Welcome to Djibouti! If you want to venture off the beaten track…travelling to Djibouti is a good choice. This small country has magnificent landscapes, and geological curiosities. Few countries in the world (except for Island) have such colourful landscapes and breath-taking scenery (extinct volcanoes, salt lakes, plateau basalts, majestic canyons, and rift valleys). Adventure sports are many and varied: hiking, diving, kitesurfing and snorkelling among whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) in the Gulf of Tadjourah.
Except for the capital city, the country remains un-spoilt by the real-estate development. Ecotourism is king and home-stay accommodation is very common. Take this unique opportunity to discover the fascinating lifestyle of nomadic tribes. Visiting Djibouti with your own means will be very costly, but this small piece of Africa will leave in your memory unforgettable sensations.
- Capital city: Djibouti
- Languages: French and Arabic (official languages), Somali, Afar
- Time difference: GMT/UTC + 3h
- Immigration formalities: You must have a return ticket before applying for a visa. If you apply for a tourist visa at the airport you will get a 1 month visa, but if you apply in the Djibouti embassy you will get a 3 month visa. Yellow fever vaccine is mandatory before entering the country.
- Electricity: 220/240V
- Telephone: +253
- Health: You must have up to date vaccinations against diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus and polio. We recommend you get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, yellow fever, typhoid and meningitis. Do not swim in stagnant waters and freshwater lakes (high risk of bilharzia). Never drink tap water or un-boiled water.
Generalities: The cost of living in Djibouti is higher than neighboring countries, but still bearable. If you stay in cheap hotels and eat in small restaurants you will spend between 30-40USD daily. If you want to rent a comfortable room (with air conditioning), eat at the very good restaurants, you will spend approximately 75USD per day. Luxury accommodation and high end restaurants will cost you 150USD daily. There is no possibility of currency exchange at the airport, and the banks in downtown are open from 7h30 to 13h30. But currency exchange offices located at Menelik plaza are open all day. Most of restaurants and hotel of the capital city accept visa cards. Bring cash if you are planning to visit the rest of the country. In western style restaurant customers usually leave a 10% tip. But in local restaurants, we do not usually tip. You must bargain when you buying articles in the market and local hotels. Obviously, you cannot bargain in luxury hotels or restaurants.
Currency: Djiboutian franc (DJF)
Budget : Your vacation in Djibouti won’t be cheap. Consider having a good budget before visiting this country
- Average Hotel: 7000-10000 FDJ
- Meals: 3000 FDJ
- Excursion to Assal Lake: 17 000 FDJ
- Snorkelling among whale sharks :14 000 FDJ
Daily budget food
- Low budget: <1 400 DJF
- Average budget: 1 400-2 800 DJF
- High budget: >2 800 DJF
Daily budget accommodation
- Low budget: <10 000 DJF
- Average budget: 10 000 – 20 000 DJF
- High budget: >20 000 DJF
Best time to go and climate
Best time to go: The best period to go Djibouti starts from November to mid-April. The rest of the year the heat is unbearable
- May – September: if you really like the heat!!
- October and February – April: the climate is pleasant and the sea is calm (perfect time for diving and snorkeling)
- November – January: the climate is cool. Perfect for open air activities and whale sharks make their annual appearance
Holidays and festivals: On Fridays, offices and administration buildings are closed. Public holidays: New Year (January 1st), Labor Day (1st May), independence day (27 June), Christmas (25th December), and Muslim holidays
Climate: Djiboutian climate is hot and torrid. In this challenging environment, only camels can adapt. The winter season is cool and rainy with temperatures averaging 25°C. But during hot season, temperatures can reach 45°C
Entry requirements: A visa is required before entering Djibouti. Tourists visa (valid 1 month) cost between 30- 60 USD depending of country of origin. Visa can be obtained at the closest Djiboutian embassy (Addis-Ababa for example). Most of tourists can apply for this visa at the airport on their arrival and the visa will be issued right away. Will cost you 5 000 FDJ for 3 days or 10 000 FDJ for one month. Visa fees can be paid in US dollars or Euros. If you are entering Djibouti territory by road, you must be holding your visa already because you cannot get a visa at the border office.
Visa issued by neighboring countries: Ethiopia: 3 month visa (one entry) costs 12 600 FDJ for US citizens and 3 600 for other citizens. You must bring 2 passport photos. Visa will be issued after 24H. Somaliland: 2 weeks visa (one entry) costs 5 400 FDJ. Bring a photo, because visa is issued right away
Most of hotels are located at the capital city and are rare in the rest of the country. Plus you don’t have much choice: most of comfortable hotels are very expensive whereas the cheap hotels have poor level of comfort. In tourist areas located in land, there are more and more “tourist camps” with traditional huts with shared bathrooms and toilets. These tourist camps are perfect if you want to meet with locals and have a unique cultural experience.
Main places to be visited are: historic places, cities, and natural curiosities
Djibouti: The capital city, Djibouti is only one century old. But two third of the population of the country is concentrated there. Downtown is built according to an urban grid pattern (the streets intersect at right angles), and can easily be visited by foot in one day. The city is built on the south shore of the Gulf of Tadjourah peninsula and has a small marina where fishing boats, dhows, and recreational vessels are moored. The central market of the capital located south of downtown is worth to visit. The atmosphere is very lively and you will enjoy seeing the women selling Qat (Khat) which is a stimulating and energizing plant coming daily from Ethiopia. The nearest beach is Doralé. Khor-Ambado beach is worth going, but is quite far. Take a boat and go visit Maskali and Moucha islands located in the gulf of Tadjourah. Restaurants and hotels of “quartier africain” are cheap but low quality. Other hotels and restaurants are higher end and are found downtown. Some restaurants are in fact bars where prostitutes go meet their customers. Don’t miss a visit at the souq where you can have grilled fish and other local dishes.
Ali Sabieh: The road connecting Djibouti and Ali Sabieh crosses amazing landscapes such as Petit Bara and Grand Bara. There are few hotels in the city, and you will see the traditional Afar camps near the city. Ali Sabieh located 95km southwest of Djibouti can be accessed by bus or by train.
Tadjourah: Tadjourah is situated in a beautiful setting you will admire in its entire dimension when coming from the sea. Less than 10km from the city, you will see a range of elevations of more than 1 300m. If you are planning on snorkeling and diving you will see beautiful coral reefs and sea life. Tadjourah is located 35km northwest of the capital city, on the other side of Tadjourah Gulf. The easiest way to get to the city is via a boat. You can access the city by road, but there is no bus service available.
Assal and Abbé Lakes: The lake located 155m below the sea level, is third-lowest land depression on Earth. You will enjoy walking on the crystallized salt covering the ground and swimming in the salty water. The volcanic mountains surrounding the lake make this place very special. The salt is still exploited by Afar people who barter the salt in Ethiopia against other goods they need. You can reach the lake after one hour drive from the capital city. You will pass near Ghoubet (called the “the devils’s cauldron”), which is a type of fjord located at the end of the gulf of Tadjourah. The amazing lake Abbé located southwest of Djibouti, at the Ethiopian border has unreal and breathtaking natural chimneys formed by subterranean vapors. At dawn, you will see colonies of pink flamingoes. Le lake Abbé can be accessed only with a 4×4 car and you need a guide as well. Plan on 2 days of excursions if you depart from Djibouti or eventually Dikhil, where the asphalt road ends.
Whale sharks watching: You don’t know much about whale sharks? Come watch them swimming in Ghoubbet Bay where these fascinating animals are waiting for you. Every year, from November to January, groups of whale sharks swim through the gulf of Tadjourah…that’s an experience you should not miss!!!
Arts, languages, and customs in Djibouti: Djiboutian people are very friendly, respectful and hospitable and welcoming. These qualities find their origin in the traditional nomadic culture of the two main ethnic groups of the country: Afars and Issas. Despite the change of lifestyle to sedentary, more and more Djiboutian people who live in the city are still much attached to their nomadic past. One of the most striking things you will see in Djibouti is the omnipresence of Qat, a leaf chewed for stimulant and euphoria effects. The Qat chewing is mainly practiced by men in specific places called “mabraz”. Only 10% of women regularly chew Qat. Djibouti has a population of 900 000 inhabitants, with 35% Afars and 60% Issas. These two groups are Muslims. The rest of the population is composed by Arabs and Europeans. Issas are predominant in the south of the country, and Afars are located in the north of the country. Ethnic tensions between these two groups reach the peak in 1991 when Afars rebels started a civil war in the north. A peace agreement was negotiated in 1994, but there are still embers of past resentments.
Customs: French expats wear shorts but Djiboutian men wear only trousers (“futa”). Women wear long dresses or skirts (“shalma”)
Languages: Arabic and French are the two main languages.
Food: French food is served in the restaurants. But the food served in the streets is typical North African food. Food ingredients commonly used are lentils, bread, grilled fish, chicken and goat meat. Because Djibouti is a Muslim country, you won’t find alcohol drinks in local shops.
Religion: Muslims make up the majority of the population. Islam practiced in the country is very tolerant. Fundamentalism Islam is not present.
Art: Dance is the main art in Djibouti. During Independence Day festivities (27 June), there are beautiful dance spectacles in every village. Men and women wear traditional clothes richly decorated. In the north, women have the face partly adorned with gold. Traditionally, dance is integrated in the Afar and Somali culture. Every important life event (birth, circumcision, marriage etc…) is celebrated with a particular dance. Musical accompaniment is sober and limited to drums playing and choir rhythmed by applauses. Djibouti is a country with oral tradition. More and more folk tales, legends and novels are published in French language. The most beautiful craft productions are traditional daggers worn by herders in the hinterland (always attached to the belt). Wickerwork is very beautiful, particularly traditional mats very colored and with complex figures (“fiddima”)
Environment: Djibouti covers an area of 23 000m2 which has three distinctive geographical areas: coastal plains (with white sand beaches), volcanic plateau (in the south and the center of the country), and mountain ranges in the north (with an altitude reaching 2000m). Essentially, the country is a vast desert except for the north of the country where there is dense vegetation and green forests. Livestock farming is the main activity. Overgrazing has become a problem in the north causing the gradual disappearance of wooded areas in particular the Day Forest National Park. Djibouti is a very small country. The country is very dry, and arable land is almost non-existent. The country has common borders with Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. Going east, you can sight the Yemen coast.
Sports and activities
Diving and snorkeling: Djibouti is less renowned than Egypt, but still has impressive sea life. You will be very surprised: there are many spots in the gulf of Tadjourah which are not deep (perfect for unexperienced divers). There are also many wrecked vessels you can explore on the bottom of the ocean. Diving is possible during all year. But the best season starts from November to March. Between July and August, the sea is sometimes very rough. From December to march, water temperatures vary between 25°C and 27°C. But during summer, temperatures vary between 27°C and 29°C. Only two regions are ideal for diving: the Gulf of Tadjoura and the Bay of Ghoubbet. The Seven Brothers Islands or Sawabi Islands are located in between the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. The underwater bottoms are famous but not dived.
Hiking: Hikers enjoy particularly Goda Mountains and the stunning scenery: canyons, valleys, waterfalls and mountain peaks. Most of tourist camps offer guided excursions. Few excursions on the old salt routes are organized by Afar nomads. These excursions are the best opportunity to immerse the Afar culture. They can be 2 days excursions around the Lake Assal or 10 days excursions going toward Ethiopia. Contact the tours operators’ downtown in the capital city.
Kitesurfing: Strong and constant winds make of Djibouti a destination of choice for kitesurfing enthusiasts. In the Bay of Ghoubbet, winds speed can reach 35 knots and blow 300 days in the year.
Whale sharks watching: The Bay of Ghoubbet is one of the best spot in the world for snorkeling near these immense animals. During high season (November-January), the question is not if you will be able to see them, but how many you will see.