By: Evan Murph
Somalilandsun – I’ve used this forum (loneky planet) for years without posting, but I thought I could provide some up-to-date info on my recent trip to Somaliland.
My fiance and I spent 5 days between Hargeisa and Berbera. We bought air tickets in Addis at Ethiopian Airlines office for almost $500 each. If I could do it again, I’d buy it online where it was cheaper. Anyway we bought tickets for the next day’s flight to Hargeisa no problem.
We are US citizens and had vaguely heard that we could get a visa on arrival. We did NOT bother to get a visa before leaving Addis and no one at the airport asked. When we arrived in Hargeisa, the officials seemed kind of perplexed that we didn’t have a visa (the other handful of foreigners did) but produced normal visa-on-arrival documents for us to fill out, took a passport photo and waved us through with a smile. It took only a few minutes. We went to the arrival taxes window and paid $3 for entry and $30 for the visa each. I don’t know what the costs would be if we had a visa beforehand.
Outside the airport taxi drivers wanted $20 to take us into town (which seemed too much) and locals who were getting taxis didn’t seem to understand the idea of sharing a taxi with us. We did what we normally do and walked away. We began walking out of the parking lot, stopped and fiddled with our phones looking lost and the next truck leaving stopped and offered us a ride into town.
We stayed in Hadhwanaag (sp?) hotel in town and paid $15. This was probably too much for the amenities provided but it was in the LP and the restaurant was decent. We wanted to go to Las Geel and Berbera the next day so we started to ask around and we gathered that if we wanted to go to Las Geel, we had to visit the Ministry of Tourism (open only in the morning until early afternoon) and get a $25 permit each. Plus we would have needed to arrange a private car (Oriental Hotel wanted $189 dollars for the car alone!!!!!) and an armed escort. Now I think that it would be VERY easy to negotiate a car to go to Las Geel and back for no more than $50. Just go to where the shared taxis are and ask around. However, I don’t know how you’d negotiate an armed escort and I think you’d still have to get the $25 permit from the Minister. I couldn’t get a straight answer if that permit was the entry fee to the site or just a bureaucratic fee we have to pay to an official for the honor of his signature- this is common in West Africa where we live.
We decided to skip Las Geel since it seemed expensive and hard to organize and our trip was short. We also prefer to travel more independently. Apparently, these restrictions of a police escort and Minister permit only apply to Las Geel because it is a touristy area where they can make money and I guess have to worry slightly more about a targeted attack. We were told we could travel to Berbera without any problem.
So the next day we found the share taxis going to Berbera. We had taken our time in the morning thinking that there would be many cars a day. We arrived at 10am but the car didn’t fill and leave until 1pm- I recommend leaving early as there might only be 2 cars all day!! It was a 3.5 hour trip and we paid slightly more than we should- the price is $6 per seat. It seems that they prefer a foreigner pay $8 and we didn’t push the issue very far so we could have an ally in the driver when it came to checkpoints. On the way out of town our driver stopped and asked the police chief if we needed a letter from him to go to Berbera but we didn’t. I was pulled out at the first checkpoint and had to show our passports to a plain-clothes officer of some kind (maybe just a guy with a gun) who at first yelled at me for not having an armed policeman as security. I told him that we were going to Berbera and not Las Geel and offered him some qat that I had bought for this purpose. That satisfied him and we were on our way. I was never asked for my passport or delayed again at any checkpoint between Hargeisa and Berbera or on the way back.
In Berbera we first stayed in the Esco hotel but the next night moved to Nayruush (sp?) which is across the street and a much better value. We swam in the Gulf of Aden out near the Man Soor hotel outside of town. We had gone out there with the idea of going snorkeling (not an option because there is nothing to see) and splurging for the nicer hotel for the night. However the compound which received a glowing review in the LP, looks more like a prison camp and the rooms cost $84 for a couple. We ended up swimming down the beach opposite the hotel, having a great meal at the restaurant and going back to town instead.
Back in Hargeisa we visited the Camel and Goat market not far from town. We were a big hit with the people and soon we had a large following as we walked around and took pictures of the camels. It was a nice experience.
We flew back to Addis after 5 days and paid $43 each in exit taxes. There was an ATM in town opposite the MiG jet that said it took VISA but it was out of service so who knows if it was true.
Overall our impression of Somaliland was similar to other posts on the board. There isn’t much to do but the food is pretty good, the place is interesting to walk around, we felt safe, and the people were all very friendly, quick to smile and give a thumbs up when they saw us, and eager to promote their country as a tourist destination and hopefully eventually as a recognized sovereign state. We ran into quite a few Somalilanders who were born or lived most of their lives abroad who have come back recently. There always seemed to be someone who spoke English well nearby if we had to negotiate with a taxi or ask for directions. It will be interesting to return after a few years to see the progress made in the development of an economy and tourism industry.