Somalia (Somali: Soomaaliya; Arabic: الصومال aṣ-Ṣūmāl) is a country on the Horn of Africa. Once the centre of many powerful sultanates and an Italian colony, the country has been in a state of chaos and turmoil since the 1980s. The country suffers from a myriad of social problems such as warfare, terrorism, corruption, political instability, and general lawlessness, and it isn't exactly your typical family destination.
However, under less extreme circumstances, this country has a lot to offer to the adventurous, thrill-seeking traveller. There are a number of historical sites, beaches, waterfalls, mountain ranges, and national parks. The Somalis are generally very friendly and down-to-earth, and they are happy with what they have. Tourists might find themselves being treated like celebrities here; in fact, they might be showered with a lot of hospitality and care, even if they unintentionally make a few cultural blunders.
Since 2012, the situation is gradually getting better and the country is seeing some form of political stability, but the country is still too volatile for travel. Some have been brave enough to enter and leave without incident, but anything can happen in this volatile country.
You should not travel to Somalia if you are not experienced in dealing with highly unpredictable situations.
|Currency||Somali shilling (SOS)|
|Population||11 million (2017)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug)|
|Time zone||UTC+03:00, Africa/Mogadishu|
|Emergencies||999 (fire department), 888 (police), 555 (emergency medical services)|
|edit on Wikidata|
The history of the Somali people dates back many centuries. The first time the word Somali was mentioned in a history book was 3,500 years ago, when the queen of Egypt Hatshepsut sent a fleet of 5 large ships and a crew of 250 men to Somalia which the Egyptians called The Land of Punt. Punt means “the land of spices” from the aromatic plants that grow there. The Egyptians wanted to trade and they brought jewels and glass beads that they exchanged for gold, elephant tusks, myrrh, ostrich feathers, spices and different beads. Some of these items, especially the aromatic ones, were used by the Egyptians in their religious festivals and celebrations.
Between the 7th and 9th centuries, immigrant Muslim Arabs and Persians established trading posts along the Somali coast. Over the next two centuries, a string of trading empires arose along the northeast coast.
In the 14th century, Ibn Battuta, the great Berber traveller, visited Mogadishu and wrote about the people, their food and clothing and how they ruled themselves. In his book he mentioned that the people in the city were very fat and everybody ate as much as they could. The Mogadishans wore very nice white clothes and turbans and their sultan was very powerful.
Somalia was an unknown country for European explorers until the Portuguese explorers reached the coastal cities of Somalia on their way to India. They called it Terra Incognita, which means an unknown land. These new discoveries encouraged many other European navigators to sail on the Somali coasts.
Darawiish sultanate of Diiriye Guure
British, Italian and French imperialism all played an active role in the region in the 19th century. In 1884 at the European powers' conference in Berlin, Somalia was divided into five parts to dilute the homogeneity imposed by its language, religion, and ethnicity.
The colonial powers divided Somalia into British Somaliland in the north, Italian Somalia in the south, the French Somali coast in Djibouti, Ogaden or Huwan in the west and the Northern Frontier District of Kenya (NFD). In the late 19th century a Dhulbahante sultanate called the Dervish State or Darawiish Sultanate of Diiriye Guure in the Khatumo region emerged in 1895 with Diiriye Guure remaining as Somalia's sole extant independent king. Its sultan was Diiriye Guure who established a government called xarunta or haroun and whose elite were called Shiikhyaale, Dooxato, Golaweyne, and Miinanle. Its initial capital was in Xalin, Sool, whilst its latter capital was Taleex. In 1901 the fighting started between British and local Darawiish forces which culminated in 1920 in the air raids against the Dhulbahante garesas (forts).
In 1969, General Siad Barre seized power in a coup d'état, and the country was under a military government when the previous president was assassinated. The military government established large-scale public works programs and successfully implemented an urban and rural literacy campaign, which helped dramatically increase the literacy rate. In addition to a nationalization program of industry and land, the new regime's foreign policy placed an emphasis on Somalia's traditional and religious links with the Arab world, eventually joining the Arab League in 1974. Somalia's initial friendship with the Soviet Union and later partnership with the United States enabled it to build the largest army in Africa. However, this ended in a complete collapse in the 1980s when the Somali people became disillusioned with the government. The government was weakened further as the Cold War drew to a close and Somalia's strategic importance was diminished.
As a result, General Barre was ousted and a civil war started in 1991 since the apparent independence of Somaliland, and the Barre government's massacres against the people of Somaliland. Since then, life has grown tough for many Somalis, who began to leave the country in large numbers to settle in safer parts of the world.
There has been somewhat increased security, as Al Shabaab, the Islamist opposition to the current regime of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has been pushed out of major cities in the south of the country and reduced to guerrilla warfare. However, spectacular terrorist attacks still occur in Mogadishu and government troops have been accused of committing widespread rapes with impunity, so with the exception of northern regions such as Puntland and Somaliland, Somalia should still be considered a dangerous place and not appropriate for tourism.
Somalia is principally desert. Major climatic factors are a year-round hot climate, seasonal monsoon winds, and irregular rainfall with recurring droughts. Mean daily maximum temperatures range from 30°C to 40°C (85–105°F), except at higher elevations and along the east coast. Mean daily minimums usually vary from about 15°C to 30°C (60–85°F). The southwest monsoon, a sea breeze, makes the period from about May to October the mildest season at Mogadishu. The December-February period of the northeast monsoon is also relatively mild, although prevailing climatic conditions in Mogadishu are rarely pleasant. The "tangambili" periods that intervene between the two monsoons (October–November and March–May) are hot and humid.
|Southern Somalia |
Home to the capital Mogadishu and the majority of the fighting.
The central portion of the country, around the Galguduud and Mudug regions.
A historic, autonomous region on the Horn with long standing tribal leadership system.
The independent northern region, which has a functioning government and a minuscule tourist sector and similar to Puntland with tribal governership.
Possibly Somalia's most dangerous region, much of it is under control of Al-Shabaab.
- 3 Mogadishu – A major port city, varied and thriving commerce, the national capital, and generally the preeminent metropolitan city in Somalia.
- 4 Kismayo – Gedo Region's most important port city.
Khatumo / Maakhir
- 5 Las Khorey – an ancient port city in Khatumo / Maakhir
- 6 Taleh – former capital of Diiriye Guure, the only non-emperor African king to militarily maintain his independence throughout the Scramble for Africa period.
- 7 Hargeisa – the capital of Somaliland and, by Somali standards, a fairly safe place.
- 8 Berbera- The safest place for beach getaways in northern Somalia.
Foreigners and overseas Somalis will need a visa. This can be arranged in three ways:
- The Somali embassy in your home country can easily arrange it for US$40-50.
- Visa on arrival: if you have the right documents, you can easily get a visa on arrival; the whole process takes about 40 minutes.
- The best and most secure way is to arrange your whole journey through a local luxury hotel, which will arrange everything from visa processing, picking you up from the airport, providing protection, sightseeing, and everything you need.
Plane travel may be problematic to and from Somalia, due to bombings of the airports by Ethiopian forces. However, air may be the safest means of travel to and from Somalia.
The most reliable way to get in seems to be with African Express Airways, which has connections in Dubai, Nairobi, and other smaller Middle Eastern and East African ports of call. Tickets can be reserved in advance, but not purchased unless you are at their ticketing office - check back in to ensure you have a seat reserved if you will not be in the city you fly out of before your flight!
- African Express Airways is a Kenyan airline that flies to/from Berbera, Bossaso, Galkacyo and Mogadishu primarily from Nairobi and Dubai, but also less frequently from smaller locations such as Sharjah, Entebbe or Jeddah. Major routes use MD-82 jets, shorter hops may be on a DC-9 or 120-ER.
- Jubba Airways is a Somali airline that operates from Mogadishu to/from: Dubai, Bossaso and Jeddah. Flights also may be available to/from: Galkayo, Hargeisa and Sharjah. They use a Soviet-made Ilyushin-18 aircraft. They are the only airline to/from Somalia that accepts online booking reservations, but confirm with them 7 days in advance before flying.
- Daallo Airlines, the national carrier of Djibouti. 2-3 services per week from Djibouti also using an Ilyushin-18 aircraft.
Flights arrive at Aden Abdulle International Airport (MGQ IATA, formerly Mogadishu International Airport), a few kilometers southwest of the center of Mogadishu. The airport is on the Indian Ocean beach, and the Turkish government has put up funds to renovate the airport and its security, control tower, and navigational systems. Passenger flights are operating.
There are 100 flights every day to and from MGQ airport in Mogadishu as of 2016.
Don't travel to Somalia through driving by car. Though this may be possible if you wish to cross into Somaliland, borders are generally sealed, and always dangerous.
Armed robbery and killings are common on buses in Somalia including Somaliland. However, it is possible, and relatively safe for you to take a series of buses and/or shared cars from Ethiopia into Somaliland.
To leave via the same route, you will need a multiple-entry Ethiopian visa (- no longer true as Ethiopian visas can be obtained at the Ethiopian Trade Mission in Hargeisa). These are not issued at the airport and must be received in advance of your journey. Somaliland requires a visa as well (see the "Getting In" section on its page for more details).
From Djibouti, 4x4s leave from Avenue 26 in Djibouti City every afternoon at around 17:00 and drive across the desert through the night to reach Hargeisa around 08:00 the next day.
As noted above, the borders around the rest of the former Somalia are closed and extremely dangerous.
Somalia was without an effective government for 17 years; this has had a negative effect on the roads and transit. There are two different modes of public transportation that you can use in Somalia: buses and taxis. The common rule of the road that seems to still be in force is that Somalis generally drive on the right.
Liido Beach and Gezira Beach near Mogadishu are very beautiful. Families usually go on weekends. Women must swim fully clothed, but resort investors provide a special place for couples, as Somalia is a Muslim country, and does not permit women to show much of their bodies or to mingle with men. Although improvements have been made, caution is advised.
It is not clear as what the situation is now. In other circumstances, the beach would make for an ideal destination; however, the general threat of banditry and piracy along the coast make this, along with every other option in the country, risky, and caution is usually advised.
Visit some of the Dhulbahante garesas built during the era of Darawiish sultan Diiriye Guure, including:
- Taleh Dhulbahante garesa
- Las Anod Dhulbahante garesa
In Mogadishu, security guards must accompany foreigners. Do not go alone if you are a foreign tourist.
- Old Shanghai City
- Liido Beach, Mogadishu
- Mogadishu Governor's House
- Mogadishu Fish Market
- Gezira Beach
- Mogadishu Fruit Market
- Gezira Livestock Market
- Bakara Market
- Black Hawk down crash site
- Liido Marine Life Academy
Somali is the mother tongue of the Somali people, the nation's most populous ethnic group, and Arabic is a secondary language for most people. Like Arabic, Somali is an Afro-Asiatic language and it has plenty of loanwords from Persian and Arabic (e.g. albab-ka (door) is from Arabic).
Somali uses the same exact alphabet as English, however, some letters are pronounced differently. For instance, x is pronounced as "ch" as in "loch", and g is usually pronounced as "g" as in "gargle". Some diphthongs (e.g. "sh") found in English are actually a part of the Somali alphabet.
Any attempts to learn or speak Somali will be warmly received by the locals since very few people make the effort to learn it. As a matter of fact, you're more likely to get a lot of respect from the locals by using more of Somali than Arabic.
English is the most widely taught foreign language in Somali schools and many Somali universities conduct classes in English. Somalis have a distinct way of speaking English and it may be tough to understand at first. You should not have problems getting around using only English, but the downside of speaking English is that you'll immediately be identified as an outsider and may attract unwanted attention from some people.
Although Somalia was once an Italian colony, the use of Italian has diminished drastically since independence. Very few people (apart from the elderly and the well-educated) nowadays speak Italian.
Exchange rates for Somali shilling
As of January 2022:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The currency used in Somalia (except Somaliland) is the Somali shilling (shilin), denoted by the symbol Sh.So., or in Arabic, شلن. The ISO currency code is SOS. Only the SOS1000 note is used, and doesn't go far... a glass of (unpotable) water will cost SOS1000. Exchange rates are extremely volatile and in March 2017, US$1 on the free market rate would get you Sh.So. 25,000. Much more useful are goods with which you could barter.
The Bakaara Market (Somali: Suuqa Bakaaraha) is a Mogadishu open market and the largest in Somalia. Bakaara Market is in the heart of Mogadishu. The market was created in late 1972 during the reign of Siad Barre. Proprietors sold and still sell daily essentials (including staples such as maize, sorghum, beans, peanuts, sesame, wheat and rice), petrol and medicine. Despite a new Coalition government taking control, Somali markets continue to operate largely in the absence of regulations. A wide array of weaponry is also sold, with guns sometimes being the only thing for sale at some markets. 80% of Somali males own a weapon. Be very cautious, as customers will often test their new weapons by firing into the air. In the markets, an automatic rifle is usually available for purchase for around Sh.So.1,000,000 or USD30. even if you think it is macho, don't buy one. You are a lot more likely to use a weapon if you have it, and this would be seen as very bad in the eyes of the law, and could lead to your execution.
There are many things to buy here but be wary of cheap pearls as they may not be real. There are many good tailors in Somalia and it is a good place to have clothes made to measure and copied.
Somali meals are meat driven, vegetarianism is relatively rare. Goat, beef, lamb and sometimes chicken is fried in ghee, or grilled or broiled. It is spiced with turmeric, coriander, cumin and curry and eaten with basmati rice for lunch, dinner and sometimes breakfast.
Vegetables appear to largely be side dishes, and often are woven into a meat dish, such as combining potatoes, carrots and peas with meat and making a stew. Green peppers, spinach and garlic are among the most commonly eaten vegetables. Bananas, dates, apples, oranges, pears and grapes are among some of the more popular fruits (a raw, sliced banana is often eaten with rice). Somalia has a much larger selection of fruits - like mango and guava - from which they would make fresh juice. Somali stores, therefore, carry among the widest selection of fruit juices in the various cities where Somali emigrants live, both Kern's juices as well as imports from India and Canada. And there is also a selection of instant juice: frozen or available as a powder.
The overriding characteristic of the Somali diet is that it consists of halal foods (Arabic for "allowable" as opposed to haram: "prohibited"). Somalis are Muslims and under Islamic Law (or Shar'1ah), pork and alcohol are not allowed.
Other common foods include a type of homemade bread called canjeero/laxoox (like a large, spongy pancake) and sambusas (like the Indian samosas), which are deep-fried triangular-shaped pastries filled with meat or vegetables.
The cuisine of Somalia varies from region to region and consists of a mixture of native Somali, Yemeni, Persian, Turkish, Indian and Italian influences. It is the product of Somalia's rich tradition of trade and commerce. Despite the variety, there remains one thing that unites the various regional cuisines: all food is served halal.
Somalis adore spiced tea. A minority of Somalis drink a tea similar to Turkish tea which they brought from Middle eastern countries to their homeland. However, the majority drink a traditional and cultural tea known as shah hawaash because it is made of cardamom (in Somali, xawaash or hayle) and cinnamon bark (in Somali, qoronfil).
Islam forbids alcohol and Somalia follows this rather strictly. If you do find some, don't show it or drink it in public, as there's a strong chance that you could offend and be fined. Abdalla Nuradin Bar offers alcohol for foreign tourists.
As for the coffee (kahwa), try miraa, made in the Somali style. Sometimes spiced with cardamom, it's strong and tastes great, particularly drunk with fresh dates. Tea (chai) usually comes with dollops of sugar and perhaps a few mint leaves (na'ana).
There are not many opportunities to work for foreigners, beyond working for NGOs or similar organizations.
Notably the telecommunications industry has been booming, and it has managed to get foreign investments to come into the country. The telecommunications industry has benefited from its ability to provide services, such as money transfers, that had greatly suffered from the war.
Las Anod and Hargeisa are among the safest cities in what is nominally Somalia. They are quite well-guarded and welcome foreigners more than any other places in Somalia. If you're planning to go to Somalia, it's better to go to Somaliland or perhaps Puntland instead of southern cities. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the easiest method for staying safe in Somalia is not to go in the first place. Kidnappings, armed clashes, piracy, and warlording are not as common in Somalia as before, but do not let that give you peace of mind. In June 2016, at least 15 tourists were killed in a hotel attack in Mogadishu.
A federal government was established in 2012. This government is fighting a military campaign against radical al-Qaeda backed insurgents based in rural areas, with the support of an African Union peacekeeping force. Other entities rule other parts of Somalia, though: Somaliland and Puntland are essentially separate countries, as well as Ximan in the middle and a Kenyan-installed state in the south called "Azania". Pirates may control various coastal towns. Be wary of areas where you see armed men, or from where you hear gunfire or explosions. They might be soldiers, but not always. Somali insurgents also launch mortar attacks onto civilian population centres and government compounds. Somali government forces have also launched artillery attacks against insurgents positioned in urban areas, which have resulted in civilian casualties. Keep in mind that shells could start raining down at any moment, especially if there are any signs of fighting nearby, and that you will have seconds to start running or take cover if you hear the tell-tale sound of an incoming shell. For more information, see War zone safety.
Also, be wary of violent crime. Although the Somali government has established a police force, it is still developing, and crime rates are still high. Be aware that there are warlords and criminals in Somalia who will try to kidnap a foreigner and hold him or her for ransom. While arranging your trip, it is advisable to request that you be accompanied by hired Somali armed escorts, or bring along bodyguards.
Driving is on the right. While Somali drivers have something of a reputation for bad driving, the reality is slightly more nuanced. Risks are taken, particularly in Mogadishu, which would not normally be taken in other places, but the locals expect this to happen and compensate accordingly.
As of 2014, nine nations had embassies in Mogadishu: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Iran, Italy, Libya, Sudan, Turkey, Uganda, the United Kingdom and Yemen with six more nations planning to re-open their embassies soon. However, there are no embassies in Hargeisa; therefore, in most cases, no representative of your home government will be able to assist you if you get in trouble in Somaliland. The closest consular services for most countries are in neighboring Djibouti, Ethiopia, or Kenya, and further afield in Sudan and Egypt.
Water is mostly contaminated in certain parts of Somalia. Stick to sealed, preferably non-Somali, bottled fluids. Do not drink out of wells. Most are filled with harmful bacteria that most foreigners are unaccustomed to. Your guide will provide you with food and water.
Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.
If you're planning to travel to Somalia during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.
If you're dining with a Somali, don't expose the bottoms of your feet to them. Don't eat with your left hand either, since the left hand is seen as the 'unclean hand'. Similarly, don't attempt to shake hands or hand a package with your left hand.
If your Somali friend insists on buying you something - a meal or a gift - let them! Somalis are extremely hospitable, and typically there are no strings attached. It is generally a custom to argue for the bill.
Staring is quite common in Somalia; children, men and women are likely to stare at you simply for being a foreigner, especially if you travel off-season and in out-of-the-way places. This is not meant as an insult; it rather shows an interest, and a friendly smile will leave the kids giggling and showing off, and the adults happily trying out their few English phrases.
It is absolutely acceptable for any nationality to wear traditional Somali clothes.
This is a Muslim country, which means appropriate mannerisms are expected out of you.
- Be sensitive about where you point your camera. There are many great photo opportunities around every corner (the question is usually what to leave out of each image), but when photographing people, always ask first. Don't ever, ever try to take pictures of women or girls without consent, even if you're a woman yourself. This is considered a great offense and can even result in more than a few harsh words. Also don't try to take pictures of anything that looks as if it could be of any strategic importance (i.e., has at least one soldier, policeman or, more likely, armed militiaman guarding it).
- Respect the Islamic beliefs of Somali people; women shouldn't wear tube tops or skimpy outfits.
- Do not eat in public during the holy month of Ramadan. The Al-Shabab Islamist militia can be found in many inhabited areas. They absolutely do not take kindly to any kind of violation of Sharia law, and as they are not affiliated with any kind of government, they do not have to abide by any kind of laws except their own. They will feel free to punish any aberrant behavior any way they please, often by floggings, amputations, or even executions.
- Religion is a huge deal to many Somali people. As such, you should never discuss religion from an agnostic or similar point of view. Even highly-educated Somalis won't appreciate it.
- The Islamic "call to prayer" happens five times daily and can be heard loudly almost everywhere you go. If you aren't Muslim, it is not expected for you to participate, but you should always sit quietly and respectfully until the prayers end.
Men wear trousers or a flowing skirt locally called, among other words, 'macawi' and shawls. On their heads they may wrap a colourful turban or wear a koofiyad (embroidered cap).
Due to its Islamic heritage, many Somalis wear long dresses known in the Arab and Islamic worlds as khameez/thobe. Many men in Somalia choose to wear suits and ties to look more modern. This western dress code is dominant amongst members of the Somali upper class and the government.
Homosexuality is absolutely unacceptable. It is common for Somali men to walk hand in hand as a sign of friendship, but it would be unwise for Western men to attempt the same. Sharing a hotel room as a way of cutting costs is normal, but don't even think about asking for one bed for two.
Women usually wear one of the following dress: Direh, a long, billowing dress worn over petticoats; coantino, a four-yard cloth tied over shoulder and draped around the waist. They also wear an abaya, a long and loose black robe.
The public telecommunications system was almost completely destroyed or dismantled by the civil war factions. Local cellular telephone systems have been established in Mogadishu and in several other population centres. International connections are available from Mogadishu by satellite. International outgoing connections also work from the cellular infrastructure. There is dialup internet access in Mogadishu, by visiting one of the internet cafés. Somalia has the cheapest cellular calling rates on the continent, with some companies charging less than the equivalent of one US cent per minute. Competing phone companies have agreed on interconnection standards, which were brokered by the United Nations funded Somali Telecom Association.
Wireless service and Internet cafés are available, but do remember that the .so domain is not operating in Somalia right now.
- GSM Cellular Operators in Somalia
- Somafone (GPRS 2G network)
- Hormuud Telecom
- Telsom Mobile
- Golis Telecom Somalia