty of spaghetti and other Italian fare due to this country’s occupation of the Horn of Africa during the 19th and 20th centuries.
At dessert, try and find some Xalwo. A special treat usually reserved for holidays such as Ramadan and Eid, this version of halva is composed of sugar, cornstarch, cardamom, nutmeg, and occasionally peanuts.