A Tourist's Guide to Djibouti Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

A Tourist's Guide to Djibouti

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The goal of most tourist guides is to encourage the armchair adventurer to get up and get going. Obviously, the people who wrote these guides have never been to Djibouti...


Discoverers of Djibouti are likely to begin with the following questions: What is Djibouti? they may ask. Who is Djibouti? is another popular one. Where did he get such a cool name?? is by far the winner and despite the fact that Djibouti is actually a small country, they will continue to repeat the question in hoping to get a funny reply: it's the job of the reader, and by extension the job of the Guide, to set the ignorant fools straight.

Geography and General

The Republic of Djibouti is situated on the north-eastern coast of Africa, just north of the Horn of Africa. More specifically, it lies on an arid coastal zone around the Gulf of Tadjoura, on the Bab el Mandeb strait. It borders Eritrea to the north, Ethiopia to the east, and Somalia to the south, and is one of the smaller countries on the whole of the continent.

Djibouti has a population of approximately half a million, the majority of whom are Muslims, usually speaking local dialects of French or Arabic.

Djibouti has a plethora of reasons to be on any traveller's vacation list. For any sunbathers looking for a new spot, Djibouti is one of the hottest places on earth. The average temperature annually is 32°C (90°F), and the extreme July temperatures can reach almost 45°C (113°F)! Don't expect any sudden rain showers to ruin your day either; there are less than 5 inches of rainfall a year there, so plant life has not been able to grab hold. Since 90% of the country is volcanic desert, it can be considered the opposite of a primary rain forest, and if the analogy is correct, Djibouti is a great vacation spot for any indigenous tribes from the Amazon. Anyone else approach with caution.


The French settled Djibouti in 1862, and acquired the 'rights' to the land from the Afar Sultans of Obock in exchange for money and other goods. Not to be outdone, the Sultan of Tadoura made a similar agreement with the French in 1884.

A treaty with the French allowed the construction of the town of Djibouti, built in 1888. The town became the 'official outlet for Ethiopian commerce', meaning whenever someone wanted to do things the proper way, instead of smuggling their goods, they had to come here. Needless to say, Djibouti was most likely a ghost town around the time of its conception. In order to encourage people to actually visit the town, a railway was built, ostensibly to aid the 'hundreds of commercial agents needing access to the town'.

After 60 years of this arrangement, the citizens of Djibouti (composed of the Afars and the Issas, two tribes with fierce rivalries) protested their status as a colony of France. Demonstrations were held, Djiboutian ambassadors were sent to Paris, and it seemed as though freedom was at hand. The French however, firmly held onto their colony until official 'prompting' from the United Nations. The French capitulated in the year of 1977; Hassan Goulod became the head of and inter-ethnic government, and life moved onward for most of the population, who may not have known the difference anyway. (It is interesting to note that only a year later, a new government was spawned, likely much less inter-ethnic than the first.)

Travel Information

There is one major airport in the country, the Republic of Djibouti International Airport, about 5km south of the capital city. Not many airlines fly to Djibouti, an attendant for American Airlines jokingly stated, and he had heard of no flights to Djibouti at all. This can be a problem but an intrepid tourist can overcome it easily enough. Three choices are available: Air France, AeroFlot and Air Djibouti. Intrepid travellers get extra points for choosing Air Djibouti.

The US Government's travel site on Djibouti also had several warnings to discourage the meek:

  • There are only six ATMs (Automatic Teller Machines) in the whole country, so do not depend on them for your sole financial aid, as they are often broken.

  • Check with the authorities before driving on some of the roads, as land mines are actually planted under some of the main passages leading from one area to another. This isn't really a big inconvenience, however, there being a total of only 364km of paved road in the entire country. The unpaved roads are even more likely to be mined, though, so the traveller is left with a difficult choice. Flipping a coin is a possible option at this point.

  • Police can not always enforce the traffic laws, of which there are few, but have been known to string coil wire roadblocks on the 'main' roads, which may be difficult to see in the dark of night.

  • Visitors are encouraged to register with their respective embassies upon arrival in case they are abducted, savaged, tortured, etc.

  • Medicines will probably be unavailable, and what little there is, is likely to be a cheap knock-off.

Places of Interest

There is really only one place to go when you arrive at Djibouti, which is Djibouti: the capital. In reality, it's the only semi-industrialised city in the whole country, and it's linked by rail with Addis Ababa, another city. As sheep herders are the dominant occupiers of this land, it is not surprising to learn that in this country of 21,783km², there is only 75km of Tarmac road in total. This can be easily overcome by the rental of a Ford off-road Explorer, from the nearest Budget or Enterprise rental agency. It may be difficult to find a gas station there, so be sure to bring extra gas as well.

The official national office of tourism on the net (written only in French) listed our Researcher as visitor 4,444 all seven times the site was accessed. It was worth the aggravation in the end however, when the Researcher discovered the presence of a Sheraton Hotel in Djibouti. As the collective wealth of three quarters of the country could not afford some of the upper-class rooms, it is a mystery how the Sheraton stays afloat.

Final Thoughts

Djibouti is an exotic, mystical country, doubtlessly filled with untold treasures and the adventures of a lifetime. But this Researcher has chosen to pass, to leave the adventuring to some other intrepid suckers. Ah! The Brady Bunch is on!

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