Five Reasons Why Somaliland Should Be On Tourists Travel List For 2019

Although not having recieved recognised autonomous status by the rest of the world, Somaliland is a unique, strange and intriguing place that is seemingly worlds away from its Somali neighbours. It offers a wealth of historical architectural treasures, undisturbed rock art and a unique culture that continues to fascinate its visitors.

Visit Africaโ€™s greatest rock art site

Las Geel Somaliland by Ariadne Van Zandbergen Africa Image LibraryThe numerous figures at Las Geel are humpless cattle which are always painted in profile ยฉ Ariadne Van Zandbergen,ย Africa Image Library

The superb rock art atย Las Geelย is estimated to be at least 5,000 years old and remained virtually undiscovered until December 2002 when a team of French archaeologists under Professor Xavier Gutherz first documented it after being led here by villagers from nearby Dhubato. Comprising of about a dozen individual painted shelters scatteredย on a granitic outcrop that rises from the confluence of two wadis, it ranks among the oldest and best preserved of its type anywhere in Africa. Theย paintings have been preserved in situ by their sheltered location and by the dryย Somali climate, and they remain striking both for their vibrant colours and theirย rich complexity. Las Geel isย the most compelling tourist attraction in Somaliland, topping the Departmentย of Tourism & Architectureโ€™s list of potential UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Most panels include a combination of monochromaticย and polychromatic animal and human representations, with the most commonlyย used colours being red, black, white and yellow ochre. The most important shelter,ย on the southeast face of Las Geel, has an inclined ceiling where the almost 100m2ย surface is daubed with at least 350 individual paintings.

Barter for a camel in hectic Hargeisa

Hargeisa Somaliland by Ariadne Van Zandbergen Africa Image LibrarySomalia โ€“ including Somaliland โ€“ claims to have the worldโ€™s largest population of domestic camels ยฉ Ariadne Van Zandbergen,ย Africa Image Library

The whole of centralย Hargeisaย functions as a gigantic, partially coveredย market known locally as Soukha Shiraaqle (Tented Market) in reference to theย tarpaulin shelters that used to cover most of the stalls. Unlike in most Africanย capitals, the market sells little in the way of handicrafts or other items of specificย interest to travellers. The main town center has a sprawl of covered and open stalls, laden withย fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, packaged foods, local cloths and imported clothes,ย electronic goods, bricks of banknotes, and pretty much anything else you care toย mention.

Camels have long been a mainstay of the Somaliland economyย (they are exported from Berbera to all over the Gulf of Arabia) and the countryย is the worldโ€™s largest producer of camel milk. Camel milk is lower in fat thanย cowโ€™s milk, stays fresh for longer, and is rich in iron, potassium and severalย vitamins. The meat is also very healthy, being unusually low in cholesterol, making it a popular choice. As you can imagine, they are fairly expensive animals to buy, however, with a few bargaining skills you might be able to walk away with your own camel! If you dont have the money to splash out then you can always buy some of the milk or meat and still indulge in the true Somaliland experience.

Discover crumbling Ottoman ports

Somaliland by Ariadne Van Zandbergen Africa Image LibraryBerbera has been a centre of maritime trade since ancient times ยฉ Ariadne Van Zandbergen,ย Africa Image Library

Zeilaย andย Berberaย were captured by the Ottoman Empire in 1548, and remained under its nominalย rule for 300 years. As a result of the Ottoman rule, Berbera and Zelia have been left with a wealth of crumbling pre-20th century architectural gems โ€“ most in urgentย need of restoration work โ€“ that would make them a shoo-in candidate as a UNESCO Worldย Heritage Site were Somaliland ever to gain UN recognition.

Zeila is one of the oldest ports on the east African coast and is set on a narrow sandy mangrove-lined peninsula that protrudes into theย shallow island-studded waters of the Gulf of Aden, some 25km southeast of theย Djibouti border. Supporting a population of no more than 5,000, the port today isย overhung with an aura of sleepy isolation that belies an eventful history stretchingย back more than 2,000 years. The remains of the Ottoman empire are concentrated in the southwestern partย of town and, although some of them are now used as a rubbish dump, they are anย evocative reminder of the more prosperous times this town has known.

Hike through the pristine wilderness of the Daallo Escarpment

Daallo Forest Somaliland by Ariadne Van Zandbergen Africa Image LibraryThe Scenic Overlook of the Daallo Escarpment is set at an altitude of 2,133m ยฉ Ariadne Van Zandbergen,ย Africa Image Library

Theย Daallo Escarpmentย is a tall limestone and gypsum escarpment that rises dramatically from the low-lying coastal plain between Maydh and Bosaso. It is where glades of aromatic junipers, otherworldly dragonโ€™s blood succulents, and frankincense-bearingย Boswellia trees overlook a shimmering shoreline 2,000m below. Somalilandโ€™s foremost natural attraction โ€“ the Daallo forest โ€“ is situated here.ย Little known to outsiders and as yet undeveloped for tourism,ย Daallo is less than an hourโ€™s drive north of Erigavo, close to the base of Mountย Shimbiris, the highest point anywhere in Somalia. The main attractions of Daallo are the stupendous clifftop views from the top of the escarpment to the distantย Gulf of Aden more than 2,000m below, and a rich biodiversity that includes at leastย 200 endemic plant species, along with many woodland birds and other animalsย whose range is confined to the Somali region.

Step back in time at an abandoned Islamic city

The enigmatic abandoned Islamic cityย ofย Maduna, near El Afweyn, is the most substantial andย impressive accessible ruin of its type in Somaliland. Its most important feature is aย large rectangular mosque, the 3m-high walls of which are still intact and containย a mihrab along with perhaps a dozen smaller arched niches. This central buildingย is surrounded by several dozen old houses, most of which still have partially intactย walls, and the baobab on the slope immediately below is sufficiently large to suggestย it was planted when the city was still inhabited.

An aura of mystery overhangs Maduna โ€“ unsurprisingly, perhaps, when so littleย is known about its history. The dry-stone architectural style suggests that the ruinedย city was a contemporary of Amoud and Abasa, so presumably it onceย formed part of the Adal Sultanate. As far as we know, however, the site has neverย been excavated and no historical records pertaining to it survive. Also perplexing,ย according to archaeologist Sada Mireโ€™s article in World Archaeology, are severalย โ€˜dome-shaped structures without doors or windowsโ€™ whose โ€˜only entrance was via aย small opening at the topโ€™. Mire suggests these rooms may have been prison cells ofย some type, but we can only speculate.

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