What to see in Djibouti

What to see in Djibouti – Trip to one of the least visited countries in the world

What to see in Djibouti in 3 or 4 days

Djibouti certainly falls into the category of small, in this case microscopic, countries rich in natural wonders that , given their size, are almost impossible to believe.

Djibouti has only recently started welcoming tourists, so much so that it is one of the least visited in the world  and almost completely absent of tourists. 

Yet few destinations in the world contain such a varied variety of landscapes – such as volcanoes, plains, limestone chimneys, salt lakes, large canyons and wonderful beaches – in territories as small as that of Djibouti. 

Those who love outdoor adventure and the sea are spoiled for choice here, from  snorkelling with whale sharks , to diving , kite surfing and boat excursions .

The country is not developed outside the capital, which doesn’t even seem particularly developed, so a trip to Djibouti certainly represents the quintessence of a naturalistic journey according to nomadic life traditions .

A real adventure in a country that is still little known and with surprises at every corner. 
Contrary to what many people think, given its location, there are no wars or political unrest in Djibouti, it is a very safe country to travel .

There are not even any tourists, which on the one hand guarantees a trip outside the usual circuits and on the other requires a significant  financial effort
but which, I assure you, is worth every single penny! After traveling for 14 days in the country here is what to see in Djibouti and what to see in just 4 days.

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Djibouti coffee

When to go to Djibouti

The best time to visit Djibouti is from November to January, when whale sharks pass along the country’s coasts and it is “cooler”. 

I put it in quotes because in truth even in their cooler months the humidity level is stratospheric and it’s brutally hot. 
Equally good, but not for swimming with the whale shark, are October and then from February to April.

Months that fall perfectly to combine Djibouti with a beautiful trip to Ethiopia .

The high season months are also the rainy ones.

Generally it rains little in Djibouti but when I went it rained a lot for almost two weeks with various floods. 

In fact, the city is not built for rain, it is said that it generally receives a handful of rains every year, and therefore at the first storm the city becomes a gigantic swimming pool! 

Where to sleep in Djibouti

Djibouti is very small and Djibouti City , the capital, is the city with the greatest accommodation options (with stratospheric costs) in the entire country.

Despite being a city by the sea , the beaches leave something to be desired, so much so that to go for a swim it is recommended to go to one of the hotels with a swimming pool or reach the beaches outside the city and usually accessible by 4×4. 

The best hotel in the country is the Kempinsky Palace , which also has a nice swimming pool (you can access it as an outsider by paying entry).

Alternatively, to maintain decent standards I recommend you take a look at the Atlantic Hotel , in the center and therefore ideal for walking at any time of the day, the Sheraton Djibouti , in the European district by the sea and with a swimming pool but everyone smokes inside so if you avoid the air stale from smoke as a nuisance, or for the right compromise between ok rooms (without infamy and without praise) and price the Samo Hotel


What to see in Djibouti in 4 days

When planning what to see in Djibouti, planning is required, first of all because travel costs in the country are very high , so you don’t want to waste time thinking about what to do and how to organize yourself, then also because to reach the most beautiful beaches, the deserts and the places of tourist interest you still need a 4×4 and someone who knows where to go.

The days dedicated to Djibouti are usually 4 or 5 days, as an extension of a trip to Ethiopia , so I thought of this 4-day itinerary which includes the most important places to see 

To make the trip happen, it will also be necessary to rely on an operator, because traveling independently in Djibouti is practically impossible.

Remember that Djibouti is a remote country with very little infrastructure so if you are looking for a comfortable trip or with high standards perhaps this is not the right destination (the standards are like those of Ethiopia, therefore low). 

Day 1 in Djibouti – Djibouti City

If you arrive from Ethiopia you will most likely land in the late morning or very early afternoon, so you have a day to dedicate to the charming little capital of Djibouti: Djibouti City .

The city center is small and can be easily explored on foot. The beauty of Djibouti City is its slightly decadent French colonial style streets and the charm of the city’s cultural mix.

What to see in Gibuty City:

  • Place Mekelik (Place du 27 Juin 1977, the day Djibouti became independent) 
  • European Quarter – Which winds around Pizza Menelik 
  • Hamoudi Mosque in the African Quarter – The largest mosque in the city which can accommodate up to 1000 people
  • People’s Place – A memorial, gifted by China, commemorating the pain the country suffered to gain independence
  • L’Escale – The city’s marina where there are restaurants (if you don’t have time, salt it!) 
  • Notre-Dame du Bon Pasteur Cathedral – The city’s Catholic cathedral 

Stroll through the alleys and enjoy some African colors in this strange city full of life and very hot!

Gibuty City

Day 2 in Djibouti – Lake Abbe

A trip to Djibouti is not complete without one of the most surreal places you can see: Lake Abbe . You can’t get there by public transport so you need to do a two or three day tour

The journey from Djibouti City takes about 4-5 hours, which includes a few stops to take photos and see some villages along the way such as Ali Sabieh and Dikhil .

Dikhil is an oasis in the desert , for real. The village has a small garden with fruit plants fed by water that comes from underground rivers.

From Dikhil we head towards the desert and the rocky south. For kilometers you drive through nothingness, every now and then you meet camels and nomads arriving, or going, from Ethiopia.

After a few hours you begin to glimpse Lake Abbe , which is rapidly receding, leaving these rocky outcrops, with an almost Martian appearance, which dot the entire base of the lake.

The sunset is spectacular and the night is starry and silent. 

Lake Abbe Djibouti

Day 3 in Djibouti – Lake Assal

You wake up early to see the sunrise over Lake Abbe and where with luck you can see pink flamingos .

However, be careful where you walk, the lake soil is very fragile and could break and therefore fall into quicksand. The guide will inform you about the dangers and tell you where to go and where not to go. 

We leave for Lake Assal, not to be confused with the one in Danakil (Ethiopia) , the third lowest point on Earth and a salt lake. 

Its banks are covered in salt which is now mined under concession from a Chinese company.
The journey will be long but along the way we stop at the Grand Canyon for a truly breathtaking view.

Here, like in the Dead Sea , you can enter the water and float without making any effort!

If you decide to swim, remember to wear shoes because the salt crystals are very sharp and bring a bottle of water to rinse off because there are no showers.
After this visit you return to Gibuy City.

Assal Lake Djibouti

Day 4 in Djibouti – Snorkeling with the whale shark at Arta Beach or Mucha Island

If you travel to Djibouti between November and January I recommend taking the tour to swim with the whale shark and snorkel in the coral reef.

By 4×4 you reach Arta Beach where a boat awaits you and you set off on an adventure looking for the largest fish in the world. 

Lunch is taken on a wonderful and deserted beach. The second part of the tour includes snorkeling on the reef , truly beautiful and in excellent condition! 

However, if you travel to Djibouti when the whale shark is no longer there, you can alternatively consider Moucha Island , a practically deserted island that can be reached by boat from Djibouti City, with a very blue and clean sea as well as a coral reef where you can snorkel . 

Moucha Island Djibouti

What to see in Djibouti – Places not to be missed

The French colonial period left its mark on the country, both in the architecture and in the language that is still used today. 

The French acquired, with an agreement signed by the Somali Issa and the Afar sultans who inhabited the area, the colony which was then called French Somalia , as a strategic point of passage through the Suez Canal. 

Djibouti was a French colony from the 19th century until 1977, when the country voted for independence after refusing to join Somalia.

Independence was finally granted after several referendums. After a Civil War, peace was finally signed in 1994.

Since 2001, Djibouti has become a military base for many powers, in particular for the United States and Japan but there are also Swedish, German and Spanish soldiers. 
In fact, Djibouti seems a bit like a large military base, at least until the number of tourists, who are currently scarce, increases.

Let’s go into the details of what to see in Djibouti if you’re staying longer than the three days I described above.

Given the size, generally 7 days are really more than enough so here are some tips to make the most of them! 

Djibouti City

Djibouti City is not large and can take a maximum of an hour’s walk to all the interesting neighborhoods: European, Arab and African neighborhoods . All close to each other. 

The city’s European Quarter is a mix of French colonialism and Moorish architecture. The buildings are colorful and I imagine that in their time they were also very beautiful, today they are decadent and scruffy, which in the end is part of the charm of the city!

Continuing the walk you reach Place Mahmoud Harbi or Place Rimbaud , where the most iconic building in the city and the most important landmark of Djibouti is located: the mosque.

The large square which is a sort of mix between bus station and market and marks the border between the European and African quarters.
The beaches are nothing special so to find nice ones you have to get around with a 4×4. 

Gibuty City

Isola Moucha

Moucha Island is just a 30 minute boat ride away in relatively calm waters.

It is a coral island in the Gulf of Tadjoura with a beautiful white sand beach and very few facilities.

Officially, just 20 people live on the island but on weekends it is filled with locals who escape the city to enjoy the peace of the island’s beaches. 

Here you can walk among the mangroves, swim or cross the island on foot, I recommend bringing shoes. 

Lake Assal

Lake Assal is also called the “Honey Lake” and is a crater lake at the western end of the Gulf of Tadjoura .

The lake is located 155 meters below sea level , making it the second lowest land depression on earth after the Dead Sea , here too you can swim and float without moving a muscle!

The colors of the lake are many, ranging from blue to green, brown, white and even black, making the view simply incredible!

Lake Abbe

Lake Abbe is a salt lake at the confluence of three flaking earth crusts.

It is fed by the Awash River and is surrounded by extinct volcanoes and depressions. 
The three calving plates have created a thin crust that will eventually break apart and separate the Horn of Africa into its own island.

The most recognizable features of Lake Abbe are the chimneys that have been created since the Ethiopian government decided to build a dam that is slowly draining the lake on the Djibouti side.

The bacteria inhabiting the lake have helped grow a population of worms, which attract pink flamingos.

What makes the lake even more magical are the hot springs that flow underground, generating steam that flows through the rock chimneys and dissolves in the air creating the image of a real chimney.

The largest chimney is 60 meters high and has a diameter of 80.

Swim with the whale shark Arta Beach

Swimming with the whale shark is a phenomenal experience and is also one of the main reasons why people traveling to Ethiopia decide to extend their trip to Djibouti. 
The whale shark season is quite short, from November to January. The ideal places are Arta Plage and Plage Blanc. 


Tadjoura is the oldest city in Djibouti with an important port that connects it to Djibouti City via ferry.
It is a picturesque place, near the green Goda Mountains, surrounded by palm trees, whitewashed buildings and mosques, with a strong Arab atmosphere. There aren’t many things to do here other than relax and discover some of its beaches.

Djibouti desert

Kayak to Turtle Island and beaches

Ken is the person I trusted to organize excursions in Djibouti. He started the business focusing on kayaking, which he is very passionate about, which is his specialty.
Among the tours he offers, I recommend the kayak tour to Turtle Island, a protected marine area, where you can paddle but also snorkel with sea turtles and manta rays and spot numerous birds among the mangroves. 

What to eat in Djibouti

Given its interesting geographical position and colonial past, Djibouti’s typical dishes are as unique as its natural beauty.
In fact, you can find dishes based on seafood, shellfish and fish, but also camel, sheep and goat meat.
Dishes combine Ethiopian, Somali, Arabic and French flavors, and most meals are served with a portion of hot, spicy Berber sauce or kibbeh sauce , made with butter, onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, cloves , nutmeg, fenugreek and turmeric. 

Be sure to try the local harira soup – rich in vegetables, spicy – with a side of injera.
Finish the meal with a dessert of banana pancakes. 

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