Tell friends that you’re going to Somaliland, and the reaction is quite likely to be one of condescending incredulity (‘You’re going where?’), at the very best, or of serious warning (‘you are suicidal!’).
Whatever, Somaliland currently represents the Shangri-la for those who dare to break the mould of conventional travel. This is the road less travelled, and virgin territory for travelati. The country’s big draws? Las Geel, about 50km from Hargeisa; pristine beaches – if all you want is to laze on immense, unspoiled stretches of white sand, Berbera will take your breath away; and divers in the know swear that the islands off Zeila, to the north, will one day be a mecca for divers. Sure, the landscape is far less arresting than in neighbouring Djibouti, but the terrain is torturous enough to warrant a couple of decent hikes and a hatful of excellent views. Good news: for now, most of this cultural and natural wealth is accessible to independent travellers. Go on, don’t be afraid – discover!
If you’re worried about security issues (and we’re guessing you are), rest easy: Somaliland has nothing to do with Somalia. Here travellers are welcome. The safety of Westerners is taken very seriously in Somaliland, and Hargeisa was one of the safest cities in Africa when we visited.
That said, Somaliland is not Disneyland. The country is poor, its infrastructure is crumbling and it desperately lacks foreign investments to rebuild the economy. For all their friendliness and self-reliant nature, the Somalilandese life is as tough as it gets. A compounding issue is the bitter relations with neighbouring Puntland and the rest of Somalia.