From mid October to February plankton ‘blooms’ develop in a bay near Djibouti Town called the Goubet al Kharab (the Devil's Cauldron). Whale sharks move in to feast and sightings of these magnificent creatures are all but guaranteed.
Ra, Original Traveller
'Where on earth is Djibouti?' we hear you ask. Well, to be honest we're loath to say, because it might put you off going. How about these for a motley collection of neighbours? Eritrea to the North West; Yemen to the North East, Somalia to the South East and Ethiopia pretty much surrounding the rest. So, on paper (and Ethiopia aside) djibouti is not exactly the obvious place to spend your precious holiday time. But that would be to overlook one very muscular, very heavily armed and very visible factor - the presence of the US military's Horn of Africa Combined Joint Task Force - which is based in the country. Quite simply, you don't mess with Djibouti.
Ra is here to help give you the inside track.
Why we think you’ll love it
- Djibouti is a great marine life spot, particularly for whale shark encounters - diving and snorkelling are both options
- The solidified lava chimneys at the salt lake Lac Abbe are as extraordinary to see as their name suggests
From the gallery
Djibouti Holidays: the Detail
Formerly known as Obock, then French Somaliland, and finally the French Territory of the Afars and the Issas, the name Djibouti is positively tame by comparison. With the comforting presence of the military might of the US in mind, we highly recommend a Djibouti holiday for several reasons - the extraordinary scenery of the inland salt pans; the incredible marine life and, most importantly of all, because you'll never again lose the 'where I've been' game.
This tiny country has more than enough to warrant a trip, either in its own right, or more likely in combination with Ethiopia. Spanning just 8,800 square miles Djibouti may be tiny, but even then it has one of Africa's lowest population densities. It becomes plainly obvious why that might be once you spend any time here - much of the country consists of bleak (but extremely beautiful) desert scenery that is so otherworldly that it has doubled up for alien planets in a number of movies.
A series of salt lakes dot the landscape, with Las Assal in the Afar Triangle a mere 509ft below sea level, making it the lowest point on land in Africa and the third lowest land depression on Earth after the Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee. The whole area is extremely bright and glitters with crystallised salt, so sunglasses are a must, and what little water there is is the most wonderful turquoise.
Another Lake, Lac Abbe, makes for a perfect overnight adventure destination with the sunsets here some of the best on the planet, and so little light pollution that at night a dome of stars stretches down to the horizon in all directions. This is where three tectonic plates meet and this subterranean activity has created bizarre terracotta-coloured chimneys that rise like termite mounds from the flat white ground.
Djibouti's other holiday trump card lies away from the desiccated deserts, and in fact beneath the waves that lap the shoreline. Djibouti's strategic importance, a fact not lost on the current American garrison nor the French before them, is control of one side of the Bab-el-Mandab, literally the 'Straits of Grief', the narrow point where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden. All shipping heading to or from the Suez Canal must pass through this 20 mile wide, but happily so must all migratory marine life. As a serendipitous result this is one of the very best places in the world to see that subaquatic wonder, the whale shark, close up. We can arrange for diving trips to see these and many other species, but more often than not snorkelling is as easy and guaranteed a method of seeing the action.
Did you know
- The only US military base situated in sub-Saharan Africa is in Djibouti
- Its agricultural production is limited to fruits and vegetables due to heavy rainfalls