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Somaliland may not have the Taj, the Statue of Liberty or even a Macdonalds but I’d trade all three of these for one trip here. Really, of all the places I have been Somaliland really shakes up your preconceptions. You can’t walk up 100m up the street without shaking 10 people’s hands, you’ll have people bellowing and waving from across the road, people offering you Qat (a local leaf people chew here that ‘apparently’ gets you a bit removed from your conscious state :P), inviting you to their own houses etc. Friendly doesn’t even begin to describe it…

Somaliland flag

WHERE IS SOMALILAND?!

First, let me admit to my ignorance and admit I wasn’t aware of the 3 separate ‘countries’ within what we know as Somalia – Somiland, (the relatively safeish part), Puntland (the ‘probably too dangerous’ to visit part) and Somalia (the dangerous, pirate hoarding, Islamic fundamentalist part). Then let me confess that my visit to Somalia was in fact to Somaliland, in the north. Somaliland recognizes itself as an independent country, declared itself a republic nearly 20 years ago but has never been recognized as such by the international community hence the borders that we see still outlining the entire region as Somalia.

IS IT SAFE?!

Ok history lesson over! So Somaliland is pretty safe to be honest; don’t get me wrong the danger level doesn’t quite equate itself with nipping out for a cup of coffee in Belgium but relative to the region it’s safe as houses. That being said, you do require an armed guard (a steal at $10 per day) when you leave it’s capital, Heigeisha, although I hasten to add this is simply a safety precaution and to be honest pretty much unnecessary (thank God!)

Somaliland armed guard
us with our armed guard

For the 10, 000 greetings and will wishes I have received, I feel it’s my duty to add, I’ve also had one dude shouting “white man, I kill you”, another old guy try to slap my face and some crazy dude chucking a rock at my friend so don’t expect all roses and perfume! Remember it’s still a 100% Islamic state and there are people who bear grudges against the white people for our colonial past (and ultimately breaking up their nation into 3 separate areas) and more recently for the wonderful work Mr Bush has done to antagonize and alienate an entire people. Don’t fret though, I promise you will be blown away by the vast majority of SomaliLander’s hospitality, affability and warmth and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.

WHERE SHOULD I VISIT?

Ok, down to business. It’s not easy to travel around Somaliland and that’s an absolute fact, and as i mentioned when you leave the capital it’s mandatory to bring a police escort, but at $10 a day I’m sure the budget can stretch and besides it’s a great story to tell when you get back home

There are 3 main places of interest in Somaliland – Hargeisha, Berbera and Laas Geel. All of which you’ll want to see but 2 of which are far from easy to arrange on your own…

Hageisha is the capital and is a nice place to stay for a few days and absorb the unique culture. There’s not too much to see in terms of sights aside from the market on Indepance Road and the Mig Jet Statue.

Somaliland independence

WHAT DO I DO ON ARRIVAL?!

My advice would be to head straight to Independence Road, which is in effect the city centre, and find some accommodation there. I stayed in the Siraaj Hotel, opposite Jama Mosque and for $8 a night you can get a twin room, en suite with a fan and TV, awesome staff and cleaner than my own bedroom! There are plenty of similar hotels around the market there.

When you arrive in Somailand, unless you’re flying, you’ll have to return to Ethiopia, which means you’ll need another Ethiopian visa. You can get this in Hageisha but it can be a bit tricky.

First you have to go to Somaliland Immigration and get a letter of recommendation (costs $10 although I’m pretty sure that went in the guys back pocket). You also need 2 passport photos, a photocopy of your passport and a photocopy of your entry stamp to Somaliland. You have to do this before 11am.

After that you need to head to the Ethiopian Embassy, again before 11am, hand over $20, another 2 passport photos, your letter of recommendation and plead to get your passport back the same day which is possible if the guy likes you, if not come back tomorrow :S

Job done!

The bureaucracy doesn’t end there though!  So you have your Ethiopian visa, you have a nice hotel in the city centre and now you want to venture out to Berbera or Laas Geel…

Berbera is a beach town about 100km from the capital. On paper it’s simple, take a public bus, whack on your swimmers and jump in – not so! It’s illegal to take a public bus outside the city as a foreigner, so you need to rent a car. But it’s also illegal to drive without a ‘bodyguard’ so you need to arrange that too. Head to the Department of Tourism and speak to the director, who can arrange the guard for you at $10 per guard per day. 2 people will require 2 guards, 3 require 3 and so on. Renting a car is around $20-$30 for the day and is easy to sort out on Independence road.

Laas Geel is awesome. Basically, its hundreds of Neolithic rock paintings in a networtk of caves and it was only discovered in 2003, crazy eh?! This place will be world famous when the international community begin to recognize Somaliland as a republic so get there now before the hoards of tourists turn up and ruin it all! And you can triumphantly declare you were there before the Starbucks was built at the entrance 😛 Again, you need to rent a car and brings a bodyguard so either try to do a day trip to here and Berbera in one day or make sure you have enough cash to rent them for 2 days, including dinner and accommodation.

Somaliland Las Geel

las geel

Alternatively, the Oriental hotel can organize all this for you and set-up a day trip to both places. Naturally you pay a premium for this service but it’s pretty user friendly and if time is an issue this will be much quicker than doing it yourself.

Somaliland

Budget: $10-$15 per day (excluding bodyguards and car rental)

Food: around $2 per meal and pretty delicious (spaghetti is their staple carb believe it or not)

Accommodation: $3-$10 per night per person

Transport: tough to use public transport but about a dollar an hour if you dare…

People: ridiculously friendly aside from the odd hardliner who mightn’t love your presence!

Weather: hot hot hot, bring suncreen and drink plenty of water

Religion: 100% Muslim so try to be culturally sensitive in terms of behaviour and dress.

Currency: NO ATMS HERE, BRING USD. 6000 shillings is $1 USD (note: their biggest note is 500 shillings, about 15 cents!, change up $50 and you’ll feel like Michael Douglas from Wall Street I promise)

Visa: $30, not available on arrival by land. Get in London, USA or Ethiopia

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40 thoughts on “A Backpacking Guide to Somaliland

  1. Being from Somaliland makes me proud to read about your experience in home country. The country has so much potential to become a tourist attracting area and we as Somalilanders have to invest in that, and work to develop our tourism in order to host more lovely tourists like you. Wish to see you soon in Somaliland

  2. Hi Johnny,
    Thanks for sharing! Great trip…
    I stumbled upon your blog as I am looking for information about Somaliland: I will be in Ethiopia in November for about 4 weeks and consider extending with 10 days to 2 weeks in Somaliland.
    Is it in you opinion enough? I know it never is, but do you think this might give a good glimpse of the country?
    When were you there?
    Cheers, Gilles

  3. Great beat ! I wish to apprentice while you amend your website, how could i subscribe
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  4. I’m glad to see a positive post about somaliland. I went last summer and thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt like a millionaire with all those 500 shillings!

    * 500 shillings is the smallest note

  5. Hey! Thanks for GREAT tips and info. Planning on travelling to Hargeisa from Ethiopia in April but can’t figure out how to deal with insurance. I can’t find one single company that will insure me for Somaliland. How did you solve that?

  6. Quite a while since this article, but nice post mate and Im glad you enjoyed somalilands acquaintance.

    I’m a student up here in the Uk, Starting uni next year (im 17) and hargeisa is my hometown. I hope to go visit soon during holidays saving up from my internet ventures.

  7. There are 3 main places of interest in Somaliland – Hargeisha, Berbera and Laas Geel.

    Good read. There are more than 3 main places of interest in Somaliland. You guys should have gone to the highlands Daallo escarpment in the Northeast of Somaliland near Erigabo town.
    It has a breath taking landscapes, wildlife and flora & fauna. Perfect for backpacking etc
    You can go from Hargeisa to Berbera through Sheikh pass to Burao then Erigabo town.

    Checkout The Somaliland National Tourism Organisation facebook page.
    here is link: http://www.facebook.com/visitsomaliland

    cheers

      1. If you go back. I’m coming with you, so keen to do an adventurous trip like this just haven’t got enough experience to go on my own yet

      2. If you go back. I’m coming with you, so keen to do an adventurous trip like this just haven’t got enough experience to go on my own yet

  8. There are 3 main places of interest in Somaliland – Hargeisha, Berbera and Laas Geel.

    Good read. There are more than 3 main places of interest in Somaliland. You guys should have gone to the highlands Daallo escarpment in the Northeast of Somaliland near Erigabo town.
    It has a breath taking landscapes, wildlife and flora & fauna. Perfect for backpacking etc
    You can go from Hargeisa to Berbera through Sheikh pass to Burao then Erigabo town.

    Checkout The Somaliland National Tourism Organisation facebook page.
    here is link: http://www.facebook.com/visitsomaliland

  9. Hey Johnny,

    Very helpful info. Thanks. I’m headed there soon and was just wondering, is it easy enough to get the taxi from airport to Independence Road?

    And about how much does it cost to hire the car (with petrol) for the trip to Berbera / Las Geel? (I know the guard is $10/day)

    Thank you!
    Patrick

    1. hey mate, yeah really easy to get a cab mate. And everyone knows independence road too. I think to hire the car with petrol is around $100 for the day, you can visit berbera and las geel in one day if u start early too so i’d recommend that. Good luck mate!

  10. Hey Patrick,

    Very helpful info. Thanks. I’m headed there soon and was just wondering, is it easy enough to get the taxi from airport to Independence Road?

    And about how much does it cost to hire the car (with petrol) for the trip to Berbera / Las Geel? (I know the guard is $10/day)

    Thank you!
    Patrick

    1. Hey patrick, the taxi is a walk in the park! Renting a car though can be quite expensive (up to $100 per day!) so if you can share with someone else, it’ll be much more viable. Safe travels 🙂

  11. In Berbera The Dive Shop – as the Instructor who trained steve i have to say he is not an Instructor i am Andrew Oliver my padi number is 604388 ask to see some diving id from this man.

  12. Yesterday I was in Berbera port helping to facilitate a Development project between international community and the Port of Berbera Authorities.

  13. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  14. Great travels … finally some real stuff beyond the cliched shit of the travel blogsphere. Somali-land: it’s on my radar, as several Somalis have recommended it to me … Can’t wait.

    And it would be nice if the rest of Somalia would also cool down … Islamic Sharia state or not; to see the place get some peace and the people allowed to return to really living again (as opposed to just existing amid conflict).

    Regards – MRP | the candy trail … a nomad across the world, since 1988

    1. couldnt agree more. Somaliland has actually been quite a stable autonomous state for years now but the western powers that be refuse to recognise them as a country, despite their individual government, currency, flag etc (all they’re really lacking is a football team :P).

      Walking around and talking to people there, they completely disassociated themselves from their southern counterparts and take great pride in the fact that their ‘country’ is safe. Time will tell what happens but your right, it would be great for the entire region to live at peave with each other. Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Southern Somalia all have a part to play

      1. I know that your time in Somaliland was brief to really understand the complexity of the Somali conflict that resulted in the breakup of the country but I strongly suggest you do some research before you recommend further division of the Somali people. Somalia is one and recognizing Somaliland sovereignty as a separate state will just open the gate for more region (regions in Somalia are controlled by Tribal associations) to declare independent and Somalia will cease to exist as a unified people and country.

  15. I am very impressed you went to Somalia – I really didn’t think it was possible. I did know about Somaliland as I worked with Somalian refugees in the UK and there were very distinct groups that is hard to understand as an outsider. All the Somalians I worked with were lovely though so I am not surprised you got a (mostly) friendly welcome.

    1. Hey Erin,

      It was a really intense experience but one I thoroughly enjoyed. People were so warm, and in Somaliland they went that extra length to ensure you were aware that their area was much safer than the notorious Mogadishu area! Understandable . Very true it was too, don’t think i’ll be rushing to Mogadishu any time soon that’s for sure, that maybe have to stay on the list for a while yet! I hope you guys get the chance to venture over this way sometime soon =)

  16. Honestly I had no idea about the three separate parts of Somalia either! Thanks for all the practical travel info, I’m sure travelers to Somaliland will definitely find it helpful. Have to admit I got tripped up when I read this section right after you’d been talking about local antagonism: “Don’t fret though, I promise you will be blown away” – might not be the best idiom to use! : )

    1. lol, i thought i’d discreetly whack that in and have a (inappropriate :P) giggle to myself but u spotted straight away!

  17. I think you actually meant Laas Geel. How can you say the place was only discovered in 2003? The Somali’s knew about it all the time. Or are they not people or lesser people? You should also have traveled up the mountain from Berbera to Sheikh. It is a panoramic drive up the mountain pass. There you could see an old fort, and the old British colonial buildings. There is also an ancient city under ground that still waits to be excavated, according to the archaeologists who “discovered” Laas Geel. And not far from there is the village of Calaacuule (there are different spelling possibilities) with its irrigation system and a real cave of which the end was still not found, from which the water for the irrigation system flows. Be prepared to crawl on hands and knees. But come with headlights and enough batteries if you want to do some serious cave crawling. And then the old town of Zeylac close to the Djibouti border, which was an ancient port. Unfortunately I have not yet had the opportunity to go there. I also heard rumors of another site that contains rock art. You could also from Dubatho, where you turned left to Laas Geel, turned right just outside the town on the way to Berbera. From there you could drive to Goda Weyn, and then to the look out point at Gaal on the top of the Gacan Libax mountain for a panoramic view – if it is not misty, which it was when I was there. In Berbera, at the Maan Soor Hotel you could also do some scuba diving with Steve Atkinson. Somaliland has so much more than meets the eye.

    1. hey Rudie, thanks for the spelling corrections, they’ve been altered accordingly True, the somalis knew about it all the time however if we are to be pedantic about it surely then nothing is truly ‘discovered’ by anyone aside from the aborigines right?

      although i understand what you’re saying so i should state that they were first discovered by and marketed to the wider world in 2003

      I wish i had as much time as you had in Somaliland, i really loved it there and hope to go back soon. Unfortunately i’m moving to Malaysia in December so my time frame is limited and i need to get to cairo by december to connect for my flight :S

      Thanks for adding all the info though, what year did u go?

      1. Hi Johny. Just being naughty. I am an (South) African, and enjoy taking on the Western idea of being THE people. So if something was not known in the West before, and “discovered” by a Westerner, it “was not there before” ;-).

        I am replying lat s I was traveling between South Sudan and Somaliland. And again, I was “cheating” a little bit. I have been working in Somaliland – mostly Hargeisa and Sheikh, with one trip to Laas Canood since February 2008. I am temporarily working in South Sudan, and will be between the two countries and Puntlnd for some time.

        1. no probs Rudie! Are you in Southern Sudan right now? I’m currently in Northern Ethiopia and on my way to Sudan next week. Any advice?!

          1. Hi Johnny. I will be in Hargeisa for the next 2 weeks, and then go back to South Sudan. Keep in mind that Sudan is the biggest country in Africa. My experience of the country is limited to the South, and a short working stint in Khartoum. I you are traveling by road, try to follow the flow of the Blue Nile to Khartoum via Ed Damazin. I did that road in 2005. And then from Khartoum go north to do the Temple Trail at Mussawarat and Pyramids at Meroe. Tourism in the South is still undeveloped, but there is a new nature reserve at Nimule. That is where the White Nile enters Sudan from Uganda

    2. Great read and blog. Just came back from Somaliland myself. There are more then three sighseeing sites. I have been to Hargeisa, Laas Geel, Borama, Berbera, Sheikh, Burao, Erigavo, Daallo Mountain, Maydh and Zeila Island. There are a couple rock painting sites such as Laas Geel, Dhagax Khoure and Dhagax Marodi. It has many sightseeing so maybe on your next trip you should visit these. There’s these days more info available on Somaliland. For example http://www.somalilandtravel.com Btw Good luck on your trip to Azerbaijan. I’ve been there last year for a wedding of a friend of mine. Baku is beautiful and don’t forget to visit Qubustan rock paintings.

  18. Just read your comments that seems good impression from Somaliland. I think you will be back to Somalialnd soon Welcome again we are the only legal firm that operates inside Somaliland

    1. Hey Hassan,

      thanks for the comment. I really loved Somaliland – so interesting and seriously different from any other country i’ve managed to get too. I’ll definitely be back!

  19. What a great adventure guys, I will love to go their again it is really a splendid place to be, and ppl in there are so welcoming.

    1. hey james,

      have u been to somaliland? it’s a great place to well and truly get off the beaten track eh? did u make it to berbera?

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