Somaliland Things to Do

Somaliland Things to Do

Rock art - Las Geel, Somaliland

Estimated 7000-year-old rock art – Las Geel, Somaliland

Somaliland for the large part is a place of experiences rather than sights (though there are some notable exceptions). It is a limited tourism infrastructure and a permit system that can make travel outside of the capital Hargeisa a bit of a challenge. Despite these challenges, my visit to Somaliland provided me with some of my fondest travel experiences.

The first stop for most visitors is the bustling capital of Hargeisa, where the main attraction is definitely the incredible hospitality of the people. This is a city filled with experiences. Since there are very few tourists who travel to Somaliland, you are likely to become a tourist attraction. The best place to interact with local people are the busy central streets of Hargeisa – you will not walk for long without someone approaching you or calling you over for a chat. Allow plenty of time when you are out and about in Hargeisa because you will need extra time to accommodate all of that wonderful hospitality and interest that will come your way.

Dive into the Central Market and wander around the multitude of goods on offer – one could easily spend a whole day talking to shopkeepers and admiring what is on sale. Thankfully, this market primarily caters to locals, and souvenir shops are absent. This market is the heart of Hargeisa, and it gives you a fantastic insight into the city. Due to its location, I would visit this place daily, and the more I visited, the more I learnt about Somaliland and its people.

Also head to the Animal Market where many camels, goats and a few cows are traded. This is a much smaller area and only requires an hour of your time. Getting to this market is not that easy, so unless you have a real desire to see camels and goats, you could easily miss this place and spend more time in the main market instead.

Ensure you head to the area around the Oriental Hotel to visit the Money Changers who line the streets. These money changers are a symbol of the safety of Hargeisa. These money changers will sit because large piles of money, some of it at least half a metre tall, wide and deep that is worth many thousands of US dollars – a fortune in Somaliland. Most interesting is that this money sits in the street without any security – there is no need for weapons such as guns or knives to protect this money.  If you wait long enough, you will see ‘couriers’ pile cash into well-worn wheelbarrows and speed off along the dirt roads to the bank – again a process completed without any security.

The Hargeisa War Memorial is a source of great pride to Somalilanders. Located in Freedom Square, the monument declares the independence of Somaliland in 1991 as a result of a conflict with Somalia. The memorial is easily identified by the MiG-17 fighter aircraft from the Somali Air Force that sits atop this monument. The forces of Somaliland downed this plane. There are street cafes in this square, so it’s a fantastic place to sit and talk with people, especially late afternoon or early evening.

A new attraction for those visiting Hargeisa is the Saryan Museum. It was opened in 2017 and within its walls are exhibitions on the history of Somaliland, the cultural heritage of the country, archaeological artifacts and the natural history of the region. Opening hours of the museum vary, so it is best to check in advance to see if it is open.

The rest of the listed things to do are located outside of Hargeisa, and to visit these places, you will need to obtain a permit. I found this permit situation unnecessary as it is a deterrent to exploring this safe country further. More information on the permit process can be found by following the link immediately below.

Read more: Somaliland Travel Guide

The star attraction in Somaliland (if not the whole Horn of Africa) is Las Geel (this means a watering place for camels) – a sumptuous collection of rock art estimated at being between 5000 to 11,000 years old (though the guide at the site cited 7,000 years). This is easily the finest rock art I have ever seen – the vibrancy of the colours and the scale of the galleries are outstanding – no ancient rock art you will see comes close to the preservation of this site. This preservation is due to the very dry conditions, the location of the galleries deep underneath large and long overhangs, and the absence of mass tourism. You will see details of cows, bulls and other farm animals, and even a giraffe. Humans are also depicted, but they are less common. The colour of the rock art is comprised of brown, red, orange, black and white paint.  You will need to climb a number of rock-hewn steps and negotiate an unpaved landscape to reach these galleries, so if you have mobility issues, access to all of the sites will be problematic – but ensure you visit the smaller gallery with the most outstanding paintings (it is the most accessible of all the galleries).

You will be given a tour of this site, and it is not possible to wander around on your own. I visited in the middle of the day. Still, if heading there again, I would probably look to visit either earlier in the day or later in the afternoon to explore the photography options with a different light. To reach Las Geel, you will need your vehicle. You can visit by public transport (if your permit allows you to travel without a security guard), but Las Geel is some distance from the main highway, and given the heat and lack of tree cover, you would undergo that journey at your own risk.

Las Geel can easily be reached on a half-day journey from Hargeisa or continue onwards to Berbera – a port city that is much smaller and more relaxed than the capital. The streets are far quieter, and some parts of the city seem deserted. This is more conservative than Hargeisa, so remember the photography rules – only photograph people with prior permission. Also, be aware that Berbera is much warmer and more humid than Hargeisa, so prepare yourself accordingly, There is a long and mostly deserted beach nearby which I found to be okay, but I have heard (though not seen) that far better beaches can be found elsewhere in Somaliland.  Ensure you savour a delicious fish meal while in Berbera – I ate at the Xeeb Soor Restaurant on the waterfront – it was exceptional and one of the best fish meals I’ve eaten anywhere in the world. Plus it overlooked the water so one could gaze at the numerous boats bobbing around in the harbour during your meal.

Read more: Somaliland Photo Gallery

Most of Somaliland is dry and dusty, but for a different type of scenery, head inland from Berbera to visit the small town of Sheikh (also spelt Sheekh) which involves a beautiful mountain drive that commands some stunning views of the valley below. Find the time to make a photography stop or too. The town of Sheikh sees foreign visitors only rarely, and you will be even more of a tourist attraction than you were in Hargeisa or Berbera. I did some sightseeing in the streets of Sheikh and soon had dozens of children following me to see what I was doing – and none of them spoke any English, so it was a rather different experience.

According to personal reports I have received, there are two other mountain areas worth visiting. Ga’an Libah in between Las Geel and Berbera gets positive reviews from local people, but you will need your transport to reach this area. However, the standout for natural beauty in Somaliland is the Dallo Escarpment east of Erigavo. I saw images from fellow travellers, and it is dramatic, green and beautiful. However, getting there will involve a lot of time, effort and expense – and from a cost perspective, you are best to share this journey with at least one other traveller to reduce your cost. Unlike Berbera, where you might be able to visit without any security guard (and thus you can take public transport) you will need a guard for the trip to Dallo. Because of this, you will also need your transport, thus significantly increasing the cost of your visit. Accommodation in Dallo is very basic, so don’t expect to have any sort of luxuries during this part of your visit to Somaliland. From travellers who I met who visited this area, they suggested 2 or 3 nights in this area to fully appreciate the area, and given that it would take two days of travel there and two days back to Hargeisa, you should calculate a minimum trip time of 5-6 days.

Read more: The Man Who Rediscovered Las Geel

My blogs on Somaliland:

Somaliland is not Somalia Somaliland 1
Camels and Kindness in Somaliland Somaliland 2
You Must Leave the Country Somaliland 3