Djibouti is a small nation located at the point at the Gulf of Aden, where the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean meet. It gained its independence from France in 1977 and is currently governed in a multiparty arrangement based on the French and Islamic systems of law.
The capital city of Djibouti is also known as Djibouti (or Djibouti town or Djibouti city), and around 65 percent of the nation’s population lives in this urban center. It is from here that most visitors start their journeys to explore the relatively untouched, isolated, and breathtaking sights of this small yet remarkable nation.
Djibouti enjoys a strong economic relationship with neighboring Ethiopia, which uses Djibouti’s port for its exports. The two nations are connected by the Ethiopian-Djibouti rail link.
1. Lake Assal: Visit the lowest point on the African continent: Lake Assal is roughly 155 meters below sea level. It is also the saltiest body of water on Earth, almost 35 percent more saline than the Dead Sea. Salt flats surround the lake where salt is mined for export to Ethiopia; they are a strange but beautiful sight. It gets very hot at Lake Assal, so remember to bring enough bottled water and dress accordingly.
2. Djibouti Town: Explore the capital city, both the traditional side (inhabited by Djiboutians) and the expatriate neighborhoods, complete with Western restaurants. Wander in the market, and observe the sale and consumption of the popular drug called khat, made of leaves of a plant native to East Africa that are chewed to give the user a sense of euphoria.
3. Moucha and Maskali Islands: These islands are about a 45-minute boat ride from the port of Djibouti town. The waters off these islands are a dream for divers: manta rays and various types of sharks live around the islands.
4. Khor Ambado: Located a 45-minute drive by four-by-four from Djibouti town in Tadjoura Bay, this idyllic white sand beach is a wonderful snorkeling spot. Explore a reef teeming with sea life just 115 feet (35 meters) from the shore. Though a popular destination for European tourists and expatriates, Khor Ambado is rarely busy.
5. Lake Abbe: This salt lake sits on the border between Djibouti and Ethiopia, at the Afar Triple Junction, where three pieces of Earth’s crust meet and form a depression in the earth. It is part of a string of six connected lakes in Ethiopia. The most impressive feature of this lake is its limestone chimneys, some of which reach heights of 164 feet (50 meters) and vent steam. Small camps of the nomadic Afar people can be found around the shores of the lake, as well as pink flamingos.
6. Gulf of Tadjoura: The best beaches in Djibouti are in this region. The town of Tadjoura has a small airport, providing easy access for tourists. That town has traditionally been a bustling port and trade center.
7. Grande Pecherie: This fish market in Djibouti town is set up along the waterfront early in the morning. Have your choice of fresh-caught fish prepared in front of your eyes. High quality and unbeatable prices: that’s certainlya winning combination for food lovers.
The climate in Djibouti, a desert country, remains hot and arid year-round. Temperatures are especially high in the summer months, so we recommend visiting between October and April.
Visas: To enter Djibouti, foreign nationals are required to have a valid visa, passport, and proof of yellow fever vaccination. It is possible to purchase a visa at the airport in Djibouti, but doing so is not advisable. We recommend securing your visa before you arrive. A list of entry and exit requirements is available on the U.S. Department of State’s consular website.
Transportation: The main form of transportation in Djibouti is driving. We recommend renting a car; most of them will come with a driver. If you’re traveling outside of the city, a four-by-four is your best choice: many of the roads in Djibouti are unpaved and can be dangerous at night.
There are taxis in Djibouti town, but taxi drivers are infamous for overcharging tourists. Be aware of rates before you agree to a price offered by a taxi driver.
Mobile Phones: Even if you have an international plan on your mobile phone, making local calls or calls back home can be very expensive. If you plan on using a phone while traveling, you might buy a prepaid mobile or an SIM card and add minutes as needed. Keep in mind that mobile phone coverage is limited outside of Djibouti town.
Djibouti is generally safe for foreign visitors and enjoys a stable political climate, yet the unstable situations in some of its neighbor states are reminders that tourists must remain cautious. Check the U.S. Department of State’s consular website for travel warnings in Djibouti before planning your trip.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has created a security ratings system called the Ibrahim Index, wherein scores are based on each country’s quality of government. Before traveling to Djibouti or anywhere on the continent, check the index and do your research.
The oral tradition constitutes the earliest record of Djibouti’s beginnings: through poetry and song, past inhabitants of Djibouti learned about the nomadic traditions of their ancestors, who traded animal hides for spices, perfumes, and cloth from Egypt and as far away as China. Djibouti was one of the first places in Africa to be introduced to Islam, thanks to their trade ties to the Arabian Peninsula.
The French first took interest in the region in the late 19th century as a response to the growing British influence in Egypt and the construction of the Suez Canal. Djibouti town became the administrative capital of the protectorate in 1892, and in 1896 the protectorate was named French Somaliland. The Djibouti-Ethiopian rail link was originally constructed between 1897 and 1917 as the Franco-Ethiopian railway, fostering trade between Ethiopia, French Somaliland, and Europe.
In 1958, French Somaliland became a French overseas territory, but many Djiboutians began to clamor for independence. In 1967 the French government changed the name of French Somaliland to the French Territory of Afars and Issas.
In 1977, Djibouti finally attained independence from France, and Hassan Gouled Aptidon became its first president; he led the nation until 1999. Ismail Omar Guelleh succeeded him and will remain in office until elections are held in 2011.
In 1991 civil war broke out between the Djibouti government and an Afar rebel group. The war was resolved in 1994, when members of the Afar group were accepted as part of the national government.
1. Djibouti has a very important and active port in the Gulf of Aden. This East African nation is just smaller than Massachusetts. It is bordered by Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Djibouti is divided into five districts: Ali Sabih, Dikhil, Djibouti, Obock, and Tadjoura.
2. The photographing of public buildings and infrastructure is prohibited in Djibouti. Be very careful when using your camera: it is always better to ask permission before taking a photo.
3. The currency in Djibouti is the Djibouti franc, represented by the symbol DJF. Djibouti is largely a cash-based society, and there are very few ATMs, even in the capital. We recommend changing your money before departing for Djibouti or at the airport when you arrive.
4. Djibouti has a population of slightly over 500, 000. The main ethnic groups are the Issa (from Somalia), the Afar, and Ethiopians. The official languages of Djibouti are French and Arabic, and Somali and Afar are widely spoken.
5. Djibouti is a primarily Muslim country. Dress on the conservative side, but remember to stay cool to avoid overheating.