Which countries are safe to visit along the ‘Horn of Africa’? (Ethiopia, Somalia, Somaliland, Eritrea and Djibouti)
The Horn of Africa is where Eastern Africa meets the Saudi Arabian peninsula and is one of the most unruly regions in the world. But since we are adventurous travelers, let's take a look at our options in the area.
The bad news first - Somalia poses an extreme danger to tourists. The safest place to be in town (likely the only safe place) is the Aden Adde International Airport, which has been recently renovated and extended with the help of Turkish funds.
The city is plagued by frequent grenade and RPG attacks and the transfer from the airport to a hotel is extremely dangerous. While it is possible, although not advised, to travel to just the airport, it's something which is best being avoided completely.
Djibouti - Airlines, Visa, Hotels
Djibouti is both the name of the country and its largest city.
Djibouti is easy to reach on Qatar, Air France, Turkish and Ethiopian (among others), which all fly into Djibouti–Ambouli International Airport. The airport is split into civilian and military use. The former French Air Force base 'Camp Lemonnier' is now headquarters of the United States Armed Forces and houses the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.
Most nationalities can get a $90 visa on arrival to this country.
Djibouti as a country is said to be rather expensive, but has a number of foreigners that use it as a base. Safety is not a big concern and there are plenty of reports of travelers describing the country and its largest city as safe (by African standards).
The Sheraton Djibouti has a beautiful waterfront location and is a Category 4 hotel. It charges a solid $225 per night and actually sells out quickly.
The Djibouti Palace Kempinski is located near to the Sheraton and looks even more luxurious.
Many travelers describe a trip to the Lac Abbe/Lac Assal area as the best thing to do in the country.
The country is small and after a few days there, you should depart as a happy traveler.
Ethiopia - Airlines, Visa, Hotels
Ethiopia is by far the biggest country in this region. Despite being tagged as 'one of the poorest countries in the world' by average income, Ethiopia is making big strides in GDP growth.
Ethiopian Airlines flies you to almost any African city from anywhere in the world. It's likely the easiest country to reach in Africa.
Bole Airport is creaky, but a new terminal may come around soon.
I went to Addis Ababa a few times and loved the food and coffee there - it's a gourmet heaven! On my next trip, I'll be exploring Lalibela and Gondar, as well as Bahir Dar (Blue Nile Falls):
A single-entry visa can be had at the airport for almost all nationalities for $70. If you have a layover of less than 24 hours, Ethiopian Airlines will be able to give you a free transfer visa (that even includes a hotel).
As I noted in 13 Things to do in Addis Ababa, safety is not a huge concern, but local transport and constantly being hassled by locals can be annoying.
Addis Ababa delivers classy accommodation; the Radisson Addis Ababa and the Sheraton Addis Ababa are both fantastic.
You could also try the Marriott Executive Apartments Addis Ababa or the Hilton Addis Ababa.
Somaliland - Airlines, Visa, Hotels
Somaliland is a country I had never heard of until just a few weeks ago. It is not actually a 'full country', since this spin-off from Somalia is not recognized by most countries (incl. the United States).
However, Somaliland has been virtually independent for 25 years and its capital Hargeisa shines with most things that Somalia does not. It's safe and has basic infrastructure and a firm grip on a better future. In fact, this self-declared state is described by many travelers as the safest country in the region - including Ethiopia!
Hargeisa Egal Airport is not serviced by too many airlines, but flydubai and Ethiopian Airlines both fly there on a daily basis.
There are no chain hotels in Somaliland's capital city, but there are a number of hotels that look decent enough.
Travelers rave about the cave formations of Laas Geel, located about 2 hours outside of Hargeisa.
The visa situation is confusing (but remember that this country is not recognized as a country) and visas for Somalia are not recognized there. Several hotels can arrange a visa and it's likely you can get a visa on arrival for a fee under $100 (take dollar bills).
Eritrea - Airlines, Visa, Hotels
Eritrea is also in the Horn of Africa and it's the country with the most xenophobic government that likes to shift blame to foreign powers.
Now the people of Eritrea are described as warm and hospitable and the Eritrean regime is also not a violent one. The biggest hassle is the exchange regime that requires you to declare every single dollar of foreign currency you are taking in and tracks down all exchanges in local currency. The official exchange rate is fixed and makes the country needlessly expensive. The smuggling of money in and out of this country can get you in trouble.
However, it seems the regulation is somewhat loosely applied and some travelers never bother with it.
The capital of Asmara used to be host to an InterContinental hotel; the brand is gone now, but the hotel is still there as the Asmara Palace. There isn't much of a competition in terms of hotel rooms and given the rigged exchange rate, you will find the value lacking.
Qatar, Turkish and flydubai all fly to Asmara International Airport and it seems easy to get a visa for under $100 from the Eritrean consulates before departure.
The Eritrean government is known to restrict tourists to certain areas, so the situation may change at any time. Sometimes travel in a group there is fine, but some areas may be completely off limits by the time you arrive.