Tips and how to travel to Somaliland in 2023

By Joan Torres 29 Comments Last updated on May 17, 2023

Somaliland travel

Everybody knows about Somalia, but not many know about Somaliland, a territory within Somali boundaries that declared self-independence in 1991 but, since nobody in the international community recognized it as such, it became one of those self-administered ghost countries.

Legally, it belongs to Somalia but, from a tourism point of view, traveling to Somalia is like visiting a new country, a very intriguing and weird one.

Camel markets, medieval mosques and ancient rock art painted by some of the oldest pastoralist societies, Somaliland is a truly off the beaten path – and very safe – destination which you can’t miss in your trip to the Horn of Africa.

I spent 10 days backpacking in Somaliland and this guide contains tips and everything you need to know to travel there, from visa tips to top experiences, approximate budget and more.

This is the most up-to-date Somaliland travel blog available on the internet but also, don’t forget to read my tips for traveling to Eritrea

travel to Somaliland

COVID-19 travel restrictions for Somaliland

Travelers visiting Somaliland are required to have either a vaccine certificate or negative PCR test (72 hours).

Travel Insurance for Somaliland with COVID-19 coverage

IATI Insurance is one of the few providers that offers full Coronavirus coverage, not only when it comes to treatment, but also cancellations costs in case you tested positive before departure.

Moreover, IATI is one of the few insurance providers that gives coverage for traveling to Somaliland.

Readers of Against the Compass can get an exclusive 5% discount.

How to get a visa for Somaliland

The first thing you need to know is that, despite being legally bound to Somalia, Somaliland acts like an independent country, so different immigration rules apply, similar to what happens with Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan (read my travel guide to Iraqi Kurdistan).

This means that a valid tourist visa for Somaliland doesn’t allow you to travel to Somalia, and a valid visa for Somalia doesn’t allow you to travel to Somaliland.

Therefore, in order to get your visa, you can’t apply at a Somalia Embassy, but you need to find a specific Somaliland Mission.

However, since Somaliland isn’t an official country, this makes things particularly challenging, as they don’t have more than a few missions around the world.

somaliland missiom djibouti
The Mission in Djibouti, where I applied for my Somaliland visa

How to get a visa for Somaliland via the mission

If you are entering Somaliland overland from either Ethiopia or Djibouti, you must arrange your visa in advance.

Getting a Somaliland visa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Most travelers travel to Somaliland as part of a multi-country trip around the Horn of Africa, so getting a visa at the Embassy in Addis Ababa seems to be the most common choice.

According to travelers, these are the requirements:

Here you can find more information about the process.

Getting a Somaliland visa in Djibouti City, Djibouti

This is where I got mine. Very easy and cheaper than in Addis.

Since Djibouti is rather a small city, getting to the Mission was fairly quick and these were the requirements:

Getting a Somaliland visa in another country

If you aren’t traveling in the Horn of Africa, you may as well get the visa in your home country or any other where you find a Somaliland Mission.

Here you can see an updated list of Somaliland representative offices but I am not sure if you can get a visa in all of them, you will have to figure it out by yourself.

As far as I know, however, anyone can apply at the Missions in London and Washington D.C and, apparently, getting one in London costs £30.

Somaliland Visa on Arrival

If you are flying in, you can also get a VOA and since 2022, you don’t need to pre-arrange it with a hotel in Hargeisa, but you just pay the respective fee at the immigration area.

Note that only citizens of the EU, UK, USA, Canada, China, and a few other Asian countries can apply for a VOA.

A VOA costs $60, plus potential hotel fees.

visa for Somaliland
My visa for traveling to Somaliland

How to get to Somaliland

Tips on how to travel to Somaliland by air

Hargeisa has an International Airport with flights from Addis Ababa, Djibouti, and even Dubai and Jeddah.

I recommend you check on Ethiopian Airlines, Daallo Airlines, Fly Dubai and Air Djibouti.

You can also check directly on Skyscanner.

Tips on how to travel to Somaliland by land

how to travel from Dijibouti to Somaliland
The Dijibouti-Somaliland border, and the Air France truck

Best time to visit Somaliland

I don’t know how well you handle the heat, but I can’t and, as you may imagine, Somaliland can get pretty hot in summer, especially the coastal part, with temperatures averaging 45ºC.

Hargeisa sits at an elevation of 1300m, so the weather might be slightly cooler there, but still, summer isn’t a great time to go. 

Therefore, the best time to visit Somaliland is from November until March.

I visited it at the end of January and the weather was great, especially in Hargeisa, where the temperature never reached above 25ºC, and we even had some rain one day.

Travel insurance for Somaliland

Since any government will consider it a conflict zone most travel insurance companies won’t cover you for this trip.

The only one which does, however is IATI Insurance and I recommend it because:

  • Budget travel insurance that covers Somalia + COVID-19
  • Valid for any type of trip and nationality.
  • All types of plans: from families to backpackers
  • Covers senior citizens too
  • Readers of this blog can get an exclusive 5% discount.

5 Top experiences in Somaliland

Getting high on khat

Khat is a drug, literally, a plant with amphetaminic effects typically consumed in the Horn of Africa and Yemen, and extremely popular across all Somalia.

If you are traveling in Somaliland, you must spend at least one afternoon eating khat with locals.

If you get to taste good quality stuff, it can be quite an experience.

Read my post: Fear & loathing in Somaliland

can you vi Somaliland
Typical khat stall

Feeding gazelles

What was the highlight of your trip to Somaliland? Some people asked me.

Difficult to say, my trip was great overall, but what surprised me the most was going for breakfast to a random café in Berbera and suddenly being surrounded by gazelles.

I won’t enter into the ethical issue of having wild animals in your garden, but several cafés have gazelles roaming around freely in their garden and, if you get some leaves from a tree, they won’t hesitate to approach you.

Feeding gazelles, somewhere in Berbera

Visiting livestock markets

Somaliland is a very traditional country where livestock markets abound, and I strongly recommend you visit the one in Hargeisa, which takes place every single day.

visit Somaliland
Camel market of Hargeisa

Meeting Somalis

Backpacking in Somaliland is one of those trips where, honestly, there isn’t much to do, but the highlight is meeting new people.

Expect loads of smiles, people asking you for photos and endless chewing-khat invitations, like this funny Somali dancing:

Checking epic rock art sites

The only proper touristic thing as such to do is checking out a few caves containing some 5,000-old rock art paintings which apparently, are some of the most impressive and well-preserved of this particular kind in Africa, and ONE of the highlights of my visit to Somaliland.

Somaliland travel blog
Las Geel rock art

Differences between Somaliland and Somalia

I believe the story between Somaliland and Somalia is a complicated situation that goes beyond my understanding, but let me just give you my 5 cents.

During colonialism, today’s Somalia was split into 2 different regions: the western part was under British rule, while the eastern part was under Italian rule.

Check this map from Wikipedia:

Like happened with most colonies, at the end of the colonial times, the British and the UN drew the borders as they pleased, this way unifying the 2 Somalias into a single one.

Here you can check more unrecognized countries I visited

Therefore, Somaliland has always had a feeling of being an independent nation, and, for many reasons, mainly conflicts and political problems, in 1991, Somaliland decided to self-declare independence from Somalia.

However, as I highlighted in the introduction, nobody recognized it as such, and, when I say nobody, I mean nobody, not even its former colonizer (the UK), the Olympic committee, FIFA or the World Bank.


Somaliland is on its own, abandoned and, even though they have full right to become independent, they never will, as this decision has been delegated to the African Union and they don’t want to recognize them because this could lead a massive African revolution, as hundreds of minorities across the continent might claim the same thing.

Yet, do you know what is the main difference versus Somalia?
While Somalia is an authoritarian regime immersed in a Civil War and, basically, a failed state, Somaliland is a peaceful, safe democracy and this is why, despite all the internal problems, especially economical, Somalilanders will never regret gaining their independence.

how to visit Somaliland
Somali-Somaliland War Memorial in Hargeisa

People in Somaliland

Somaliland is mostly composed of Somalis, a massive ethnic group spread across Djibouti, Eastern Ethiopia, northern Kenya, and of course, Somalia.

Somalia is the most homogenous African country, ethnically speaking.

how to travel to Somaliland

It is a very patriarchal society – very conservative Muslim – where I believe women have very few rights, and I don’t recall seeing a single woman not wearing a hijab, in the areas I visited at least.

Other than that, Somalis are nice, warm and welcoming people but, of course, this is an extremely poor country and sometimes you do meet people who, at first, seem as if they just want to have a conversation, but then they ask for money.

This is something I have noticed a lot in Africa. While in Asian Muslim countries, such as Iran or Pakistan, people are always willing to offer their help for free, some people I when backpacking in Somaliland (not all, of course) then asked for a tip.

You also need to be careful with your camera, and always ask first, because many Somalis don’t like cameras, and they can get very angry, even if you take a shot from far away, and I am talking from my own experience.

In any case, most interactions and experiences with the local people are truly great.

Chewing khat
Eating khat is kind of a lifestyle in Somaliland. All men eat it and basically, life in the country stops after lunchtime until the evening. Regardless of all the social issues khat has brought to the Somali society, it’s an interesting event to see and experience. Khat gets you high (if you get good-quality leaves, which cost from $10) but you need to chew it (and swallow) for a couple of hours at least, washing it down with soda or any sweet drink because khat is extremely bitter.

A local dude offering me some khat


All Somalis speak Somali a Cushitic language, the family of many languages spoken in northeastern Africa.

It’s difficult to describe what it sounds like, but what I can tell you is that they use some Arabic words, as Arabs have been trading in this region for centuries and in fact, Arabic is widely taught in schools.

For their script, they use the Latin Alphabet.

Do they speak English?

Since this used to be a British colony, you meet many Somalilanders speaking impeccable English and most people will know some basic words.

In fact, they use many English words in their language, like numbers for example.

The language shouldn’t be a barrier when traveling in Somaliland.

Cuisine: what are you going to eat when visiting Somaliland?

Fact: nobody ever visits Somaliland for the food.

Actually, this is one of the worst countries I have been to when it comes to food.

All right, it’s not that bad, but it’s just boring, basic, and there’s nothing memorable to bring back home, except for some fresh fish I had in Berbera. That was good.

Their star dish, which they eat throughout the day is a lentil stew called ”penis”, and literally pronounced like ”penis”, no kidding.

When you walk in a café, you just say you want a ”penis” and they will bring you these lentils.

Other than that, pasta with tomato sauce is also the staple but, as you may imagine, it is not good pasta.

They always eat with their hand, even a dish of spaghetti with tomato sauce.

Alcohol is illegal in Somaliland
It is only available on the black market but some locals do make their own at home and you are likely to see some drunk people at night. I arrived in the city of Boroma at 3am and, while looking for a hotel, there was this creepy local who approached me holding a plastic bottle with some weird matt white liquid in it. He was massively wasted, drooling, and trying to hug me or something, but it was very easy to push him away. After a few days, a young, well-educated local told me that home-made alcohol is a big deal in Somaliland, but most of it is just so strong and basically, very dangerous, so seeing people fucked up like that guy from Boroma is very normal.

Somaliland cuisine
My local friend eating some penis in Zeyla

Is it safe to travel to Somaliland?

In short: Somaliland is safe but Somalia is not.

All the negative things you see in the media about Somalia referring to pirates, bombs, or Al Shabab, happen in Somalia mainland.

There have been some terrorist attacks in Somaliland, yes, but the last one was back in 2008, a long time ago and, since then, nothing has happened so far, plus the country enjoys one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

Can it happen again or, could there be potential kidnappings?

Look, I am no expert, and the FCO advice claims that the whole country is a massive NO-GO, but you already know that their judgment is very biased and all I can tell you is that so far, all travelers have had a great time traveling in Somaliland.

Just apply common sense and travel safe!

Check this video from this very isolated, hence very safe place in Somaliland:

Solo female travel in Somaliland

I have only talked to one lady about her trip to Somaliland and all she told me was that she had a great time there, with no further details, but she was a woman with a large traveling experience in traditional Muslim countries, and I believe the experience in Somaliland as a solo woman shouldn’t differ much from the one in Sudan or Pakistan.

If you are a woman who traveled to Somaliland (solo or accompanied) let me know if you’d like to write a guest post for Against the Compass or just send your experience to

somali women
Somali women making butter from camel milk, in the camel market of Hargeisa

Do you need a police escort for traveling independently in Somaliland?

Before traveling to Somaliland, I heard that in some areas, basically anywhere outside Hargeisa, a police escort was mandatory, and they would assign you one upon your arrival in that destination.

This wasn’t my case (and I visited many places and went through a lot of checkpoints).

In the beginning, I thought that might have been an old rule which didn’t apply anymore but I heard there was a solo female traveler who visited Somaliland just a few weeks before me and the police did assign her an escort.

This means that it might just depend on the policeman’s mood and perception and, since Somalis are an extremely patriarchal society, you might have a higher chance of getting a police escort if you are a solo female traveler.

In any case, your experience regarding this topic is very welcome in the comments section 🙂

Funny story: this guy was an enormous fraud who followed me for like 1 hour, pretending he was a police escort and, as a proof, he was wearing a shirt that clearly said ”escort”, but he was too stupid to understand that his shirt meant being a male escort (like a female accompanying). He made up this story to get some money, of course

Internet and connectivity in Somaliland


All hotels I stayed at had Wi-Fi, not very fast, but it worked reasonably well.

Outside of my hotels, except for a fancy restaurant in Hargeisa, I never saw Wi-Fi.

SIM Card

I got my SIM Card in a street stall right at the Djibouti-Somaliland border.

I got Telesom and I think I paid like $3 for a SIM Card with 1GB internet and calls. It’s so cheap.

Get a VPN for traveling in Somaliland

You should always use a VPN when you travel, especially when you connect to public Wi-Fi networks.

Your connection will be much safer. 

Moreover, you will be able to access content which is typically censored in Somaliland. 

I recommend ExpressVPN – Extremely easy to use, fast and cheap. 

If you want to learn more about VPN, check: Why you need a VPN for traveling.

Need to know about money: currency, exchange, credit cards


Somaliland has its own currency, which is the Somali Shilling and, approximately:

1 USD = 8500 SOS

Their currency has suffered a massive devaluation and today, their biggest is note worth 5000Sh, which is barely 60 cents.

On the other hand, USD are widely accepted, to the extent that in most places, you can even pay for a bottle of water in USD and get the change in Somaliland Shillings.

Exchanging money

Theoretically, if dollars are accepted everywhere, you would not need to exchange, but getting some local currency is more comfortable as, in traditional places, you will always get the price in shillings, so you don’t need to do unnecessary calculations.

You can easily change money in many places but I recommend you go to the money market in Hargeisa, which is an attraction in itself, as you get to see locals loaded with hundreds of cash bricks but, in fact, most bricks are composed of 1000 notes, which means that they aren’t carrying much money in their hands.

Credit cards

International credit cards are not accepted, but there are a few ATMs in Hargeisa from where you can withdraw some USD at a 3% commission.

I could cash out a few hundred with my Mastercard.

These banks are Premiere Bank and Dahabshil Bank and you can find their ATMs in downtown Hargeisa.

Check the money market of Hargeisa:

my visit to Somaliland

How much does it cost to travel to Hargeisa?

Somaliland is the cheapest country I visited in the Horn of Africa, not only because prices are low, but also because there is nothing to spend money on.

Price of the most typical things:

Average daily budget for backpacking in Somaliland

Other than that, the only expensive things I had to pay for were the entrance to Las Geel ($35 with guide included) and the 4×4 trip from Zeyla to Borama ($50).

somaliland Shillings
Somaliland money

How to move around: transportation

Moving around the country is very easy and cheap.

Most towns are connected by bus, including Boroma, Berbera, or Burao and you just need to go to the bus station and ask for departure times. In Hargeisa, the bus station is in the city center.

Moving around is slow though, as the roads are not in very good condition.

If you want to go south of Boroma, to Zeyla and the Djibouti border, you need a 4×4 but you can share it with other locals if you go to the station.

Where to stay in Somaliland: accommodation

Somaliland is surprisingly well-sorted for hotels.

There is actually some domestic tourism, especially among foreign Somalis who are visiting the country. I met a few of them in 2 different hotels.

Hotels I stayed at:

Books about Somaliland

Somaliland travel guide by Bradt – The only proper travel guidebook to Somaliland is the one from Bradt, published in December 2018, so it is quite up-to-date and gives a great overview of the country. I love Bradt.

Becoming Somaliland by Mark Bradbury – Great analysis for understanding the story of Somaliland, from declaring independence to becoming a democracy in one of the most turbulent regions on Earth.

More information for traveling to Somaliland

All guides and articles for traveling in Somaliland destination

Travel guides to other countries in Africa

Somaliland travel guide


Great stuff – thanks for this! I’m really enjoying reading about the Horn of Africa. Fantastic advice as always. Looking forward to reading the next instalment already – keep ’em coming

Hello Joan
How did you get to Las Geel rock art? All I can see is a bus to Dhubato – and the site is about 6km from there? Can you walk – or do you need to get a taxi and pick up a guide/guard?
Cheers mate

Hello Andy, yes, I took a bus to Dhubato and from there I walked.
I guide is mandatory and they will assign you one at the checkpoint, before starting walking the 6km

Hello! I’m seeing a lot of people saying they paid up to $250 for Las Geel – how did you manage to only pay $35?? Thanks!

Very interesting,and I am very happy to read my country,thanks you more dear for proving many thing about my country,come and enjoy again,second trip i will invite and i will show you more places that you were not seen before.

Thx for all the good detailed info! So my partner regularly goes to Somaliland and I clarified with him that the dish is not ‘penis’ but rather beans! The issue is that some local Somalilanders can not pronounce a B so it comes out like P or F. So beans is pronounced bean-us or ‘penis’ 🤣🤣🤣. Vélo is felo etc! So they were basically asking you if you wanted beans!

I certainly enjoyed reading this guide. Travelled to Somaliland back in 2009 from Ethiopia by land. Stayed in the Oriental Hotel in Hargeisa. The manager there arranged for a permit, from the local police ‘Somaliland Scouts’, allowing us to travel to Berbera without the obligatory security. We still have it. No fee to pay at Las Geel then. As you say, friendly and peaceful place. The only danger seemed to be land mines. Food consisted of red spaghetti, with tomato sauce, & white, no tomato sauce plus some fresh fish in Berbera. There was also porridge for breakfast. This must be a legacy of British rule.
We paid £30 for a visa at the Somaliland consulate in London back then. Glad to see somethings have not changed.

Hey Joan, thank you for making such a detailed and informative guide! What did you do about malaria prevention while you were out there? Are malaria and the mosquitoes that transmit the disease a high risk in Somaliland, particularly the Hargeisa area?

Hi Calum. I didn’t do any malaria prevention. There is malaria in that area indeed, but given the desert, dry weather, there are not as many mosquitoes as in other parts of Africa.

Hey Joan, I’m looking into the feasibility of cycling from Djibouti to Somaliland. The main question I can’t seem to find an answer for is the road surface; and I can’t easily make this out from Google Earth either. Did it look to you like you could ride a mountain bike on the roads there? Thanks!

Hi there,
On Djibouti side, there’s no problem, but on Somaliland side, there are many long sections where roads are basically made of sand. I remember driving through the sand for hours. No sure if there are alternative paths.

OK thanks, then I need to decide if it’s feasible to go with thick enough tyres for the sand. My initial thought is it won’t make sense, unless I can find a way to change tyres there. I’ll give this some thought. Thanks!

Hi Joan!
Do You know situation about Ethiopian visas in Hargeisa? Does embassy issue visas?
I’ll be there in November and plan to come back to Ethiopia overland, so I can’t just get VoA.

Hi Joan! Congrats on all your work, truly inspiring. I plan on visiting Somaliland in about 2 months. Do you happen to have any contacts of local people whom it would be cool for me to meet up with? I travel mostly to meet local people from wherever I go and in such an isolated country as Somaliland anyone whom I could connect beforehand would be awesome. Many thanks in advance!

Hello dear I read your guide it’s quite interesting and helpful. I have been hired for a project as a geologist. I am going to join it in the coming week.
I am worried about food and security.

I want to say that this is a nice travel guide that will definitely help others who want to go to Somaliland and what they can expect and important rules to follow. I do want to say regarding the food, that yes currently (because of the food shortage, drought) the food is not great, as in diverse or elaborate enough but in general Somali food is very diverse and offers a lot of variety, from different pasta and rice dishes with options like with coconut to the rice and different sauces ranging from mild to very spice, to different flatbreads like muufo, laxoox/canjeero and sabayad and more, fish dishes, soups (maraq), stews other than the lentil ones, lots of different and delicious desserts (xalwo, doolsho which is a sponge cake, different types of biscuits like kac kac and dozens more), fruits, vegetarian options, lamb dishes, snacks like sambusa or khamiir/mandazi which can be best described as doughnuts, beans dishes etc. Many of the dishes that i have mentioned are more common and originated in the south (aka Somalia) but for the most party Somalilanders also eat it. I hope that in the future the food situation will become better as there’s lot of potential to be made since currently the best Somali dishes can be found in restaurants across the west and Middle Eastern countries.

No problem. I have heard from family members and friends that there’s lots of different restaurants being opened, especially Yemeni and Syrian ones since lots of them have fled to Somaliland (and Ethiopia) so there’s more food variety available than Somali restaurants but even then they said that the quality and variety of the food and restaurants (customer service) is getting better as more people from the diaspora in the West are moving back home and bringing their expertise with them. Not to mention many people from the South (aka Somalia) are also moving to Somaliland since it is a lot safer and bringing their regional dishes with them.

I really enjoyed reading about your experience in Somaliland. As a first-generation Somali living in NA. I hope we as Somalis look to improve our agriculture development and set a new standard for high-quality food. Technology is on our side in today’s age. And as a member of the diaspora community. Going back to Somaliland and investing in my land is my dream goal. I hope in the next 50 yrs we become one of the best countries in Africa. Education, agriculture, & infrastructure should be the country’s 3 biggest areas for improvement and main focus.

Hi Joan,

A few things – I imagine the Somaliland Office in Djibouti closes some days. Don’t supppose you remember which?
How did you travel from Hargeisa to Jijiga, and then on to Harer? Is it relatively safe?
Time from Hargeisa to Harer + /- ?
You said you got the Visa for Ethiopia at the border…paying in dollars?
Many thanks.
Great blog, a reference for travel in a number of countries in the region and beyond. Et felicito!

Hi Chris, thanks a lot for your comment!
My answers:
– I really can’t remember which days, but probably Friday and Saturday?
– Just regular bus, easy and safe
– Pretty much the whole day with border crossings, etc
– I did, but this has changed now and I don’t have the latest update

Hi Joan,

Thanks for this guide; it’s really great. Of course, as you point out, all government organisations state blankly that all of Somalia is a no-go area, so it’s good to get an experience of someone who has actually been there. I’ve always wanted to visit and your guide has really inspired me. I intend to cycle there and down the continent, so I sincerely have to hope that they don’t impose an escort on me. I saw the reply further up where you said the roads are sandy; which is kind of the worst surface for bikes, but I was planning on bringing fairly fat tyres anyway. Thanks again, I’m going!

Hi, I planning on entering Somaliland overland via Djibouti. I plan on re entering Djibouti afterwards to head into Ethiopia. I am wondering do I need 2 different visas for Djibouti? Thank you

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