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10 reasons you shouldn’t visit Djibouti right now

Ah, Djibouti, Djibouti. The city so nice, they named it twice.

Speaking of which, traveling internationally during Covid-19 is a hassle. There’s no other way to put it. But after visiting over 35 countries since the pandemic started, we’re convinced Djibouti might be the worst right now.

Although Djibouti does have some wonderful places to visit, history to admire, and people to meet, now is not the right time to visit.

Between all of my travels around the world as an airline pilot, and the 90 countries my travel blogger girlfriend has explored, we’ve never had any experience like the one we had visiting Djibouti in 2021.

Here’s what happened to us – and the 10 reasons you shouldn’t travel to Djibouti during Covid-19.

1. PCR test on arrival in Djibouti is worse than you think

You must take a PCR test on arrival in Djibouti. It costs $35USD and you only know your results if you test positive.
The line to get tested at Djibouti airport was insufferable – and probably the greatest risk of catching Covid-19 during our journey.

What’s the first thing you do on arrival in Djibouti – despite being fully vaccinated and having negative PCR test results?

Get another PCR test.

Prepare to be stuffed into a room with a bunch of local workers – not wearing masks – with limited airflow. Nothing to see here, folks.

Expect to wait in line over an hour before getting tested and then have to pay $35USD as a thank you. And when do you get your test results back?

Never.

2. Ad hoc illogical entry procedures meaning you could be detained for no apparent reason

The beach of Djibouti just off the Kempinski.
Locals enjoying the warm waters at a beach we visited in Djibouti, Djibouti.

Have a drone? Don’t bring it.

Have a larger camera (DSLR)? Prepare to spend hours explaining that you’re not a journalist.

As if the country knows any publicity about it would be bad, there’s a hardcore push against allowing journalists into the country.

I would know. My partner, Andi was detained and told to return on arrival. The crime? Saying she was a travel blogger.

And since there’s no internet at the airport and foreign SIM cards don’t work here in any way, I had no way to know what was going on.

I wish this was a story about a friendly local stepping up and providing a data hotspot, but the internet here is pricey and nobody was willing to help – unless I offered them business in exchange.

Andi ended up getting a letter of invitation from a tour agency with connections at high levels.

3. Getting a PCR test is required to exit Djibouti

Getting a PCR test in Djibouti means going to the health ministry and waiting in line.
Camels post under windmills just outside of Djibouti City.

Whether or not your next destination requires it, Djibouti forces you to get a PCR test within 72 hours of departure.

We thought we’d be smart by staying in the country less than 72 hours, but alas… your entry test, despite being the same exact one as the exit test, does not count. Because you never get your results.

But that’s not all…

4. There’s only one testing center in all Djibouti, it’s only open 8-1130

The results have to come from this one specific testing center, on a stamped blue sheet of paper.

Getting them is the challenge.

You can start getting tested no sooner than 8AM or so, depending on when they feel like opening. They give you a number on arrival, you wait outside in a crowded seating area until they call your number, then go inside to pay and take your test.

5. Results take 24 hours AND you have to pick them up in person

Unfortunately, the system is really really slow and there’s absolutely no way around it.

We learned this the hard way as we had booked our return flight within 72 hours of arrival. It kind of went like this:

  • We arrived early in the morning on day 1, with what normally would have been ample time to get a Covid test
  • Andi was detained until the early afternoon, and the testing center closed by 11AM
  • By 7AM the next morning we went for our Covid test and had multiple promises to receive our results the same day
  • Later in the afternoon, it was looking like an 11PM receipt of our results
  • That evening, we were told “no luck” but “it will be there at 7AM tomorrow”. One problem though; our flight was departing at 7AM

And at the airport the next day, nothing could be done. There was no way to access our results from our first test entering (even literally standing at the location we got the test) and our results wouldn’t arrive until…

…well after 9AM, more than 24 hours later.

6. There’s a lot to see in neighboring countries

Lake/lac d’assal is a great day trip from Djibouti downtown.
Lac Assal is a fantastic day trip from Djibouti, Djibouti – about 3 hours away.

Djibouti does have its fascinating sights, and these include:

  • Lac Assal
  • Lake Abhe
  • Danakil Desert
  • Day Forest National Park

But you’re not getting a great bang for the back. All 3 of Djibouti’s neighboring countries, Ethiopia, Somaliland, and Eritrea, have more to offer per square mile.

For example, We absolutely loved nearby South Sudan for its more off-the-beaten-path tourism and authentic vibes, friendlier people, and beautiful scenery. And both Somaliland and Ethiopia were an absolute treat.

7. Flights from Djibouti are very limited

Air Ethiopia flight from Addis Ababa to Djibouti (JIB).
A French military airplane boarding from Djibouti. There are probably more military flights than civilian in Djibouti right now.

In the day and age of Covid, flights have taken a great hit. We all know this.

Djibouti luckily has Air Djibouti standing in, but it’s slim pickings.

Many other international airlines have pulled out of this market, leaving your best bet between Turkish Airlines or Ethiopian.

8. Everything is more expensive than ever – probably most in Africa

Sperm whale watching area, Djibouti.
Views from the sperm whale watching area an hour outside of Djibouti.

Shocking more than anything else we experienced were the prices of just about everything.

Our hotel was very basic, no luxuries whatsoever, and set us back nearly $200 per night. Not a name brand or anything.

Meals are regularly $20+ per person, which is crazy in a developing country. This includes non-touristy food.

Taxis and services are priced similarly to the US and Europe despite a much weaker currency.

Even SIM cards are expensive, especially data. Each gigabyte is about $1 (and is valid as short as one day). The system used by the only cell carrier in Djibouti will likely wipe your credit before you even enable your data, leaving you spending more.

9. There’s so much trash everywhere

Although it’s common in developing countries, we found this especially bad in Djibouti: trash.

It’s all over. We found less trash anywhere in South Sudan than we did in Djibouti.

The roads, sidewalks, and city streets are covered.

10. Djibouti is super safe for crime, but a dangerous place to drive

Highway crashes are a great concern in Djibouti.
Shhhh… it’s sleeping. Sights like this were commonplace on the highways surrounding Djibouti.

The greatest plus about Djibouti is its overall safety as it regards tourists. Perhaps it’s the high military occupation – with France, US, Japan, and even China occupying bases there.

Or perhaps it’s a slightly less corrupt government that actually gets stuff done.

Here comes the catch…

In my years of traveling around the world, I’ve never seen so many 18-wheeler cargo trucks flipped upside down on the side of the road. I’m not an expert, but I don’t think they’re supposed to be that way.

The driving here is crazy – even after visiting countries like Egypt, renting a car across Central America, or driving around Peru.

Out of Somaliland, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Djibouti, I’d say my life was most at risk on the roads of Djibouti. In an ironic twist to the “safest country in Africa”.

Conclusion: Djibouti is not the country to visit during Covid-19

Between getting detained for the first time ever entering a country and then, ironically, not being allowed to leave the country, visiting Djibouti was certainly an interesting experience.

Djibouti isn’t a country that tops most peoples’ bucket lists in normal times. It does have beautiful sights to visit, but the rest of Africa just has so much more to offer. And now more than ever, I would place it in the ‘avoid’ bucket.

Hopefully this saves you some time and quite some headache. If it did, make sure to subscribe below. And if it didn’t, maybe I can make it up to you with an article on the Mundari Tribe of South Sudan?

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