Djibouti definitely falls into the category of small things that have a big pay-off. Though it occupies a tiny corner in Northern Africa, it has copious amounts of beauty and sites that you really can’t believe unless you’ve seen them for yourself. Few places have such a variety of landscapes – like volcanoes, sinking plains, limestone chimneys with steam coming from the top, salt lakes, grand canyons, and gorgeous plateaus. For those that love outdoor adventure, you’ll have plenty to keep you busy here. Enjoy snorkelling with the sharks, diving, kite surfing, and hiking. The country isn’t overly developed outside of the capital so spending time here makes for the perfect eco-travel experience as you get a peek of ancient nomadic life. It’s a bit expensive here, so come prepared, but the cost is more than offset by the incredible memories waiting for you. Here’s the best places to visit in Djibouti!
1. Djibouti City
Djibouti City serves a number of purposes. First, it’s a great staging area for excursions into the hinterland or out on the sea. Second, it serves as a small dose of comfort when you’re coming back from those excursions. There are good restaurants, bars, and hotels here, so there are creature comforts that you can look forward to. Third, it’s really charming and easy to love. You’ll notice a definite sense of change about town as the people work to transform their city from the rundown outpost it once was in the 80’s and 90’s. It’s a bit of a melting pot here with lots of cultural contradictions that fun to observe.
2. Lake Assal
“Honey Lake” is a crater lake at the western end of the Gulf of Tadjoura. It’s 155 metres below sea level, making it the second lowest land depression on Earth after the Dead Sea. Lake Assal is the largest salt reserve and the locals consider it to be a national treasure. It’s in the process of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage site and the views around the lake are unbelievable.
It’s one of the oldest towns on the east coast of African and dates back at least to the 12th century. Governed by a sultan, Tadjoura was once a great port for goods between Djibouti and Ethiopia – including, unfortunately, slave trade. Often called La Ville Blanche, or White Town, because of the many lovely whitewashed homes in town, it’s a great town for walking as there are many great views of the waterfront. In the late afternoons you’ll find all the locals out and about. There are a number of nice mosques to see and you’ll love relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere of this quieter and less chaotic version of Djibouti City.
4. Ali Sabieh
Near the border of Somalia and Ethiopia, Ali Sabieh is surrounded by awe-inspiring desert on all sides. Inside the city you’ll find plenty of great markets, food stalls, and narrow alleys. This is rustic and rugged Africa at its best. Surprisingly, there are spots of natural beauty nearby and very little tourist development to take away from it. To see the desert at its best, check out Grand Bara and Petit Bara. It’s also worth trying some wind surfing while there, or any of the many sport adventure activities. The entire area is famous for its challenging walking trails.
5. The Gulf of Tadjoura
Wonderfully surrounded by the lush Goda Mountains which reach heights of up to 1300 metres, the Gulf of Tadjoua is considered by those that have been there to be the perfect spot for diving and snorkelling with whale sharks. The two towns that tend to, rightfully, attract the most tourist attention are Obock and Tadjoura. In the latter you’ll find beautiful sea vistas and seven nationally important mosques.
6. Goba’ad Plain
This area, located between Lake Abhe and the Hanle Plain is a great place for bird watchers. Goba’ad is the only place in Djibouti with an active breeding ostrich population. You’ll also spot Black Crown Sparrows, Arabian Bustard, Sand grouses, Crombec, and so many more. This lowland area is covered with shallow wadis, large sand flats, and acacia scrub. It’s areas like this that make the country such a draw for nature lovers.
7. Hanlé Plain
Adjacent to the Goba’ad Plain, the ecosystem is similar. The lowland valley is surrounded by steep mountains and populated by several small freshwater lakes. It’s another great place for bird lovers with the chance to see Egyptian Goose, black crake, and the three banded plover.
8. Doralé and Khor Ambado
These two amazing beaches are located about 15 km from Djibouti City. Here you’ll find great swimming and black lava cliffs that border the beach. There are great local sightseeing tours that leave from here and you can also take part in any number of water sports. The sunsets from Khor Ambado are some of the best in the country. If you’re looking to relax and unwind for a couple of days of sand and surf, you can’t go wrong here.
9. Tropical Aquarium
This is one of the country’s top tourist draws. Located in the historic part of town, it’s considered one of the best in all of Africa. It’s designed so that you feel like you’re underwater in the Red Sea, getting a firsthand look at marine life in this unique body of water. The ecosystems are perfectly restored and recreated here. Pair your visit with a stop at Marche Central, the lively and chaotic central market, and you’ll spend a fun filled afternoon in the city.
10. Day Forest National Park
This giant oasis is filled with the vibrant colours of the Djibouti desert. About 20 km from the Gulf of Tadjoura, nature enthusiasts will fall in love with Day Forest National Park. Surround by desert, this is one of two protected forested areas in the country. It’s the largest forest and the most important ecosystem is the 900 ha stand of East African Junipers which grow to almost 1000 metres. If you’re lucky you can spot the Toha or Djibouti sunbird – both of which have only ever been seen inside the forest.