Somaliland is often described as a breakaway state, void of international recognition. But most parts of Somaliland—including Hargeisa—boast safe, democratic, and culturally compelling destinations for tourists and professionals alike. Situated on a more temperate plateau, Hargeisa was a cultural epicentre for Somalis until the 1970s, and an overdue revival of its historical and creative essence is being fuelled by the tens of thousands of Somalis returning from the diaspora to their homeland with ideas and capital to invest.
With a population of roughly 800,000, Hargeisa is the capital city and financial hub of Somaliland. Its construction and telecommunications sectors are booming, with new buildings coming up on a weekly basis. In the midst of all this modernization, many souvenirs can be picked up from the central market, including cowbells made of wood, dhiil (traditional milk containers), and the baati, a cotton dress recently popularized by a major international fashion magazine.
A mandatory-without-being-mandatory trip to Laas Geel will expose you to the rich history of the region: stunning cave paintings dating back 6,000 years are just an hour away from Hargeisa. The cave paintings are some of the most vivid rock art in Africa, telling stories of cattlemen with ceremonial robes (and domesticized dogs!). Speak to the curators at the Saryan Museum, who would happily accompany you, and enjoy the art of their story-telling, so integral to Somalis across the globe.
Nightlife in Hargeisa is filled with music, drawing inspiration from 1970s funk, contemporary pop, and Somali storytelling again. A famous boiling pot of creativity is Hiddo Dhowr (“preserve culture”), a restaurant and music venue built like traditional Somali homes (aqal Soomaali). Famous artists from Hargeisa, Mogadishu, and the West perform classical and contemporary Somali music every Thursday. Make sure you try dancing Dhaanto and Buraanbur, and finish your evening with sweetened Somali tea made with camel milk.
Cash is king in Hargeisa. There are several ATMs available in hotels and banks, but most people use mobile money, as mobile penetration is amongst the highest in Africa.
The Ambassador Hotel, located a mile from the airport, provides some of the best goat meat and tropical fruit smoothies in East Africa. You can also go to Café Barbara for good coffee and, in case you’re interested, the latest political and social intrigue making the rounds! For the more lazily inclined visitor, Gulivery delivers food to your doorstep, competing with the likes of UberEats.
No trip to Hargeisa is complete without a quick fadhi ku dirir session in the shade. There are hundreds of tea stalls across the city, with plastic chairs or stools made out of cow skin, for you to sit and embrace the city’s atmosphere. Don’t hesitate to say “iskawaran?” (“how are you doing?”) to passing residents to evoke the hospitable responses of Somalis in Hargeisa.
By Hassan Hirsi