Djibouti, the Danakil and Somaliland
|BETWEEN||Djibouti and Hargeisa, Somaliland|
|COUNTRIES VISITED – 3||Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia (Somaliland)|
|MAXIMUM GROUP SIZE||12|
|WHATS NOT INCLUDED||
The horn of Africa is a fascinating mélange of cultures, from nomadic herders to Arabian traders and influences from across the Indian Ocean. It is also home to some of the continent’s most remote and breathtaking landscapes, a land where the taste of the wild is in the air, simply begging the intrepid traveller to explore. Starting in Djibouti we spend time in the remarkable Foret du Day National Park,an oasis of green in a stark and arid land, and enjoy the languid tropical atmosphere of Tadjoura with its Ottoman buildings. Moving on we visit Lac Assal and the spectacular Lac Abbe, a vast salt lake with tall limestone chimneys belching gas into the air that looks for all the world like it should be on another planet. We then cross into Ethiopia, heading into the Afar desert and meeting the formidable Afar people, once feared throughout the region. We hike up the volcano of Erta Ale and marvel at its lava lake, visit the hot springs at Dallol – the hottest place on earth – and look out for camel caravans carting blocks of salt across the desert. Leaving the desert behind we venture into the province of Tigray with its incredible rock cut churches as well as the ancient temple of Yeha, more than two and a half thousand years old. And finally in Ethiopia we head to Axum, once the centre of a powerful empire and reputedly home to the biblical Ark of the Covenant. From Addis Ababa we fly to Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland where we explore the central markets, full of exceptionally friendly traders. At Las Geel see incredible rock art which was only discovered a few years ago, and in the coastal city of Berbera explore the streets of Darole, packed full of Ottoman era architecture and reminiscent of the better known towns of the Swahili Coast. Finally, on our way back to Hargeisa we drive off road through gorgeous landscapes to the rock paintings of Dhagax Khoure, meeting nomadic communities en route. There are few places in the world that can compete with this region for real adventure.
Djibouti, the Danakil and Somaliland
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Day 1: Djibouti
Arrive in Djibouti and transfer to your hotel. Depending on when you arrive there may be time to explore the capital. Overnight Hotel Plein Ciel or similar.
Tucked away in the Horn of Africa, Djibouti is one of the smallest countries on the continent and receives very few visitors. A French colony until 1977, it was one of the last African nations to gain independence. Djibouti’s main asset is its port, providing an outlet for landlocked Ethiopia to send goods across the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and Djibouti Town is the country’s liveliest hub, although in a country with a traditionally nomadic population, that’s not saying much. The capital is a fascinating mix of African, Asian, Arab and European influences and is divided into an African and European quarter – it is small enough to explore by walking around and although there are few traditional sights the main appeal is soaking up the atmosphere of this cosmopolitan little city, with French legionnaires mixing with nomadic Afar tribesmen, and women dressed in outrageously colourful robes. Djibouti Town has an allure that is hard to put your finger on.
Day 2: Lac Assal
We head to the crater lake of Lac Assal – the lowest point in Africa (-150 m), as well as the most saline body of water in the world (up to 40%). One of Africa’s most impressive natural phenomena, its spectacular colours and unusual crystalline formations give it an almost alien appearance. We may see Afar herders or salt collectors on its shores. Return to Tadjoura for the night. (BLD)
Surrounded by dormant volcanoes, Lac Assal is an impressive sight; the salt flats contrast with the black lava fields and there are numerous large crystal formations dotted around. The lake is fed by hot saline springs making it unique among salt lakes, as all others are fed by streams and rivers, and it has no outlet, which contributes to its extremely high level of salinity. As well as being the lowest point in Africa it is the third lowest depression in the world after the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee.
Day 3: Lac Abbe
Day 5: Lac Abbe – Logiya
This morning we visit the extraordinary landscape of Lac Abbe, a desolate salt lake with hundreds of limestone chimneys belching sulphur into the atmosphere. This landscape is so other-worldly that the classic science fiction film ‘Planet of the Apes’ was filmed here. From here we cross into Ethiopia and head to Logiya, where we camp for the night. (BLD)
There can be few places in the world like Lac Abbe and it holds the distinction of being one of the most desolate places on our planet. Situated on the border between Ethiopia and Djibouti, this vast salt lake is surrounded by hundreds of limestone chimneys, some up to 50 metres high which spew sulphurous gas into the air, and its shores are inhabited by the nomadic Afar people who use the lake to gather salt. The lake is also renowned for its birdlife, with flamingoes, pelicans and ibis among other species to be found here. It is difficult to put into words such awe-inspiring scenery – this is jaw dropping on a grand scale.
Day 6: Lake Afrera
Day 7: Erta Ale
Drive to Mount Erta Ale through the Afar desert – Erta Ala is one of the highlights of this expedition, and is one of only five permanent lava lakes in the world. We hike 3 hours to the rim, while our equipment and water is carried by camels – we wait for sunset to see one of the world’s most spectacular sights when the red lava in the crater lights up the sky. Overnight camping. (BLD)
Erta Ale hike
The gently climbing hike itself follows interesting lava formations (lava and pahoehoe lava fields, lava tubes, hornitos, sand deposits, rare vegetation) until we stand on the rim of the caldera. An easy descend brings us to the floor of the caldera and after 10 minutes, we stand on the active pit crater containing the boiling lava lake.
Day 8: Ahmedela
Day 9: Dallol
Drive to the hot springs at Dallol, composed of different minerals along with sulphurs and potash and create spectacular colours. Dallol is renowned as being the hottest inhabited place on earth; between 1960 and 1966 an average annual temperature of 34°C (94°F) was recorded. You are likely to see the long ‘caravane de sel’ – camel trains loaded with salt. Later we drive back to Ahmedela. Overnight camping. (BLD)
The Danakil Depression
The formidable Danakil Depression is known as one of the most inhospitable places on earth, with searing temperatures and little flora or fauna. It is the lowest place on the planet, created when the earth’s crust collapsed and water flooded in, only to evaporate in the fierce sun leaving enormous salt flats and salt lakes. These are important for the local Afar people, who collect this important commodity to sell at markets. Geologically, it is one of the most active places on the planet, and volcanic cones and lava spewing from the ground in places. To travel here feels like you are travelling to the ends of the earth, a remote, hostile, volcanic desert with spectacular landscapes where few western travellers have been before, and our journey of exploration allows us to do more than just scratch the surface, taking us to areas that define the very essence of ‘off the beaten track’. It has also been home to a number of important fossil discoveries, giving clues to the earliest ancestors of humans. The Danakil today is populated by the nomadic Afar people, a group once renowned for their hostility towards outsiders. In times gone by, Afar men could only be considered adults once they had killed another man, and are reputed to have worn their dead enemies’ testicles around their necks. They are thankfully no longer as fierce as they once were, and to meet them is to meet one of the most isolated ethnic groups on our planet.(B)
Day 10: Mekelle
Day 11: Gheralta
Drive to Gheralta visiting the marvellous churches that dot this remote and inspiring landscape. From the 8th to the 15th centuries hundreds of rock-hewn churches were carved and constructed here, and we spend today exploring those on our route. Overnight Gheralta Lodge or similar. (BLD)
The churches of Tigray
Tigray is renowned for its amazing collection of rock-hewn churches, many of them carved into steep cliffs and almost inaccessible – most likely to protect the religious artefacts that many of them still hold or simply to provide the solitude necessary for religious meditation. Without a doubt one of Ethiopia’s most enigmatic sights, the churches are still used today, sometimes for religious festivals which offer excellent opportunities to get to grips with the complex spiritual traditions of the country. In their lofty and isolated positions they retain an aura of mystique, enhanced by the fact that very few western travellers actually get here.
Day 12: Yeha – Axum
Day 13: Axum
Spend today visiting the sights of Axum, including the palace of the Queen of Sheba, its collection of ancient stelae and the church of St Mary of Tsion, where legend has it that the Ark of the Covenant is kept. Overnight Yeha Hotel or similar. (BLD)
Both the oldest and holiest city in Ethiopia, Axum was once the centre of the Axumite Empire, one of the most important powers of the ancient world along with others such as Greece and China. Today it is rather a small town and a shadow of its former self, but holds a superb collection of monuments dating back to its glory days. The early adoption of Christianity in the empire means that Axum is much revered by Ethiopians and it is home to the church of St Mary of Tsion – reputedly this is where the Ark of the Covenant is now kept, although only the guardian of the church has access to the outbuilding that contains it. The town also has ancient palaces to explore including the palace of the Queen of Sheba. Axum is also known for its collection of stelae, up to 23 metres in height and erected by previous Axumite kings as both a testament to their glory and to commemorate their deaths. There is nothing else like this in Ethiopia and they are a fascinating glimpse into a civilisation now long forgotten.
Day 14: Axum
Day 15: Hargeisa
Fly to Hargeisa and transfer to the hotel. This afternoon we explore the city and visit its markets, see the money changers, who sit on the street with their huge piles of Somaliland shillings and see the civil war memorial. Overnight Damal Hotel or similar.
Somaliland’s capital is a pleasant city – fairly small, unassuming and with a relaxed and rather gentle air that is often missing from African cities. Almost completely destroyed during the civil war of the 1980s, most buildings that you see are new and there are few historic sights, but one thing that you can’t miss is the unique civil war memorial in the centre of town, topped by a MiG jet that was downed during the conflict. The central market area is the most interesting place to explore – stalls sell everything from slabs of meat to brightly coloured cloth, and your presence here is sure to attract more than a few gazes. On one street sit the moneychangers, with great bricks of Somali shillings laid out on the pavement – it is a measure of how little crime there is here that they are able to do this, and an incredibly photogenic sight. Hargeisa also has a busy livestock market on the outskirts of town, which is well worth a visit.
Day 16: Las Geel – Berbera
Drive to Las Geel, one of the most important rock art sites in the Horn of Africa and with numerous well preserved paintings in various different places. The quality of the art here is particularly good and Las Geel is a real highlight of the trip. From here we continue to the coastal city of Berbera, and in the afternoon explore its old quarter, Darole, with its Ottoman era buildings and atmospheric streets. Overnight Mansoor Hotel or similar. (B)
Only revealed to the outside world a little more than ten years ago, the rock paintings of Las Geel rank among the best in all of Africa. Superbly preserved in caves and under overhanging rocks, the paintings consist of cows, dogs and people as well as the odd giraffe here and there, and anywhere else they would be a major tourist attraction. With the handful of visitors Somaliland receives you are almost guaranteed to have this enigmatic site all to yourself. No-one has yet determined the age of the site – guesses range from five to ten thousand years, but the paintings remain a testament to the pastoral traditions of Somaliland’s ancient inhabitants.
Berbera sits on the Red Sea coast, an important port for the whole region but with an atmosphere that belies this fact somewhat. The most interesting part of the city is the old quarter known as Darole, an area of dustystreets and ramshackle buildings, some of which date back to the time when the Ottomans held sway here. Crennellated mansions vie for space with whitewashed mosques, and pastel paint peels off walls interspersed with colourful doorways – when the heat of the day has passed this is a fascinating and very rewarding place to wander around, perhaps stopping for a tea in one of the makeshift cafes. Not far outside of the town lie the Dubar waterworks, an ancient irrigation system that has been resurrected in recent years to provide fresh water for Berbera’s inhabitants. Berbera is locally renowned for its excellent seafood restaurants, where you can sit and eat some of the freshest fish you’re ever likely to have while looking out at the rusting hulks of ships in the port.
Day 17: Dhagax Khoure – Hargeisa
Return to Hargeisa and visit the site of Dhagax Khoure, one of Somaliland’s most important sites for rock art and situated amidst some splendid scenery. On the way out here we pass small semi-nomadic communities and stop to meet local people. After exploring the paintings of Dhagax Khoure we return to Hargeisa for the night. Overnight Damal Hotel or similar. (B)
Although not as impressive as its better known cousin Las Geel, the site of Dhagax Khoure holds some stunning rock art, with numerous images of cows, hunters, giraffes and other animals tucked away under overhanging rocks and in caves. The surrounding scenery is just as much of an attraction, with hills of boulders emerging from the desert plains, and if you’re lucky you may see wildlife such as gerenuk and warthog.
Day 18: Hargeisa
Please note that this tour can be finished on Day 14 in Addis Ababa, contact us for more details and pricing
Tour Dossier Notes
Airport transfers – Native Eye Travel includes arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers.
Accommodation – Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.
Guides – In most cases you will be accompanied by one guide from start to finish. However there may be occasions when this is not practical, for example if your trip covers a number of different countries. In these cases it often makes more sense to include different guides for each place, to take advantage of their specific knowledge of the destination.
Meals – As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip– in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.
Entrance fees – Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.
Visas – We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then can request for this to be arranged for you. If you need any advice with visas just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as CIBT can assist.
Airport taxes – If there are any departure taxes to pay that are not included within the cost of your ticket, you’ll need to pay these yourself.