A captivating range of little-visited sites await you in the minuscule, barely-known African state of Djibouti. Some are positively alien, like the moonscapes of Lac Abbé (set of Planet of the Apes), or the lowest point in all Africa at the salt lakes of Lac Assal. Nature lovers and adventure sportsmen will happen upon blissful riches, like snorkeling with whale sharks or sailing windsurfers with wheels.
Capital Djibouti City touts itself as ‘Dubai on the Red Sea’, and as a cosmopolitan city of cocktails bars and jostling businessmen, it lives up to the reputation more than you might expect. There are many beggars due to the poverty. The opulent status comes with a staggering cultural blend, influenced by European colonials, Arabic sensibilities and, of course, a strong sense of Africa. It also comes at a price: for Africa, Djibouti City is quite astoundingly expensive.
The Bay of Ghoubbet – home to those Whale Sharks – is Djibouti’s most attractive piece of countryside, surrounded by dark lava fields and with a spiky volcano part of the panoramic backdrop. If you’re a palm trees and white sand kind of traveler, the rugged, coral-formed Moucha Islands are a superb place to throw back a few beers, and take in the underwater sites with a spot of coral-ogling scuba diving.
When it comes to weather, Djibouti is a real fiery furnace, though there is one escape hatch: the misty northern peaks of the Goda Mountains, which make a great spot for bold hikers to explore.
While the politics of Djibouti are a satisfyingly stable exception to the African rule, earthquakes, droughts and flash floods are all risks worth keeping an eye out for. For those who want an exotic stamp on their passports, though, Djibouti is a chance to get it, and taste a luxury side of Africa alongside some exceptional natural sites, without much of the usual associated risk. Sun-bleached and desert-parched, Djibouti is a tiny, atypical corner of Africa laden with natural wonders.