What went wrong in Djibouti? – A country we didn’t like

Djibouti city market

Most countries we visited were exciting, new and friendly, but Djibouti is not among them. There are some countries that we didn’t enjoy so much travelling to, or where we even had difficulties detecting any positive aspects. Kazakhstan, for example, decidedly lacked charm at our first visit (this has changed on consecutive trips). India also proved troublesome, although we suspect the displeasure was due to our fully packed sightseeing schedule. During our three weeks we were always stressed by train tickets we could not get, buses that did not go, showers that did not work and so on. We were living and working in Japan then and against better judgement took our expectations of an efficient infrastructure with us into the holidays.

women behind prison bars in the desert
Ethiopian visa violators at the Djibouti-Ethiopian border

Djibouti ranges at the bottom of our country ranking list. We went there on a crammed overnight bus from Dire Dawa in Ethiopia. Maybe we had a bad start with the country from the very beginning, when we applied for our visa. We got the wrong dates stamped into the passport and the embassy claimed there was no way to change them, although it was them who made the mistake. Because we could not go at those specified dates we had to buy new visas, which was time-consuming and not cheap.

Once in Djibouti we did the things we always do in a new city: Wander the streets, stroll through the local market, just to get the vibe of the place. And gosh, we did: What a bad vibe it was in Djibouti!

Food aid – not for sale

Grain bags in a market stall, marked USAID, not to be sold

Already used to Africans who often get angry at you if you take their pictures, we quickly decided to take mostly pictures of food and household items on the market. Suddenly a lady was threatening us with a wooden stick that she swung at us. We had photographed her rice bags. Only then did we look closer at the label: „American Food Aid – not for sale,“ it read. When we made our way back through the bazaar another lunatic kept following us, shouting something we didn’t understand and swinging his fist in the air.

„Why did you go to the market? I never go shopping there. Everything we need I buy in the French supermarket around the corner. Prices there are even cheaper than the prices they charge foreigners at the bazaar,“ Laureanne said. For locals, of course, buying on the market is much cheaper than in supermarkets. Laureanne and Maxine were both French teachers at the French school and they lived in the foreigners’ quarter of Djibouti City. We met them through Hospitality Club and stayed with them for two days.

Djibouti – a country of drug addicts?

Khat vending stall in Djibouti city

It seems that the main reason for the aggressive mood in the city is Khat, a plant that is native to the horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and is classified as a drug by the WHO. Allegdly it causes euphoria and excitement as well as a loss of appetite. The best Khat in Djibouti arrives, freshly cut, every day around noon from neighbouring Ethiopia. One bunch of high-quality leaves costs around 3000 Djibouti Francs, while the average wage is 1000 Djibouti Francs a day. As most people chew Khat, their main goal every morning is to earn (or get) some money until the Khat arrives, and then in the afternoon the town quietens down.

Very few tourists make it to Djibouti and the foreigners we met were either French soldiers or French expats, who live in their own infrastructure, have their own transport and some upper class Djibouti friends at most.

Cleanliness is next to godliness, Graffiti in Djibouti City

After several more unpleasant experiences we decided to cut our visit short after two days and went back to Ethiopia. We are still wondering what went wrong in Djibouti and we still won’t believe that there are countries where by default the majority of people is hostile and unfriendly. Part of the problem is definitely the Khat, perhaps in combination with the daily experience of rich ignorant foreigners.

The bottom of our country ranking

As for India, which we have visited more than ten years ago, we are thinking of a trip to Rajasthan now and then. And we are keen on the vegetarian food options there. Djibouti may have to wait a little longer before we would give it a second chance.

Another country we did not like so much was Vietnam: see our Thoughts about travelling in Vietnam

Are we alone in this? Are there any countries you left earlier than planned or didn’t like at all?

NB: No, we had no sponsoring for our trip to Djibouti!

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Keep this as a reminder why you may not want to travel to Djibouti:


  1. Interesting post and doesn’t sound like much fun. You’re quite courageous for even thinking of giving it a 2nd chance 🙂 What an out-of-the-way place, if Nigeria is the armpit of Africa what does that make Djibouti?
    Our most disappointing place? Brazil. It’s the only place where we really didn’t like the people. It started like this: http://bbqboy.net/why-we-didnt-like-rio-de-janeiro-brazil and continued through our whole trip. Even got attacked by a toucan.
    We were also very disappointed by Costa Rica. We felt the country had sold out to foreign interests and after a whole month there we felt we never connected with anything/anyone there. Which is rare on our travels.
    Always good to compare notes. Sometimes it can also be us and our mindset on a particular trip.
    We really enjoy how you write. Spanky does most of the facebooking. She’s scared of commenting which is why I usually do it. If you think we sound different between facebook and the comments on the blog now you know why 🙂
    Frank (bbqboy)

  2. It was nice to read an honest review about a place like Djibouti that you visited and did not like. A post on Maputo in Africa would read similarly for us. And travel hiccups along the way don’t make a visit any better. A ready supply of legal local drugs would turn us off for sure. Won’t be putting Djibouti on our travel list.

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