Djibouti – the only country name I’m aware of that contains a synonym for ass, that alone should be enough to justify a visit but if that doesn’t quite do it for you, there are a few other gems in this hidden in this little ‘Dubai of Africa’…
As I have traveled through Africa, I heard more and more about how expensive Djibouti was so I caught myself thinking “should I go to Djibouti?”. I asked this question numerous times to numerous people and got the same negative response time and time again – Djibouti is boring, it’s f**king hot, it’s overpriced, there’s nothing to do. I decided to ignore everyone and head straight there anyway…
Boy, was I happy I did. Note this in your journal – Djibouti, in it’s own Francophile way, is an awesome place to backpack. Also, I have a bone to pick with the lonely planet too, from their Africa guide I was expecting Djibouti to decimate my bank account but alas, that’s not necessarily so. True it’s not Ethiopian prices but then where is?!
I guess there are 3 main places which your trip to Djibouti will look to include. Djibouti city itself, Lac Assal and Lac Abbé. All of these are worth a visit for sure although this is where Djibouti can begin to eat your cash :S
Djibouti City, the capital of this tiny country, is a place apart from the Horn of Africa. Colonised by the French in the 19th Century it still holds the French feeling throughout the whole city. If you forget yourself for a moment you could feel you’re wandering down a Parisian street as you chew on your baguette (cheap and delicious here by the way!). The architecture flips between European and African as does the cuisine so it truly holds an ambience unlike anything you’ll have experienced before, try to spend a day soaking it up. I actually spent 3 days here and enjoyed them thoroughly.
Lac Assal – brings goggles and plenty of cash. If you’ve been to the top of Kilimanjaro on your African odyssey you will, no doubt, delight in telling your friends that you’ve been to the summit of Africa (I regularly remind everyone of my time there :P) – how about telling them now that you’ve been to the bottom of Africa (is that the right word?!). What I mean is this is the lowest point on the continent, 150m below sea level and it’s salty, real salty. There are 2 ways to get here (and public transport, as I said, is not one of them :S):
1) Rent a car – costs around $75-$125 but you do need a 4 wheel drive, so that will be around the $100 mark
2) Go on a tour. If you have 6 people + you can go around various tour agents (there are loads in the city) and pay around $35 per person to go. Or if you’re feeling lucky, you can go on your own and hope to coincide with another group.
Lac Abbé is another cracking trip but again it doesn’t come cheap. Same situation with the car and 4WD so join a tour or rent a car, no other options I’m afraid. Generally speaking, you’ll drive here, spend the night there (you can sort that out when you get there, no probs) and see sunrise the next morning, pretty spectacular. I guess the best way to describe it is if you try to imagine what the world would look like 1000 years after a nuclear holocaust, this is pretty much it. A barren landscape that stretches as far as you can see, spewing out steam at its will – really amazing. Google image it and book your car!
Ok, so Djibouti is a cool place. Not as expensive as some will lead you to believe and if you can’t afford the 2 lakes I personally think it’s still well worth the visit for the city alone, there’s nowhere quite like it in the world. If you can afford the lakes then you’re in for a real treat so make sure you have a big enough memory card for all those photos you’re going to take.
My price guide would be this: If you stay for 4 days or so and don’t visit the lakes, you’ll need around $150 to visit Djibouti. Extend that by a couple of days and visit the lakes, that figure will jump to $400 or so for 6 days (but it’s well worth it if you can afford it).
Budget: Not as pricey as people say but still not cheap – $25-$40 per day (excluding car rental)
Food: street food and supermarkets allow you to eat for $2 – $4 per meal. Cheap restaurants are $3-$6 per meal. The French hangover in Djibouti means that delicious pastries, croissants, pain au chocolate are in abundance here.
Accommodation: The biggest cost. Start at $20 per night + (BUT that includes air conditioning which is almost a necessity in Djibouti!) I recommend the Horseed, with ice cold AC – just remember to barter hard!
Transport: Getting around the city you can use minibuses for next to nothing. Around the country, it’s pretty much nonexistent and you need car rental to visit the lakes unfortunately.
People: Really cool although bring a French phrase book, English isn’t widespread
Weather: HOT AS HELL!!!!, bring sunscreen and drink plenty of water
Religion: Predominately Muslim, although in comparison to Somaliland or Sudan it’s quite understated generally.
Currency: $1 USD – 180 Djibouti Francs. ATMS do work with foreign cards although they’re not entirely reliable so bring cash (USD or Ethiopian Birr just in case)
Visa: $30, not available on arrival by land. No probs to get, easiest in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Collect the same day if you ask nicely.