Kempinski Blog Article
Along the deep blue shores of the horn of Africa is small nation that's full of undiscovered experiences: Djibouti.
Located between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, this destination might not be one you had thought to visit, but thanks to strong French and US ties, the country is a place of calm in the middle of a somewhat turbulent region. Here you can safely get to know this one-of-a-kind location.
Relatively limited in terms of tourist trade and international investment, Djibouti does not see huge amounts of foreigners visiting its shores, which is a shame, given the beautiful, yet magnificently alien sights and landscapes located throughout.
Hot is a word that appropriately describes the climate of Djibouti, but this intense heat and dryness has created geological wonders such as Lake Assal – a gleaming, colour-rich salt lake that is Africa's lowest point – and Lake Abbe, a place that can only be described as lunar in appearance.
Rocky, sulphurous volcanic landscapes, desert islands, coral reefs full of bright fish and overseen by slow, silent whale sharks – Djibouti's natural wonders are its biggest draw, and a must-see for anyone with even the slightest interest in grand geography or beautiful wildlife.
Given its interesting geographic location and colonial past, the food and drink of Djibouti is as unique as its natural sights. Seafood comprises most of the dishes in the country, with freshly-caught shellfish and fish making up a large part of diners' diets, with meats such as camel, goat and sheep also being popular.
Dishes combine Ethiopian, Somalian, Arab and French flavours (the country was once a French overseas territory) and most meals are served with a portion of hot and spicy berbere sauce or buttery and fragrant niter kibbeh sauce. The latter is a delicious combination of butter, onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, fenugreek and turmeric – a bright condiment that is symbolic of Djiboutian flavours.
When visiting, make sure you try a dish of the local harira soup – vegetable-rich, spicy and served with fat slices of lemon – with a side order of injera, the pitted traditional flatbread of the region that is the perfect accompaniment to sauces and stews. Finished off with a dessert of fluffy banana fritters, you'll be full and ready to head out to explore the country's sights.
Djibouti's tourist infrastructure can be described as quite new, however, that doesn't mean there aren't any sights to enjoy. Tour guides are available and your hotel should be able to point you in the direction of an experienced local or tour company – below are some of the places you should tell them to take you.
Deep with the reaches of the Afar Triangle (a massive depression at the far north of Africa's Great Rift Valley) is Lake Abbe, an unparalleled sight best seen during sunrise or sunset. Located in one of Africa's most volcanic regions, the land around the pristine azure salt lake is populated with groups of limestone chimneys that jut out of the white earth, a phenomena that is caused by the burning magma deep beneath the surface. Towering up, this dreamy landscape was used as a set for the film Planet of the Apes.
The Maskali and Moucha Islands
Situated in the middle of the Gulf of Tadjoura is a pair of coral islands that serve as an excellent getaway from the dryness of Djibouti's interior – Maskali and Moucha. The islands themselves are a mix of white sand and lowland forest, but it's the beautifully clear seas that are the main draw here.
Diving and snorkelling excursions are brilliant, providing travellers with sights of vast shoals of fish, massive whale sharks, ray, hammerhead sharks and more, all in 20-something degree waters.
Africa's lowest point is another beautiful landscape sure to please travellers, with its shores framed by distant mountains. 157m below sea level, this is one of the saltiest lakes in the world, and it's this salinity, coupled with the desert heat, that causes the lake's waters to change colour throughout the day, from blue, to turquoise to fluorescent green.
Around three quarters of Djibouti's population lives in the country's capital, a small but energetic settlement whose French colonial buildings, packed markets and interesting stores are a joy to discover. The city is particularly flat, rent a bicycle and spend a day exploring, enjoying a delicious meal at a local restaurant.
The primary means of getting to Djibouti are via plane and ferry. Air routes from Dubai, UAE, Tanzania, Egypt, Yemen, Oman and France converge at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport (5 km south of the city), from which a taxi can be hired to Djibouti City – bartering down to a good price is heavily advised.
Ferry services run from Djibouti City to Yemen, and the city's port is regularly visited by ships of all varieties, given the strategic location of the country. You can also drive to Djibouti from Eritrea and Ethiopia, although given the poor state of the country's roads, a sturdy vehicle with a high clearance is advised. Ensure that you check the political and security situation in these countries before you embark, and be sure not to travel alone.
Within the country, bus services can take you to most towns and villages, while ferries can transport you between coastal settlements. Both minibuses and taxis operate within the capital, with prices rising after sunset.
Vehicles can be hired, but it's advisable that you choose a tour company or guide if heading to the sights in the interior, given the dangers involved with travelling around the country's underdeveloped road network.
Djibouti Palace Kempinski is the best hotel in the country. Here you can enjoy luxurious surroundings and services, including international restaurants, a private beach, and diving excursions to the best waters in the Middle East. Click here to contact the hotel team with any questions you might have.