Djibouti is in East Africa, bordered by Eritrea to the north, Ethiopia to the west and south, and Somalia to the southeast. The Gulf of Aden lies to the east. The country can be divided into three regions; the coastal plain and volcanic plateaus in the central and southern parts of the country and the mountain ranges in the north. Much of the country is vast wasteland with virtually no arable land.
Djibouti's climate is very hot, humid and arid, especially in the summer. The summer heat is moderated, however, by a sustained breeze in the coastal city of Djibouti. From October to April, the temperature is cooler, with occasional rain. Cyclones from the Indian Ocean create heavy rains and flash flooding.
Visas are required by most nationals. Those travelling on French and Singaporean passports can get a visa on arrival for 5,000 DJF, valid for one month. Transit visas are valid for 10 days and are available on arrival at the airport to nationals of the European Union, Scandinavian countries and the USA for 10.000 FDJ (about US$55). If you plan to enter by land you have to arrange for visas in advance. Visas can be obtained from neighbouring countries and where no Djibouti embassy exists, they can often be obtained from the French embassy. The types of visas include: Entry (visa de séjour); Tourist (visa de tourisme); Business (visa d’affaires); and Transit (visa de transit).
Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport (JIB) connects Djibouti with Paris and London in Europe. It also has flights to Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Puntland, Somaliland, Tanzania, Egypt, Madagascar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen. Djibouti-based Daallo Airlines (D3) (website: www.daallo.com) operates flights to Paris and services to Ethiopia, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and Somalia. The airport is 5km (3 miles) south of the city.
There is a railway between Djibouti City and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, renovated in 2004. It is a journey of more than 700km that takes around 24 hours, with a stop about halfway in Dire Dawa. Reservations are strongly recommended. The Djibouti–Ethiopian Railway operates regular trains between Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa with one train daily connecting with Djibouti; in theory, tourists and businesspeople can use this service (for which they should book first-class tickets only), but it is not recommended as trains are fairly unreliable.
There are roads from Djibouti to Assab (Eritrea) and going west into Ethiopia via Dikhil. Travelers using them should be aware that road conditions are generally poor and personal security might be at risk when traveling – particularly to Ethiopia. Visitors are advised to check transit regulations as political conditions in Ethiopia and Eritrea are changeable. Currently, there are no problems with traveling to Eritrea and no formal border posts. Four-wheel-drive vehicles are recommended for the interior. There is a new highway from Djibouti to Tadjoura. Traffic drives on the right. It is advisable to carry water and petrol on any expedition off main routes. An International Driving Permit is recommended, although not legally required. A temporary license to drive is available from local authorities on presentation of a valid British or Northern Ireland driving license.
Buses operate from Djibouti to most towns and villages throughout the country. Buses leave when they are full. A minibus service operates in Djibouti, stopping on demand. A flat-fare system is used.
There are ferry services connecting Djibouti to Yemen. Djibouti City is one of the main ports of eastern Africa so it's well traficked.
Taxis are available in Djibouti and from the airport to the town; also in Ali-Sabieh, Dikhil, Dorale and Arta. Fares can increase by 50 percent after dark.
Bicycling is a great way to get around the small capital.
Ferry services sail daily from L'Escale (Djibouti) to Tadjoura and Obock. The journey takes about three hours.
Although French and Arabic are the official languages, Somali and Afar are widely spoken. English may be spoken at tourist facilities, but is not widely spoken by locals or taxi drivers.
Khat: A leafy narcotic popular with the locals. The stimulant is flown into the country each morning from Ethiopia and arrives by truck in Djibouti's Central Market at about 1 p.m. It is fairly inexpensive, but quality varies greatly, so shop with caution. Khat may not be taken out of Djibouti through the airport.
The currency of Djibouti is the Djiboutian Franc (DJF). As of January 2010, 1 USD = 158.5 DJF, 1 EUR = 223.79 DJF, and 1 GBP = 258.4 DJF.
May 2010: Conversion between DJF and USD is fairly stable as the DJF is tied to the dollar. You can convert dollars to francs with local street money changers located in the Djiboutian market area for 175 DJF to $1 USD. The street money changers are ladies who line the street waiting to convert USD to DJF. They are generally honest brokers. Have your calculator ready and make sure to ask in advance what the conversion rate is, if they quote you anything less than 175 go to another broker. Most all of them speak a little English.
You can purchase general merchandise and food items at the larger department stores using USD and they will use the 175 conversion rate. The tourist traps will obviously see you coming a mile away and hit you with ridiculous conversion rates as well as their tourist prices. If you have access to Camp Lemonnier, go to the disbursement office for the best rate at 177.
These rates have not changed since July 2009.
The city of Djibouti has many places to eat to include tourist traps. If you are interested in western cuisine, be prepared for sticker shock. If you are interested in good local cuisine, then you and your pocket book will be happier for the experience. For example, the Ethiopian Community Center offers a wide variety of local flares which are very tasty (safe) and reasonably priced. Best to avoid places that the tourists hang out at, and you will be happier for the experience. Average price per meal outside of a tourist trap: $4 including drink.
Located on a peninsula, the Djibouti Sheraton is a beachfront resort, with its own beach club on a private island. The hotel offers a range of recreational activities including snorkeling, windsurfing, water skiing, biking, volleyball and other beach sports at the Sheraton Beach Club.
A little north of downtown Djibouti, the Djibouti Palace Kempinski opened in November 2006 to host a regional summit. Funded by Dubai's Nakheel investment group, the Kempinski offers security, high-class service, immaculate facilities, and serene views of the Gulf of Tadjoura. Very expensive.
Natural hazards include earthquakes and droughts. Occasional cyclonic disturbances from the Indian Ocean bring heavy rains and flash floods.
Visitors should be aware of the risk of banditry if traveling outside the capital city.
Health insurance is advisable. Doctors and hospitals may expect immediate cash payment for any medical treatment. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required from travelers over one year of age coming from infected areas. Cholera is also a serious risk and precautions are essential. Up-to-date advice should be sought before deciding if these precautions should include vaccination as medical opinion is divided over its effectiveness. Typhoid immunization is usually advised. Malaria risk, predominantly in the malignant falciparum form, exists year round. Resistance to chloroquine has been reported. Mefloquine, doxycycline or atovaquone/proguanil are recommended.
The adult HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is currently over 3% or 1 in 33 adults. Protect yourself.
Casual wear is widely acceptable, but visitors are reminded that Djibouti is a Muslim country and certain codes of behavior should be observed. Shorts are generally not appropriate outside of hotels, beaches, or sport activities.
The 13th French Foreign Legion Demi-Brigadeis (13ème DBLE), permanently stationed in Djibouti, consists of about 800 men. They can be contacted by the following address:
adresse postale 13ème DBLE - Djibouti Quartier MONCLAR SP 85030 00815 ARMEES
There is also a 2,000 person plus U.S. military presence in Djibouti, located at Camp Lemonier across the runway from the international airport.