We traveled at the end of December because it’s always awesome to celebrate Neba's birthday out of the city; and for most of our friends, and the world, it's also New Year, so double reasons to travel. Ever since the train service started, we had thought of traveling to Djibouti. So, set our date for December 29, as the train goes to Djibouti on odd days and comes back to Addis on even days.
Visa wasn’t very complicated, even though we had several different passports, which included Ethiopian, German, Czech Republic, and Zimbabwe. The difficult part was getting an invitation letter or Hotel confirmation letter. The hotel we picked was kind enough to send us a stamped confirmation letter without requiring us to pay anything upfront.
The other requirement was a flight ticket or a train ticket. Flight booking don’t work, it had to be a purchased ticket, which was a bit scary, but apparently your visa is granted if you have a confirmed paper, paid fight or train ticket and of course 85 USD Visa fee (if you are Ethiopian or have resident in Ethiopia you can pay in birr).
„Plan your expences because Djibouti is quite expensive.”
We were very excited about the train since it was new and cross country, we bought our ticket, Addis to Djibouti, Djibouti – Diredawa since we wanted to explore some part of Ethiopia in our way back. On December 29, all 8 of us, went early morning to the train station to start the adventure.
Before we jump to the fun part I highly recommend you to research and plan your expenses because pretty much everything is expensive in Djibouti. So make sure you confirm your accommodation. As we were on a very tight budget we took our own tents and still paid 30 USD for 3 nights per person for the compound (there are no public places to camp). We bought a lot of food items that we can easily cook ourselves, and of course, some alcohol too, since it is very hard to find and expensive in Djibouti. So, we took a crate of beer and other different drinks. There were 8 of us, so we were able to carry a good amount of items between us. You should check how much you can carry and take with you before you travel.
So to the fun part. We started our 12 hours ride from Lebu station, the train wasn’t full so there was plenty of space to move around and free beds to sleep if needed. However, it seems like there are no rules regarding the sleeping area, so it was even louder than the sitting area.
One thing to remember is in the 12 hours ride there won’t be any stops for shopping or lunch and there is barley anything to buy and eat on the train. So make sure you pack enough food and snacks as you can.
Yes, 12 hours is long, but not so bad when you spend it with good company playing cards and watching movies. I can imagine it being extremely boring if I were alone, but it was a very smooth ride, so quite easy to spend the time reading a books, watch movies and sleeping comfortably. Keep in mind, the train is slow and will stop several times for different reasons and your arrival time can delay by up to 2 hours.
„They check how much cash you are caring. So, research how much cash you can carry before traveling.”
Getting to Djibouti, they check how much cash you are caring (make sure not to have much of Ethiopian birr even though you can use it in Djibouti) please research how much cash you can carry before traveling. You will spend 11 hours of the ride in Ethiopian territory and 1 hour in Djibouti. Once we arrived at the station, it was all smooth. Our friend was waiting for us with two cars to pick us up, so we already felt at home right there. A friend we mate for only a few hours in Addis. She is the hero of our trip.
After we set up our tents, we went out for dinner at this nice restaurant called ‘Moonlight’ just by the refreshing sea. It is basically all you need after the long train ride. Oh! The delicious dinner we had that night, I can’t forget how tasty it was. Those different platters of sea food and the fresh juices, Yum!
And remember when I mention Djibouti is expensive? Yes, the bill was 170USD (around 30,000 DJF). Well it was worth it and also shocking at the same time. Then we called a night by having couple of beers we had brought from Addis next to our tents.
The first thing we did when we woke the following morning, was to get ready to go to the beach. It is the one thing we don’t have access in Ethiopia and the main reason why we went to Djibouti in the first place. One of the beaches was just 5 min walk from our camping compound, so we walked there. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Some of us, jumped straight into the sea and police arrived immediately and that was the first one, we were told “no hugging between men and women while swimming”. That was something we should have taken into consideration. Djibouti is not strict as most other Muslim countries, but there are certain religions norms you will have to obey. Such as, no alcohol on streets and modest attire at the beach. Just google and be respectful of the culture. But honestly, I found the police in Djibouti to be very calm, reasonable and most easy going police I had ever came across.
The day continued by going to another beach which they claimed to be out town, but it was just like 30 min ride. On our way there, we ordered some takeaway sea-food pizza. It was hands down, the best pizza I have ever had. The day was concluded by watching the most beautiful sunset, relaxing and playing music.
For New Year’s eve, aka Neba’s birthday, we decided to go to the island Musak for the new year party but we thought we’d walk around the city in the morning, before heading out to the island. One of the first places we wanted to check out was ‘Minilik Hotel. Ethiopia and Djibouti, besides being neighbors, were once the same country. There are a lot of things we have in common so we wanted to see and experience the non-touristic side of Djibouti that the everyday Djiboutian would live. We walked quite a lot around the city and the market taking pictures, but surprise, the police showed up again. This time there was a language barrier, so the police that stopped us asked us to follow him to the station. It is normally quite a scary experience to be stopped by police in a foreign country, but these guys were very calm, offered us water and called in an Amharic speaker to explain to us, that they didn’t want us to take pictures of non-touristic areas of the city. They didn’t confiscate the camera or ask us to delete the photo we had already taken, but they didn’t want us to post them online. Although we found their concern and request to be unreasonable, we were quite moved by their politeness. This world would be a better place if all the police acted this way.
Before heading to the port for our ride to the island, we went for lunch. We had this weirdly amazing food, which was fish, banana, chocolate and honey. It was one of the most bizarre combinations for me, but also so delicious. Do you know why Djiboutian food is amazing? It’s because it’s a fusion between French food and Yemeni foods. Both amazing right?! After this culinary experience, we headed to the boat for our ride to the island.
The boat ride was a nice one hour trip while getting socked by this salty water. Arrived at the island just in time for a beautiful sunset. Obviously it was expensive to stay there, but still worth it. And we kicked off 2019 right there with lots of laughter, games, and fun.
I still can’t believe we only spent 4 days there. We had packed so many activities in those four days that it seemed like we were there for a month. In my honest opinion, I think Djibouti is one of the most underrated countries. It is an easy get-away to beautiful beaches, amazing seafood, and kind people who make your stay memorable.
We were seriously considering extending a bit more, but sadly we already had our ticket to Diredawa, a city where we planned to explore before going back to Addis, and had to say goodbye to Djibouti. We are so grateful for the humble hospitality of the Djiboutian people.
Stay tuned to hear about our Diredawa and Harar trip in an upcoming post.