Situated in East Africa, Djibouti is truly a spectacular country. Broken down into six regions, the south of the country is known for its beaches, the central plains are volcanic while the north is extremely mountainous. The country of just under 1 million inhabitants has over half its population living in the capital, Djibouti City.
As a tourist, where should you spend your time? This four-day itinerary is the perfect travel guide to take in everything that Djibouti has to offer.
Day 1: Explore the city of Djibouti
A mixture of French architecture and more traditional buildings blend together in a city that is over a century old. Note, French speakers will have no problem communicating with the locals since most of the locals speak French or Arabic, but not many of them speak English. Consider a local tour guide to help you overcome any communication problems as you are shown the best of the city attractions. These include:
Beaches in Djibouti
Most of the prime beaches are found on the eastern shoreline, with the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean providing an idyllic backdrop. Visit Siesta or Heron beach in the city itself or Khor Ambado outside of Djibouti.
Grand Mosque of Hamoudi
Daily prayers flow from the Grand Mosque of Hamoudi from early morning, and worshippers visit throughout the day. The mosque is over 100 years old and can hold over 1,000 people making it one of the most prominent structures in the city.
Since the city is right on the Gulf of Aden, seafood plays a huge part in cuisine in the capital. A local favourite is Yemeni fish which is cooked in a tandoori oven. Traditional dishes include a stew known to the locals as “fah-fah” while a spicy soup with boiled beef called “soupe djiboutienne” is served often. Other local dishes include “laxoox” (flatbread) and “skudahkharis” (lamb stew). Popular restaurants here include “Melting Pot” and “La Mer Rouge”.
Place Ménélik is a hive of activity every morning. Here you will find traders, cafes, bars, eateries and coffee houses. Don't visit between 12:00 and 15:00, when everyone rests, only to return in late afternoon or evening. Venture further outside this area and you will discover the European quarter with even more shopping and eating opportunities.
Whale Shark Diving
If scuba diving is your thing, a whale shark diving experience should be on the top of your list when visiting the capital. Take note, however, a boat trip and diving experience will take around 10 hours, which will use up much of your day in Djibouti City.
The whale sharks themselves are migratory animals and come to the water near Djibouti to give birth to their young and are only found here between November and February. One of the best places to see them is the ominously named Island of the Devil. The waters here are rich in plankton on which the whale sharks feed.
Les Caisses Market
For tourists wanting to pick up a souvenir, the alleyways of Les Caisses Market are your best option. Here, bargains are tucked away in back alleys, so be sure to keep your eyes open!
Day 2: Lake Abbe and nearby desert region
This popular spot is around five hours from the capital. Part of a series of connected bodies of water, Lake Abbe is a salt-lake. It is watched over by the ominous peak of the dormant volcano, Mount Dama Ali which has a summit of over 1 kilometre.
Attractions here include the beautiful limestone chimneys, some of which are up to 50 metres high. There are also hot springs nearby, with water heated in the Earth's crust and pushed to the surface. Be sure to stay hydrated as the temperature here gets well above 40 degrees Celsius.
Day 3: Lake Assal
Did you know that Lake Assal is the lowest point in Africa at 150 metres below sea level? Make sure you don't drink the water though; it’s simply too salty! In fact, the lake is a major salt production area for the country. Much like the Dead Sea, the saltiness of the water makes your body extremely buoyant so floating in the lake is a must, especially in 40-degree Celsius heat! This body of water is also characterized by the range of colours found throughout its depths. It is a photographer's dream, because of the flocks of pink flamingoes that visit at dusk and dawn.
The energetic tourist can hike up the Ardoukoba volcano, a 298 metres peak that last erupted over 40 years ago. If time allows, stop at Djibouti's own Grand Canyon. Here you will see the spectacular results of how the three tectonic plates have brushed against each other over the centuries. The vistas span over the Bay of Djibouti and the Indian Ocean, while the canyon itself offers beautiful photographic opportunities, thanks to its various colours created from metal oxides found in the rock.
Day 4: Moucha Island - Day trip from Djibouti
While in the capital, consider taking a day out to explore the magnificent Moucha Island. Formed from coral, this island is around 30 minutes by boat trip. A word of warning, however. Make sure you pack decent shoes; since coral is painful to walk on with bare feet. The islands are small (around 3 km in size) and can easily be covered on foot. If you have more time on your hands, consider a snorkel experience among the submerged coral reefs with an experienced dive instructor to explore the waters teeming with sea life.
A word of caution: Though Djibouti is fast becoming a popular tourist destination, there are some precautions that should be adhered to. At present, do not travel near the border with Eritrea and when travelling outside of the city, always use a guide as its very easy to get lost on the dusty desert roads.
"Craig Taylor is a freelance writer and blogger. A lover of wildlife, he loves to travel and have as many new experiences as possible, particularly with food! His other passion is photography."
Image details and licenses
Heron beach: https://images.app.goo.gl/CXsSaCknFkCp8hLb6 (Abass Chirdon, CC BY 3.0), Place Ménélik: https://flic.kr/:p/Ebkgi4 (Francisco Anzola, CC BY 2.0), Hamoudi Mosque: https://flic.kr/p/DSrvQL (Francisco Anzola, CC BY 2.0), Whale Shark Diving: https://flic.kr/p/nTS63 (Olivier Roux, CC BY-NC 2.0) Les Caisses Market: https://flic.kr/p/Dnboxg (Francisco Anzola, CC BY 2.0), Lake Abbe: https://images.app.goo.gl/1zYsiW3Te4DiyDVw5 (Rolf Cosar, GNU Free Documentation License), Lake Assal: https://images.app.goo.gl/rrfmTSvY6XVd7ncS8 (Fishercd), Moucha Island: https://flic.kr/p/aX77dT (Ryan Kilpatrick, CC BY-ND 2.0)