Dire Dawa’s main highlights are its thriving markets.
Dire Dawa is known for its many prehistoric cave paintings. Dating back an estimated 5000 years, the crude red, white and black figures depict humans and animals. They’re important to archaeologists, though lay visitors may end up disappointed.
You’ll need to find the man with the key, who’ll take you to the caves. The price for this service is not fixed, but Birr100 to Birr150 should do it. The guards at the gate will also expect a tip and others may have their hands out along the way. You can also expect some hassles from village kids at some point. It's highly recommended to go with a guide and a police escort from town, which will smooth things considerably.
You first need to go to the Tourism Development and Promotion office in the building next to Selam Blue Bird Hotel and get a permission paper for Birr50 per cave.
Public transport to these sites is virtually nonexistent – you'll need your own wheels.
Though the paintings, including some palm prints, in this lofty cave are good, they’re fewer and less varied than at Lega-Oda, and graffiti around the paintings mars the site. It’s 28km (about one hour) southeast of Dire Dawa on a much rougher road than to Lega-Oda. The man with the key is usually in Awale, but he could be off in one of several other villages that you’ll pass as you drive there. The long, uphill-almost-the-whole-way walk takes about an hour (less if you come with a 4WD and can park closer).
By far the best cave-art site around Dire Dawa, this 70m-long rock shelter holds some 600 paintings. The figures clearly show humans, antelope, anteaters, camels and groups of lines and dots. The cave is 38km (one hour’s drive) southwest of Dire Dawa, and an easy 20-minute walk from the road. You’ll find the man with the key in Wuchale village, about 1km from the trailhead.
Porc-Epic ፖርክ ኤፒክ
The best-known and easiest to reach cave has a few rock formations, making it the most geologically interesting of the three, but the paintings are largely obscured by soot. It’s 4km past the bus station to a wadi, the last 2km of which is on a very rough road, and then a 30-minute climb takes you 140m up to the cave. The man with the key will likely be out shepherding his goats and will find you after you arrive.