Djibouti Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Nestled in the Horn of Africa, Djibouti is a hidden gem for adventurous travelers. Known for its stunning landscapes, diverse culture, and unique wildlife, this small but captivating nation is emerging as a must-visit destination. From the otherworldly landscapes of the Danakil Depression to the pristine beaches along the Red Sea, Djibouti offers an array of natural wonders and cultural experiences for intrepid tourists.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit Djibouti as a tourist is during the cooler and drier months, which are from November to mid-April. This period falls within Djibouti’s dry season and offers more comfortable weather for outdoor activities and sightseeing. Here’s a breakdown of the seasons:

  1. Dry Season (November to mid-April): This is the peak tourist season in Djibouti. During these months, the weather is relatively mild, with temperatures ranging from 25°C to 30°C (77°F to 86°F). It’s an ideal time for activities like snorkeling, diving, hiking, and exploring the country’s unique landscapes.
  2. Hot Season (mid-April to October): The hot season in Djibouti is characterized by scorching temperatures, often exceeding 40°C (104°F) in some areas. Traveling during this period can be challenging due to the extreme heat, especially in the inland regions. However, coastal areas may still be bearable, making it possible to enjoy water-based activities.

It’s important to note that Djibouti has a desert climate, and temperatures can vary significantly between the coast and the interior. If you plan to visit during the dry season, make your travel arrangements well in advance, as this is when the country sees the highest influx of tourists. To avoid the hottest weather, consider traveling in the early part of the dry season (November to January) or in the later part (February to mid-April).

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around Djibouti as a tourist can be an exciting adventure. While the country is relatively small, transportation options are diverse. Here are the best ways to get around Djibouti:

  1. Taxis: Taxis are a common mode of transportation within cities like Djibouti City. You can flag down a taxi or arrange for one through your accommodation. Negotiate the fare before starting your journey, as taxis may not always have meters. It’s advisable to carry small denominations of Djiboutian francs for payment.
  2. Minibuses: Shared minibuses, known as “tuk-tuks” or “bajajs,” are a popular way to get around cities and towns. They offer an affordable means of transportation, but be prepared for crowded conditions. Prices are generally fixed for specific routes.
  3. Car Rentals: Renting a car is a convenient option for exploring Djibouti, especially if you plan to venture into more remote areas. International car rental companies operate at the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport. Ensure you have a valid driver’s license and understand the local traffic rules.
  4. Scooters and Motorbikes: In urban areas, motorbike taxis are common for short trips. Always wear a helmet and negotiate the fare in advance. Some tourists also choose to rent scooters for greater mobility.
  5. Domestic Flights: If you plan to visit different regions of Djibouti, consider taking domestic flights. Air Djibouti offers services connecting Djibouti City with Tadjoura, Obock, and other cities, making it a quick and efficient way to cover longer distances.
  6. Boat Tours: Djibouti is famous for its stunning marine life and pristine waters. Consider taking boat tours for activities like whale shark watching, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
  7. Hiking and Trekking: Exploring natural landscapes and hiking in places like the Goda Mountains or Lake Assal may involve walking or trekking. Be prepared with appropriate footwear and gear for these adventures.
  8. Ferries: To visit the nearby Moucha Island or the Seven Brothers Islands, you can take ferries from the capital. These islands offer opportunities for relaxation, water sports, and marine life exploration.

While transportation in Djibouti can be an adventure in itself, it’s essential to plan your routes in advance, especially if you’re traveling to more remote areas. Additionally, keep in mind that road conditions may vary, so exercise caution and stay informed about local safety and travel advice.

What’s the Official Language?

The official languages of Djibouti are French and Arabic. French is widely used in administration and education, while Arabic is spoken by the local population. Here are some basic Arabic and French phrases that may be helpful for tourists in Djibouti:

Arabic Phrases:

  1. Hello: مرحبًا (Marhaban)
  2. Thank you: شكرًا (Shukran)
  3. Yes: نعم (Naam)
  4. No: لا (La)
  5. Please: من فضلك (Min fadlik)
  6. Excuse me: عفوًا (Afwan)
  7. Good morning: صباح الخير (Sabah al-khair)
  8. Good evening: مساء الخير (Masa’ al-khair)
  9. How much is this?: بكم هذا؟ (Bikam hatha?)
  10. I don’t understand: أنا لا أفهم (Ana la afham)

French Phrases:

  1. Hello: Bonjour
  2. Thank you: Merci
  3. Yes: Oui
  4. No: Non
  5. Please: S’il vous plaît
  6. Excuse me: Excusez-moi
  7. Good morning: Bonjour (morning greeting)
  8. Good evening: Bonsoir (evening greeting)
  9. How much is this?: Combien coûte ceci ?
  10. I don’t understand: Je ne comprends pas

While many Djiboutians speak French, especially in urban areas, learning a few basic Arabic phrases can be a sign of respect and may help you communicate more effectively, especially in rural or remote regions. Djiboutians generally appreciate when tourists make an effort to speak their languages.

Where to Stay? 🏨

Djibouti offers a range of accommodations to suit various preferences and budgets. Here are some options for where to stay as a tourist in Djibouti:

  1. Hotels: Djibouti City, the capital, has several international and locally-run hotels, ranging from luxury to mid-range and budget options. Some well-known hotels include the Sheraton Djibouti, Djibouti Palace Kempinski, and Hotel Residence de l’Europe. These hotels offer comfortable rooms, modern amenities, and often have restaurants, bars, and leisure facilities.
  2. Guesthouses: In addition to hotels, you can find guesthouses and boutique hotels, which offer a more personalized and often budget-friendly experience. These are especially common in Djibouti City and along the coast.
  3. Beach Resorts: Along Djibouti’s beautiful coastline, you’ll find beach resorts such as the Djibouti City Beach Resort. These resorts provide beachfront accommodations, water activities, and stunning views of the Red Sea.
  4. Ecolodges: Djibouti is known for its unique natural attractions, and there are ecolodges and camps located near places like Lake Assal and the Goda Mountains. These lodges offer an opportunity to stay close to nature while enjoying basic comforts.
  5. Moucha Island and Seven Brothers Islands: For a more remote experience, you can stay on Moucha Island or the Seven Brothers Islands. These islands have basic bungalows and campsites, making them ideal for nature lovers and water sports enthusiasts.
  6. Lake Abbe Camps: When visiting Lake Abbe, you’ll have the option to stay in basic camps located near the lake’s unique limestone chimneys. These camps provide essential amenities for a memorable experience.
  7. Camping: Camping is also an option for the more adventurous traveler. Ensure you have the necessary gear and permits, especially when camping in national parks.

When choosing accommodations, it’s essential to consider your travel itinerary and the specific activities you plan to undertake. Accommodation options may vary in different regions of Djibouti, so it’s a good idea to book in advance, especially during the peak tourist season. Be sure to read reviews and check the availability of services and amenities to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable stay.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Djibouti offers a unique culinary experience that blends Somali, Afar, and Yemeni influences. When visiting Djibouti as a tourist, be sure to try these must-try foods:

  1. Skoudehkaris: This is Djibouti’s national dish and a flavorful rice dish. It typically includes seasoned rice with meat, vegetables, and a blend of spices. Goat and camel meat are commonly used.
  2. Bouillabaisse: Djibouti’s version of the French seafood stew, Bouillabaisse, is a must-try. It features a rich broth filled with various types of fish, shellfish, and spices.
  3. Lahooh: Lahooh is a popular pancake-like bread served with honey, ghee (clarified butter), or spiced meat. It’s often enjoyed for breakfast or as a snack.
  4. Fah-fah: Fah-fah is a flavorful and spicy soup made with diced meat, vegetables, and a mix of spices. It’s commonly served with bread.
  5. Sambusa: Similar to samosas, sambusas are deep-fried pastries filled with meat, lentils, or vegetables. They make for a delicious snack or appetizer.
  6. Geel-Ori: This is a spicy and hearty stew made with camel meat, a staple in Djibouti’s cuisine. It’s slow-cooked with an array of spices, providing a unique taste.
  7. Hanad: Hanad is a sweet and aromatic tea, often enjoyed in Djibouti. It’s prepared with a blend of spices, including cardamom and ginger, and served with sweets or snacks.
  8. Aromates: Aromates are flavorful, aromatic spice mixes used to season a variety of dishes. These blends can vary widely from one cook to another.
  9. Djiboutian Coffee: Djiboutian coffee is renowned for its strong and rich flavor. It’s often served after meals or during social gatherings.
  10. Dates: Djibouti produces high-quality dates. These sweet and nutritious fruits are a common snack and are often offered to guests.
  11. Anjero: Anjero is a type of sourdough flatbread that’s slightly tangy and commonly served with stews and sauces.

When dining in Djibouti, don’t be afraid to try the local specialties and flavors. You’ll find a mix of delicious and spicy dishes that reflect the country’s diverse cultural influences. Additionally, it’s customary to eat with your right hand, especially when partaking in traditional meals. Enjoy your culinary adventure in Djibouti!

What to See? 🔍

Djibouti is a country known for its stunning natural landscapes and unique attractions. As a tourist, here are some must-see places in Djibouti:

  1. Lake Assal: Located in the Great Rift Valley, Lake Assal is one of the saltiest and lowest points on Earth. The striking white salt flats against the deep blue lake create a surreal landscape. It’s an ideal place for photography and enjoying the unique environment.
  2. Ardoukoba Volcano: This dormant volcano sits near Lake Assal. You can hike to the rim and take in panoramic views of the surrounding area. The volcano’s stark black rock formations are captivating.
  3. Lac Abbé: This desolate and otherworldly landscape is known for its limestone chimneys, hot springs, and unusual mineral formations. It’s an excellent destination for camping and stargazing.
  4. Tadjoura: Tadjoura is a charming coastal town with a rich history. Visit the historic district with its old buildings, mosques, and the beautiful white sand beaches.
  5. Moucha Island: Located in the Gulf of Tadjoura, Moucha Island offers pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and opportunities for snorkeling and diving. It’s an idyllic spot for relaxation and water sports.
  6. Seven Brothers Islands: These islands are renowned for their coral reefs, marine life, and vibrant underwater ecosystems. The islands offer some of the best diving and snorkeling opportunities in the region.
  7. Goda Mountains: Explore the Goda Mountains to witness unique flora and fauna. The forests and canyons are home to several species of birds and wildlife. It’s also an excellent location for hiking.
  8. Djibouti City: The capital city has several points of interest, including the Presidential Palace, the Hamoudi Mosque, and the lively markets where you can experience local culture.
  9. Arta Plage: This beach near Arta is known for its calm waters and relaxed atmosphere. It’s a great place for swimming and picnicking.
  10. The Day Forest National Park: Located near Tadjoura, this national park is home to diverse wildlife and lush vegetation. It’s a wonderful place for nature enthusiasts and birdwatchers.
  11. Khor Ambado Beach: Known for its fine white sands, Khor Ambado Beach is an ideal spot for swimming and enjoying the beauty of the Red Sea coast.
  12. The Grand Bara Desert: Explore the expansive Grand Bara Desert with its vast sand dunes and stunning desert landscapes. It’s a unique place for sandboarding and adventure.

While visiting these must-see places in Djibouti, consider hiring a local guide for some locations, as they can provide valuable insights and enhance your experience. Djibouti’s natural beauty and cultural diversity offer a range of attractions for adventurous travelers.

What to Do? 📸

Djibouti offers a variety of activities and experiences for tourists who want to explore its unique natural beauty and culture. Here are some must-do things when visiting Djibouti:

  1. Explore the Salt Flats of Lake Assal: Visit Lake Assal, the lowest point in Africa, and walk on the surreal salt flats. The contrast of the white salt against the deep blue water is a must-see.
  2. Hike the Ardoukoba Volcano: Take a hike to the rim of the Ardoukoba Volcano for stunning views of the surrounding area, including Lake Assal.
  3. Camp at Lac Abbé: Spend a night under the stars at Lac Abbé, known for its limestone chimneys and unique landscapes. It’s a fantastic spot for camping and stargazing.
  4. Dive and Snorkel: Djibouti offers some of the best diving and snorkeling experiences in the Red Sea. Explore vibrant coral reefs, underwater caves, and diverse marine life. The Seven Brothers Islands are a popular dive site.
  5. Relax on Moucha Island: Enjoy the serene beaches and clear waters of Moucha Island. It’s an ideal place for swimming, sunbathing, and water sports.
  6. Visit Tadjoura: Explore the historic town of Tadjoura, with its well-preserved architecture, old mosques, and beautiful beaches.
  7. Hike in the Goda Mountains: Explore the Goda Mountains to witness unique flora and fauna, as well as enjoy hiking and birdwatching.
  8. Experience Local Culture: Immerse yourself in Djiboutian culture by visiting local markets, interacting with residents, and sampling traditional foods and beverages.
  9. Go Sandboarding in the Desert: The Grand Bara Desert is an excellent place to try sandboarding. Slide down the sand dunes for an adventurous experience.
  10. Visit the Day Forest National Park: Discover the lush vegetation and diverse wildlife of the Day Forest National Park near Tadjoura.
  11. Relax at Arta Plage: Enjoy a day at Arta Plage, a tranquil beach known for its calm waters and beautiful scenery.
  12. Take a Boat Trip: Explore the Gulf of Tadjoura and the Seven Brothers Islands by taking a boat trip. These tours often include opportunities for snorkeling, dolphin watching, and more.
  13. Sample Local Cuisine: Don’t miss the chance to savor Djibouti’s unique dishes, including skoudehkaris, bouillabaisse, and camel meat.
  14. Visit Historical Sites: Djibouti has historical sites like the Hamoudi Mosque and the Presidential Palace in Djibouti City, offering insight into the country’s past.
  15. Photograph the Unique Landscapes: Capture the stunning landscapes and geological wonders that make Djibouti a photographer’s paradise.
  16. Learn About Afar and Somali Culture: Djibouti is home to various ethnic groups. Take the opportunity to learn about Afar and Somali cultures through interactions with local people and cultural experiences.

When engaging in these activities, remember to respect the local culture and environment. Djibouti’s natural beauty and cultural diversity offer an unforgettable experience for adventurous travelers.

Culture and Safety 🦺

When traveling to Djibouti as a tourist, it’s important to be aware of the local culture and take precautions for your safety. Here are some cultural insights and safety tips for your trip:

Culture:

  1. Respect Local Customs: Djibouti is a predominantly Muslim country, so it’s important to respect local customs and Islamic traditions. Dress modestly when visiting mosques and other religious sites. Avoid public displays of affection.
  2. Greetings: Greetings are an essential part of Djiboutian culture. When meeting people, it’s customary to shake hands with the right hand, sometimes followed by a kiss on both cheeks. Use a friendly and polite tone when conversing.
  3. Language: The official languages are French and Arabic. Learning a few basic Arabic phrases can be appreciated by the local population, especially in more remote areas.
  4. Photography: Always ask for permission before taking photographs of people, particularly in rural or traditional communities. Some locals may be sensitive about being photographed.
  5. Ramadan: If your visit coincides with Ramadan, be aware that fasting is observed by Muslims. Public eating, drinking, and smoking during daylight hours can be considered disrespectful, so it’s best to do so discreetly.

Safety:

  1. Travel Advisory: Check your government’s travel advisory for Djibouti before your trip to stay informed about the current situation and any safety concerns.
  2. Health Precautions: Djibouti is a hot and arid country. Stay hydrated, use sunscreen, and be cautious of heat-related illnesses. It’s advisable to have updated vaccinations, including those for yellow fever and typhoid, before traveling.
  3. Crime: Djibouti is generally considered safe for tourists, but petty theft can occur. Keep your belongings secure, avoid displaying valuable items, and be cautious in crowded places.
  4. Travel Documentation: Ensure your passport and other travel documents are up to date. Carry photocopies or digital copies of essential documents in case of loss.
  5. Local Laws: Familiarize yourself with local laws and regulations, especially when it comes to customs and local customs. Avoid illegal activities, and adhere to the country’s regulations.
  6. Local Transportation: Use registered taxis and reliable transportation services. Negotiate fares in advance when taking taxis.
  7. Travel Insurance: Consider purchasing comprehensive travel insurance to cover unexpected situations such as medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and lost or stolen belongings.
  8. Emergency Contacts: Know the local emergency numbers and the location of your country’s embassy or consulate in Djibouti.
  9. Health and Medical Facilities: Djibouti has limited medical facilities, especially outside the capital city. It’s a good idea to carry a basic first-aid kit and any necessary medications.
  10. Water and Food Safety: Only drink bottled or purified water. Be cautious about consuming street food and make sure it’s properly cooked and served hot.

By respecting local culture and staying informed about safety precautions, you can have a rewarding and enjoyable experience while traveling in Djibouti. It’s always a good idea to stay up-to-date on current events and developments in the country as part of your travel preparation.

Conclusion

As you bid farewell to Djibouti, you’ll leave with memories of extraordinary landscapes, vibrant cultures, and unforgettable encounters. The pristine waters of the Red Sea, the ethereal beauty of Lake Assal, and the rich traditions of the Afar and Somali communities will linger in your heart. Djibouti’s unique charm, untamed beauty, and warm hospitality will undoubtedly beckon you to return and explore more of its hidden treasures.