Overshadowed by the political conflicts around, Hargeisa is a quiet and charming city that embodies the friendliness and kind of Somaliland.
Located in Somaliland and not technically Somalia, Hargeisa is one of the most exciting gems the Horn of Africa has. Even though it can be chaotic and intimidating the first time, Hargeisa welcomed me with friendliness and great hospitality.
It was one of my biggest surprises while traveling in East Africa, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in discovering this underrated part of Africa.
From local markets where a foreigner has not been seen in weeks to a coffee culture that resembles Ethiopia, Rwanda, or Uganda. Here are the best tips for Hargeisa in Somaliland!
Get lost at the Central Market
In the heart of Hargeisa, you can find the sprawling and vibrant Central Market. It is located in the middle of the city center and enchants its visitors with its great variety of foods, unnecessary products, and things people use in their daily lives. The central market is the place where you can find everything and anything.
Hargeisa’s market is crazy, lively, and chaotic. Even though you might not be there to buy, you will be happy to see life around you and experience firsthand this mayhem working.
Plan a half-day to explore the central market in all its glory and get a deep insight into typical Hargean life!
Learn about Islam at the Jama Mosque
East of Hargeisa’s city center, you will find the Jama Mosque. It is probably the most impressive and largest mosque in Somaliland, and if you have a couple of hours to kill off, it will be worth a visit.
Its white-washed facade is quite traditional in this part of Africa. Even though it is incomparable to other mosques in Africa or the Arab world, visiting can give you another view of the daily life in Somaliland and its people.
Unfortunately, non-Muslims are not admitted, but the sight of hundreds of believers streaming into the impressive mosque for Friday prayers is simply indescribable and extraordinary.
Walk around Hargeisa downtown
I found Hargeisa safer than other East African cities like Nairobi, Addis, or Kampala. Besides a couple of looks here and there, I didn’t feel any danger or the need to have security with me.
People were very helpful everywhere I went and curious to know what I was doing in their country. One of the best ways to express this curiosity is getting lost for a day in Hargeisa Downtown. The downtown is where to see, taste, and feel what Hargeisa is trying to archive.
Stroll the streets and see the War Memorial – a fighter plane displayed on the main road and Hargeisa’s most popular attraction. Then enjoy a delicious cup of coffee in one of the many cafes, and finish your day by visiting the Saryan Museum.
Here is a place to discover more of Somaliland’s history. It is one of the best places to understand Somaliland’s complexity and why such an independent region can’t be considered a recognized and independent country today.
Visit the money exchange market
As mentioned in probably every blog about Somaliland and Hargeisa, visiting the money exchange market is a little highlight in this city.
It is not only another place to see the hustle and bustle of Somaliland but also to see the ridiculously exchange of currency in the city. Somaliland’s official currency is the Somaliland Shilling, a volatile currency supposed to be linked with the USD. Unfortunately, with a maximum banknote of 5000 Somaliland Shilling circulating and most people using the 1000 Sh. in their daily life, exchanging 1 USD for 10-12.000 Somaliland Shilling is quite a task.
See how merchants change 500 USD for a wheelbarrow of money and how money exchangers carry cases full of bills. I exchanged 50 USD on my first day in Hargeisa and got a small bag of bills.
But don’t worry, you don’t have to use the Somaliland Shilling while visiting Hargeisa. The USD is used countrywide as the main currency, and in most places, you will first see the price in USD, then in Somaliland Shilling.
See camels at the Livestock Market
Are you looking for a new pet? At the camel market in Hargeisa’s outskirts, you are guaranteed to find the right companion for your trip. This is one of the largest camel markets in Africa and one of the highlights for any traveler visiting Somaliland.
The camel market is loud, hectic, and simply exciting. Observe how dealers sell hundreds of these animals to the many merchants coming from all parts of East Africa.
Unfortunately, the atmosphere here is not very friendly to foreigners. My friend Joan got stones thrown at him while taking pictures, and I was told constantly to go away every time I took my camera out.
Find the best cup of coffee in Hargeisa
Inspired by the coffee traditions of Somaliland’s neighbors Ethiopia and Kenya, the coffee culture has also become part of Somaliland’s culture. There are little cafes almost everywhere in the city center, and with a cup of coffee for just 0.50 USD, it is worth visiting several of them and finding which one is your favorite.
You can order coffee in an Ethiopian style or get curious and try the Somaliland coffee – an Ethiopian style espresso with unpasteurized camel milk. Not my first choice for the next time, but worth a try.
My favorite places for a nice cup of coffee were Cafe Barbera and Mocha Cafe House. There you are guaranteed to fall in love with the coffee from Hargeisa!
Taste bites out of your comfort zone
As the saying goes? Other countries have other manners. To get to know the culture of the Somalis, there are a few “treats” that the locals eat regularly, and as a curious traveler, you should try them.
Khat is particularly popular in East Africa. It is a type of plant that grows in the Horn of Africa and is mainly cultivated in Somaliland. Khat is used primarily by the locals as a chewing drug, and it has more or less the same effect as a red bull; locals love to chew it while being in a cafe, with friends, driving, or at any time.
You can get khat on almost every street corner, which often has stalls marked with numbers. But don’t get excited too soon! Because the leaves look innocent but have a very characteristic taste that could almost be described as horrible. But there’s no harm in trying it once…!
Another local specialty is camel milk. This is almost part of the staple food of the Somalis and is considered extremely tasty and healthy.
The meat of this popular mammal is also widespread. Almost every big restaurant offers camel meat steaks or burgers. These are a must-try when in Hargeisa!
Explore the culinary diversity of Hargeisa
During my stay in Hargeisa, I was particularly impressed by the cultural diversity! The food in Hargeisa has been shaped by influences from Ethiopia, Kenya, Yemen, and Europe and thus offers a colorful variety that will impress any visitor.
These spots offer mixes of traditional cuisine and international cuisine. For travelers curious to taste the diversity of Somaliland’s food and stay on the safe side when it comes to getting food poisoning, the best restaurants I’ve been to were Yusuf Cadaani restaurant, Ubaxle, Hadwanaag restaurant, and Sultan restaurant.
How to get around:
Taxis in Hargeisa are generally very safe and reliable. A standard tourist fare costs around EUR 5, and you have to negotiate the price beforehand. You can also pay for your taxi using either USD or Somaliland Shillings. – you might get a better rate if you use shillings (I paid for a taxi 5 USD in shillings, which were 70 bills)
However, for those travelers who prefer to avoid catching a cab on the streets, Dhawayee is also very popular with the locals. It is a simpler version of Uber, where you order the vehicles with one call, and they come immediately.
A dhawayee is very safe and cheaper than taxis. All you need is a SIM card from Somaliland (for 5 USD, you get 2GB of the internet there) and call *3000#. There you can discuss further details with your driver!
But beware: Most drivers only speak Arabic, so it is best to seek help from a local.
I remember Hargeisa as a very diverse, colorful, and exciting city. It was a very positive surprise during my travels in the Horn of Africa, and I felt I left it without visiting enough cafes and places where locals go. Hargeisa is also one of the least explored places on earth, and good guides on how to get around, are complicated to find. Still, I found most people helpful and happy to see someone curious to learn more about their culture and city.
Hargeisa is not a place to stay too long. However, it is a place to explore and get your idea of Somaliland.