Somaliland is a self-declared independent state that is internationally recognized as an autonomous region of Somalia. The government of Somaliland regards itself as the successor state to the British Somaliland protectorate, which became independent on 26 June 1960 as the State of Somaliland, before uniting with the Trust Territory of Somalia (the former Italian Somaliland) on 1 July 1960 to form the Somali Republic.
Although the government is trying to establish a modicum of safety here, visiting is still not advised by the governments of Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US - although the area is viewed as safer than most of its neighbouring East African countries. The local government is very anxious to show its stability and, as a result, foreigners are generally treated with respect and interest. However, high unemployment and increasing discontent at being an unrecognized island of stability in a grim region does cause some resentment towards outsiders, particularly NGO workers.
For visitors exercising caution and respect, Somaliland is a fascinating and safe place to visit.
In 1988, the Siad Barre regime launched a clampdown against the Hargeisa-based Somali National Movement (SNM) and other rebel outfits, which were among the events that led to the Somali Civil War. The conflict left the economic and military infrastructure severely damaged. After the collapse of the central government in 1991, the local government, led by the SNM, declared independence from the rest of Somalia on 18 May of the same year.
Since then, the territory has been governed by an administration that seeks self-determination as the Republic of Somaliland. The local government maintains informal ties with some foreign governments, who have sent delegations to Hargeisa. Ethiopia also maintains a trade office in the region. However, Somaliland's self-proclaimed independence remains unrecognized by any country or international organization. It is a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, whose members consist of indigenous peoples, minorities, and unrecognized or occupied territories.
Somaliland is situated in northwestern Somalia. It lies between the 08°00' - 11°30' parallel north of the equator and between 42°30' - 49°00' meridian east of Greenwich. Somaliland is bordered by Ethiopia in the south and west, Djibouti in the northwest, the Gulf of Aden in the north, and the autonomous Puntland region of Somalia to the east.
The northern part of the region is hilly, and in many places the altitude ranges between 900 and 2,100 metres above sea level. The Awdal, Sahil and Maroodi Jeex (Woqooyi Galbeed) regions are fertile and mountainous, while Togdheer is mostly semi-desert with little fertile greenery around. The Awdal region is also known for its offshore islands, coral reefs and mangroves. A scrub-covered, semi-desert plain referred as the Guban lies parallel to the Gulf of Aden littoral. With a width of twelve kilometers in the west to as little as two kilometers in the east, the plain is bisected by watercourses that are essentially beds of dry sand except during the rainy seasons. Cal Madow is a mountain range in the northern part of the country. Extending from the northwest of Erigavo to several kilometers west of the city of Bosaso, it features Somalia's highest peak, Shimbiris, which sits at an elevation of about 2,416 metres. The rugged east-west ranges of the Karkaar Mountains also lie to the interior of the Gulf of Aden littoral. In the central regions, the northern mountain ranges give way to shallow plateaus and typically dry watercourses that are referred to locally as the Ogo.
The capital, Hargeisa, has a provincial museum. There is also a menagerie that includes lions, leopards, antelopes, birds, and reptiles.
Outside of Hargeisa, is the Laas Gaal, a complex of caves and rock shelters that contain some of the earliest known art in Africa, dating back to 9,000 B.C.
There is an international airport in Hargeisa with flights to and from Dubai, Djibouti City, and many other cities and towns across the Horn of Africa and the Somaliland region. There is also an international airport at Berbera with many international flights, most notably to Dubai. Note that some 'flights' from Hargeisa actually start with a bus ride to Berbera. If you are not Somali you may have difficulty getting through the police checkpoints unless you have written permission from the commander of police or take an armed guard (the Jubba flight from Hargeisa to Dubai is like this).
Jubba Airways or African Express from either Dubai or Djibouti is your best bet to get here. They have several flights a week and connect Hargeisa to Djibouti, Dubai, Nairobi and Entebbe. Djibouti to Hargeisa is about an hour-long flight. Dubai to Berbera takes three hours.
It is possible to enter Somaliland from Ethiopia by road. You can avoid paying many of the fees charged at the airport. If you don't have a visa to get back to Ethioppia, the Ethiopian visa in Hargeisa is easy to get, requires no paperwork and is available in one morning and costs US$20.
It is not possible to enter from Somalia, so don't even try.
Another option is the open border to the north to Djibouti. 4x4s leave Djibouti every day in the late afternoon and travel across the desert throughout the night to arrive in Hargeisa the next morning. They leave from Avenue 26 in Djibouti City, at a price of 5500 DJF.
To travel outside of major cities, the central government requires foreigners to take an armed guard with them.
Bus services operate in Hargeisa, Burao, Gabiley, Berbera and Borama. There are also road transportation services between the major towns and adjacent villages operated by different types of vehicles, such as 4-wheel drives and light goods vehicles (LGV).
You need a Somaliland visa to enter. Visas from Somalia are not accepted. Most travellers get a visa in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia or the Somaliland Mission in London. You can get details from the Somaliland government website or contact the Somaliland liaison office in Addis Ababa, phone +251 11 635921. A Somaliland visa is also allegedly available from the Somaliland representation in Djibouti. The unofficial Somaliland "embassy" in London will also issue a visa. The whole process is refreshingly unbureaucratic and can be handled by post, which makes London the most convenient place to get a visa for travellers who live in Europe and/or want to obtain a visa before travelling to the region.
Although the visa costs a reasonable US$30, there will be many additional fees. At Hargeisa airport, you must exchange US$50 to Somaliland shillings at a bank rate so atrocious that you will surrender US$25. On top of this covert bank fee is an entrance tax of US$30. Fees may vary.
See also Money Matters
For breakfast, Somalis eat a flat bread called laxoox and cereal or porridge made of millet or cornmeal. They also eat rice or noodles with sauce or meat for lunch. Pasta became very popular under Italian rule. Bananas are common in the south of the region. A traditional soup called maraq (also part of Yemen cuisine) is made of vegetables, meat and beans and is usually eaten with flat bread or pitta bread. Beans are usually eaten for dessert, and oat or corn patties and salad can be eaten too.
It is considered polite for guests to leave a little bit of food on their plate after finishing a meal provided by their host. This shows that the guests were given enough food and thus treated hospitably.
There are hotels being constructed in all of Somaliland's major cities. Hargeisa has seen most development.
Many Somalis adore spiced tea. Milk is also common in rural areas of Somaliland. Alcohol is prohibited and you will not find it publicly served anywhere in Somaliland.
Locals in Hargeisa drink tap water fixed by the Chinese government. The cleanliness is not perfect but adequate. However, it is better to play it safe and drink bottled water.
As with many developing countries, animals roam the streets and sanitation is poor. Be very aware of the risk of rabies. Bats may inhabit the countryside, and their bites can be nearly invisible, leaving a person unaware until it's too late.
There is a low risk of malaria in Somaliland, but the threat is still present. Many foreigners choose not to take anti-malarials.
Yellow fever is considered endemic in Somaliland. If you plan to travel to other countries that require proof of yellow fever vaccination, be sure you are vaccinated and have a certificate!
Vaccination against other endemic diseases common in developing countries (typhoid, polio, hepatitis A & B, etc.) is strongly recommended.
The infrastructure of Somaliland is still a shambles and that includes healthcare. If you have health problems or have concerns about getting treatment in an emergency, you will be putting yourself at great risk as the medical services in most areas are primitive and unsanitary by modern standards.
The most modernized and prominent hospital is the Edna Adan University Hospital in Hargeisa. However, it's mostly a maternity hospital and medical treatment there, although the staff are excellent, is limited by the serious dearth of resources in the country.
Somaliland is a relatively safe place, particularly compared to neighbouring Somalia. Knowing a little of the local language or having an interpreter can go a long way in gaining information from the local population, which is a valuable tool if you wish learn about the surrounding area.
Imprisonment and/or execution is the punishment for homosexuality here. So if you are gay and decide to visit, keep your sexual orientation secret.
The Somaliland government requires that all foreigners take armed guards when travelling outside of the major cities. These guards are known as SPUs (Special Protection Units) and are available from the local police department or the office of tourism in Hargeisa. The UN typically pays US$5 a day per SPU, but as a tourist it will be difficult to negotiate this price. SPUs will try to charge you anywhere from US$30 to US$40 a day, but US$15 a day is reasonable for both parties.
Under some circumstances it is possible to travel around Somaliland without an SPU. To do this you will need a letter from the commander of police. This can be obtained from the police HQ in Hargeysa (not the police station). Take the minibus to 'pepsi' (pronounced with a strong 'p') from the centre of town and get off just after you cross the dry river bed; the police station is on the right hand side of the road. The commander leaves at 11am each day so you will need to turn up in the morning and you may have to argue with the guard at the gate to be allowed in; they may try to send you to the SPU building round the corner. Stand firm and insist on seeing the Commander's secretary. The commander's secretary is very helpful and used to sorting this out. Give him the names of everywhere you wish to go and he will type up the letter and get the commander to sign it. Currently it's easy to get permission to travel to Berbera and Djibouti, other destinations may be harder and the situation may change.
The Republic of Somaliland is not recognized by any government. If you run into legal problems you are on your own, as there are no consulates to turn to for help. Learning local customs and laws is very important if you wish to minimize the chances of conflict with local authorities.
See also International Telephone Calls
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