I just did a week in Somaliland. Here are a few tips, notes, etc.
-Travel permits and security guards are no longer required; at least for travel between Hargeisa, Berbera and Burao. I went to the police office to get the travel permit letter and was told “That law is finished. You can go anywhere you want now.” However, not all soldiers/police officers know about this yet.
I was only quizzed about where my security was once between Hargeisa and Berbera and after five minutes of debate, I finally asked him if I need security, then how did I get through all the other checkpoints. He was quiet for a few seconds and then said, “Ok, you can go.” Nobody asked me anything on the way to Burao, but while I was leaving Burao a soldier took me to the police station and when there a bigshot (I’m guessing this from his uniform) told me I needed security. I told them what I had heard in Hargeisa. He said he would call “the commander” and 20 minutes later he came back and let me go. I also met one guy who walked out to Las Geel on his own and he had a real hassle for not having the guard.
-There is a lot of transport between Harar and Hargeisa. In three stages, it took me about 7 hours. Note that in Wajaale, the taxis don’t queue, so before you put your bag in one look to see which car is the most full.
-Oriental Hotel in Hargeisa was fine for US$15, though I suspect some of the other hotels near it would be a bit lower priced for a similar quality room.
-Las Geel was awesome. Best cave paintings I’ve ever seen. The vehicle (a small station wagon – 4WD is not necessary) from Oriental Hotel in Hargeisa was US$100 and entrance is US$25 per person; they needed to get the permit from the ministry of tourism one day in advance. The driver stopped often to let me take photos along the way. Altogether it was a five-hour round trip and I was glad I went in the afternoon because the light for landscape shots was good.
-The beach at Berbera is filthy and had zero appeal to me, but I did like strolling through the city’s derelict downtown. I stayed at Yahye Hotel in the center and it was fine. Fan rooms were US$7 and I think the AC rooms were US$25. Berbera is so damn hot now that I would have stayed in an AC room, except that they were full. The hotel even had wi-fi, though it didn’t work most of the time.
-The drive up to Sheik was quite nice, but Burao had nothing worth seeing. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have bothered to go. I would have just turned around at Sheik and gone back to Berbera.
-For getting an Ethiopian visa in Hargeisa, they only let people in early in the morning. Get there about 8am and expect to get through the gate at about 9am. They no longer let a second group in later that morning. Because you still have to get a letter from Somaliland immigration first (And this took about an hour and a half.) it’s no longer possible to do everything in one day. Plus, they are so slow at the Ethiopian Embassy that you can’t expect to pick up your passport until about 11am, which is when I saw most people get their passports back. I was one of the last to get mine back, and that wasn’t until 11.55. So, it would be very tough to get to Harar that same day. I chose not to try it. American’s can only get a two-week transit visa. But at least some nationalities can get longer, proper tourist visas.
-Finding the Ethiopian Embassy from immigration is easy. Turn right out the gate, right at the next intersection, right at the next big intersection (This is Independence Rd.) , walk past the very heavily guarded building (The President’s Home, I think.) and look for an “Ethiopia Coffee” sign on the left/south side of the street, across from the Hargeisa Water Authority.. Then just keep walking back as far as you can, and even when you think you are all the way back keep going through the bushes until you find the guard and his little desk. You can’t take phones or cameras inside, so you’ll have to leave them with the guards. The guards seem trustworthy, but there’s no system for identifying each person’s phone, so I would suggest leaving it at your hotel.
-In Addis Ababa, I went to the Somaliland embassy, or whatever they call it, at 1pm and got my visa in about 10 minutes wait. One photo, US$40 and they only took dollars; not Birr.