Hargeisa is the capital of the self-proclaimed republic of Somaliland. In recent years, it has been one of the safest places in Somalia, though threats of violence were made against foreigners in May of 2011.
Hargeisa, with 800,000 inhabitants (according to a 2000 estimate), is the capital of the self-declared republic of Somaliland. Apart from the occasional couch surfer, there is very little tourism (and no tourist industry), as almost all visitors are working for an NGO or other organization. The city is a peaceful and friendly place, but does require some planning to ensure a successful visit.
Hargeisa International Airport (HGA) connects the city with a variety of locations in East Africa, all of which are subject to change. Recently, destinations have included Addis Ababa, Djibouti, Dubai, Jeddah, Bossaso, Mogadishu, Dire Dawa, Wajir and Nairobi. Note that some flights (especially those which "connect" in Berbera) actually begin with a three-hour bus journey to Berbera, followed by the actual flight. It's best to confirm that the airline you use actually flies in and out of Hargeisa.
A Somaliland visa is required for foreign travellers. These can be obtained at the Somaliland representative offices in Addis Ababa (in person) or London (in person or by post). See the Get in section of the Somaliland page for further information. Note that there is very little diplomatic representation in Hargeisa, so you should have your onward travel plans arranged (and visas in hand) before you travel to Hargeisa.
All arriving foreigners are required to exchange USD $50 to Somaliland Shillings, though this is not always enforced at land borders. The exchange rate at the airport is intentionally poor, so the exchange functions as an arrival tax. You will not be able to change your shillings back to dollars at the airport when you leave, so make sure to use all of your shillings during your trip. The only notes currently in widespread use are the 500 Shilling notes. Because of the exchange rate, you will end up with a large stack of notes when you change money at the airport (about 4 inches thick).
You will also be required to pay an additional arrivals tax in addition to the money exchange. This is frequently an odd number, such as USD $3 (in April 2011), so it would be a good idea to bring a lot of small bills with you (if you bring a bunch of USD $100 bills, for example, you will have great difficulty finding change). The actual cost of the arrival tax appears to vary depending on the type of visa you have and where you got it.
Some air tickets can be reserved at the site of Jubba Airways, or with East African Safari Air Express (firstname.lastname@example.org or +254 020 6654321). Some flights are very expensive; for example, a return flight from Nairobi to Hargeisa on East African costs $600 US as of April 2011. East African's flights NBO-HGA-NBO operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (also as of April 2011) and are considered to be the best and most reliable way to reach Hargeisa.
Hargeisa has an informal shared bus service which costs 1,500 Somaliland Shillings per journey (as of April 2011). Ask a local for instructions. Hargeisa used to have working traffic lights, but now the only traffic control is by the occasional police officer. All residents entitled to drive must hold a photo driving licence, and all cars bear Somaliland licence plates.
Taxis can be booked via your hotel (not hailed on the street) but are quite expensive. For example, a taxi from Maan-soor Hotel to the airport cost USD $25 in April 2011.
Note that women must wear long dresses or skirts, to the ankle (no trousers), and must cover their hair and upper arms at all times. Men should not wear shorts or armless t-shirts. It is not polite to take pictures of people (male or female) without obtaining their permission beforehand, and you will make people upset if you take pictures without permission.
US Dollars and Somaliland Shillings enjoy equal status in Hargeisa, so you can pay for anything with either Dollars, Shillings, or a combination of both. Ask what the de facto exchange rate is when you arrive (as of April 2011, it was 6,000 shillings to the Dollar). The de facto rate will be better than the rate at the airport.
There is no postal service in Hargeisa. The only courier company which serves the city is DHL.
There's very little in the way of tourist sights and activities in Hargeisa, though the market in the centre of town is worth a look, as is the camel market on the outside of town. The local residents are extremely friendly and will greet foreigners in the street. Unlike some other places in Africa, they will not try to sell you anything and are often interested in having a conversation and making sure you feel welcome.
Make sure to visit Laas Geel.
Note that if you leave the city, you will be required to take a government security guard with you (known as an "SPU"). See the "Stay safe" section below for details.
Most modern food is inspired by neighboring countries (Ethiopian cuisine in particular is very popular) and is decent. There is rice, spaghetti, cheeseburgers or salad. There are even donuts, cakes and tropical food. Hop into a restaurant and ask for what you desire. Just don't ask for pork, because it is forbidden (haram)!
Most Somali cuisine is based in the pastoral. At breakfast, you could try Somali pancakes (like a fluffier version of an American pancake) and "small meat" (basically, the same stuff that you put in sausages, but chopped up, cooked, and served loose on a plate). Somali tea is good, and is similar to Indian chai (a bit spicy and made with lots of milk). Milk and dairy are popular.
Food at the nicer restaurants is generally safe, as the climate is so hot and dry that it is difficult for most diseases to survive here. The same goes for water: The government-supplied piped water is generally clean, though you might want to avoid drinking it if you are on a short trip. During dry periods, the filtered water that is bottled is made by local factories and it also generally clean.
You will not find any alcohol in Hargeisa, but men congregate in cafes with glasses of tea, coffee or fruit juice.
The Ambassador Hotel and the Maan-soor Hotel are the only Western-standard hotels in Hargeisa. Couples will be required to show a marriage certificate to share a room.
At one time, the Australian Government stated that attacks were being planned against Westerners at hotels in Hargeisa. It is therefore crucial to check on the current security situation before making your trip. The Ambassador Hotel appears to have the best security, followed by the Maan-soor.
As of April 2011, malaria prophylaxis is recommended in Hargeisa, and most hotels supply insect nets over their beds. However, Hargeisa is hot and dry at times and cool and dry (winter) at other times that mosquitoes are a very rare sight. Many foreign residents do not use their insect nets at all.
In recent years, Hargeisa has generally been safe, with little crime against the few tourists and foreigners, and little swindling or "ripping off". It is possible to walk around by yourself in the urban areas of Hargeisa in the daytime or at night, but make sure that you know where you are going, as there are no street signs, and no street lights at night. While the main roads have some rudimentary paving, most roads are sand and dirt and populated by goats and stray dogs.
However, in May of 2011, threats of violence were made against Christians and NGO workers in Hargeisa. Some NGOs responded by removing their staff. It is not yet clear whether or not these threats are serious.
If you leave the city, you will be required to take a government security guard with you (known as an "SPU"). It is also possible to get an exemption from this requirement, but you must have the required paperwork or you will be stopped at the checkpoints on the edge of the city and not permitted to go further (this is for your own safety, as the countryside is not as safe as the city). See the Somaliland page for further information.
+ Hire SPU, pack lunch and go climb the 'Breasts of Hargeisa' (visible from the Ambassador), early start (0600hrs) 45mins travel time, climb the hills, wander around the area to see fossils (sea anemone!!) and some rare insects. Hyena and dik-dik if lucky. Back in time for late lunch.
If you depart via Hargeisa airport, you will find a very comfortable departure lounge, equipped with a cafe, toilets, television, and Internet access. Buy a copy of the local English language newspaper from the paper boy if you want to get a feeling for local news while you wait.