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Djibouti (Arabic: جيبوتي) appears as a mere speck on a world maps, squeezed tightly between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia and pushed up against the Red Sea. Its inconspicuous geographic nature and troubled history of civil war have been the major brakes on Djiboutian tourism. Yet as internal storms have been calmed with reasonable success, matters are looking a little more positive for the traveller who enjoys being away from the crowd. Djiboutian attractions are varied: windsurfing on wheels in the desert; swimming, surfing and skiing at the beaches around Djibouti City; the lakes of Assal and Abbé, each gorgeous in its own right. The capital is the central hub of activity and the vast majority of the country's population reside there. It is a most fascinating site of cultural interest, but we recommend that for stunning sightseeing, visitors head out of Djibouti City. Tadjoura, across the gulf, is a particular highlight.
The history of Djibouti is recorded in poetry, songs, and folklore of its nomadic people and goes back thousands of years to a time when Djiboutians traded hides and skins for the perfumes and spices of ancient Egypt, India, and China. Through close contacts with the Arabian peninsula for more than 1,000 years, the Somali and Afar ethnic groups in this region became among the first on the African continent to adopt Islam. Growing French interest in the area took place against a backdrop of British activity in Egypt and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. Between 1883-87, France signed various treaties with the then ruling Somali Sultans, which allowed it to expand the protectorate to include the Gulf of Tadjoura. Léonce Lagarde was installed as governor of this protectorate. Boundaries of the protectorate, marked out in 1897 by France and Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, were reaffirmed by agreements with Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia in 1945 and 1954. The administrative capital was moved from Obock in 1896. The city of Djibouti, which had a harbor with good access that attracted trade caravans crossing East Africa as well as Somali settlers from the south, became the new administrative capital. The Franco-Ethiopian railway, linking Djibouti to the heart of Ethiopia, began in 1897 and reached Addis Ababa in June 1917, increasing the volume of trade passing through the port. French President Charles de Gaulle's August 1966 visit to Djibouti was marked by 2 days of public demonstrations by Somalis demanding independence. On September 21, 1966, Louis Saget, appointed governor general of the territory after the demonstrations, announced the French Government's decision to hold a referendum to determine whether the people would remain within the French Republic or become independent. In March 1967, 60% chose to continue the territory's association with France. In 1975, the French Government began to accommodate increasingly insistent demands for independence. In June 1976, the territory's citizenship law, which favored the Afar minority, was revised to reflect more closely the weight of the Issa Somali. The electorate voted for independence in a May 1977 referendum, and the Republic of Djibouti was established June that same year. Hassan Gouled Aptidon became the country's first president.
Djibouti is a country in the Horn of Africa. Djibouti shares 113 kilometres of border with Eritrea, 337 kilometres with Ethiopia, and 58 kilometres with Somalia. It has a strategic location on the Horn of Africa and the Bab el Mandeb, along a route through the Red Sea and Suez Canal. Djibouti's coastline serves as a commercial gateway between the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn region's interior. The country is also the terminus of rail traffic into Ethiopia. The majority of the country is mountainous or consists desert areas. Mountains in the center of the country separate a coastal plain and a plateau. The lowest point is Lac Assal (-155 metres) and the highest is Moussa Ali (2,028 metres). There is no arable land, irrigation, permanent crops, and negligible forest cover. However, there is some forestland in the Goda Mountains, especially in the Day Forest National Park. 9% of the country is permanent pastureland. Most of Djibouti has therefore been described as part of the Ethiopian xeric grasslands and shrublands ecoregion. The exception is a strip along the Red Sea coast, which is part of the Eritrean coastal desert; it is noted as an important migration route for birds of prey.
Djibouti is divided into 5 regions and one city:
Lake Asal is a salt water crater lake in the central area of the country. The lake lies 153 metres) below sea level in the Afar Depression making it the lowest point in all of Africa. The lake measures 10 kilometres by 7 kilometres. The average depth of the lake is 7.4 meters with a 34.8% salt concentration, which makes it have a higher salt concentration then the Dead Sea. The lake is fed by underwater springs and the main outflow is evaporation.
Lake Abbé is located on the Ethiopia-Djibouti border and is the terminus of the Awash River. The lake is known for many sights. The first is the stunning salt water. Second, is on the northwest shore rises the stunning volcano of Dama Ali. Third, the lake is known for its 50 m high limestone chimneys, which have steam emitting from them. On the shore of the lake live the nomadic Afar people and wild flamingos. Lastly the original Planet of the Apes was filmed here.
Marché Central located on Blvd De Bender in the capital is an amazing market that is worth checking out. The market starts pretty early in the morning and doesn't end until the late afternoon. The best time to visit the market in order to see the most activity is around 1:00pm. The market is very crowded and extremely load with the choir of car horns and hawkers.
New Year’s Day in Djibouti is celebrated with fervor. Schools and offices are closed and everyone puts on a festive sprit. New Year’s Eve parties are held everywhere and continue on until daybreak.
Djibouti’s Independence is celebrated on June 27 each year. The date commemorates the country’s liberation from France and highlights the best of their local traditions. Expect lively and colorful themed parades (which changes every year), as well as speeches from important dignitaries. There is plenty of dancing, singing and general merriment in addition to a military parade which showcases the different equipment the national army has at its disposal. The parade is conducted by troops from Germany, France and the USA, all led by an amusing marching band. A presidential address marks the commencement of the day's activities.
This 30-day fast in July is marked by devotional practices where women sing praise songs and read poems in their native tongue. The breaking of the fast begins with a sunset prayer after which people don’t consume anything but affur food. Ramadan ends with the Feast of the Sacrifice, which is also celebrated with prayer, rituals, and abundant food.
Fest’Horn is a special celebration of music in mid-December. This regional event was created to bring global attention to music from the Horn of Africa, and is marked by performances from artists in different genres.
Only a few Djiboutian are devout Christians, but Christmas is still widely observed on December 25. Christian churches are decorated with lights and candles and midnight mass is held, complete with choir singing.
Djibouti is hot and rather humid year round. Temperatures are highest between May and September, between 30 °C and 35 °C on average, but rising to over 40 °C sometimes. During the wintermonths, temperatures are still between 25 °C and 30 °C. Night time temperatures are 5 °C to 10 °C lower in general. Although Djibouti is rather dry year round, most of the rain falls in the cooler months between November and March. Inland though, most of the rain falls during the warmer April to October period. Here, because of the elevation, temperatures are slightly lower as well.
Djibouti Airlines is the main airline in Djibouti and has its base at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport (JIB) near the capital. Destinations include Addis Ababa, Aden, Borama, Boosaaso, Dire Dawa, Dubai and Hargeisa. Daallo Airlines has flights to and from London, Paris and Dubai. Air France flies to Paris and Kenya Airways to Nairobi, Yemenia to Sana'a and Eritrean Airlines to Asmara.
Trains travel between Djibouti City and the Ethiopian city of Dire Dawa. Trains leave three times a week in both directions and it takes around 13 hours to cover the route.
Technically it's possible to cross borders from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia (Somaliland). See below for details about crossings. Note that you have to have your insurance and car papers in order and that not all border crossings are open to individual travellers with their own wheels.
There is no official public transport between Djibouti and Eritrea but a combination of (shared)taxis and minivans travel between the border and towns in the two countries. From Eritrea, the main starting point is Assab. In Djibouti this is Obock, a town reachable by dhow or speedboat from Djibouti City.
There are daily Toyota Landcruisers travelling between Djibouti City and Hargeisa in Somaliland (Somalia), but it is a rough 20 hour ride.
There is a daily service between Djibouti City and Dire Dawa in Ethiopia, a 10 to 12-hour ride on a gravel road. You will take a bus to the border town of Gelille, then another bus to Dire Dawa.
If you want to enter Djibouti from Ethiopia via the border town of Galafi, the only option is to hitich a ride with one of the trucks that ply the route between Addis Ababa and Djibouti City via Awash, Gewane, Logiya and Dikhil. It's massive three days of travelling though so be prepared.
Although there is no fixed scheduled, there should be a couple of traditional dhow travelling between Djibouti City and Mokha in Yemen. It takes around 20 hours to cover this route. To add, there should be crossings to the southern port city of Aden in Yemen as well.
There are no scheduled services, so a small chartered plane will be your only option to fly to a few smaller airports in the country. But as distances are small, there really is no need for the normal traveller.
There is a train to Ali Sabieh from Djibout city towards the border with Ethiopia.
Several of the main roads, including a new one between Djibouti city and Tadjoura, are in good condition. Many other roads are not paved and require a 4wd vehicle. Be sure to carry fuel and water at all times, as it can be extremely hot and fuel can be hard to find in some remote areas. Cars can be hired at the international airport or downtown in Djibouti city. Traffic drives on the right and you need a national driver's licence and a local permit available at local authorities.
Buses travel from Djibouti city to almost any town in the country on a daily basis. Buses leave when full and it is best to show up early to secure a seat.
There are daily boats from L'Escale in Djibouti for Tadjoura and Obock on the north-east coast of the Gulf of Tadjoura. Check locally for times, as services are unreliable and can leave any time of day. It takes around 3 hours one way.
Visas are required by most nationals. Those travelling on French and Singaporean passports can get a visa on arrival for 5,000 DJF, valid for one month. Transit visas are valid for 10 days and are available on arrival at the airport to nationals of the European Union, Scandinavian countries and the USA for 10.000 FDJ (about US$55). If you plan to enter by land you have to arrange for visas in advance. Visas can be obtained from neighbouring countries and where no Djibouti embassy exists, they can often be obtained from the French embassy. The types of visas include: Entry (visa de séjour); Tourist (visa de tourisme); Business (visa d’affaires); and Transit (visa de transit).
Check the latest information about visas and embassies.
See also Money Matters
The currency of Djibouti is the Djiboutian Franc (DJF). The Djiboutian Franc is pegged to the US dollar.
Coins come in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 250 and 500 Djf. Banknotes come in denominations of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 Dfj.
Although French and Arabic are the official languages, Somali and Afar are widely spoken. English may be spoken at tourist facilities, but is not widely spoken by locals or taxi drivers.
Djibouti City by far has the widest choice of local and international restaurants.
Djibouti City offers a wide range of accommodation options. In other smaller cities and towns choices are more limited but you can find decent rooms for a fair price.
Don't drink local tap water but buy bottled water instead.
See also Travel Health
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is required upon entering Djibouti when you have been in a yellow fever country within 7 days of entering Djibouti. You have to have a cholera stamp (prove of the fact that you don't have that desease) when entering overland.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Djibouti. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. When staying longer than 6 months, vaccination against meningitis might be recommended, depending on your contact with other people.
Like most African countries south of the Sahara, Malaria is prevalent in the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Dengue sometimes occurs as well.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Djibouti generally is a very safe country to travel around and one of the safest anywhere in Africa. Even walking around the capital is safe for most of the day and in almost every area. Just take your normal precautions like you would do anywhere else in a big city. Visitors should be aware of the risk of banditry if traveling outside the capital city though. The main thing to concern is the extreme heat in some lower parts of the country where summer temperatures reach 50 °C. Bring sufficient water and fuel is you are by car.
See also International Telephone Calls
Djibouti's international telephone code is 253.
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