Somalilandsun – This first hand tips and advice on travel to Somaliland have been availed by Will who toured the country in December 2012 thus very factual and worthy of note by others wishing to sample the experiences.-Editor
Just thought it would be a good idea to share my tips and info on my trip to Somaliland in December, 2012. Hopefully it’ll help anyone else going there.
So firstly I was in Ethiopia and I got the visa in 20 minutes at the Somaliland Liason office in Addis. It was 40 bucks and really simple. Just a quick form and a photo and that was it.
I flew with Ethiopian airways to Berbera (Hargeisa is still under construction). At the airport immigration is quick and simple and everyone is willing to help you out. There’s a 34 dollar entry fee too which everyone has to pay. I went straight to Hargeisa and all the airlines provide transport there. They’re just small buses direct from Berbera airport to the airline offices in Hargeisa. No escort is required too so no need to worry about organising one for the trip to Hargeisa if you take their transport.
I stayed at the Oriental Hotel in Hargeisa which is right in the centre of town. It’s 15 for a single, 30 for a twin/double. The hotel has free wifi and satellite tv. It’s also very clean and the only place I saw other travellers. Furthermore, they can organise tours etc. I organised a Las Geel/Berbera tour (one way though…the usual tour is back to Hargeisa) for 140 dollars.
Hargeisa is a great vibrant city. The camel market is a must, although it’s a while out of town. Not really walking distance. I was the only foreigner there so I was more popular than the camels. Lots of men, women, and children came up to me, chatting and asking me questions and following me around. It’s a bit full on but they all mean well. Some speak crap English while others are actually quite good. The money changers and gold sellers are quite cool too. There is just LOADS of cash floating around – it’s insane. Somali food is scarce though unfortunately. All up I spent two nights in Hargeisa.
The tour to Las Geel was really interesting too. Definite must.
Berbera is the other city I went too. I spent two nights there at the Maan Soor hotel. It’s 50 dollars a night which is bit of a rip off compared to the Oriental Hotel in Hargeisa. It’s aesthetically ugly but the rooms have aircon, 200 channel satellite tv, showers, double beds etc. The beach out the front is meant to be the best in Berbera but the foreshore is pretty polluted which is disappointing. If you walk a kilometre up though it gets much cleaner. The water is crystal clear though.
I spent half a day on the beach and half a day in the town taking photos of all the beautiful crumbling colonial buildings. I was also invited to some ‘qat’ and lunch with some businessmen from Hargeisa. Great fun. The Somalis LOVE talking politics and they certainly told me a lot of interesting stuff about Somaliland and the rest of Somalia. A trip from Berbera town to Maan Soor is 7ish bucks by taxi. I walked to town though from the hotel through the rubbish tip which is ‘interesting’ in its own way. There’s a cool restaurant there called Xayaat or something like that. It’s in the Lonely Planet and you can get some good photos of all the derelict ships there.
Ok, so what else can I say? Telecommunications there is way better than most places in Africa. I used my Somali simcard to call Australia several times and it only cost $2! The internet is surprisingly fast too. Taking photos is a tad tricky because it’s super Islamic so most women are in hijabs, abeya and niqabs and some take offence to photos. I had a few incidents when people told me not to take photos but 99% of the time people were happy to let me take photos of them. it’s easier having a friendly local with you. Speaking of women, the few female travellers I met were all wearing abeyas or similar outfits and covering their hair so it’s wise for any females planning to go to do the same.
There’s also ‘qat’ which you’ll see everyone chewing. It’s meant to give you a high but I didn’t feel it. You’ll notice when someone is on it though because their mouth will be green and their pupils super dilated. It’s worth giving it a go…. Although make sure you brush your teeth afterwards! One thing you’ll notice is Somalis don’t brush their teeth so their teeth a rotten and just non-existent.
With the money situation, it’s best to bring as much USD in SMALL denominations, especially $1 and $5 bills. Of course it’s possible to change to Somali shillings but you’ll end up getting one kilo of cash to carry around which isn’t fun. The exchange rate on the 28th of Dec, 2012 when I was there was 1US=6700 shillings.
Somaliland is super safe though. Even petty crime is almost non-existent. It’s perfectly safe to walk around even at night with no problems. Everyone will look out for you. You may get ripped of every once in a while by a taxi driver but no different from anywhere else in the developing world.
There’s also a 34 dollar exit fee too by the way plus a $10 security luggage fee that, again, everyone has to pay.
Overall, the four day trip was a lot of fun. The people are super friendly and willing to help anyone out. There are a lot of people returning from the diasporas in Canada, UK, America, Australia etc so a lot of people on the streets can speak English. It’s also amazing being a ‘freak’ in the country…I’ve never been stared at so much, but in a fun, intriguing way. They’re very curious people. The only downside to Somaliland is that there is ZERO alcohol (obviously) so for an Aussie like me, four days without beer was tough.
Anyway, hope some of this info helps. If you’ve got any questions feel free to send me a private message or post on this forum.
p.s. one last thing…the BEST souvenir you can buy in Somaliland is a Somali passport. Make sure you have a passport sized photo. Try and find a money changer with the Somali passports sticking out and ask to buy one. It costs 70 dollars and to get it ‘authenticated’ you need a signature from an official. Luckily I randomly met a guy who was an official and signed mine off. These are legitimate passports for Somalia, not Somaliland and this is how normal people get their passports. Not many tourists know about it but it makes for a fun souvenir…now I can claim I’m a ‘Somali citizen’! Although I wouldn’t try using it at immigration…