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Introduction to Djibouti

Part of Djibouti's appeal is its lack of tourists. Dawn over a desolate lake full of flamingos on the wing is unforgettable. The black lava fields, weird natural chimneys blowing steam and the burning, endless plains are deserted. Diving and snorkelling around Red Sea coral reefs is fabulous.

The country is a boisterous blend of colonial French and modern Arabic. What it lacks in major attractions it makes up for in buzz, and travellers are often regarded as curios and treated to traditional African hospitality. However, its lack of visitors is due to its tendency towards strife.

The injuries of the civil war have only recently begun to heal, and none of the continuing conflict beyond the country's borders makes that process easier. The population has been inflated by tens of thousands of refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia, and the disaffected along Djibouti's national boundaries threaten at least to relieve travellers of their cameras, at most to reignite the war. The French military withdrawal has taken much-needed cash out of the country, and Moody's are not about to give the economy an 'AAA' rating anytime soon.

Full country name: Republic of Djibouti

Area: 23,000 sq km

Population: 650,000

Capital City: Djibouti City (pop 320,000)

People: Afars, Issas, Somalis, Yemenis and French

Language: Arabic, French

Religion: 94% Muslim, 6% Christian

Government: republic

Head of State: President Ismail Omar Guelleh

Head of Government: Prime Minister Dileita Mohamed Dileita

GDP: US$530 million

GDP per capita: US$1,200

Annual Growth: 3.1%

Inflation: 3%

Major Industries: Shipping, oil, hides and skins, and a few small enterprises like dairy products and mineral water

Major Trading Partners: Ethiopia, France, Somalia, Thailand, Yemen

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Everyone needs a visa. They cost around 35.00 and are valid for one month. Visitors also require evidence of a yellow fever vaccination.

Health risks: schistosomiasis (bilharzia) (Bilharzia is a risk in the freshwater lakes), HIV/AIDS

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +3

Dialling Code: 253

Electricity: 220/240V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

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Friday is a holiday for offices and government institutions. Djibouti also observes New Year's Day (1 January), Labour Day (1 May), Independence Day (27 June), Christmas Day (25 December) and various Islamic holidays whose dates are variable.

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Best time to Visit

November to mid-April is the best time to visit, as it is too hot for the rest of the year.

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Djibouti franc


Budget: US$3-5

Mid-range: US$5-10

High: US$10-25

Deluxe: US$25+


Budget: US$10-20

Mid-range: US$20-40

High: US$40-50

Deluxe: US$50+

Djibouti is not as cheap as some of the countries to its south, but it still offers good value to the traveller. If you're intent on sleeping in budget accommodation and eating cheaply, you should get by on US$30-40 a day. If you're seeking a few more creature comforts, the privacy of your own, air-conditioned hotel room - and you'll need that outside of the cool weather - and more to choose from in meals, expect to pay around US$75 a day. If you want to stay in the best hotels and don't mind what you spend on food, expect to spend US$150 and upwards.

There is no currency exchange at the airport, and banks in central Djibouti are only open from 7:30am to 1:30pm. Authorised moneychangers, most of whose shops are on the southeast side of Place Ménélik, are open all day. You'll get a better exchange rate on travellers cheques and cash for euros or US dollars than for any other currency. Most of the larger and western shops, restaurants and hotels in Djibouti city accept credit cards, but you'd be better off to rely on cash in the smaller towns.

In the more 'European' restaurants you normally tip about 10% of the bill, but otherwise try and find out what locals are tipping, if they are at all. Bargaining is normal in the markets, and even in some places to stay, but not, of course, in top of the range hotels.

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Scarcely 100 years old, the capital is home to two-thirds of the nation's population. Djibouti sits on the western shore of an isthmus in the Gulf of Tadjoura, overlooking a small marina where dhows, fishing skiffs and pleasure boats are moored.

The Central Market (Le Marché Central) just south of the centre of town, is worth seeing, in particular for its fresh sprigs of qat, a mild stimulant flown in daily from Ethiopia. The best beaches near the city are Doralé and the less accessible Khor-Ambado.

Ali Sabieh

The road from Djibouti to Ali Sabieh crosses two spectacular desert plains, Petit Bara and Grand Bara, and at the eastern end you can go windsurfing on wheels. There are one or two hotels in town and you can see several traditional Afar huts around town.


Tadjoura's setting is spectacular, especially when viewed from the sea. Within 10km (6mi) of town there are several peaks that rise to more than 1300m (4264ft), and there are superb coral reefs accessible to snorkellers and divers close to shore.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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