Eight (8) Things To Do In Somaliland

Walking The Streets Of Hargeisa, Somaliland

I will be honest; there are not a lot of traditional tourist haunts in Somaliland. A lot of it, is simply soaking in the atmosphere. There is no better place to start then strolling the dusty and cluttered streets of the capital Hargeisa. If you are staying at the Oriental Hotel, it is simple process. Just step out onto the street and you are in the thick of the scrum.

The main thoroughfare is the cleverly named Road number 1. Highlights on the street include a crashed Somali MIG from the war of independence and the local market. At the market you will find everything from textiles to slabs of meat.

Part of the magic is meeting the locals. Here is your chance to feel like Justin Bieber at the local mall. Do not be surprised if you are surrounded by a group of 20 locals, asking you dozens of questions.

Meeting the locals in Somaliland h (3) h (4) h (5) h (6) h (2)o (1)

Change Some Money

This is my favorite experience in Somaliland and this alone made my visit worth it. Somaliland is the epitome of a cash economy. And when I say cash, I am talking about a shitload of cash, entire wheel barrels full of it. The most common bill is the 1000 Schilling. This equates to around 14 cents. If you are converting $100 expect that you will need to carry a separate bag to house your new Somaliland Schillings.

One of the big open air markets is found outside of the Oriental Hotel. Dozens of men will lounge on the corners with incredibly large stacks of money. Interestingly, security does not seem to be a concern. There is no police, there are no guns. There are literally money changers on every street corner.

1 (5) money market hargeisa hargeisa money market hargeisa money market hargeia money market wheelbarrow moving money in somaliland somaliland money market hargeisa

Chew Some Khat

When in Rome … chew some Khat with the locals. Alcohol is illegal in the country, so don’t expect to relax with a cold beer after a sticky day of taking in the sights. Khat is sold virtually on every street. Khat is a narcotic that is chewed for hours and extremely popular on the Horn of Africa. This is a giant industry enjoyed by virtually the entire male population is chewing Khat. Entire aviation networks are set up to fly in Khat daily. Most Khat is exported form Kenya and Ethiopia. It is critical for a good buzz that the Khat is fresh, less than 24 hours.

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Go To Starbucks

Well not exactly, but their version. While driving outside of the city, you might come across a stand like this. Pull over, empty out the plastic water bottle. Your bottle will be filled with some warm camel’s milk. Enjoy.

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Hang Out At The Ambassador Hotel

This is an oasis of solitude. After a couple of days of being in the thick of it, you might want to escape to the Ambassador. I do not recommend staying here due to the location, far from the city center and close to the airport. I strongly recommend bringing a book here and lounging in the outdoor restaurant. Enjoy the incredibly delicious fruit shake and try the cheese pizza. Win back your sanity.

fruit shake

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Go To The Live Stock Market

If not concerned about MERS, you might want to snuggle up with a camel. If staying at the Oriental Hotel, you will need to take a taxi for about 15 minutes to the outskirts of the city. It is best to go earlier in the morning while the market is lively. Take in the colors and the scents. Statuesque camels roam next to timid goats. Expect to make friends and be questioned repeatedly.

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Road Trip To Las Geel

You want to go here for two reasons. First, this is the only true touristic sight in the country. And second, you will be accompanied by your own private armed soldier.

Las Geel is a series of extremely well preserved rock paintings that date somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 years ago. The paintings are contained in a series of caves on a hill amidst the desert like landscape. Climb up with your guard and imagine our ancestors letting their creative juices flow. Most likely, you will be the only visitor there. While looking at the guest book, I was the first visitors in ten days.

The government is concerned about your security. If you plan to leave the capital, you are required to have a government document providing you permission and an armed guard. I arranged the trip with the Oriental Hotel. You need to plan 24 hours in advance. They will arrange for the paperwork, the car, the driver, and the armed guard. The entrance fee to Las Geel is $25, and the remainder is $100. Obviously, it is better if you have someone to split the $100 with. While leaving Hargeisa, you will pass multiple checkpoints. They are checking your paperwork and confirming that you have an AK-47 toting guard. The drive one way is about two hours, and expect to spend under 2 hours at the caves. To make friends I gave the guard and the driver some Khat for the drive.

Lass Geel laas geel caves laas geel caves in somaliland

 the view from laas geel cavesthe view from laas geel caves

Become A Somaliland Citizen

During my four day trip to Somaliland, I met one fellow traveler.  An Austrian scientist, taking 6 months to travel Africa.  We spent a couple of days hanging out, sipping fruit shakes at the Ambassador Hotel and traveling to Las Geel.  He had an incredible experience after I left.  He became a Somali citizen after my departure.   Please read his story below.

Visa rules change fast. I planned to travel back from Somaliland to Ethiopia, but the Ethiopian embassy in Hargeisa, Somalilands capitol, refuses to issue me a visa. Their argument: I am not a Somali citizen. I am outraged. Furious. Angry. Frustrated I walk down Independence Avenue, Hargeisas chronically congested main road. And then I see them: Dark-green Somali passports poking out of the stacks of Somaliland Shillings in front of the money changers. Since Somaliland is officially part of Somalia, people here need a Somali passport to travel. However, Somalia is a completely dysfunctional country without working administration. In order to obtain an official passport, Somaliland people need to go to visit moneychangers at the roadside. ‘Ethiopia refuses me a visa because I am not Somali citizen? I simply become Somali citizen!’, I thought before I asked the money changer what I need to get a passport. “One passport photo and 100 USD”. No birth certificate or other documents. It’s this part of Africa where money dictates the law. I bargain the price down to a still steep 90 USD before the money changer hands me over a brand new blank passport to fill out the necessary information. Within seconds the money changer turns into an official by pulling out several stamps and a stamp pad. Like a professional he throws different stamps all over the passport – the right stamp at the right place. My photo gets placed next to the blank field “photo of wife” before he laminates the photo page and hands me over my brand new passport. I became citizen of Somalia within 5 minutes.

somalia passport

Valid Somali passport

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16 thoughts on “Eight (8) Things To Do In Somaliland

  1. Steve Scott

    I love it. I am staying with my in-laws over the holiday week. So a lot of quiet nights figuring out what to-do. Getting caught up and revisiting the world travel of “Global Gaz” may be the answer. Not sure why, but the Strabucks reference was great!

    Reply
  2. Zack Joseph

    I like this article but i think the name should be 8 things to do in the capital Hargeisa. Idk if you’re still in Somaliland but you should’ve visited the the centuries old coastal towns like Zeila and Berbera , the breathtaking beaches of Berbera and the country’s highest and biggest mountaines Daalo and Al-Madow. P.S Somaliland has it’s own passport and i travelled with it to the UK

    Reply
    1. Ric Gazarian Post author

      You made some great points! And I will have to come back to explore other parts of the country.

      From my understanding, the Somaliland passport is only accepted by 8 countries. The Somali passport while ranked one of the worst in the world is still more powerful than the Somaliland passport. Hence from my understanding, some Somilanders opt to get a Somali passport. http://www.passportindex.org/byRank.php

      Reply
      1. Jack Joseph

        Our history is often missunderstood or lost just like our ancient script(s) because we’ve oral tradition and you know each generation was/is busy with disvcovering new things and didn’t care about the aceint world whatsoever. . Most Somalilanders nowdays have no clue that our history goes back to ancient Egypt. People are stuck in the 70 years old Hargeisa that’s why i mentioned those places.

        Reply
  3. Mukhtar

    Hi , My name is Mukhtar and I’m 21 years Somalilander but now I live Turkey I came here two months before. anyway I love Somaliland you should’ve visited the centuries old coastal towns like Zeila and Berbera , and Sanag the breathtaking beaches of Berbera and the country’s highest and biggest mountaines Daalo in Sanaag and Al-Madow. P.S Somaliland has it’s own passport and i travelled with it to the Turkey I take Turkish VISA in Capital city of Hargeisa.

    Reply
    1. Ric Gazarian Post author

      Thank you for sharing! I hope to be able to come again to see more of the country.

      I am aware of the Somaliland passport. My understanding, is this passport is recognized by less than 10 countries or so.

      Reply
      1. Zara

        Hi there, I’m planning to visit Somalia in April. Do you know anyone that is travelling to this part of Somalia or shall I somaliland!

        Reply
        1. Ric Gazarian Post author

          Hi Zara: My understanding is the safety situation is very dangerous in Somalia. The situation in Somaliland is much better. In general I felt comfortable during my time in Hargeisa.

          Reply
  4. Luke

    I am in somaliland and just tried to get a somali passport. The money exchange man looked at me as if I was crazy. Haha

    Reply
  5. Shimbir laaye

    Great article. All though I didn’t agree with the friend about getting Somali passport referring Somalia not having a working administration. Which it does and thousands travel there in a weekly basis from the globe. Also why would he need a Somali passport? How did he travel there in the first place, not being a Somali? Regardless of the rank off Somali passport to global countries, it has to be issued to you by Somali immigration office or through Somali Embassy. Because your info is backed up in case you need assistance in near future. I see his story as a smear campaign against Somalia, not a genuine story, and it completely overshadows your great article about the beauty of Somaliland and it’s gorgeous landscapes.

    Reply
    1. Ric Gazarian Post author

      Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.

      In regard, to my friend, he purchased the Somali passport to have an interesting keepsake from his visit. He traveled to Hargeisa by land via Ethiopia. I don’t think his intent was to smear anyone, his motivation was to have a unique experience.

      Reply

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