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Djibouti, a resilient African country, bears the visible marks of its French colonial past. Despite the challenges of widespread poverty, unemployment, and corruption, the spirit of its people remains unbroken.

Due to its strategic location, troops from several countries are stationed here, and prices are brutal; indeed, price tags are adjusted to their salaries.

Additionally, they rely heavily on imports for almost everything. The port is the only connection to Ethiopia, for which they pay a hefty lease fee, but only a few individuals benefit from the revenue.

Despite the challenges, Djibouti holds immense potential with its stunning landscapes and unique cultural heritage. However, realizing this potential would require concerted efforts from the leadership and the local community. It's a country that deserves more attention from tourists, but it remains largely unexplored due to the lack of information. (2024)


"We are real stars here. 😁 People greet us at every step, coming for a handshake. A taxi driver recognized us from afar and rushed over to give us a fist bump.

We were invited to a bar yesterday, and I said we'd drop by three hours later. When he saw me, he immediately hugged me and squeezed my hand. We had an Ethiopian beer here... hmm, it wasn't bad at all... especially in a Muslim country. Finally, I managed to take a picture of myself in a railroad worker shirt with a coffee. 😂☕️

Later, we had dinner at a local eatery. We really needed it, and it was delicious and filling. Of course, we were also a sight to see here. We even got some chewing gum as a gift. Luckily, it wasn't used 🤣🤣🤣

I woke up feeling broken this morning. My body finds it hard to adapt to this atmosphere. My son is just as wrecked 😁

Today's program is swimming at the beach. Yesterday, our taxi driver recognized us and came over. We went with him, trusting his decision. He took us to a pretty good place, and I arranged with him to pick us up in two hours. The water was divine; the 15-meter walk on the sand was hellish. If gravity had allowed it, I would have lifted both legs off the hot sand simultaneously. Unfortunately, I burned the skin off my soles... 😀

There weren't many people in the water, but immediately 6-7 kids around 9-10 years old came. They could almost believe us to be gods as we passed through the scorching sand and shone with our whiteness. 😂 They found inventive floaties for themselves. They tied two PET bottles to their pants... 🤔 Then two girls around 6-7 years old also came, playing with us in the splashing water. They asked if one of them was my daughter. A chocolate-brown little girl... 🤣🤣🤣🤣

When we got home, my son and I assessed the damage, and we both got badly sunburned. I also caught a cold from the air conditioning, so my throat hurts. This means sick leave at home. 🤐"

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"Today, we finally got what we came for: we went on an excursion. Our driver was about half an hour late, but he was a cool dude. He looked like he was between 35 and 65 years old because it's harder to tell the age in this range than for NASA to launch a rocket.
The first thing he did was gear up with coffee. He drove us to such a place... hmm, I can't quite put it into words. I don't think there was COVID here because the virus would have immediately fled with the headline, "No ball games here." 🤣

Living below the poverty line here is like living in wealth. The poverty was so intense that I held my breath for two minutes and swatted flies away so I wouldn't have to look at them. But they warmly welcomed us before I dared to breathe... I shouldn't have.

The dinner in the evening immediately exclaimed: "Wow, I have an appearance." 🤮 I have various vaccinations, but I think I could have caught everything from Ebola to the plague... 😅

As we drove along the main road, we made occasional stops. The sights were beyond belief: wrecked cars, containers, and people of all shades walking from somewhere to somewhere, their destination a mystery. They lived in makeshift shelters, a stark contrast to our comfortable homes. I was almost tempted to ask, 'What movie did you watch last night?' 😂 Electricity was a luxury here, but the beauty of the landscape was undeniable.

After a beautiful canyon, we had coffee. To the joy of my hepatitis vaccination, it almost burst out of my skin. 😀 Then we drove along a volcano by the seaside. I saw more garbage on the way than Hungary's annual output.

The destination: Tadjoura, the old capital. It's now a sleepy, dirty little town with some seriously unique characters. It was an experience. 😁 On the way back, we visited Lake Assal. We stopped for a cola in a place where I had to step over a few intoxicated individuals. But despite the chaos, everyone was super friendly, waving and greeting. I felt a sense of connection, a warmth I will always remember. The lake, a marvel in itself,  is Africa's deepest point and saltier than the Dead Sea.

Heatstroke was looming, but I bravely endured, so I crashed when we finally got home.

(Laszlo, 2024)




There are a lot of foreigners (mostly French and American soldiers stationed here), which means that people are not so friendly – they tend to be more focused on getting hold of visitors’ money. For this reason, and because of the country’s shape, many call Djibouti ‘the Arsehole of Africa.’

And indeed, the city itself isn’t very pleasant – both dirty and surprisingly expensive. On the other hand, it was also here that I had my most positive experiences, like the young restaurant waiter who, without asking for any money, came with me to help me find accommodation, and the person in a shop who paid for my water when I realized that my card didn’t work and I didn’t have any local money. They don’t charge for picking up hitchhikers either and sometimes invite me to sleep or eat at their houses. I was probably able to experience this because, except for one lunch and a session at an internet café, I avoided all tourist services.

Ordinary people in Djibouti live in the same little bodegas as in neighboring countries, but there is also a comparatively wealthy social stratum here. Some also call Djibouti the Dubai of Africa, and it’s a fact that anyone who’s well-placed knows ways of making money.

The country lives because this is one of the main centers for the French Foreign Legion, while the Americans were also allowed to build military bases here. Then, of course, there’s also the enormous port. 90% of GDP comes from services. In practice, it remains a French colony to this day. (2014)

Djibouti - street scene - f.a. photo

Djibouti - local women - f.a. photo

Practicals

Transport

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Djibouti - On the road to Tadjoura

Djibouti city - bus

Djibouti - international airport - n.s. photo

Djibouti - taxis - y.m. photo

Djibouti - public city bus - s.v. photo

Accomodation

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Djibouti city - Heron Beach and the Hotel Kempinski - k.a. photo

Food

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Djibouti - food - s.a. photo

Shopping

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Djibouti - shop - f.a. photo

Djibouti - shop

Djibouti city - trading with khat - its leaves are chewed for having an intoxicating effect - k.a. photo

Fun

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Djibouti - shop selling qat (the leaves of a local shrub, which are chewed as a stimulant) - not healthy!

Djibouti - khat in the cheeks

Djibouti city - street art - Mandela with green face - k.a. photo

Djibouti (city) - nightlife in Rue d'Ethiopie - k.a. photo

Public safety

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Djibouti - police

Djibouti city - Lagard Square - with several police cars and vans - k.a. photo

Health

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Djibouti - market hygiene

Others

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Djibouti - street scene - n.l. photo

Djibouti - photo studio&internet cafe - y.m. photo

Djibouti city - exotic street - k.a. photo

Background

Djibouti - national flag

Destination in brief

Djibouti in brief
 
Djibouti is located in northeast Africa, in an area called “the Horn of Africa”. Neighbors: Eritrea (north), Ethiopia (south), Somalia (west). It has a coastline on the Red Sea.
 
Djibouti was a French colony, and later a French overseas territory, until 1977 (it was known as French Somaliland until 1967).
 
Size: 23,200 km² (8,957.6 mi²) - Third smallest country in continental Africa – About 90% of the country’s territory is covered by desert.
 
Capital city: Djibouti City – The city was built by the French in the 19th century, so most houses are built in the French colonial style.
 
Population (in 2020): 982,000 – divided into two main ethnic groups: the Issa of Somali and the Afar.
 
Almost half of all men in Djibouti use khat as a stimulant. Chewing khat leaves produces similar effects to using amphetamine. On average, some 40% of the household budget is spent on khat, a huge financial drain in a country where almost half the population is unemployed. Khat also creates severe health problems. 
Djibouti has one of the highest rates of illiteracy in the world.
 
Language: French, Arabic, Somali, Afar – Somali is the most widely spoken language, although it is rarely written and is not taught in schools.

Religion: 94% Sunni Muslim, 6% Christian

Political system: semi-presidential republic, formally a parliamentary democracy
Djibouti is an extremely poor country. 60% of the population lives on 1 USD/day. These are mostly nomads, refugees, and homeless people. The average age is 25 and the child mortality rate is over 11%. Nearly 40% of the labor force is unemployed. Most of those who are employed work in agriculture.
Corruption pervades all aspects of economic and political life.

Currency: Djibouti franc (DJF)

Average net monthly salary (in 2020): 700 USD

Most common surname: Mohamed

Safety: Pickpockets are very active in the capital.

The al-Shabab regional Islamist militant group poses a serious threat to foreign military and civil personnel stationed in Djibouti.
Because of Djibouti’s strategic geographic position along the Red Sea, several countries have military bases there. The USA has the largest military presence, but India, China, Australia, Italy and Turkey also have soldiers stationed there. The French Foreign Legion has a training center in Djibouti. 
The consumption of alcohol is legal, but drunkenness is punished with up to two years in prison.

When to go? If anytime, then November-March is best.

Top tourist attractions:
Lac Assal is the world’s saltiest lake after Antarctica’s lakes. It is even saltier than the Dead Sea. It is Djibouti’s, and the whole African continent’s lowest point.
The Gulf of Tadjoura (located in the eastern part of the country) is one of the richest areas in the world for coral and fish species. 
Day Forest National Park, Djibouti National Park, Yoboki National Park


History

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Djibouti city - A former center for international phone calls - pictograms for illiterates - k.a. photo

Nowadays

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Djibouti - city life

Djibouti (city) - Rome Street

Djibouti - Merchant street

Djibouti city - an alley in a rundown neighborhood - k.a. photo

Djibouti city - The building of the railway station - The railroad to Addis Ababa itself has not been working for a long time, but now a new one is being built with the help of China. - k.a. photo

People

“Those who love to choose khat generally prefer to get the leaves in the form of a plug. They then hold this pulpy green ball in their mouths, the way hamsters do, and wait for the active ingredient to be absorbed through the permeable membrane of their gums. This is the most common method for consuming khat, because the active ingredient breaks down quickly, and the leaves should be consumed within a maximum of 48 hours. As they chew they keep adding new leaves, and the pulpy, well-chewed leaves build up in one side of the mouth, so that it looks like they have infected gums, and they have become inflamed. Given that chewing can go on for hours, devotees have learned to talk while chewing. The desired effect can only be achieved after chewing a relatively large amount (100-200g of fresh leaves) within a single day. 


Djibouti - young women

Djibouti - young man

Djibouti - little girl

Djibouti city - boys - k.a. photo

Djibouti city - a smiling girl - k.a. photo

Tourist etiquette

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Djibouti - National Assembly of Djibouti - The guard tried to detain me for photographing, but in the end, I have managed to save the pictures. - k.a. photo

Attractions

Lake Assal

This lake, with a surface area of several kilometers and lying 150m below sea level, is the country’s main tourist attraction. And it’s a good one, especially as there’s no entrance fee – a rare thing on this continent, especially when the country has no other natural or cultural sights to speak of. The lake truly is a remarkable sight.

Deep blue, and approximately five kilometers in diameter, it has a beautiful, inlet-studded shore, where the shallow waters glow pale blue because of the salt deposits on the lake bottom. And never fear – vendors sell salt-encrusted goat skulls and various other mineral-based souvenirs on the lake shore.

A Japanese tour group arrives first, then some American soldiers, and finally a brigade of men from the French Foreign Legion. That pretty much covers all the tourist variations. They move on, and I’m able to inspect the lake’s other marvels more closely. There are black stones, strange fissures emitting smoke and steam, and ‘lava tubes’ – molten lava sometimes flows through hard rock, and if the lava empties out, then a tunnel is formed. It’s baking hot the day we visit, so we go to the nearby beach, where volcanic cones rise out of the water, providing a strong contrast with the deep blue water.

The water is clean and clear, and good for swimming: I wash a few days’ dust off me. A couple of bungalows and a small restaurant cater to the non-existent tourism.”
 

Djibouti - Lake Assal - k.a. photo

Djibouti - Lake Assal - k.a. photo

Djibouti - Lake Assal - k.a. photo

Djibouti - Lake Assal - k.a. photo

Djibouti - Lake Assal - k.a. photo

Djibouti - Lake Assal - k.a. photo

Djibouti City

We've arrived in Djibouti City. Getting in was easy, and we quickly found a taxi. The hotel is just as I booked it, so everything went smoothly 😃

However, poverty is immense, and there are many beggars. Our taxi driver and receptionist warned us that photography can lead to jail time.

We went out shopping. Many people lie on the sidewalks, many beg, but there are also many friendly people. Many ask where we're from and try to talk to us. It's an incredible world... 🤔

In the evening, we'll go out for dinner. I don't think it's far because there might be a race to the end for the bathroom 😄

My son likes it here, and I'm having a good time, too. Fortunately, I've avoided culture shock.

I don't plan anything special for tomorrow, but the day after tomorrow, we'll go on an excursion. Negotiating a car rental with a corrupt person was quite amusing. 🤣

Djibouti City - taxis in the night - k.a. photo

Djibouti city - Menelik Square - city center where the European expats move around - k.a. photo

Djibouti city - Menelik Square - colonial buildings - k.a. photo

Djibouti city - Al Sada Mosque - k.a. photo

Djibouti city - Mahmoud Harbi Square in downtown - buses - - k.a. photo

Djibouti city - k.a. photo

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Djibouti city - St. Gabriel Ethiopian Orthodox Church - k.a. photo

Djibouti city - share taxi running within the city - k.a. photo

Djibouti city - a central neighborhood often named as European quarter - k.a. photo

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