Somaliland: The Ultimate Travel Guide
Updated: Nov 11, 2019
What is Somaliland?
Somaliland, officially the Republic of Somaliland is an unrecognized country in the horn of Africa, internationally considered to be an autonomous region of Somalia.
The government of the unrecognized country of Somaliland regards itself as the successor state to the former British Somaliland protectorate.
In July, 1960, the briefly independent State of Somaliland, united with the Trust Territory of Somaliland (the former Italian Somaliland to form the Somali Republic (today’s Somalia).
Where is Somaliland?
Somaliland lies in northwestern Somalia (as per international recognition), on the southern coast of the Gulf of Aden. It is bordered by Puntland, an autonomous region of Somalia to the east, Djibouti to the northwest, and Ethiopia to the south and west.
Its claimed territory has an area of 176,120 square kilometres (68,000 sq mi), with approximately 4 million residents. The capital and the largest city is Hargeisa, with a population of around 1,500,000 residents.
Top Things to Do in Somaliland
Somaliland is home to some of the world’s most untouched nature and history. Here is a list of the top 10 things to do in Somaliland.
1) Laas Geel Cave Paintings
Cave formations on the rural outskirts of Hargeisa, Somaliland. They contain some of the earliest known cave paintings in the Horn of Africa. Laas Geel's rock art is estimated to date to somewhere between 9,000 and 3,000 years BC.
2) Berbera Old City
In antiquity, Berbera was part of a chain of commercial port cities along the Somali seaboard. During the early modern period, Berbera was the most important place of trade in the entire Horn of Africa
3) Money Market Hargeisa
This is the place to exchange foreign currency for the infamous and unrecognized local currency, the ‘Somaliland Shilling.’
4) Somaliland Marathon 2020
Take part in the world’s most off-the-beaten-path marathon in 2020!
5) Masjid al-Qiblatayn
Also known as Labo-qibla mosque is a mosque in Zeila, situated in the northwestern Awdal region of Somaliland, close to the border with Djibouti.
6) Golis Mountains
The Golis Mountains are a mountain range in Somaliland
7) Camel Market Hargeisa
This is where camels are bought and sold in an open market.
8) Chew Khat
This may not be for everyone as it is considered an illegal substance in most Western nations, but here in Somaliland, it is a staple enjoyed by the vast majority of the population.
9) MiG Fighter Jet Monument
An iconic monument in central Hargeisa to the Somali Civil War which lead to the de facto independence of Somaliland.
10) Eat Camel
You read it right! Since the Horn of Africa is home to the largest population of camels in the world, both its meat and milk are staples in Somali cuisine.
Is Somaliland safe?
Unlike its neighbour to the south, Somalia, Somaliland has largely been spared from violence and is generally safe for tourists.
Within Somaliland itself, levels of extremism are very low and local authorities have done a great job at securing their borders.
Most tourists will notice, that as you wander around the city, friendly locals with approach you (in English) and welcome you to their country. This is only out of hospitality and curiosity for you as a tourist to their country.
How to Get Around in Somaliland
According to Somaliland law, all foreign tourists must be accompanied by a local soldier when travelling between cities, although walking within cities alone is not a problem.
It should be noted, that this policy is not because it is too dangerous for tourists to roam on their own.
Rather, the policy is in place to ensure that nothing should happen to tourists while on their tour in Somaliland, so as not to ruin the unrecognized country’s fragile safety reputation, which has been ruined by its internationally recognized neighbour - Somalia.
If joining an organized tour, all transportation and security is already taken care of for tourists while in the country.
Where to Sleep in Somaliland
Somaliland is home to various hotels across the country and primarily in the capital Hargeisa and its main coastal city, Berbera.
However, because of the country’s unrecognized status, international hotel chains are not present in the country and most of the quality would be considered 3-Star accommodations elsewhere.
During tours to Somaliland, all your accommodations will be taken care of in advance.
Why is Somaliland not in the U.N?
The nature of Somaliland’s status is surrounded by the fact that is unrecognized and therefore unable to join international organizations, such as; the United Nations.
It is internationally recognized as an autonomous region within Somalia, including by the United Nations.
How do I enter Somaliland?
Entering Somaliland is very interesting. This is because Somaliland is unique in comparison to other unrecognized countries.
Unlike other unrecognized countries, Somaliland has an operating international airport with daily flights to regional hubs such as; Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Dubai, Nairobi and Cairo.
Land crossing are also able to be cross from both Ethiopia and Djibouti.
Do I need a visa to enter Somaliland?
Citizens of most western countries can easily obtain a visa on arrival, upon your entry into Somaliland.
If you are from a country that is not eligible for a visa on arrival, you will be able to obtain a visa from one of the various Somaliland diplomatic missions in, Canada, the USA, France, Belgium, Ethiopia, Kenya, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, or Australia.
Please note, that visas for Somalia are not recognized or accepted by Somaliland - they are separate countries.
What currency do they use in Somaliland?
The official currency of Somaliland is the Somaliland Shilling. However, cash is only used for micro-payments, as the currency has such little value and you will need a large quantity of bills to buy even a small product.
As a tourist, however, you are able to use local cash (which can be exchanged at the local money market in Hargeisa), or to use foreign currency such as; the US dollar.
Somalilanders primarily use mobile payments to pay for everything from food, to water, to khat.
What is Khat?
Khat, illegal in most countries, is a leafy green plant containing two main stimulant drugs which speed up your mind and body. Their main effects are similar to, but less powerful than, amphetamines. Although it is probably more similar to a high dose of caffeine.
Khat is used mostly in North East Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula and by expatriate communities from these regions.
The drug is both legal and extremely prevalent in Somaliland. You won’t go even a few seconds without seeing locals chewing the plant, or it being sold at one of the many roadside khat stands.
Is Somaliland a country?
Somaliland is an unrecognized country and not internationally recognized. There are some cases of recognition however, or at least partial recognition.
It seems that Guinea (as of July 4th, 2019), is the only country to officially recognize Somaliland as an independent state.
In addition, Somaliland currently issues its own passports, which are recognized as official travel documents by eight countries, namely; South Africa, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Belgium, France, South Sudan, the UK, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Although these countries recognize the Somaliland passport, they have not officially recognized it as an independent state.
How did Somaliland gain independence?
In 1988, the Siad Barre government in Somalia began a crackdown against the Hargeisa-based Somali National Movement (SNM) and other militant groups, which were among the events that led to the Somali Civil War.
The conflict left the country's economic and military infrastructure severely damaged. Following the collapse of Barre's government in early 1991, local authorities, lead by the SNM, unilaterally declared independence from Somalia on 18 May of the same year and reinstated the borders of the former short-lived independent State of Somaliland.
Who are the Somali people?
The Somalis are an ethnic group belonging to the Cushitic peoples inhabiting the Horn of Africa. The overwhelming majority of Somalis speak the Somali language, which is part of the Cushitic branch of the Afroasiatic (formerly Hamito-Semitic) family. They are predominantly Sunni Muslim.
What language is spoken in Somaliland?
Just like the rest of the Somali people, as listed above, people in Somaliland are ethnic Somalis and speak the Somali language.
Are foreign embassies present in Somaliland?
Another unique feature of Somaliland is the presence of foreign diplomatic missions (not embassies) in its territory.
Djibouti, Turkey, Ethiopia, Denmark and Kenya all have such missions within the territory of Somaliland.
Will travelling to Somaliland affect future travel to other countries?
While the country does stamp your passport upon entrance, it should not cause any future travel problems other than some questions by border officials at most international crossings.
However, for citizens who are part of the U.S. Esta program, when applying for visitor visas, people are asked if they have been to Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011. Since Somaliland is recognized as part of Somalia, this has been a cause of visa denial as recently as August 2019.
Can women travel to Somaliland?
In short, yes. Although the country is very religious, women are still able to visit Somaliland without too much of a hassle. There are some extra guidelines however, as women are required to dress modestly and wear head coverings at all times.
Is alcohol legal in Somaliland?
Somaliland is a religions Muslim country. As such, the sale and consumption of alcohol are completely forbidden. Bringing alcohol with you to Somaliland is also not allowed and you will be forced to discard all alcoholic products before your flight.
Can I eat camel in Somaliland?
Of course! If you are a foodie, Somaliland is a very interesting place to try new and adventurous foods.