TRAVEL | Djibouti, All about the ocean
The weekend begins early evening on a Thursday and ends on a Saturday night in Djibouti. A plethora of army bases setting up camp and new investments in infrastructure from Asia and the Middle East have put the spotlight on this country of less than a million citizens. Beneath the unassuming exterior, its blossoming tourism sector is a diamond in the dust. With its white sands, natural sites and lively nightlife Djibouti has the potential to emerge as a major tourist destination in the coming decades.
As workers leave their offices and young people stream out of the only university in the country, shisha rooms and bars fill up with those looking to get the weekend off to an early start. At La Chaumière, on rue de Foucauld, cocktails cost between 2,000 and 3,000 Djiboutian francs ($11-$16). For food, grab chicken fillets, wings and burgers at Joe’s Wings, a small fast food joint on Avenue 13 established by an American and his local partner in 2017.
Get on a boat at the old port of Djibouti for a 45-minute ride at sunset across the Gulf of Tadjoura to Village Les Sables Blancs. The holiday village is situated between the sea and the mountains beside the port town of Tadjoura, which is the oldest settlement in the country. Boats charter up to six people and cost around 20,000 Djiboutian francs. There is a breathtaking view of the ocean from the beachside restaurant, and you can go snorkelling, fishing or whale shark spotting. A mountain road snakes back into town. A stack of solar panels at one end of the resort keeps the place powered all day and all night long.
Party hard on the beachfront under the stars and bask in the warmth till long after midnight.
Get going early to see the crystalline splendour of Lake Assal, some 100km west of Djibouti city, or two hours by road. At 150m below sea level the lake is the lowest point in Africa and the third lowest in the world, after the Dead Sea and Sea of Galilee. It is a glorious spectacle of nature. Float in the saturated saltwater and pick some of the crystals on the shore as souvenirs. Nearby are hot springs with a greenish tint; friends and lovers can eat and recline at this breezy spot for a brief rest before heading back to Djibouti city. Or, if you want to combine the high with the low, carry on for another hour’s drive towards Tadjoura to visit Day Forest National Park. Surrounded by the Goda Mountains, this is the largest forest in the mainly semi-desert country. Should luck be on your side, you might catch a glimpse of one of the few hundred remaining Djibouti francolin birds, a critically endangered species unique to the country.
Savour the last streaks of daylight on the rooftop of La Terrasse restaurant, aptly situated on rue d’Ethiopie. Here you can sample harira, a thick soup full of meat, tomatoes, lentils and spices, or injera, the popular Ethiopian flatbread. With all that coastline, fresh fish is abundant, and is delicious cooked Yemen-style: halved and flame-grilled in a clay oven. Taste this delicacy from across the Gulf of Aden at one of the many Yemenite restaurants, such as Moukbasa National on Avenue 13.
If you’re looking to party into the night, dash into Club Menelik, the buzzing nightclub of the eponymous hotel in the central district. Even at midnight on a Monday, the dancefloor is full of people swinging to Nigerian and French pop hits.
Spend the morning playing (or watching) kids from Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen playing football along the banks of the Gulf of Aden. From noon you will also see almost the entire population chewing khat, which is delivered daily from Ethiopia. Or behold the myriad underwater species native to the Red Sea – without getting your feet wet – at the Aquarium Tropical de Djibouti in the old city centre, one of the most visited tourist sites in the Horn of Africa.
Indulge in a French affair by lunching at the upscale Café de la Gare, which serves its food fresh and in good time too. Or try La Mer Rouge, close to the airport – you may run into military personnel, dining as civilians for a seafood lunch.
From the April 2018 print edition