Overlanding between Djibouti, Somaliland and Ethiopia

When I was researching a trip around the horn of Africa, information was hard to find, and all outdated. Google, Lonely Planet and most other travel guides didn’t offer much help, since I needed to find out if and how it was possible to get visas and cross land borders. After a few weeks of traveling these routes, here’s what I found out, but keep in mind this might only stay relevant for a few months.

I started in Djibouti and traveled overland first across the Loyada border into Somaliland, then from Hargeisa to Ethiopia via the Wajaale border. In Djibouti, there is a Somilland embassy (between the Sheraton Hotel and Ethiopian Embassy) that issues single entry visas in 24 hours for $31USD (payable in local Djibouti francs), but the Somaliland land border with Djbouti also offers the visa on arrival for the same price and it only takes a few minutes. The actual crossing may take a lot longer since even Somalis and Djiboutis need the Somaliland visa, and they like to refuse to pay and be detained by an armed guard for hours until someone gives in (either they pay or they get let off in each situation).

the Loyada border between Djibouti and Somaliland

the Loyada border between Djibouti and Somaliland

There’s an Ethiopian Embassy in Djibouti that gives single or multiple entry visas within 24 hours, and you must have it before traveling overland to Ethiopia. In Hargeisa, there is neither a Djibouti or Ethiopian embassy, so if you enter Somaliland without getting your visas first in Djibouti or Addis, you wont be able to leave unless you fly out of Hargeisa.

As for the actual travel, Djibouti to the Somaliland border is less than an hours drive, but its possible to buy a ticket (from some khat dealers and money changers on 26th street close to the police station) from Djiboutiville to Hargeisa. You show up between 2:30 and 3:30, and a beat up old truck leaves around 4 with 6 passengers and some cargo, drops you at the border, and a Somaliland Land Cruiser takes over the load. Then you wait hours for the border process (I was accidentally grouped in with my fellow detained non-visa holding passengers before I realized I could leave the guy with a gun and sit more peacefully by the shops selling cold drinks and some home-made food from make shift tents) to finish, and continue overnight along a bumpy 400km+ sand track (its hardly a road) which takes more than 12 hours. We had to rescue 3 other land cruisers who had gotten stuck in the sand, and near the end of the trip, when a proper gravel road appeared, we had to dodge alot of road kill – a dead donkey, dead camels, and an entire family of dead cows.

our overnight landcruiser to Hargeisa

our overnight landcruiser to Hargeisa

Then you’ve reached Hargeisa, Somalilands capital, whose city center roads are still nothing less than bumpy dirt tracks. Dust gets blown on you and everybody and everything all the time, but there is a decent paved road going north (to Berbera 150km) and south to Wajaale, the Ethopian border. Its a $5USD bus trip, 100km in under 2 hours, and the border was a bit easier to pass, although the immigration offices were well hidden among the other shops and shacks along the road. From Wajaale, you can travel to Jigjiga and onto Harar within the same day, budget another 3 hours and $3 for each bus (less than 100 birr).

Doing the trip the other way, Somaliland – Djibouti – Ethiopia, remember you must first have a Djiboutian visa or fly into Djibouti from Somaliland. Then there is a direct bus between Djiboutiville and Dire Dawa in Ethiopia (very close to Harar) which travels either early morning or late afternoon and takes all day or all night. I saw the ticket office somewhere on the south end of town on a main street, but don’t know the street name (they’re usually not marked in Djiboutiville, but asking around led me quickly to the place).

If you’re flying in or out of these countries, Ethiopia offers a visa on arrival in Addis Ababa airport, but only a 1 month single entry visa (around $50USD). Getting a multiple entry visa is only possibly in an embassy outside of Ethiopia prior to your arrival, or extending your visa once you’ve arrived. Djibouti, like on the land borders, also offers a visa on arrival for international flights. It costs $6o for a 3 day transit visa, and $90 for a week or more tourist visa. I’m still unsure about the Hargeisa International airport in Somaliland, but it seems flights (i.e. Jubba airways) are usually delayed or cancelled going in or out, there isn’t a mandatory exchange of $50 USD upon arrival or a departure tax, but it also seems the visa on arrival may not be available but in theory it should be.

If you’re interested in traveling to any other nearby countries, keep in mind the land borders between Ethiopia and Eritrea and Djibouti and Eritrea are currently impassable. There is no Eritrean embassy in Djibouti (its been closed for years despite information online saying there is one), Ethiopia or Somaliland, and the only way I’ve heard of people traveling overland is through the Sudan-Eritrea land border. Only Italians and Sudanese can travel visa free to Eritrea, but getting a visa would be hard anywhere in Africa (Europe is a better bet). Traveling south from Somaliland to Puntland or Somalia doesn’t seem easy either, especially since you need a Somalian visa to get out of Somaliland but there’s not Somalian embassy in Hargeisa. Although you used to be able to buy a Somalian passport in Somaliland for $60-75USD!