Djibouti is not a very popular destination for travelers (geologists love it though). It has some interesting attractions (see below) but it is relatively expensive and has perhaps less to offer visitors than neighboring Ethiopia. It's reputation as a nation of Qat addicts doesn't help it's allure either. But for those who enjoy getting off the beaten track a little, and spend some time in Djibouti, the people, the food, and the warm ocean all warm up over time.
Djibouti still had close ties with France, and basic French will get you quite far in the capital. The US also has an army base here, so don't be surprised to see US soldiers in town. Several other countries have army bases here as well, using the geographic location to fend of Somali pirates.
Getting to Djibouti
Most visitors will arrive in Djibouti by air, arriving at the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport in Djibouti city. Air France, Ethiopian, Kenya Airways and several regional Middle Eastern airlines fly to Djibouti.
Some travelers use Djibouti as a means of getting from Eritrea to Ethiopia and back, so it's more of a transit point. If you want to travel to Eritrea, there’s only one border crossing, at Rahaita/Moulhoulé (Djibouti). You'll have to hire your own transport or hope for a ride in a bush taxi. To get from Djibouti to Ethiopia, you can catch a bus from Dire Dawa to Djibouti city or even a train. Alternatively, join the US military and you may get a free ride to Djibouti. Read more...
Practical Travel Tips
Bring plenty of cash with you when you travel around, as banks and ATM machines are few and far between. Speaking French will get you a lot further than English. Bring sunscreen, sunglasses, bug spray and a hat everywhere you go. Between 1 - 4pm most shops and offices shut down for a (often qat induced) siesta to avoid the midday heat.
- Djibouti City -- The Lonely Planet Guide describes Djibouti City as "a ramshackle little port village, with peeling colonial and modern buildings ... Unashamed Qat-chewing men, sensuous women swathed in superb shawls, proud but desperate Somali refugees, gaunt faced beggars and stalwart foreign legionnaires in their knee-length socks all roam the streets". The appeal of Djibouti city is to walk or cycle around, take it all in and enjoy the scene. Read more...
- Lake Assal -- Lake Assal (Bahr al Assal) in Djibouti is Africa's lowest geographic point, it lies 515 feet (155m) below sea level. It's a fascinating salt water lake, with beaches literally made of pure salt. The Afar, a nomadic tribe, have been cutting slabs of salt from this lake for centuries and continue to do so today. Read more...
- Moucha and Maskali Islands -- Djibouti's location on the Red Sea means there are some excellent diving and swimming opportunities particularly around the islands of Maskali and Moucha in the Gulf of Tadjoura. Swimmming/diving with Whale Sharks is best from October to January, and is one of the main reasons people come to visit Djibouti. There are ten bungalows you can stay at on Moucha island, and will often be included in your dive packet. Read more
- Goda Mountains -- Goda Mountains in northwest Djibouti are the country's highest point (5,740 ft). The mountains offer a little green respite from the rest of the country as well as cooler temperatures. They are partially protected by the Day Forest National Park.
For more about what it's like to travel in Djibouti, read some recent travel blogs.
Djibouti's Climate and When to Go
Djibouti has a hot, arid climate with temperatures regularly exceeding 40 Celsius during the day in the summer months (May to September). Along the coast it can get very humid as well. The best time to visit is November to March, when day time temperatures hover around 25 Celsius.
The economy is based on service activities connected with the country's strategic location and status as a free trade zone in the Horn of Africa. Two-thirds of Djibouti's inhabitants live in the capital city; the remainder are mostly nomadic herders. Scanty rainfall limits crop production to fruits and vegetables, and most food must be imported. Djibouti provides services as both a transit port for the region and an international transshipment and refueling center. Imports and exports from landlocked neighbor Ethiopia represent 70% of port activity at Djibouti's container terminal. Djibouti has few natural resources and little industry. The nation is, therefore, heavily dependent on foreign assistance to help support its balance of payments and to finance development projects. An unemployment rate of nearly 60% in urban areas continues to be a major problem. While inflation is not a concern, due to the fixed tie of the Djiboutian franc to the US dollar, the artificially high value of the Djiboutian franc adversely affects Djibouti's balance of payments. Per capita consumption dropped an estimated 35% between 1999 and 2006 because of recession, civil war, and a high population growth rate (including immigrants and refugees). Djibouti has experienced relatively minimal impact from the global economic downturn, but its reliance on diesel-generated electricity and imported food leave average consumers vulnerable to global price shocks. (Source: CIA Factbook)
Djibouti's History and Politics
The French Territory of the Afars and the Issas became Djibouti in 1977. Hassan Gouled APTIDON installed an authoritarian one-party state and proceeded to serve as president until 1999. Unrest among the Afars minority during the 1990s led to a civil war that ended in 2001 following the conclusion of a peace accord between Afar rebels and the Issa-dominated government. In 1999, Djibouti's first multi-party presidential elections resulted in the election of Ismail Omar GUELLEH; he was re-elected to a second term in 2005. Djibouti occupies a strategic geographic location at the mouth of the Red Sea and serves as an important transshipment location for goods entering and leaving the east African highlands. The present leadership favors close ties to France, which maintains a significant military presence in the country, but also has strong ties with the US. Djibouti hosts the only US military base in sub-Saharan Africa. (Source: CIA Factbook)