Djibouti is a country situated on the Horn of Africa, at the strategically important Bab el Mandeb (Gate of Tears), guarding access to the Red Sea from the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Twenty miles to the east, across the entrance to the Red Sea, lies the Yemen.
This small country has several unique features making a visit very rewarding. Formerly a French colonial outpost, it has retained many French connections and cultural aspects.
The size of the US State of Massachusetts, the country has a coastal plain backed by stony desert (where the French Foreign Legion trains), and behind that scattered plateaux and highlands – especially the Goda Massif in the north.
It is bordered on the north by Eritrea, the west by Ethiopia and on the south by Somalia, and embraces the Gulf of Tadjoura. The Gulf leads by way of the Ghoubbet Pass into Lake Ghoubbet (the Devil’s Cauldron).
One of the hottest places in the world, Lake Assal is a flooded volcanic crater ringed by dormant volcanoes and lava terrain. It is located in the Afar Depression, part of the Great African Rift Valley, 153 meters below sea level – the lowest point in Africa. Lake Assal’s waters are the most saline in the world, with nearly 35 percent salt.
It is a semi-presidential republic, and its territory is, divided into five regions and eleven districts. The capital city is itself called Djibouti.
The extremely rare Djibouti Francolin – a partridge – lives in the Juniper forests in the Goda Massif – a highland area in the north of the country. There is a wide range of raptors, and in the month of August there are remarkable gatherings of migrating birds.
Mammals include wild dogs, warthogs and, notably even leopards. Velvet monkeys are found in the Day Forest National Park, where over fifty percent of Djibouti’s wildlife lives. There are camels aplenty, and also herds of donkeys.
Lake Ghoubbet, less than ten mile across, is not deep and has no fresh water flowing into it. Plankton breed there profusely and it is a major breeding area for the harmless whale-shark, which lives on plankton. In addition, there are more than two hundred species of coral, manta rays, barracuda, sailfish and marine life galore.
Djibouti offers little for the artist, unless a photographer, though the government is trying to develop this aspect. Lacking a university, there is little academic life to mention. Of course, for authors writing about Djibouti and the region in general, there is plenty of material.
Traditional foods are dairy products and meat, supplemented by grain-based dishes. An Ethiopian bread recipe, injera, is very popular.
A feature of the diet is the consumption of the light narcotic leaf, qat, imported fresh from Ethiopia. Qat is consumed recreationally by nearly all men and has a mild amphetamine effect.
Places to Stay
Most tourists stay in Djibouti City. There are several international hotels up to five star standard, and smaller local hotels. There is a beach holiday complex on Moucha Island, twenty minutes by boat from Djibouti. There are smaller hotels in other towns (for example Tadjoura), but standards are variable.
Djibouti City has a French naval presence, plus a US military base at Camp Lemonnier. So, a lot of the lively nightlife has developed to meet their needs. There are numerous bars, cafés, clubs and restaurants. Activities are rather more restrained at Plage des Sables Blancs.
Most flights require a stopover at Sana’a in the Yemen, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia or Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, although a Djibouti-based airline has recently started direct flights from London and Paris.
In summary, Djibouti is a land of compromise, politically stable in a continent of uncertainty, with many unique natural features to offer the intrepid visitor, from exquisite diving to desert safaris.
Find out more about the history importance of the Gate of Tears, where modern man first emerged, Djibouti, the Red Sea and Sana’a in the Yemen in a blockbuster thriller set there. An intriguing blend of piracy, terrorism, gold fever, geopolitics and naval confrontation, and lots more to discover at www.jamesmarinero.com