Somaliland is a great destination for seasoned travelers in search of an unusual travel experience. It is a self-declared state, internationally recognized as an autonomous region of Somalia and it has its own currency, flag, military, and government. While most of Somalia is very dangerous to visit, Somaliland is different, and the safety of tourists is taken very seriously.
Somaliland is not exactly a place you would think as an ideal travel destination for a solo female traveler. I traveled there anyway and ended up having an exciting and rewarding experience. Here is my travel guide to Somaliland and some tips for female travelers.
Get the Visa
Check out my guide to visas here.
If you’re traveling from neighboring countries Ethiopia or Djibouti, you can either fly or travel overland.
From Djibouti City, there are cars leaving every afternoon from Avenue 26. Go there in the morning, book your seat, and come back in the afternoon after 3 pm. The cars only travel during the night because of the heat. There are no busses, just these private 4WD vehicles so they can basically charge you whatever they want. If they try to charge closer to $100, don’t bother with them and book a flight instead. The drive from Djibouti to Hargeisa takes around 20 hours.
Daallo Airlines flies from Djibouti to Hargeisa every Wednesday and Sunday, and the ticket costs $125. Check out their website and book the ticket. If you try to use flight search sites like Momondo, you won’t find any cheap and direct flights, but that’s because they don’t show Daallo Airlines at all. Daallo Airlines is on the list of airlines banned within the EU, but I feel like the reason is mostly the fact that this is a Somali Airline. Another option is Jubba Airways that also has a direct flight every Wednesday.
You can easily fly to Somaliland with Ethiopian Airlines. They have direct flights every day from Addis Ababa to Hargeisa. Another option is to travel overland by taking a bus from Addis Ababa to Harar and then continue the journey the next by taking a minibus to Jijiga and from there to the border.
Flying from Dubai
If you’re not flying to Somaliland from Africa, you are most likely coming from Dubai because at least at the time I was there, flyDubai was the only non-African airline company flying to Hargeisa. Click the picture below to book your flights.
Where to Stay in Hargeisa
Oriental Hotel is probably the most popular choice, and every traveler who has been to Hargeisa will tell you to stay there. I hadn’t booked anything, and Oriental Hotel was unfortunately fully booked (not that there were any other backpackers though).
Instead, I stayed at Birikoo Hotel which is just a few blocks away, and it turned out to be just as nice or even better. The price for a room at Oriental Hotel is $15 including breakfast. Birikoo Hotel doesn’t offer breakfast, but the price is lower, $13. I had a comfortable double bed, closet, mirror, TV, desk and a bathroom in my room. There was also surprisingly good wifi.
Check the map or this link for location because you can’t find this hotel online or Google maps.
Where to Eat (as a vegan)
Somaliland and Djibouti have so far been the most difficult countries for me to travel as a vegan because local people’s stable food is camel meat. I’m not kidding, both of these countries are mostly just desert so fresh vegetables and fruits don’t really grow there. Bananas and bread were everywhere and easily available but trying to find some vegan meal options was challenging. I once tried to order Penne Arrabiatta in a more upscale restaurant, and the waitress brought me pasta with no tomato sauce but instead with spiced camel meat. So don’t even try to order dishes that are vegan in all the other countries – in Somaliland they are not.
My savior was a Yemeni restaurant where I basically had all of my meals and made some new friends too. More about this in the next paragraph…
The Yemeni Restaurant
I highly recommend visiting this restaurant – not just for food but for meeting new people and possibly organizing tours to other parts of Somaliland. The restaurant also offers a good vegan option, foul (beans) and bread which became my stable food. The first day I went there I met Riad who used to work in the tourism industry in Yemen but had now left the country because of the war and works at the Yemeni restaurant in Hargeisa. Riad introduced me to some other people too, and before I knew it, I was already sitting in some random house and chewing khat with people I had just met. Check out the location of the restaurant here.
Meeting Local People
The best thing about visiting Somaliland for sure is meeting new people. There are not so many tourists in Somaliland (in fact, I didn’t meet any other travelers while I was there) and people are very curious to know more about you and why you’re visiting their country.
Things to Do in Hargeisa
While I would still say, that meeting new people is still the best part of visiting Hargeisa as there are actually not that many things to do, here are some ideas for your trip.
Hargeisa War Memorial in Freedom Square
The Hargeisa War Memorial is a monument that consists of a MiG-17 fighter aircraft of the Somali Air Force, which crashed nearby. The memorial was set up to commemorate Somaliland’s breakaway attempt in the 1980s and is a symbol of the struggle for the people of this province.
Somaliland Independence Monument
There’s also another monument which is a giant hand holding a map of Somaliland. This one is a little bit further away from the city center, but you’ll see it on your way to the airport at least.
Damal Hotel for Dinner/Drinks and Sunset Watching
This hotel offers a nice view of the Freedom Square, and their restaurant is a perfect place for watching the sunset.
Change Some Money
In Somaliland street vendors exchange stacks of money on the street – just next to fruit and vegetable vendors. The interesting thing is that as the value of the Somaliland currency is very low, you’ll get a thick stack of notes.
With no internationally recognized banks and practically no ATMs – bring all the cash you need in US dollars and exchange on the streets. For hotel, tours, etc. you can pay in dollars, but for small purchases like food, you use Somaliland shillings.
Khat is a plant whose leaves are chewed for their stimulating effect and khat chewing sessions are a big part of the culture in Somaliland. Khat is a mild stimulant but illegal in many Western countries. I had already seen this plant in Djibouti, so when in Hargeisa I had a chance to try this, of course, I did. It is quite mild but gives you a relaxed feeling. Be prepared for your mouth to become numb after chewing it for a while!
The Cave Paintings in Laas Geel
Seeing the cave paintings in Laas Geel is kind of mandatory touristy thing to do in Somaliland. Oriental Hotel organizes tours there, but it can get expensive because you’ll need a 4X4 car, an armed guard, and the permit costs you $20. So in total, this will cost more than $100. The price is, of course, cheaper if you travel there with other people but as I mentioned earlier, I was the only traveler in Somaliland at the time.
I went to Oriental Hotel every day to ask if some travelers had arrived. No one ever arrived, so I decided to do the tour anyway even though it cost an arm and leg. I didn’t do it with Oriental Hotel though, but with the people I met at the Yemeni restaurant. I highly recommend asking at the Yemeni restaurant too if you’re planning to visit Laas Geel.
Visiting Other Places Outside of Hargeisa
While Somaliland is not particularly dangerous, all the tourists are still required to hire an armed guard if they travel outside of Hargeisa. This will make visiting other places in Somaliland a bit more complicated and definitely more expensive. I had heard some people successfully taking a local bus to Berbera without having an armed guard with them, but most of the travelers haven’t been that lucky. I didn’t even want to try because the Laas Geel trip had already ruined my budget, but if you have time and money, I recommend visiting Berbera too.
My Experience as a Solo Female Traveler
While Somaliland definitely isn’t the easiest place for solo female travelers, I personally didn’t have any problems there either. Not once did I feel that I was in danger, but some people were a bit confused why I was traveling alone as a young woman. In their culture that’s not common at all, so I understand the confusion.
How to Dress as a Female Traveler in Somaliland
As a female traveler, you should take the dress code seriously. This is one of the strictest Muslim countries in the world when it comes to covering up. I don’t own a proper abaya, so I was using the clothes I already had. A long, black maxi skirt is a good start. Then add a T-shirt and loose-fitting long-sleeved blouse (preferably something that covers up your ass and chest). Do NOT wear trousers even if they are baggy.
Here are some ideas for skirts:
You should also always cover up your hair and wear a hijab. An infinity/circle scarf is a good option if you don’t know how to correctly put on a hijab. That’s what I did, and the scarf stayed on without an effort. Check out some options here:
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