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Travel to Somalia; How I Traveled to Mogadishu

I’ll admit it, I was scared to travel to Somalia properly, and even back in 2010 during my overland trip from South Africa to Syria by public transport stint, when I had the chance to visit the ‘kind-of-fake’ Somalia I was still terrified. After a few too many beers in neighbouring Ethiopia with one of my closest friends, a little male posturing, and before we knew it we had our Somaliland visas in hand and we finally were ready to travel to Somailand in northern Somalia, which for all intents and purposes is an independent nation called Somaliland. So, by visiting Somaliland, had I REALLY been to Somalia? Probably not. It was time to right that wrong.

Travel to Somalia
Travel to Somalia; My security detail in Mogadishu, Somalia


Somaliland is separated from Somalia proper in that it has its own Government, its own flag, its own currency, even its own passport. It is a self-declared republic and is 1000x safer than Somalia to the south. Due to political pressures from the UN and various western superpowers, Somaliland is only recognised by 8 nations (Belgium being one of them), so technically it could be argued that it IS Somalia, but in reality, it really, really isn’t, and I knew it.

Still, it was nervewracking to enter Somaliland, and I ended up having a ridiculous adventure there with a Saudi property tycoon, some illegal alcohol, a convicted terrorist and some dubious ladies of the night in full burkas. You can check out that story here. But all’s well that ends well and I moved on to Sudan, Egypt (3 days in Cairo), Jordan, Lebanon and we travelled to Syria, a hell of a trip that was.

As I approached country 187 of 197 countries in the world, just 10 countries to go, the shadow of my visit to Somaliland was hanging over me. I had spent 10 years REALLY travelling the world, none of this border jumping, flying into airports and out again, transits and 1 day per country stuff that that vast, vast majority of people who have visited every country in the world have done, and I knew I was cheating myself with Somalia, had I truly visited Somalia? Not really and it was keeping me awake at night. I had to be true to myself, so I set out to put it straight.


I was going to go to travel to Mogadishu, perhaps the most dangerous city in the world, home to the ‘Black Hawk Down’ escapade and even more worryingly it’s a hotspot for Al-Shabaab, an offshoot of Al-Qaeda. With that in mind, I started reaching out to various contacts in my travel world who could provide me with some remnants of safety, and I ended up with a shortlist of 2 ‘agents’ who could secure me a visa for Somalia, armed guards, a guarded compound, and some ‘tours’ of Mogadishu and the surrounding areas, 4 days or so, for a vaguely affordable price.

Just before I confirmed I had one last contact, an American guy Rob (thanks buddy), who had experience in war zones and had actually been to Mogadishu (and was ambushed by terrorists and nearly died, not good). I spoke to him about my 2 contacts and he told me, in no uncertain terms, that choosing agents based on price in a place like Mogadishu, Somalia was tantamount to stupidity and suicide.

Furthermore, he would only ever use one guy in Mogadishu, and the cost should be irrelevant, that guy was Bashir (, a young entrepreneur and founder of the Peace Hotel, Mogadishu, the safest hotel compound in the city. Rob was more informed than me, so I took his advice and organised everything with Bashir, he was amazing to deal with, and it was the right choice to go with him. Before long I had my flights from Istanbul booked, and was ready to go.

travel to somalia
Boarding card to travel to Mogadishu, Somalia!



And with that, I was off. Bangkok to Istanbul, Istanbul to Djibouti, Djibouti to Mogadishu, Somalia. Bashir had organised an airport pick-up, and then an armed escort to the compound. From there I’d settle in, and then each day I’d have 2-day tours of Mogadishu, a 3rd day escape from the city to the beach and then finally on the 4th day, depart where I’d fly to Oman and try (and fail, 5 times) to enter Yemen, quite the duo of countries those 2 would have been.

peace hotel mogadishu
Getting my escort to the secure compound as I travel to Mogadishu


Landing in Mogadishu was a weird vibe, the airport is pretty snazzy due to Erdogan’s back-slapping with the Somalian Government, but we’ll leave that there, but a sexy airport can’t hide the reality, and after my escort has me stamped through immigration, I jump into the $200,000 armoured SUV, along with 2 Somalis and their AK47s, my guide, and 4 more guards in the back. Checkpoint, after checkpoint, the security was intense but the Peace Hotel is still in ‘the safe zone’ (ironic) near the airport so you don’t have to traverse the most dangerous stretch from the airport to the city.

It’s often targeted as the terrorists know there may be diplomats, politicians, journalists, aid workers etc running back and forth from the airport, so it’s a prime spot for attacks. Happy to dodge that one today.  As I was leaving Istanbul airport 8 hours or so ago, I had heard reports of an attack in Mogadishu and I was worried about the security but also worried that the flight would be cancelled, but alas, it wasn’t. So when I arrived I was asking what had been happening with the attack in the city.

Al Shabaab

It turned out that one of the other secure hotel compounds had been attacked by Al Shabaab, the compound belonging to the group that I had been in contact with, wow. Al Shabaab had heard government officials were staying there so one suicide bomb car blew up the blast wall, another suicide bomb car then hit the secure wall and blew it up, Al Shabaab stormed the compound killing anyone on sight but hunting down the Government officials, 7 dead. You could see the smoke in the sky, maybe only 5km away. This was a worrying start to my trip.

We headed straight to the Peach Hotel regardless, just a stone’s throw from the last airport checkpoint, checked-in, logged on, and relaxed for a late afternoon and delicious dinner. I even managed to score a Somalian football shirt from the old lady in the compound, finally a good omen for my trip.

Somalia Travel
Somalia Travel; $8 well spent, although I’m not sure Adidas know much about this sponsorship deal!


I woke up early the next day, excited and scared about the day ahead. I had no idea what to expect, what the city would even look like, would people be walking around? Can we stop for tea? Literally, I knew nothing. What I did know was that we’d be going to check out the site of the Black Hawk Down movie, that would be a strange experience.

So we loaded up the SUV, 4 guards in the back of my SUV, one in the front, the driver and me and my buddy Scott who had agreed to join at the last minute. In front of us was another SUV as part of our entourage, only this one was even bigger with 8 fully armed guards, it was like a scene from Rambo and in all honesty, I don’t know if it made me feel more secure, or less secure, in an odd way. I couldn’t help but think we were drawing a lot of attention to ourselves but these guys knew best so off we went.

Guards with AKs, and ice-creams

During the next 2 days, I had a really fascinating time. The fish market, stopping for Ice Cream, ‘Peace Park’, almost convincing myself that it wasn’t THAT dangerous. Although not being allowed to enter the fish market until the AK-wielding unit covered all exits and were on their earpieces the whole time was very unnerving, and after spending some time in the market, it all felt a little off. The smiles I had been used to in other East African countries had been replaced by looks of suspicion as opposed to curiosity, tension rather than warmth.

The feeling didn’t escalate much until 10 minutes later Mohamed suggests we go and drive past the compound that was attacked yesterday before I could say know, we were literally driving past it, and suddenly the reality of the situation re-dawned upon me. This place is no joke, and although the blasts and the bullet holes were scary, the scariest and saddest thing of all was the local Somalias going about their daily business next door to a smoking massacre scene. They have no choice but to carry on, no escape from the carnage, and it’s truly heartbreaking.

With a sadder tone, we continue on, until reaching the scene of Black Hawk Down, the carcasses of the tanks still there, simply towed to the side of the road and left, as there is no effective Government to initiate any proper sense of council or community, so it stands to this day.

Back to the compound in Mogadishu

After this, I was ready to return to the compound, and so we did just that. It was a lot to take in. I had wanted to come to Somalia proper to show the other side of the story, I love to show the humanity, the beauty of places as I had done in countries like Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea but with all the chaos here, it’s hard. This place really was a warzone, and to be frank, I didn’t feel right being here. That being said, the people I dealt with on a personal level had been hugely friendly, the staff at the hotel, the ‘guide’, Bashir, all amazing, but you can’t escape the reality of what is happening here, and as a European, I wasn’t safe, that’s a simple fact.

The next 2 days were more positive, however. Bashir really is quite the entrepreneur and he has plans for a beach resort, so we went to check out his land and go for a swim in the ocean there at Gezira beach region. Leaving Mogadishu behind and walking amongst the sand was a world apart from the previous days, but as you look at the horizon and watch our guards scour the distance for any untracked cars moving into our space is a constant reminded.

Somalia though, aesthetically, is wonderful. When peace returns, one day, this place can flourish once again. The people, by nature, are so hospitable and warm, and although the country has been through so much, there is still opportunity here and I hope one day, more people can come and see their untouched coasts and explore a region that very few have managed to see for the last couple of decades.

mogadishu beach

Mogadishu Old City, and a Christian Cathedral

I love Islamic architecture, it’s one of the reasons why the Arabic world is my favourite region, and the architecture followed Islam through East Africa, so we headed over to the old city to check it out. For a start, there is a Cathedral, which is the last thing I’d expect to see in downtown Mogadishu! Secondly, there is very little of the old city left. Bullet holes, air strikes, suicide bombs, you can see shadows of beauty, but it’s so so scared.

Mogadishu beach
Mogadishu beach
Is it safe to travel to Somalia?
Somalia travel

Is it safe to visit Somalia? Is it safe to travel to Somalia?

We continued our trip, visiting Bashir’s cousin who is building his own version of the Peace Hotel. It’s good to remember, that despite all the crazy terrorists, people are trying to live their lives, build their businesses, provide for their families. So when I ignore the sights and connect with the people, you never forget that we’re all the same, but these guys have been dealt a far rougher hand, and their strength and courage is impressive.

Nightlife in Mogadishu

Downtown Mogadishu
Downtown Mogadishu
Mogadishu nightlife
Mogadishu nightlife


When I logged on as soon as I got back to the compound I had an email alert saying my flight was cancelled. We had heard something flying through the sky as we were in the youth centre earlier that evening, but I couldn’t make it out properly. Turns out it was Al Shabaab firing mortars through the sky, attacking the airport, and the barracks at the airport. Oh shit.

I was on twitter, tweeting journalists, trying to find out what the hell was going on, but the info was so scarce. Our compound was only 1km from the airport though, so it wasn’t ideal. I got through to one journalist via Twitter DM and told me not to worry, it was a long-distance attack, and the terrorists were probably 5km or more away, but after the attack on the compound as I arrived, and now this, I was ready to leave. How ironic then that the airport was shut down and all flights cancelled.

We were stuck, and our 9 am flight wasn’t looking likely. Without much to do, and with no more info forthcoming, Scott and I tried to be calm and go to bed. Honestly, I actually slept well, I guess the emotions of the day had worn me out. As soon as I woke up though, I remember we were kinda stuck, the guards told me that the airport had only closed for 12 hours under fire, and would reopen, meaning our flight only left an hour or 2 late. The airport isn’t exactly inundated with planes, so getting a new slot to take-off wasn’t a problem.

Armoured escort to the airport

One last armoured escort to the airport and we were there. The month previously, I’m not sure if you saw on the news, but a terrorist had taken the plane from Mogadishu to northern Somalia (same route as me) and had detonated a bomb in the plane, but detonated too early during take off, and had managed only the door of the plane off, then got sucked out himself, died, and the plane turned around and landed with no casualties? Anyway, with that happening within the last 30 days we were expecting insane levels of security. Nope.

Quick bag check, through security, and we were off. Madness. I was connecting in another airport in Somalia, on to Kenya, to Dubai and then to Oman, it had been a crazy few days, and with 20 hours of flights ahead of me, I didn’t know where my head was. But I had now been to Somalia properly, I certainly hadn’t cheated myself this time. My advice? Stick to Somaliland, and wait for some modicum of peace before trying Mogadishu, it could be the last place you ever visit. Safe travels x

Is it safe to travel to Somalia?
Is it safe to travel to Somalia?
Is it safe to travel to Somalia?
Is it safe to travel to Somalia?

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27 thoughts on “Travel to Somalia; How I Traveled to Mogadishu

  1. Great piece! Somalis who have found this offensive are funny. Just because we wish it wasn’t so, doesn’t mean the country isn’t a dangerous, lawless, failed state. And in any case, this was his experience – respect his perspective. If you’re experience differs, then write your own blog.

    1. I hope for a brighter future for Somalia, from my experience the country is full of hope. But the hope is being destroyed by a violent minority 🙁

  2. My name iş hamsa and my parent are from somalia but i have not been there. I think your blog iş verry intresting because I have not been threr7

  3. You need to be corrected: No single nation nor country recognizes ‘Somaliland.’ As far as every world government is concerned it is part and parcel of Somalia.

    Who exactly misinformed you that Belgium out of all countries recognizes it? Belgium with its own internal secessionist issues would be the last to recognize anyone in Africa.

  4. Your article is good.It is very informative and useful .Thanks for Sharing the valuable informations.We are also provide the temple informationwith free of cost in over all India. So once you visit our website and give me your Valuable Suggestion

  5. What’s up friends, how is everything, and what you would like
    to say regarding this piece of writing, in my view its truly remarkable for me.

  6. That is such a nice thing to do, it seems very adventurous to me. the world is full of beauty only we have to explore it. keep it bro

    1. I’m only at 27 countries, but I travel the same way. Its refreshing to read about another traveler who really wants to experience each country to the fullest!

  7. Wow that is a such a big adventure although its not safe but the whole world is not like that.we have to explore what every place have in it. keep it i really appreciate that.

  8. Great story!! So do you recommend me to go there or at least with a program such as Untamed Borders??? By the way how many people were at the Peace Hotel??

  9. As a Canadian who lives in Somalia I found this post to be very exaggerated. A lot of overstating the dangers of evil Somalia. Everyone could ve trying to kill us. Armed guards. Black hawk down. Bullet holes.

    There is more to the country than that. There are more story lines there besides civil war and al shabab. I know plenty of white people in Somalia. None of us have armed guards. None of us ever fear for our lives.

    Theres more to know and express about Somalia than what is written here. Just as there is more to know about great white sharks than the fact they have lots of teeth and can be scary.

    Thanks for the article but the danger danger narrative of Somalia is no longer true. Most of Somalia, asides from a few neighborhoods in Mogadishu are more peaceful and serene than many places in North America. There are thousands of other narratives to be shared other than weapons, war, poverty and fear of being killed or taken hostage as a white person in Somalia.

    1. Hello,
      I am indian and i got job offer as civil engineer in mogadishu.. can you please advise that should i relocate to mogadishu or not?…

    2. Hello,
      I was scrolling through the comments when i saw your comment. I myself am Somali but have lived in England my whole life, and very time i go to Somalia I always meet a few people that are white (not trying to be racist) and they are completely fine and they have never had or felt the need to have a guard ect… this post was very exaggerated and as a Somali i sort of am offended by this post.

  10. 3rd paragraph under the section “2 Days in Mogadishu…” you wrote, “…before I had a chance to say know,” ….

    Just something you might want to fix.

    Other than that, I really liked it and thought this was very interesting.

  11. Wow! Great post and amazing story.
    My friends and family often tell me that I go to crazy and dangerous places – but this is next level! Glad you had a great time, and got out safe so the stories can continue!

  12. I admire your courage, Johnny! Not everyone is prepared to take a decision and a trip like this one.

  13. Amazing post. I definitely don’t have it in me to want to visit war zones like this haha! Great blog and ebook also, just discovered you recently. Very inspiring, I am based out of Bangkok too.

  14. Holy crap Johnny, what an insane story! I’m so glad everything turned out okay for you guys. You have certainly visited the real Somalia now for sure!

  15. You and Che Guevara have a gift for story telling. Reading this makes me think of the “Motorcycle Diaries” for some reason. I don’t know why, but it does. I think a large reason has to do with the fact that you actual travel to these countries and not just “tick them off.” There’s a real human element that comes across in your writings as a result much like the “Motorcycle Diaries.”

  16. You’re a ballsy dude, I have to give you that! Like you said, I’m sure there is plenty of humanity to showcase in Mogadishu and elsewhere in the country, but it’s awfully hard for foreigners to experience it and capture it in such a dangerous environment. I imagine it’s tough to experience a place like a local when you’re rolling in with a giant armed escort. I feel for the people who have to live with that chaos. I can’t imagine that being my day-to-day. We’ll hope to visit when it’s more stable, hopefully sooner rather than later. Enjoyed the post!

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