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City: Djibouti / Country: Djibouti / World Region: Africa

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      09.05.2011 15:51
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      Don't even think about it.

      The first thing I remember about Djibouti is the prices. It's ridiculously expensive compared to any of their surrounding countries. And I couldn't pin point why. I wouldn't say the City is nice at all, and the only foreigners I encountered tended to be in the US or French military. For a night's sleep expect to pay a lot. I feel I was quite lucky because, being on a budget, the Somalis I travelled with showed me possibly the cheapest Hotel in town. But this was still well over $10 for a grotty, hot, unfriendly place. No one in town knew it, but for those on a budget try asking around for the Somali hotel in the African Quarter. Anyone not on a budget just head into the European quarter and expect to pay through the teeth.

      In terms of attractions I'd say the city had very few. I was hoping to see a rich mix of French, African and Arabic influences, but instead found very little. Of course there's some architecture, but you could see all of it pretty quickly then you're stuck for the rest of your trip. I was waiting for onwards visas and found myself excruciatingly bored most of the time. To put it into perspective, according to votes on the Lonely Planet site, the top 3 things to do in Djibouti are 2 restaurants and a tour out of the City. However, there are always the beaches you could kill time on.

      The city in my opinion is pretty grim. I stayed in the African quarter and found nothing but ugly buildings, bad food and useless shops. Everything closed for hours in the middle of the day, so stock up with water if you want to survive the mid-day heat. The European quarter is a lot nicer, but being on a budget I couldn't really appreciate it. And I couldn't understand which people would spend so much money to visit here. I would take my money to Kenya, Ethiopia or Tanzania and spend time visiting beautiful monuments, great national parks or superb beaches. I really don't know what Djibouti had. Some people took the chance to go diving with Whale Sharks or visit nearby Lac Assal, the lowest point in Africa. But I couldn't justify the prices of these trips so I remained in the City. The City itself is pretty spread out and there are relatively few useful shops, i.e. internet cafés and restaurants, in some areas, and you'll have to walk for a while, in the heat, before finding any, as there is little public transport and taxis are ridiculously expensive. On the plus side, unlike some nearby countries, the ATMs here do accept foreign cards.

      The people I met were also a little crazy about religion. Every time I sat down for a drink it wouldn't be long before 3 or so men would sit with me and go on about Islam, their wives and women's roles, homosexuals and problems with other religions, but granted this is a problem all over Africa. Yet in the same breath they'd try to get me to help them come back to the UK. They'd all sit down, well the men at least, and chew the qat leaves, a disgusting little drug that acts like mild cocaine, and that was how 95% of men would spend 95% of their days. Also, due to the religion, it's hard (not impossible though) to find alcohol, and therefore there is absolutely no nightlife to speak of, nor casinos, nor any interaction with women.

      Onward overland travel is pretty tough. The train to Addis in Ethiopia, last time I checked, has been stopped for maintenance, expect a 2 day journey to any sizeable town in Eritrea and the trip into Somalia is a grim 24 hours on sand, don't expect roads. Alternatively you can get a boat to Yemen, but this is a gruelling process. No one seemed to know what was going on with the boats and weren't willing to help a great deal. It was only when I refused to leave did they put me on a small wooden boat and let me take the journey. However there is an airport, which is, if you're willing to pay incredibly large sums for a relatively short distance.

      I generally like to get 'off the beaten track' to use a cliché, and find some new exciting places where there are no touts or tours. But I find in Djibouti's case the tourists have been right to avoid it. Ridiculous prices + horrible city + nothing to do = a trip to Djibouti.

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