Somaliland Travel Guide

Somaliland Travel Guide

Mountains of money - Hargeisa, Somaliland

Mountains of money – Hargeisa, Somaliland

For those who want a real adventure, a visit to Somaliland is highly recommended. It is important to remember that Somaliland is far more stable than it’s neighbour Somalia. For example, they had a peaceful transition of power after democratic elections (something that may not be peaceful in Africa), and it is one of the most stable destinations in the whole continent.  Somaliland also has its currency, parliament, visa and security forces. It is unfair to compare Somaliland with Somalia – something that the locals will often tell you during your stay in the country.

Visas: A visa is necessary for all visitors entering Somaliland. You can either contact a hotel in the country who can facilitate the process (you will collect your visa on arrival at the airport in Hargeisa) or visit the Somaliland Liaison Office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where a visa can be obtained in less than an hour.

Be aware that it is no longer possible to obtain an Ethiopian visa in Hargeisa. Unless you already have an onward visa for either Djibouti or Ethiopia, you will be forced to travel by plane as these visas are not issued at the land borders. Try to obtain a dual or multi-entry visa before travelling to Ethiopia as it allows more travel options.

Accommodation: I found the accommodation to be of good quality and well priced. Mostly these are locally run establishments that are the equivalent of a guest house or bed and breakfast. The Oriental Hotel is an excellent choice in Hargeisa – and the location in the heart of the market area of Hargeisa cannot be matched. The newer Damal Hotel Hargeisa is also centrally located and is receiving positive reviews. Outside of Hargeisa, the choices are fewer, and the standard will be lower. However, the price of accommodation will be very affordable.

Food: There are many tasty eating options in Somaliland. Except for chicken and obviously pork, all meats and fish are easily obtained, along with a good array of vegetables, rice and local bread. Be willing to eat at popular street vendors; their food is delicious and extremely affordable.  Away from Hargeisa, restaurants have more limited choices (vegetarians beware) and they even close early, so bring snacks just in case.

Transport: It is possible to use public transport easily between Hargeisa and Berbera, but only if you have a travel permit and a Special Protection Unit (SPU) waiver form (see below). It is also possible to travel to Sheikh and Burao with public transport, but options are more limited.  Transport to the Ethiopian or Djibouti border is easy to organise, but be aware that the latter road is exceptionally rough and tiresome. Travel anywhere else is going to require your vehicle since you will need an armed SPU.

When leaving the country by plane, you will need to pay a US $30 departure fee, $3 security fee and $10 airport fee so ensure you have sufficient US dollars on hand – and in the correct currency in case there is no change available.

Read more: Things to do in Somaliland

Climate: Somaliland can be brutally hot in the period around summer (May-September) thus precluding you from almost every outdoor activity. Winter (December-February) is considered the best time to visit. But even during these winter months, Berbera will still be very warm and humid. Be aware that when Ramadan is on, normal business activity will slow down, so you may have more trouble organising tours and other things during this period.

Health: Bring all medications with you, including the usual for travellers (such as medication for cuts, scrapes, and traveller’s diarrhoea). If you do run into problems in the country, health facilities are best in the capital Hargeisa and Berbera. Outside of these areas, specialised medical treatment may not be available.

Communication: Telephone communications does work well in the cities of Hargeisa and Berbera and is also available in between. However, the Internet will not be reliable anywhere, and at night it seems to get even weaker. If you intend using Social Media (such as Facebook) I strongly recommend you install the ‘Lite’ versions they have on offer for both Facebook and Messenger – they are better suited to places with poor connections. Also, if using browsers in this area, try those that offer a ‘turbo’ (or similar option) such as Opera Mini.

Electricity: Electricity in the country is stable – especially in the major population centres. When you head to more rural places, the frequency of any electricity supply will be less predictable.

Culture & Customs: Alcohol is prohibited in Somaliland, so you are not going to be approached by some aggressive drunk on the streets. Because of this, don’t even think of bringing any alcohol into the country. However, khat, the mildly hallucinogenic plant seems to be the most popular pastime amongst the majority of males in Somaliland. This does make for some interesting conversations at times, though none of it was threatening. Be aware that photography is a sensitive topic in Somaliland (this is covered more in the ‘Safety’ section below). Always, ask permission before photographing anyone – you will generally find that children will say yes, adult males will say yes, but adult females will decline. Somalilanders are incredibly proud of their country and will often highlight the differences between them and Somalia. They will make an extra effort to ensure that you enjoy your stay and that you form a positive view of their country.  Please don’t ever tell Somalilanders that they are part of Somalia. Such a comment is viewed very negatively.

Language: The language of Somaliland is Somali. A number of people speak English, but it is not widely spoken. If you head to anywhere outside of Hargeisa, you are likely to face some sort of language barriers.

Currency: The currency of Somaliland is the Somaliland Shilling – note this is different to the Somali Shilling. There are no ATMs in the country so bring plenty of US dollars to exchange. Ethiopian birr and Euros are also accepted, but US dollars are the dominant foreign currency, and they should be your first choice.

Insurance: Be aware that many insurers will not insure you for any travel to Somaliland, because they consider it to be part of Somalia, especially if you are a citizen of a nation that deems the country’ unsafe to travel’. If this applies to you, please research to find what options (if any) you have.

What to Wear: Somaliland is a conservative country, so be suitably attired. This means women should wear long, loose-fitting clothing and a headscarf. Men should also dress conservatively in long sleeves and pants. Wearing of a headscarf is not legally required, nor is dressing conservatively, but it is considered very disrespectful if you do not do so.

Read more: Somaliland Photo Gallery

Permits: To travel anywhere in the country you need to obtain a travel permit (or have a tour agency to do work) and organise an SPU to go with you, but you can avoid the SPU if you have a waiver. Firstly, apply for the travel permit from the Ministry of Tourism. Be warned, if you state that you are staying at any hotel with a travel agency attached (such as the Oriental or Ambassador) you could be requested to book a tour with them to obtain the permit. The easiest way around this is to provide another hotel name.

If you obtain a permit independently (and not through a tour agency) you should then lodge the permit with the Ministry of Interior where you can then request an SPU waiver. This will be granted for all travel between Hargeisa and Berbera, probably for travel west to Ethiopia and north to Djibouti, and possibly even to Sheikh and Burao. Other destinations will require an escort. You must visit the police headquarters to obtain the waiver form.

Note that government offices are only open in the morning (Friday and Saturday are the weekends) so your work in this area will be confined to the morning – achievable if you start early.

Safety: My visit to Somaliland demonstrated that it is one of the safest countries I have ever visited. Hargeisa is exceptionally secure – money changers can leave a fortune of cash on the streets without any weapon or guards and not fear theft. Likewise, jewellery is kept in unlocked glass display areas in the streets without any security. Elsewhere in the country mirrored that same feeling of safety and security.

One is supposed to take an armed Special Protection Officer (SPU) when travelling away from Hargeisa, but for everywhere I went, this seemed unnecessary. The area from Hargeisa to both Ethiopian and Djibouti borders and the road to Burao via Berbera is very safe. Beyond that (into Evergaro and close to the Puntland and Somalia borders) an SPU is recommended.

Two cautions for travellers. Firstly, a very small minority of people (especially older) are suspicious of cameras, and I was approached by a couple of individuals who informed me that I either needed a permit to take photos (false) or that photography was entirely prohibited (also false). Don’t let this worry you too much, for more sensible local people will intervene on your behalf if you look as if you are being hassled. My usual rule for photography is to ask permission before taking any photographs, but I extended that in Somaliland and only took pictures if I was requested.

My nearly two weeks in Somaliland exposed me to probably the friendliest people I have ever encountered (pushing Iraq, Iran and Syria for that title). The biggest issue you will face in Somaliland is the threat of being overwhelmed by the hospitality!

Read more: The Man Who Rediscovered Las Geel

If you wish to visit Somaliland, it is important to read the following  – but remember to read information applying to Somaliland and not Somalia – the safety levels in these two areas are very different.

Lonely Planet Tripadvisor  UK FCO