Somaliland: Myths and Misinformation
When I was planning my trip across North-Eastern Africa I read everything I could from Travel Guides to Blogs to TripAdvisor Reviews and ThornTree questions. When it came to Somaliland, a country that boasts less than 2000 tourists a year I was to discover that most of the imformation you will find online is either outdated or just plain confusing. So here are a few common myths about travelling in Somaliland and the actuality (as of September 2018).
1) Getting Visas is Tricky and You will be Scammed on Entry at the land border.
I had heard this a lot but actually getting our Somaliland Visas were the easiest we acquired in Addis Ababa, the entire process took one day; we applied in the morning and had our visas by the afternoon (Check out Applying for Visas in Addis Ababa... for more information). I had heard repeatedly that upon entering Somaliland overland from Ethiopia you would be 'fined' up to $50 if you didn't have your Visa reciept, having (of course) forgotten to get one this meant a hurried trip back to the Somaliland Embassy in Addis Ababa, which, as it turned out, was totally uneccesary. Entering Somaliland at Waajale is a simple process, we didn't even get searched at customs, and the new office is very professional they take your passport, take a photo and will even help you to find a taxi to Hargeisa.
2) You can't get money in Somaliland.
This one was incredably frustrating, it is almost impossible to get USD in Addis and Ethiopia as it is illegal to exchange Birr for Dollars there so we had to exchange (at a terrible rate) upon entering Somaliland - thinking there was no other way. We were to discover however that, despite the information available, there are ATMs in Hargeisa. In fact there are many of them, they accept foreign credit/debit cards and, more importantly, dispence USD. If you want to stock up on Dollars here however be careful when taking them back into Ethiopia as reentering overland the checkpoints are on the lookout for those 'smuggling' dollars into the country.
3) There are hardly any hotels except for the Oriental.
There are loads of hotels in Hargeisa, some of them look pretty posh too, in fact I am certain they are a lot nicer than the Oriental, don't misunderstand me, we enjoyed our stay at there: it is clean, reasonably cheap (we paid $20 for a twin room including breakfast, admittedly after a small argument), you can book via email and it has its own tour company Dalmar tours. However it does have a slight prison vibe and the beds are like stone, if you arrive in Hargeisa without having booked in advance I recommend shopping around there seem to be a lot of other options for a similar price.
4) Las Geel is insanely Expensive.
It is expensive there is no way of avoiding the fact, you are paying for: a car, driver, armed guard, guide and entrance fees, and it is impossible to go to Las Geel alone. The prices I have seen listed by tourists however vary wildly and some border on the ridiculous. Dalmar tours (September 2018) offer a one day trip to Las Geel for $170 for two people so $85 a person.
5) You always need an armed guard outside of Hargeisa.
If you are headed to Las Geel you must have an armed guard with you but other than that, no you don't. We took a private taxi from the Ethiopian border to the Capital and were waved through each checkpoint and exiting Somaliland we took a public shared taxi up to the Djibouti border (a 14 hour drive off road and occasionally on road-ish) and again had no problems.
6) Somaliland is Dangerous.
I did not feel unsafe at any point whilst travelling in Somaliland, except for a brief moment whilst driving from Hargeisa to the Djibouti border at around 3am when our driver and another passenger began talking about us and repeatedly mentioning Al Shabbab before pulling over in the middle of the desert for no apparent reason (It turned out they were discussing an incident in Kenya, and our wheel was falling off... Again...). Still besides my paranoia, people were friendly. As a woman it can feel a little stifling you do need to be fully covered up at all times, trousers are a no go as are flip flops without socks and at restaurants your seating options are limited (on one occassion there were 6 women all sat on a mat on the floor outside whilst the men had their pick of tables inside and out). Also the lack of tourism means that things are more expensive, indeed even the public transport is not amazingly cheap. Besides this however Somaliland is an incredible country with wonderful people and the more tourists visit the more accessible it will become, the wifi is better there than Ethiopia already 😂.