Somaliland (Somali: Soomaaliland, Arabic: صوماللاند Ṣūmāliland) is an autonomous region in northwestern Somalia that functions as a de facto country. Although the government is trying to establish a modicum of safety there, visiting is still not advised by the governments of Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US.
The local Somaliland authorities declared the region's independence from the rest of Somalia in May 1991, but neither the Somali federal government nor any other country or international organization has recognized its sovereignty.
The area is viewed as safer than most of its neighbouring East African countries. The local government is very anxious to show its stability and, as a result, foreigners are generally treated with respect and interest. However, high unemployment and increasing discontent at being an unrecognised island of stability in a grim region does cause some resentment towards outsiders, particularly NGO workers. For visitors exercising caution and respect, Somaliland is a fascinating and safe place to visit.
Initially a British protectorate, Somaliland gained its independence in 1960 and entered voluntarily into a union with the former Italian Somaliland five days later. Before long, struggles erupted, but the country remained lashed together under the dictator Mohammad Siad Barre until a vicious civil war broke out in 1988. At conclusion of the war in 1991, Somaliland had been decimated and bombed to the ground. It is still recovering today: travellers will see shells of tanks along major roads, blast marks from artillery along hillsides, and bombed-out buildings and ruins remaining in cities.
After 1991, Somaliland began the painstaking process of separation and reconstruction. By 2010 it had it its own free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections, with the presidential elections notable in particular for unseating the incumbent in a very close race. A remarkably peaceful transition of power followed.
Somaliland is a fairly peaceful region. Violence is rare, and there is an active police force to ensure that laws are respected.
As with the remainder of the former Somalia, law comes from three sources: the government, Islam (Sharia law), and clan (Xeer law). Extended family is of paramount importance in Somaliland, and indeed, the country now largely survives on remittances from relatives working abroad. Because no countries recognise Somaliland as independent, there are few employment opportunities, and so joblessness is estimated to be at a staggering 80%.
You can also apply online for a visa through the Somaliland Mission in the USA for USD80.
There is an international airport in Hargeisa with flights to/from Dubai, Djibouti City, and many other cities and towns across the Horn of Africa and the Somaliland region. There is also an international airport at Berbera with many international flights, most notably to Dubai. Note that some flights from Hargeisa actually start with a bus ride to Berbera. If you are not Somali you may have difficulty getting through the police checkpoints unless you have written permission from the commander of police or take an armed guard (the Jubba flight from Hargeisa to Dubai is like this).
Ethopian airlines has direct flights from Addis Ababa to Hargeisa. Daallo Airlines is wildly inconsistent. Jubba Airways or African Express are good options, with several flights a week connecting Hargeisa to Djibouti, Dubai, Nairobi and Entebbe. Djibouti to Hargeisa is about an hour-long flight. Dubai to Berbera takes three hours.
All flights to and from Somaliland are expensive by most standards - there are no budget airlines. The cheapest flights will be to and from Djibouti, usually around US$125 one-way when taxes and fees are figured in (but not including the entry/exit/visa/exchange fees, which will tack on about another US$100 to any trip).
The most reliable way to get in seems to be with African Express, which has connections in Dubai, Nairobi, and other smaller Middle Eastern and East African ports of call. Tickets can be reserved in advance, but not purchased unless you are at their ticketing office - check back in to ensure you have a seat reserved if you will not be in the city you fly out of before your flight!
Also be aware that Jubba Airways usually waits until enough people have purchased tickets before departing. You may be waiting a week or more for a flight, regardless of whether you have a ticket or not.
Ethiopian Air has regular flights to the border city of Jijiga. From Jijiga, Hargeisa is a few hours away by taxi.
Again, remember to re-confirm all flights 7 days in advance! All of the airlines above will not hesitate to sell your ticket to someone else if you don't take the warning seriously, Jubba in particular.
Ticket offices are closed on Friday (the weekend in the Islamic world). Plan accordingly.
Recently, East African Safari Air Express has started running a regular service between Nairobi and Hargeisa, but is very expensive (a return flight from Nairobi to Hargeisa costs $600 US). They can be reached at email@example.com or +254 020 6654321. As of April 2011, their flights NBO-HGA-NBO operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
It is possible to enter Somaliland from Ethiopia by road. You can avoid paying many of the fees charged at the airport. However, if you plan to leave Somaliland by road it is advisable to make Ethiopian Visa arrangements (multiple entry) before traveling to Somaliland as the process of getting an Ethiopian Visa in Hargeisa can be quite cumbersome / time consuming (Info from 2009: The Ethiopian visa in Hargeisa is easy to get, requires no paperwork and is available in one morning - cost $20).
Another option is the open border to the north to Djibouti. (Info from 2009: Public transport 4x4s leave Djibouti every day in the late afternoon and travel across the desert throughout the night to arrive in Hargeisa the next morning. They leave from Avenue 26 in Djibouti City, at a price of DJF 5500).
Despite government efforts, there are still mines on some of the roads, look out for coloured rocks next to the road, if you see painted rocks DO NOT leave the Tarmac.
There is a bus service in Hargeisa, Burao, Berbera and Borama. There are also services between the major towns and adjacent villages operated by different types of vehicles such as 4 wheel drives and light goods vehicles (LGV).
To travel outside of major cities, the central government requires foreigners to take an armed guard with them (see "Stay Safe" below).
The capital, Hargeisa, has a provincial museum. There is also a menagerie that includes lions, leopards, antelopes, birds, and reptiles. Outside of Hargeisa, is the Laas Gaal, a complex of caves and rock shelters that contain some of the earliest known art in the Somalia and the African continent, dating back to 9,000 B.C.
For breakfast, Somalis eat a flat bread called laxoox and cereal or porridge made of millet or cornmeal. They also eat rice or noodles with sauce or meat for lunch. Pasta became very popular under Italian rule. Bananas are common in the south of the region. A traditional soup called maraq (also part of Yemen cuisine) is made of vegetables, meat and beans and is usually eaten with flat bread or pitta bread. Beans are usually eaten for dessert, also oat or corn patties and salad can be eaten too.
Though not commonly served, Somalis eat xalwo, a jelly-like sweet made with water, sugar, and honey, though peanuts are sometimes added. Somalis who have spent some time in the Middle East eat baklava. Dates are also popular in Somaliland.
In Somali culture, it is considered polite for guests to leave a little bit of food on their plate after finishing a meal provided by their host. This shows that the guests were given enough food and thus treated hospitably.
Many of the Somalis adore spiced tea. Milk is also common in rural areas of Somaliland. Alcohol is prohibited and you will not find it publicly served anywhere in the country.
There are hotels being constructed in all of Somaliland's major cities. Hargeisa has seen most development, with regards to its infrastructure and capacity, the airport has been expanded to cater to an increase in tourists, both foreign and domestic.
Locals in Hargeisa drink tap water filtered and treated by the Chinese government. The cleanliness is not perfect but adequate. However, it is better to play it safe and drink bottled water.
As with many developing-world countries, animals roam the streets and sanitation is poor. Be very aware of the risk of rabies. Bats may inhabit the countryside, and their bites can be nearly invisible, leaving a person unaware until it's too late.
There is a low risk of malaria in Somaliland, but that threat is still present. Many foreigners choose not to take anti-malarials.
Yellow fever is considered endemic in Somaliland. If you plan to travel to other countries that require proof of yellow fever vaccination, be sure you are vaccinated!
Vaccination against other endemic diseases common in developing countries (typhoid, polio, hepatitis A & B, etc) is strongly recommended.
The infrastructure of this region is still in shambles and that includes health care. If you have health problems or have concerns about getting treatment in an emergency, you will be putting yourself at great risk as the medical services are primitive and unsanitary by modern standards in most areas.
The most modernized (and written-about) hospital is the Edna Adan University Hospital in Hargeisa. It's mostly a maternity hospital, though, and medical treatment there, although the staff is excellent, is limited by the serious dearth of resources in the country. Serious conditions will require evacuation. Come prepared or do not come at all.
Somaliland is relatively safer compared to other parts of Somalia. Knowing a little of the local language or having an interpreter can go a long way when requesting information should you wish to learn about the surrounding area.
Extremely dangerous place, especially if you are a Westerner, possibilities of been kidnaped very high!
The Somaliland government requires that all foreigners take armed guards when traveling outside of the major cities. These guards are known as SPUs (Special Protection Units) and are available from the local police department or the office of tourism in Hargeisa.
LGBT travellers should be careful and hide their sexuality when travelling in Somaliland, as homosexuality is illegal and it will lead to imprisonment or even execution!
African Express, Jubba and Daallo airlines fly to Djibouti, Kenya, Mogadishu and Uganda. Be prepared to pay a $32 exit fee in the airport. Berbera has an international airport that has flights to Dubai.