Somaliland is memorable not so much for any individual sightseeing opportunities, but for its capacity, by turns rewarding and frustrating, to make visitors experience it entirely on its own terms.
Somaliland is one of the world’s least-charted travel destinations. A peaceful self-governing democracy in the otherwise tempestuous Horn of Africa, it seceded from the rest of Somalia more than 20 years ago. And yet so far as the United Nations and African Union are concerned, it simply doesn’t exist – indeed, when Somaliland celebrated its 20th anniversary in May 2011, it did so alone and unrecognised by the outside world.
Yet this ancient arid land has much to offer the intrepid traveller. Lapped by the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Aden, its timeworn ports evoke an obscure history of maritime trade stretching back to Pharaonic times. Above the coast stands the remote and unexpectedly chilly Daallo Escarpment, where glades of aromatic junipers, other worldly dragon’s blood succulents, and frankincense-bearing Boswellia trees overlook the shimmering shoreline 2,000 metres below.
Inland are vast empty badlands populated by a thin scattering of desert nomads, domestic camels and wild antelope, and studded with mediaeval Islamic ruins, mysterious stone tumuli, and ancient rock art sites. The most spectacular of these is Las Geel, whose multi-coloured panels depict the cattle-herding lifestyle of artists who trod these desert sands more than 5,000 years ago
Somaliland is not, as yet, a normally functional tourist destination. Facilities fall somewhere between low-key and non-existent, and several key attractions are difficult to reach affordably, or at all. But for flexible travellers imbued with a spirit of adventure, it offers the sort of non-prescribed travel experience one might expect of a breakaway state that remain unrecognised outside its own borders!
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Somaliland is a unique, strange and intriguing place that is seemingly worlds away from its Somali neighbours.