Djibouti, Somaliland & Eritrea: Horn of Africa Independence Combo Tour
YPT are proud to bring back to the Horn of Africa this year again! So join us for a truly off the beaten track experience to two of the planet’s least visited destinations – Somaliland and Eritrea and Djibouti.
We begin in the former French colony of Somalia, now know as Djibouti. While it is very small, Djibouti has some of the most outlandish scenery in the world. We’ll be taking in its two most famous lakes, Lac Abbe and Lac Assal, which being salt and sulphur lakes, create some hellish, highly photogenic sights. It wouldn’t be a YPT tour without also sampling the nightlife of Djibouti rubbing soldiers, possibly, with nomads and some of the world’s military units stationned there.
Moving to another part of greater Somalia, we now move to what was a British protectorate and now the self-declared republic of Somaliland. This de-facto state declared independence from the rest of Somalia in 1991; however, no international organization has recognized its sovereignty.
Still recovering from a brutal civil war, today the area is very safe and the local people are extremely welcoming and interested in foreign visitors. Somaliland is fundamentally different from the other countries in the region — and almost anywhere else on the planet. We’ll take you to smoke shisha with the locals, swim in untouched waters and visit ancient cave art!
Next we move onto Eritrea. This fascinating country falls well below most travelers radars which makes it a unique off the beaten track experience. Eritrea boasts pristine coastline and untouched Red Sea islands as well as some of the best-kept colonial architecture in Africa. On top of all that we take part in the two-day festival to celebrate Eritrea’s independence!
Having been colonized in part by the Turks and Egyptians, Eritrea took on a European flavour with the arrival of the Italians in 1885 during their belated entry in the “scramble for Africa”. The legacies of successive foreign forces, combined with a rich mix of nine local ethnic groups have created a diverse cultural landscape that offers the best of African, Middle Eastern and European influences.
The Eritrean capital city of Asmara is like a film set from an early Italian movie, with vintage Italian coffee machines and outstanding examples of Art-Deco architecture. Although the country faces numerous hardships, it paradoxically remains one of Africa’s most peaceful, secure and welcoming destinations.
Please note that the itinerary may change depending on the Somaliland government. Your safety is our top priority. Safety and security are the first questions in many people’s mind when travelling to a foreign country. If you are considering joining us on this exciting adventure, please note that Somaliland is NOT Somalia; and the country has been free from terrorist attacks since 2008. The Somaliland government does everything to ensure the security of their country, especially foreign visitors. We have a strong network in the country to provide us with the most up-to-date security information, including a leading international travel security consultant firm and the local government. We only lead our tours to protected regions. We will travel with Special Protection Unit soldiers when outside of Hargeisa. They are trained specially to protect foreign visitors. We also have several backup itineraries – i.e., in the unlikely event that an alert occurs in our destination, we will immediately change our itinerary.
In order to give you maximum flexibility in your trip as well as control over mileage programs, we chose not to include the flights between countries but have put recommendations in the itinerary. If you wish us to include the international flights (Djibouti to Hargeisa to Asmara) in your tour price this can be done for an extra $500. This price is valid until two months before tour, after which individual quotes will have to be given due to the fluctuation in flight ticket prices.
Arrival at your convenience in Djibouti city where you will be greeted by an airport pickup and driven to our hotel, Auberge Boulaos
Around 4 PM we will gather in the hotel lobby and head out on our exploration of Djibouti City.
During this walk, we’ll go see the two most famous mosques of the country, the Hammoud Mosque as well as the Al Sada Mosque and stop by the old colonial train station.
After we’ve built up an appetite walking around town, we will head to café Melting Pot to try some of the best local food or sushi!
After dinner, we’ll check out the port of Djibouti and stop for drinks in what is probably the busiest nightlife of the Somali world.
Overnight in Djibouti City, Auberge Boulaos
Sunday 15th May – Djibouti City/Lake Abbe
After breakfast, we will start our excursion to Lake Abbe, located on the border between Djibouti and Ethiopia.
On the road there, we’ll stop by the Little and Grand Bara, which are large fields of white clay, upon which mirages are frequently seen alongside the local gazelles and antelopes.
While travelling through the beautiful countryside, we might also spot some of the local nomad shepherds, who have made this desert region their home, even though it is amongst the hottest and most hostile places in the world.
Stop for a local lunch along the way.
Late afternoon arrival at Gite d’Asboley, which is just on the border of Lake Abbe and should offer us a wonderful night view. Here the land is flat apart from one hill and clouds are a rarity!
Dinner of local dishes and overnight in Gite d’Asboley.
Monday 16th May – Lake Abbe/Lake Assal/Djibouti City
Wake up early to check out the sunrise over Lake Abbe, a formidable sight as the sun rises unobstructed over the lake with hundreds of natural limestone chimneys, spitting out steam and sulphur. You will wonder if you woke up on the same planet!
After breakfast, we head out on a trek around the lake before the sun rises and scorches the earth. The trek shall take two hours but will reward us with massive colonies of pink flamingos – perfect for photos.
During this trek, we might meet the local donkey and camel herders and our local guide will introduce us to them allowing us to learn about how locals live in this area.
Lunch back at the accommodation.
We then make our way to the second lake of Djibouti, and certainly its most famous, Lake Assal
Lake Assal is located no less than 150 metres below sea level, making it Africa’s lowest point and the world’s third-lowest point. It is crowned by an almost alien chain of volcanoes spewing black lava. The border of the lake is surrounded by salt banks of a white so bright that it looks like snow. This lake is the world`s biggest reserve of salt.
Once we’ve visited the lake to our heart’s content, we will drive back to Djibouti City, arriving in the late afternoon.
After our return to our hotel we’ll partake in a well-earned shower and then head back into town to check the sights we might have missed on our first night.
Dinner at restaurant La Mer Rouge for a feast of fresh seafood.
Head for drinks before overnight at Auberge Boulaos
Tuesday 17th May
Today we transfer to Somaliland! To get there, the two choices are the cheaper but less reliable Air Djibouti at 8:00am or take a non-direct, more expensive but more reliable detour through Addis Ababa. (Flight not included in the price of the tour in order to give you more flexibility)
Our local guide in Somaliland will greet us at Hargeisa Airport and take us to our hotel, hotel Sugaal.
Dinner at a lively canteen off the main drag of Hargeisa. We’ll have a chance to chat with them and hear how they find life in Somaliland.
After dinner, you can walk around the bustling city center in Hargeisa, and have some chai with the friendly locals or do some shopping for t-shirts and flags for Independence Day.
Overnight in Hargeisa, Hotel Sugaal.
Wednesday 18th May – Independence Day!
We’ll get up nice and early for a quick breakfast before hitting the streets to observe the military and civilian parades. Everyone will be dressed in the national colours on the street, and this is one of the only places on earth to take part in an Independence Day celebration in an unrecognized country!
After lunch and a short break from the heat, we’ll visit the Somaliland national museum and cultural center. A great place to chat with the youth of Somaliland
We will have a traditional dinner at Summer Time Restaurant, an institution in town, that evening and toast to this small nation!
Overnight in Hargeisa
Thursday 19th May – Hargeisa
Visit the best view of Hargeisa, the Massala View. From there, we will be able to spot most of the important buildings of the city but also the twin hills called Naaso Hablood (“Girl’s Breasts”), also known as Hargeisa’s landmark. On the way, we visit the cemetery for British Soldiers who died here battling against the Italians during the Second World War. Hargeisa is the former capital of British Somaliland, while Italy controlled what is now Somalia.
Stop for lunch at a Somali-Yemeni restaurant with some Somalilander intellectual icons who will give us a political, social, historical and cultural introduction of the country.
We will then take a walking tour around the city center of Hargeisa to get a sense of the people and the city. Here you will see street money exchangers and their “chunk” of bills, the central market, and the MiG Jetfighter War Memorial which stands for the atrocities committed by the dictator during the Civil War. The War Memorial is in the middle of the buzzing centrum and an excellent place for a coffee and chats with Somalilanders about politics and history.
Visit to the busy market in downtown Hargeisa for some evening shopping and people watching.
Dinner of traditional camel meat at Ararat Restaurant
Overnight in Hargeisa.
Friday 20th May – Laas Geel/Hargeisa
After breakfast, we will take a visit to the livestock market where you can purchase your own camel or goat! For those who can’t fit a camel in their luggage, this market will provide an excellent photo opportunity and a chance to see how the locals do business.
Lunch of traditional Somali dishes.
Afternoon visit to Laas Geel, the most important rock art site in Africa. These caves contain some of the oldest cave paintings on the horn of Africa; the vibrant colours and well-preserved paintings are estimated to be around ten thousand years old.
Make the 60km drive back to Hargeisa and spend the evening at your leisure.
Buffet dinner at a Yemeni restaurant.
Saturday 21st May – Berbera
We will head to the most important port of Somaliland, Berbera. Upon our arrival, we will visit the historical Ottoman Mosque and Ottoman houses.
Late lunch will be served at the Ottoman houses, and we will relax a bit to cool off (it will be sweltering).
We’ll take a short boat trip to go hunt for shipwrecks in the Gulf of Aden.
We will relax and swim at the untouched beach, where local youth and families come and enjoy their downtime. (Due to local culture, ladies will need to cover their bodies while in water.) For those who have their diving license, it may be possible to organise a diving excursion in the stunning waters of the Gulf of Aen (extra cost, optional)
Tour the historic town of Berbera in the early evening, where you will find more Ottoman, Persian, and British architecture of historic interest. A photographers dream
We will have fresh seafood on the waterfront for dinner.
Overnight in Berbera
Sunday 22nd May – Hargeisa
After a hearty breakfast, we will depart Berbera
We’ll drive to the small town of Sheikh in the mountains, stop for some afternoon tea, lunch, stretch our legs and enjoy the pleasant climate.
We’ll make the drive back to Hargeisa for our last dinner in Somaliland.
Overnight in Hotel Sugaal, Hargeisa
Monday 23rd May – Asmara
We continue onwards to Eritrea!
Airport pickup from the airport. We recommend catching the noon flight to Addis Ababa and transfer to Asmara, arriving at 5:25pm. (The flight is not included in the price of the tour, you can also book another flight according to your preference)
Our local guide will meet our flight at the airport and we will be transferred to our hotel,
Check-in to our hotel, the Top Five Hotel, and begin to get our bearings around Asmara
We will meet our new group members at the hotel before heading out for our first group dinner and drinks in Eritrea at Harnassien Restaurant.
Tonight, Harnett street should be busy with the carnival so we will head there to check out the various pre-Independence Day celebrations including modern and folklore dances.
Festival continues into the night culminating in a massive fireworks show at midnight to celebrate independence.
Overnight in Top Five Hotel, Asmara
Tuesday 24th May – Independence Day!
For those brave enough there will be a 6 am 21-gun salute to mark Independence Day.
Free time to walk around the city after breakfast and mingle with locals.
There will be various art exhibitions along the pedestrianized streets of the Main liberation avenue.
After lunch, we join the celebrations at Asmara Stadium. There will be various displays by the Military music band, and the Eritrean Air force will fly over the stadium in a spectacular color show! Multiple dramas will be shown by many artists during the afternoon.
The Eritrean President will deliver a speech on the occasion of the Independence Day. The show will come to an end at about 7 pm.
Dinner and drinks to close out the Independence celebrations at a traditional restaurant, Hed Mona, where you can sample injera and local alcohols… Followed by a dance party!
Overnight at the hotel in Asmara.
Wednesday 25th May – Asmara
After breakfast, we will have a walking tour of the center of town. We will see the spectacular art deco of Asmara built by the Italians at the turn of the last century, such as the Post office built 1916, Albergo Italia built in 1899, the presidential palace built in 1907, and the Hotel Hamasien built in 1916. Great photo opportunities!
Lunch of local Eritrean dishes.
We check out the Tank graveyard where we can see out-of-use tanks that were demolished during the war with Ethiopia.
Visit the City Hall to see various photo displays in commemoration of the thirty-years bitter struggle and the post-independence progress. The City Hall was established by the Italians in 1890 and is one of the oldest institutions in Africa. There will also be various inventions on display by young people.
Overnight in Asmara
Thursday 26th May – Asmara
An early start and some breakfast as we have an exciting day. Today we will board a 100-year-old train and ride all the way to Arbaroba or the end of the maintained track.
Along the way, we will go through tunnels and winding roads. This is definitely a trip highlight!
Onboard the train we will be offered a traditional coffee ceremony.
Arrive back in Asmara.
In the afternoon, we will have some time to walk around and visit more of Asmara, possibly heading to the recycling market.
Head to the incredible bowling alley for a step back in time.
Dinner and overnight at our hotel.
Friday 27th May – Massawa
Hit the road for the 3 hour drive to Massawa
On arrival, we’ll check in at our seaside hotel
We’ll visit Gurgusum Beach, where we can swim and relax with local people.
Walking tour to take in the unique mixture of Turkish and Italian architectural design.
Dinner at the “Salam Restaurant”. Fresh fish prepared in traditional oven. This is a real local experience.
After dinner, we explore the nightlife of Massawa and find some bars.
Overnight in Massawa at an hotel reminiscent of the era of the Italians, the Grand Dahlac Hotel.
Saturday 28th May – Massawa
After breakfast, we visit a local school in Massawa to learn about Eritrea’s education system and meet with the children.
Take a boat to Dahlac Marine National Park, the Red Sea’s largest archipelago of which just four islands are inhabited.
We visit ruins from the early Arabic/Islamic settlers of the 8th century, and also some local Tigranyan villages.
Those who have a diving license can experience a dive in the Red Sea! (additional cost for diving). Don’t dive? No problem – snorkelling equipment is also available.
In the late afternoon/early evening, we will make our way back to Massawa.
Dinner at Almaz Bar & Restaurant, YPT’s favourite meal in Massawa. There, we can try Ja-Ja fish, an incredible stir-fry made up of thick pieces of fish
Drinks and overnight in Massawa
Sunday 29th May – Asmara
After a late breakfast, we will hit the road back to Asmara.
Arrival in Asmara at around 4 pm – we will have free time in Asmara. We may be lucky enough to watch football in the famous Cinema Roma or, if interested, have a chance to briefly talk about your country or profession to young Eritrean students.
Dinner and group drinks in Asmara.
Monday 30th May – Asmara
After breakfast, we head to Keren city.
We take in the shrine of Mariam Dearit. Here happens a real highlight of the religious festival calendar in Eritrea. Thousands of Eritrean come here in pilgrimage to see the statue of the holy virgin hidden in the trunk of a tree.
Lunch in Keren
Free time in this quaint town to check out the local markets and explore the lively streets.
In Keren, we will have the chance to catch some great views from the top of Hotel Keren
We will then visit the old train station of Keren and stop by some architecturally interesting buildings.
Drive back to Asmara and stop by some destroyed Ethiopian tanks along the way!
Last group dinner at the National Union of Eritrean Workers Restaurant (what a YPTesque name!) and overnight in Asmara.
Tuesday 31st May
End of tour.
YPT is able to arrange airport transfers for those who require, depending on flight times.