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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.

Get in[edit]

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.

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 are required to pay an arrivals tax upon arrival at the Hargeisa Airport. This is frequently an odd number, so it would be a good idea to bring a lot of small bills (dollars are preferred) with you (if you bring a bunch of USD $100 bills, for example, you will have great difficulty finding change). As of January 2015, an entrance fee/tax of $60 was asked for upon arrival at the airport.

For overlanding, one could start from Harar of Ethiopia, changing a minibus at Jijiga to the border. There are plenty of minibus departing to Hargeisa anytime for 5USD.

Get around[edit]

Hargeisa has an informal shared bus service which costs 2,000 Somaliland Shillings per journey (as of December 2017). 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 Oriental Hotel to the airport cost USD $10 in July 2016.

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 December 2017, it was 10,000 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.

Do[edit][add listing]

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.

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.

  • Located in the countryside outside Hargeisa, Laas Gaal (Laas Geel in Somali) is a definite must-see. It is a complex of caves and rock shelters that contain excellently preserved cave paintings. The paintings represent some of the earliest known art in the Horn of Africa and the African continent, dating back to 9,000 B.C. To visit this place, you would first need to fill up a form at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism near the University of Hargeisa (9°32'50"N 44°02'58"E), make a payment of US$25 at the Ministry of Finance cashier 1.4km away (9°33'30"N 44°03'00"E; note that this is not the main Ministry building), then return to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to pick up a permit, which will be checked upon entry into Laas Gaal. A car (sharable) from Hargeisa is likely to cost USD $80 to $100. SPU is required for this trip. It is possible to do the trip in 5 hours from Hargeisa.
  • Lion Zoo. It's a private zoo 10 minute away from Hargeisa downtown on the way to Laas Gaal. You could see five or six lions in the cage and touch them. Entrance fee unknown (Paid $5 shared among 3 people). Add another $5 for photograph but should be bargainable.
  • There's plenty of wildlife in the Sheikh mountains and the Daallo mountains near Hargeisa. You may spot Kudu, wildebeest, gazelles and different species of birds. An SPU would be required for this trip.
  • Exchange money. Be amused at the brick of currency before the money-exchanger and the colorful money stands with art. Compare the rate before you change.
  • Sample the street food at the central night market. From fried camel liver with vegetables to camel milk to fresh juice. Truly Somaliland experience.
  • The Red Sea beaches at Berbera are a three-hour drive away and could make a nice day trip, or a relaxing weekend away. The Maan-soor hotel branch in Berbera offers scuba diving. For this trip, you could apply for an exemption from the SPU requirement and take a shared bus.
  • 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.

Eat[edit][add listing]

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.

  • Maan-soor Hotel (Maansoor Hotel), Warsame Road, (+252) 2 527000/1/2, [1]. One of the two best hotels in the city. The staff is friendly and the rooms are very clean. The restaurant has some very good food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Try the football size papayas, grilled liver and kidneys, and strong Somali coffee for breakfast and the stewed goat for lunch. Possibly the best dish on offer is the fish kebabs with a spicy green pepper sauce. While Hargeisa is a long distance from any sizeable body of water, the fish kebabs are delectable.  edit

Drink[edit][add listing]

You will not find any alcohol in Hargeisa, but men congregate in cafes with glasses of tea, coffee or fruit juice.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

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.

  • Ambassador Hotel [2], Airport Road, Hargeisa (about 1.4 km from the airport): +252 21 38895, +252 25 26666 or [email protected] Airport shuttle by prior arrangement. Features a low-quality fitness centre, a broken tennis court, no swimming pool, reliable wi-fi in lobby but less so in rooms, good food in outdoor terraced restaurant. Management aim for high standards and deliver most of the time, staff are mainly excellent, cleanliness is excellent, laundry wash / press same day service. Secure site within 5 mins of airport, Choice of standard rooms / suites / villas. Costs are reasonable, phone well ahead for availability / rates, this is popular hotel with both locals (weddings / conf / workshops) and visitors (NGO / UN / business folk). See tripadvisor too.
  • Maan-soor Hotel [3] is on the opposite side of the city, but closer to the city centre than the Ambassador: +252 225 3638, +252 225 3639 or [email protected] Restaurant, cafe, Internet access, and a variety of room types (including cottages). Also has a location in Berbera.
  • Oriental Hotel It is located in the heart of downtown. Stone-throw away from central market, M-IG memorial and Jamal mosque. The hotel with longest history in Somaliland. Big and simple room with comfortable bed, probably best Wi-Fi in Somaliland. Decent and reasonably priced restaurant. Noted it is very close to the mosque so prepare your ear-plug. Bit chaotic with the reception so always ask and check the receipt. Could arrange tours to various place also. Price starts with $15USD (also accepts birrs and Somaliland schillings.)
  • Red Sea Hotel Clean, new, and budget. No hot water. Located on a street parallel to Independence Road, 1/2 mile from the city center. Helpful owner will often personally drive guests around.
  • Ramaad Hotel opened in 2014 on Airport Road, just about 1.5 km from the airport; it is clean and budget with hot water, wifi, and satellite tv; the hotel provides accommodation in four categories--single, double, family and suite; prices vary seasonally. There is a restaurant, a mini-market, coffee shop, and conference facilities. Email: [email protected]; telephone: 252-256-9223/4.

Stay safe[edit]

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.

Get out[edit]

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. No departure tax is being charged as at Jul 2016 however this could change at anytime. Reported departure tax of 60USD was charged as at Jan 2015.

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