Travel Ethiopia and Somaliland – I recently had the pleasure of leading a tour with Lupine Travel.
Here are some pics.
Danakil and the Erta Ale Volcano
The Danakil Depression in the Afar region of Ethiopia is one of the hottest and lowest places on Earth.
Salt lakes and landscapes carved by volcanic activity cover this unforgiving region.
While camels caravans still attempt to compete with modern day equipment to mine the vast deposits of salt.
Camping on the rim of the volcano and hiking around the crater at sunrise was a truly unforgettable experience.
While just north of Mekelle, we got a chance to visit the rock-hewn churches of Tigray.
The vibrant capital Addis Ababa has a lot to offer visitors.
The Holy Trinity Cathedral contains the remains of Haile Sellasie – former Emperor of Ethiopia and spiritual leader of the Rastafarian religious movement.
The cathedral’s grounds also serve as a graveyard and memorial for many of Ethiopia’s famous leaders, artists and personalities including long distance runner Haile Gebrselassie and British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst.
An almost mandatory stop for any tour is to the National Museum to pay homage to “Lucy.”
Her skeletal remains were made famous as an early example of bipedalism which changed how scientists thought about our evolution.
In stark contrast, The “Red Terror” Martyrs’ Memorial Museum serves as a memorial for those who died during the Derg Government of the 1970’s.
It is a more sombre stop and shows us how far we still need to go, even after 3.2 million years of evolution.
Ethiopian food is one of my favourite cuisines in the world.
It’s main serving is a series of meat stews (wat) or veg dishes (yetsom beyaynetu) served on top of a spongey, slightly sour flatbread called injera.
And having fresh ground coffee, served in the country where it was discovered is like tasting it for the first time.
Dire Dawa and Harar
Leaving the capital, we head north-east towards Somalia, where we spend a few days in Dire Dawa and Harar.
And no matter how much I travel…
Seeing animals on vehicles always makes me happy…
The old railway depot in Dire Dawa was a real highlight for me.
Our local guide in Dire Dawa and Harar was excellent and showed us so much during our walks around town.
It’s always surprising seeing how far World War II spread.
It truly was a World War.
One surprising sight on the drive was seeing the Qoloji Refugee Camp.
Made up of 80,000 people from mainly the Somali region of Ethiopia, it is easy to forget just how many internally displaced people there are in this world.
And finally, no trip to Harar would be complete without feeding the hyenas.
Hyenas and Harar have always had a close relationship, but in the 1960’s a farmer started feeding them in order to discourage them from feasting on local livestock. The practice still carries on today, although possibly more for the tourists than the livestock.
Somalia / Somaliland
It’s been 6 years since my first time in Somaliland and I’m interested to see how things have changed.
On the international stage, Somaliland is technically considered to be an autonomous region of Somalia.
However in reality, it is more complicated than that. It is a self-declared state whose independence from Somalia can be immediately felt as soon as you enter the country.
Much safer than neighbouring Somalia, it has been trying to distance itself and forge it’s own identity for decades.
I won’t get into the details because this would be an entire blog entry on it’s own, but it’s long fight for independence is fascinating.
Hargeisa has only a few minor tourists sights to see including the MiG and Tank War Monuments, climbing Naasa Hablood and the Livestock Market.
The real excitement is getting a feel for a place trying to exist when the world is against it.
Khat, a mild but addictive stimulant is everywhere and part of the fabric of everyday life.
One hopeful sign was seeing more trucks filled with rice and food as opposed to 6 years ago when they were all filled with khat.
Another positive sign was seeing the practice of Female genital mutilation (FGM) being openly discussed.
While there is a still a long way to go, change needs to start somewhere.
An armed escort is still technically required when tourists leave the capital, but it is far more relaxed than in previous years.
Only a few hours outside of Hargeisa are the cave paintings in Las Geel, one of my favourite sights in Africa.
Discovered less than 20 years ago, the paintings are amazingly well preserved and are estimated to be at least 5000 years old.
Heading towards the coast, we pass by the Berbera Airport.
Originally built by the Soviet Union, it was rented by NASA during the 1980’s as an emergency space shuttle landing site.
The coastal city of Berbera is our final stop.
While still crumbling, it seems in better shape than 6 years ago.
And finally, the perfect way to end a trip…
A deserted sandy beach on the coast of Somaliland.
Travel Ethiopia and Somaliland – Useful Information
Tours: I may be biased, but I can highly recommend Lupine Tours 😉 to travel Ethiopia and Somaliland.
Visas: Visas on arrival are available for Ethiopia, however e-visas are also an option. Visas for Somaliland are fairly easy to obtain on the same day if you are located close to an embassy and have the proper documentation.
Airport: Bole Airport is one of the main hubs in Africa and is fairly straight-forward for all arrival and departures. It contains all of your main travel requirements including SIM cards, ATM’s and very little hassle on arrival. Hargeisa Airport is basic, but efficient without any issues.
Money: Ethiopian Birr can be easily obtained at the airport or at ATM machines across the country. However, ensure you do not exchange too much as they are difficult to convert back.
Not to be confused with the Somali Shilling, changing money into Somaliland Shillings is like a tourist activity all on it’s own. At the time of writing it was approximately 8500 SISh to $1 USD. With some very small denomination bank notes, this leads to quite a large stack of cash.
Electrical Outlets: A mix of European and British outlets.
Useful Tips: Dress code, especially women in Somaliland needs to be considered. Wearing head scarves and avoiding tight fitting clothes is highly recommended.
Language: English is fairly well spoken near the main tourist sights in both Ethiopia and Somaliland.
Bonus Section! If you ever get a chance to travel Ethiopia and Somaliland, adding in Djibouti is also a possibility. My first trip to Somaliland was via Djibouti on one of the worst roads ever. Snorkelling with whale sharks, scuba diving in a marine park, a golf course built on sand and the salt lakes of Lac Abbe and Lac Assal all contributed to quite a decent little excursion.