Djibouti - Down to the lowest point in Africa

Pending UNESCO proposal. Its not yet recongized.

Arrived in Djibouti this morning and my plan is to visit Lake Assal. This country is the third smallest country in Africa, but almost all of it is desert. There are no rivers, only salt lakes in the desert.

Getting a visa is no problem as most nationalities can enter the country with an E-Visa, which is quickly issued. Only had to bring the print-out and they put the stamp in the passport upon immigration. 

Regarding immigration and infrastructure, it's a convenient country to visit. I also was not even stopped once for taking photos in the streets. My plan was to spend 3 days in Djibouti and drive by rental car to Lake Assal.

It's not a very touristy place but still, a lot of police are around all the time. So it's more "civilized" here compared to other African countries, for example, their neighbor Somalia. In general, the government tries to lure more tourists here but the funds are insufficient.

Why is Djibouti so heavily secured?

The government does a lot to keep it ordinary and also the fact that this country is home to the largest permanent USA military base in Africa does help a lot to maintain security all over the small country.

Meanwhile, even China is intruding Djibouti with its own Military base, also the French are having a big military presence in the country. But it's no surprise China is increasing its appearance in the country as China does it already all over Africa.

They basically deplete the resources of the country so its not just military but also economic interests, as Djibouti is strategically very well located when looking at the world map, directly at the red sea.

Guide Map for Tourists

April 21 - Day 1 - Arriving in Djibouti city

Departed yesterday from South Sudan and had a stopover in Ethiopia.

This early morning it was a short flight from Addis Ababa to Djibouti. The airport is a small but modern. I was supposed to be back at the airport tomorrow to pick up my rental car, but found out the Europcar office is not here but somewhere else between the airport and the city.

From the airport, it’s a 15-minute ride to Djibouti City downtown, the capital.

The taxi driver drove along the road where the Europcar office is located and so I had a preview of where I have to be tomorrow early morning and pick up the car.

But that's for tomorrow, today's plan was to see the city.

Main maritime port for trades to neighboring Ethiopia.
French arab influenced architecture everywhereCivilized behaviours of drivers and people in DjiboutiThe biggest religious building in DjiboutiNo aircondition in the mosques of djiboutiPeople look for Khat all day longThe whole stock is sold out

After leaving the luggage in the hotel and having lunch I spent the afternoon roaming around the city.

There are not that many particular things to see and it's very hot to walk around.

But the street life around the market is interesting. Also, the buildings are. It's clearly visible how France influenced the country with its baguette&croissant-culture. There are lots of restaurants downtown.

Djiboutis biggest road in the city
Busy place for trading Khat and foodOfficial taxi in Djibouti cost 10 USD from the airportPrice is agreed before entering taxisIn the markets of Djibouti people dont like camerasOld buses but not too dirty. Its a clean city.Fully covered women in the streets trading Khat

I expected tons of tourists, but there aren't

When I was looking at google maps it seems that Djibouti has a lot of restaurants and hotels in the northern part of the city but that’s just on google maps.

Up in the north is almost nothing but the governmental and rich residential area with dozens of embassies and expat compounds. There are a few restaurants and hotels but not really made for tourism purposes.

Around the central market.

The mosque stands in the market
City landmarks include historic buildingsThe Hamoudi Mosque was constructed by HamoudiHall of the People in Djiboutiقصر الناس . The most important national symbol of the nation.Man wears the shield of the nomadsStamps to send mail from Djibouti

Beach of Djibouti

Further is the beach to swim on the east coast of the city and on the west coast at the harbor is the wharf, which is one of the biggest in Africa.

It's a popular urban beach with a narrow strip of sand.

At the Rue de la Siesta
Not many tourists in DjiboutiOn the east coast of Djibouti CitySwiming and washing in Djiboutiy

Djibouti is also a khat country, like its neighbors

Khat is something like a plant and is used as a drug all over the horn of Africa. But especially Djibouti has a severe Khat problem, similar to Somalia.

Half of the population is using this stuff and is legal. The product has been imported to Ethiopia and always needs to be delivered as quickly as possible.

From the morning onwards, the streets are flooded with khat sellers. When walking through the streets of the city, the khat shops are right next to the chicken restaurant, the water shops, the cake shops, and the mobile phone shops.

The only difference from the other shops is that the salesperson is talking nonsense mumble while chewing a mouth full of Khat.

Almost half of all men in Djibouti use khat as a stimulant
In the center of  DjiboutiCenter of Djibouti centerBack in history influencer had different methods to influence Djibouti

Day 2 - Self-Driving to Lake Assal or not?

Probably caught some kind of cold because of Airconditioning, cause my head starts to hurt and my nose was blocked. Not very comfortable with these colds, especially when having a long day out in the heat and many things on the things-to-do-today checklist.

Went up early in the morning and a taxi brought me back to Europcar car rental.

The only rental car company on the internet...

The Europcar office was thankfully open as planned and everything looked fine for me to pick up the reserved car. 

But the lady wanted to know where I'm taking the car to and when I replied to Lake Assal she was like:

Nope, sorry, that’s not happening. You cannot take this almost brand new car to Lake Assal. You need a 4wd. Also because there is a lot of salt and the road is terrible. 

All my ridiculous arguments that the “salesperson” in the online chat on Europcar website told me that I'm allowed to take the car to Lake Assal, the lady was resistant and didn’t allow me to rent the car for driving to the salt lake.

She only said I can pay an upgrade for a few dozen dollars and take the 4wd. There was no other option and a taxi or organized transport to the lake was around 180 USD. So the price for the rental was even cheaper, including the fuel.

Yes, Djibouti is expensive and I guess I never ever paid more for a basic rental car for one day.

Self-driving is more convenient and cheaper than a taxi

But my thinking was, that I surely will have more from the money paid when I drive my own car than being driven around by a taxi in high-speed mode and having to listen to the driver's annoying music all day long.

With self-driving, I would be able to make as many breaks and photo stops wherever I want and even can drive back to the airport tomorrow morning and so don’t need to organize and pay for an expensive taxi to the airport.

Danakil is one of the lowest and hottest areas on Earth
Some Afar are here in the desertWith starving camels along the wayThe driver had to much Khat and flippedKnown for its volcanoesIts very hot in the mountains of Djibouti

The ride to Lake Assal is easy as the road is mostly sealed and traffic gets less with every kilometer driven.

Parts along the way have some good views over the valleys.

Nomands are called Afar in Djibouti
Sitting and chilling in DjiboutiHappens when Afar's eat too much KhatMe with Djibouti mountains in backgroundAlong the way to Lake AssalDjibouti Souvenirs at Lake AssalFlying to Lake Djibouti by Helicopter is not possible

It's a minimum of about two hours and a nice ride through the desert.

Many camels and nomad people are sitting beside the road. However, they definitely don’t like when being on camera. I frequently saw the locals eventually picking up stones from the street when they saw a white “SUV” that probably looks like an average tourist car with people and cameras. 

I guessed they will throw these stones at my car when I try to take photos while driving through.

They throw stones to people who take photos
Typical nomad tent ready to sleepNot much supermarkets but locals who sell KhatDjibouti dresses on saleUgly animal sits and waits for tourist to take photoNomand Tent in Djibouti at Lake Assal are without AirconditionDjiobuti properly sealed road to Lake Assal

The bright white salty lake - Lake Assal

After hours of driving along with the google maps GPS, I finally arrived at Lake Assal.

It’s a public place and no entrance fee is to be paid. Three other SUVs were there already and based on the language spoken I figured out it was a group of tourists.

From a distance, Lac Assal looks like tropical waters with white sand. Up close, it's an inhabitable moon landscape.

Lake Assal is located in the middle of Djibouti
Afar people extract salt for trading and their livingDjibouti wants keep China away from the saltOnly bushes and one palm tree along the way is the only greenWater temperature of the lake is 34 degreesThe 4wd is not necessary to get to the Lake AssalNot many tourists here and if, they are not staying very long time

Lake Assal is the saltiest lake on earth with the exception of Antarctica’s lakes. It is saltier than the Dead Sea and is the number one tourist attraction in the country.

The light at the lake is extremely bright and walking around without sunglasses would be devastating for the eyes. Also, the heat is extreme there.

I didn’t go swimming but saw the other group pivoting on the big amount of salt in the water.

The lake here is 155m under sea level. Not only is this the lowest point in Djibouti, but it is also the lowest point in the whole continent of Africa.

I spent time having lunch in the airconditioned car and waited until the group was gone and so had the whole lake for me to explore.

However, after an hour or so it's been seen and after seeing the salt souvenirs on sale at tables from the locals it's a good time to drive back to Djibouti City.

Large salt flats at the edges
No likes to live here aroundA couple of hours away from Djibouti CityIts situated about 115km from the cityLargest amount of saline in the wates outside of AntarcticaMountain for the Afar people to sit on150USD plus 20USD for fuel costs the trip to Lake Assal by self driving

The local salt workers sell the salt as souvenirs. But all of them are friendly and not aggressive or annoying.

Locals sell salt-crusted salt biscuits
Lake Assal burried several Animals in SaltBig market originates in the Lake of AssalFriendly Afar try to sell salt

Now all the way back to the city

The driving itself is easy. There were however some heavily damaged parts on the road which could require a 4wd when it's going to be even more damaged. Also a lot of potholes.

But when being careful, driving with a 2wd shouldn’t be a problem at all as most of the road is sealed perfectly.

All along the way, there is a heavy presence of police, especially when approaching back in Djibouti city the number of soldiers increased even more. I guess there was some kind of governmental activity going on, cause they distributed soldiers from trucks so that basically every part of the road is covered by soldiers.

Big hills on the way to Lake Assal
Rocky mountains and fantastic viewsDjibouti's Afar are some of the poorest people on earthNot necessary to have a 4wdDjibouti Houses along the wayAfar Town with poor localsAfar village that has houses for hundres of locals

Day 3 -The flight to Somalia 

Back in Djibouti City I only used the car to drive to the north of the city and explore the area.

But there is nothing interesting, as only residential houses and blocks and expat areas with embassies.

Due to the cold I got, I wasn’t in the mood to extend the sightseeing any longer and after dinner went back to the hotel to prepare for the departure in the early morning to Hargeisa in the country Somalia (or some say Somaliland??).

During the months of July and August is the best
Djibouti Real EstateOn the east coast of the citySome tourists use container ships to travel to Djibouti

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