Travel Ethiopia and Somaliland

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.

Dallol, the "Colourful Place".

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.

A camel caravan in the salt flats of the Danakil Depression.

Camping on the rim of the volcano and hiking around the crater at sunrise was a truly unforgettable experience.

Staring into the crater of the Erta Ale Volcano.

While just north of Mekelle, we got a chance to visit the rock-hewn churches of Tigray.

The rock-hewn churches of Tigray.

Addis Ababa

The vibrant capital Addis Ababa has a lot to offer visitors.

The Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa.

The Holy Trinity Cathedral contains the remains of Haile Sellasie – former Emperor of Ethiopia and spiritual leader of the Rastafarian religious movement.

The mausoleum of Haile Sellasie.

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.

The grave of 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.

The replica cast of "Lucy" in the National Museum of Addis Ababa.

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.

Learning about the Red Terror during the Derg era.

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.

Injera and Ethiopian food served in a mesob.

And having fresh ground coffee, served in the country where it was discovered is like tasting it for the first time.

Ethiopian coffee at Tomoca.

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…

Goats standing on a car.  Awesome.  Travel Ethiopia and Somaliland.

The old railway depot in Dire Dawa was a real highlight for me.

The old railway station in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia.

Rusting metal?

Travel Ethiopia and Somaliland.

Slightly abandoned?

Yes please.

Travel Ethiopia and Somaliland.

Our local guide in Dire Dawa and Harar was excellent and showed us so much during our walks around town.

Fresh coffee roasting in Harar.
The coffee in Harar is said to be the best in the world.
Making fresh bread in Harar, Ethiopia.
The smell of chili and spice in the air at a fresh berbere spice market.
Grinding local berbere spice at a Spice Market in Dire Dawa.
Spice market, Dire Dawa.

It’s always surprising seeing how far World War II spread.
It truly was a World War.

African War Cemetery, Dire Dawa.

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.

The Qoloji Camp for internally displaced people.

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.

Feeding the hyenas at night in Harar.

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.

The crumbling Somaliland Independence Monument, Hargeisa.

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.

Khat seller, Hargeisa.

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.

Travel Ethiopia and Somaliland.

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.

Travel Ethiopia and Somaliland.

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.

A sign to criminalize the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM) in Somaliland.

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.

The cave paintings of Las Geel, Somaliland.

Discovered less than 20 years ago, the paintings are amazingly well preserved and are estimated to be at least 5000 years old.

Travel Ethiopia and Somaliland.

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 site of the former NASA space shuttle emergency runway near Berbera.

The coastal city of Berbera is our final stop.

Berbera town centre, Somaliland.

While still crumbling, it seems in better shape than 6 years ago.

Travel Ethiopia and Somaliland.

And finally, the perfect way to end a trip…

Deserted beaches.  Berbera coast, Somaliland.

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.

Make it rain.

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.

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