I crossed one of the most remote land borders in the world, the Djibouti – Somaliland border.
It was easy and fast, but way less comfortable than I though.
“It’s Somaliland, not Somalia!” This was the most common misconception I had to explain while I was talking about my journey around the Horn of Africa and my trip to Somaliland. At the same time, it was a good way to introduce this relatively unknown state and explain their complicated political situation.
Well, although Somaliland belongs in most maps to Somalia, this self-declared country has been completely independently from Somalia since 1991. Unlike its recognized counterpart, Somaliland is a peaceful, democratic state, but unfortunately due to political issues, they can’t and won’t get the international independence they deserve. Still, from the tourism perspective, this means there are no pirates, no kidnappings and the last terrorist attack was back in 2008.
With such an interesting story and not much travel information about it, I was curious to explore a little bit of this country and add it to my list of visited places.
Visas and permits
Although Somaliland “belongs” to Somalia in theory, in praxis it has no relation to it. The country is completely independent and you won’t find any help at the Somali embassies around the world in order to get your visas and necessary permits. For that, you will have to visit one of their diplomatic missions around the world.
Getting a Somaliland visa
Since I was traveling to both of these countries beforehand, I had the choice of applying either in Addis Ababa or Djibouti City. I didn’t think too much about it and simply applied on a free day while in Addis. Unfortunately, each diplomatic mission has their own prices and processes – something I wish I knew in advanced.
A Somaliland visa in Djibouti City
Simple, cheap and efficient. The diplomatic mission in Djibouti City is one of the best places to get your Somaliland visa if you plan to travel overland. Prices for a single entry tourist visa are 60 USD and you don’t need to bring anything else than a couple of photos and a copy of your passport.
Most visas get back within some hours and in worst case scenario, you will have to come the next day.
A Somaliland visa in Addis Ababa
Just like in Djibouti City, the visa process is very straightforward and easy. However, prices in Addis Ababa change and instead of 60 USD (or their equivalent in local currency), the Somaliland Visa in Addis Ababa costs 100 USD and you can only pay in USD.
NOTE: Due to the lack of USD in Ethiopia, some embassies and other diplomatic missions like Somaliland’s only accept USD as a payment method (no credit cards, bank transfers, local currencies, nor other currencies). Try to get your USD before arriving to Ethiopia, as in Ethiopia itself it is extremely difficult to get this currency and your only choice would be to find a black market. I had to negotiate my USD there and ended up paying 120 EUR for 100 USD.
Crossing the Djibouti – Somaliland border by land
While in Djibouti City, I informed myself about the different ways to get to Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa.
Flights with Ethiopian via Addis or a direct (but very unreliable) flight using Jubba Airways seemed to be the most useful and less time consuming options. However, a couple of travelers I met in Djibouti mentioned crossing the Djibouti – Somaliland border overland – an option I barely considered, but after some information immediately caught my attention.
Unfortunately, you can’t simply rent a car and drive to Hargeisa yourself. Also, hiring a private vehicle to get to Hargeisa from Djibouti City can cost up to 500 USD (way less expensive than a business class flight). For me, the most reasonable choice was using the public vehicles that cross the Djibouti – Somaliland border on a daily basis.
These vehicles (Early 2000’s Toyota Landcruiser) depart each day in the afternoon from the Avenue 26 in Djibouti City. I didn’t need to book any official tickets in advanced, but simply go there, find one of the English speaking dealers (guys asking where you want to go) and inform them to keep me a spot for that day’s ride.
It is recommended to do that in the morning of departure or the day before. Prices vary on how wealthy you look like, but expect to pay everything between 35 and 50 USD to get from Djibouti City to Hargeisa. They will also take care of moving your baggage between vehicles at the border and even give you simple advice at the border patrol.
These vehicles depart around 4-5 pm and the ride goes through the night.
NOTE: These vehicles get fully packed. You will travel in a 8-seat Toyota Landcruiser with 11 other people. Ask, or even pay more if necessary to get one of the seats upfront. Your legs and back will thank you later
From Djibouti City to Loyada Border Crossing
I crossed the land border from Djibouti to Somaliland at the Loyada border crossing. It is located just 20-30 minutes from Djibouti City and if you didn’t book your transportation at Avenue 26, you can also get there by taxi or private transportation.
The roads are in good condition and the ride is very quick and easy. Once at Loyada, the border control for Djibouti is just a small building and a couple of soldiers. They will ask you to go down from the car, enter the building and met the new driver/vehicle at the other side in Somaliland.
Since I traveled using these public vehicles, the process was simply following people and passing through. There were not many questions and even though I carry a Colombian passport, they were not very interested in why I was going to Somaliland, where do I live or what do I do.
NOTE: If you get to Loyada independently, take into consideration that the border from Djibouti to Somaliland is only open after 4pm and most vehicles departing to Hargeisa will leave only after 7pm.
You will also have to ask where the border patrol is and try to not get lost in the 500 meters long “no-man’s area” between these two countries.
If you are traveling by land between Djibouti and Somaliland, I would totally recommend to arrange the whole transportation at Avenue 26. It is cheaper and also way more simpler – just one transaction, one person to deal with and go.
From Loyada Border Crossing to Hargeisa or Zeila
From a traveler’s perspective, there are only two destinations that come into question as a first stop in Somaliland if you travel by land. Either the small village of Zeila (3 hours from the border) or the capital Hargeisa (8-10 hours from the border).
Zeila is a very small settlement with a couple of abandoned military building and a few houses. There is not much happening here. Still, people come for their quiet vibe and remoteness.
On the other hand, Hargeisa is chaotic, crowded and vibrant – a stop that sounded to me as a “Somaliland first timer” a little bit more appealing.
Since I arranged my full transportation from Djibouti City, I basically had to only wait at the Somaliland side of the border until they moved all the bags to their respective vehicles. It was a wait of almost 2 hours, but with the whole traffic of people, active commerce and animals walking on the street freely, the time passed quickly and it ended up being a fun wait.
I even got a SIM card with 2GB for 5 USD and had my dinner there.
Once everything was set, we got squeezed in the car and drove for almost 8 hours until Hargeisa – a city we reached around 6 am on the next day.
The inexistent road was extremely bumpy and in several times I though we were going to crash. It was definitely not the nicest car ride I had in a while, but after such a long day, I knew I just had to take it for some hours and I would reach my goal.
I also felt very safe when it comes to public security. We passed at least 4-5 military checkpoints and we even stopped between 4-5 am to take a rest. A time all of us appreciated, as everyone left the vehicle and some of the people in the car even lied on the ground to take a nap.
Tips for crossing the Djibouti – Somaliland border
- Get some USD beforehand. USD dominate the markets in this part of the world. It is a currency that is widely accepted and can get you easily out of trouble. Also, prices in these countries are very low. Carrying a 100 USD bill can be in some places as useful as carrying Mexican pesos. I used to keep 50 USD in 1, 5 and 10 USD bills.
- Carry some food and water. Although this seems kinda obvious, some people tend to forget that there are no restaurants and late shops in this part of the world.
- Get a SIM card at the Djibouti – Somaliland border. It is cheap and will help you communicate in such an isolated country.
- Take your delicate valuables with you, as your luggage will go under dozens of heavy boxes and everything what is not clothing, will be crushed during the whole ride.
- If you get nausea or headaches very easily on a vehicle, carry some pills with you. The ride is extremely uncomfortable and I know that many people could reach a breaking point after some hours.
Want to learn more about Somaliland, its history and culture? My friend Joan Torres traveled Somaliland simultaneously. However, he didn’t book any private companies. He wrote a great guide about this experience and if this was useful to me, I know it will be useful for you.