Recently, more and more people have become interested in visiting Djibouti – the African country that Lonely Planet included in the top places to visit in 2018. The truth is that African countries, specifically the ones that are less popular and visited, have a distinct charm attached to them. The thrill of the unknown is definitely appealing to the inborn adventurer that is eager to discover the world.
Being located on the Afar Triple Junction, which is the meeting point of three distinct tectonic plates, Djibouti features a conglomeration of black volcanic rocks, mind-blowing blue coastlines, and flat plains covered in dust. This country is something else. Nonetheless, before heading there, you might wonder how safe is Djibouti for tourists? Or is Djibouti safe to visit, considering that so few tourists go there?
Keep on reading our Djibouti safety guide to find out more about the risks of traveling to this beautiful destination.
Highest Risks You Expose Yourself to When Visiting Djibouti
Overall Risks in Djibouti: MEDIUM
Djibouti is, overall, a rather safe country when it comes to visiting its main areas or points of interest - big cities, for example, or places with touristic attractions. However, as most foreign authorities state, it is recommended that tourists check the country's status before planning a trip to it, especially if they plan to travel to its northern areas - the border with Eritrea.
On the other hand, what may signal a risk in the country is the fact that many people are fleeing here from Yemen, making the country prone to petty crime and scams practiced by immigrants. Moreover, there's no British embassy in Djibouti, for example. So, if you're a British citizen, you may contact only the Honorary Consul for help - or the embassies located in neighboring countries. Last but not least, sources report an increased risk of banditry outside of the country's capital city. This means that you should think twice before venturing deep within the country on your own or with a small group.
If you plan to travel on sea/ water, keep in mind that both the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden come with a major threat of piracy. It is best if you avoid such travels, just to be sure.
Pickpocketing and Theft Risks: MEDIUM to HIGH
Since the poverty rate in Djibouti is high – as more than 23 percent of the population is living in extreme poverty, the likelihood of pickpocketing is pretty high. The primary reason that causes this issue is, actually, the lack of resources. Due to the arid land in Djibouti, the place is widely unsuitable for farming. That is to say, only 0.04 percent of the land is arable.
This is why crimes of opportunity – namely petty theft and pickpocketing, are quite commonplace in Djibouti. Hence, you should be wary of street children and panhandlers that target foreigners for petty theft. They do that by creating distractions, which is why you should pay attention to your surroundings at all times.
On a different note, crimes are prone to take place within the local community as well. These usually go unreported.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that the number of illegal refugees and unemployed Djiboutians is pretty high, and they tend to wander downtown and in the areas that are mostly frequented by expatriates. This is why congested areas pose a higher risk of street crime.
Furthermore, locals usually engage in scams in order to trick foreigners. A common scam entails someone waiting behind your vehicle. So, when you back the car out of the parking space, he/she will purposely run his/her motorcycle or bicycle into the car. In instances like these, most people get frightened and vulnerable, as these scammers pretend to need medical assistance right away. Essentially, they will ask for money claiming that they cannot afford to pay for the medical bills. Nonetheless, this is a common scam that takes place in crowded areas. So, make sure you exercise double caution if you’re driving in Djibouti.
- How to avoid pickpocketing and theft in Djibouti?
It’s highly recommendable to avoid showing any signs of affluence. Concurrently, you should keep your personal belongings, especially your travel documents secure at all times. That being said, you shouldn’t carry valuable items such as pricey electronic devices and expensive jewelry, nor should you walk around after nightfall – especially to isolated areas.
Moving on, areas such as overcrowded ports, the city center or market areas are thought to present a higher risk of crime. This is why you should be doubly cautious whenever you’re visiting such places, and ensure that you don’t draw unnecessary attention towards yourself.
Crime Risk in Djibouti: LOW to MEDIUM
For the most part, the crime risk in Djibouti is relatively low to moderate, especially in comparison to its neighbors – namely Eritrea and Somalia. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that Djibouti is free of crime incidents altogether. That’s because unwanted incidents may still happen occasionally.
As a matter of fact, over the last couple of years, the crime rates have actually increased in Djibouti, which is why extra caution should be exercised.
At the same time, demonstrations are likely to take place from time to time, some of them being related to domestic political developments. This is why it is highly recommendable to avoid public demonstrations and large crowds, since there is the possibility that they turn violent.
Moving on, in the past, there have been several burglaries attempts against expatriate residences, specifically in the proximity to embassy housing in 2016. Typically, though, perpetrators don’t have the means to overcome residential security matters –grille work, substantial doors or static guards. This is why most crimes took place at residences where doors and windows weren’t locked accordingly.
On a different note, there are criminals that are willing to break into vehicles in order to get access to valuable items. Furthermore, criminal activity could increase as a result of the abuse of khat. Khat is a socially acceptable drug, which is also legal, which is known to cause aggressiveness in the people who consume it.
Piracy is also a common problem in Djibouti – most pirate attacks are likely to take place in coastal waters and, in some instances, farther out at sea.
Considering that crime incidents are still likely to occur, it is mandatory to avoid traveling alone to isolated spaces. In essence, this is one of the key Djibouti safety travel tips mentioned in our guide.
More specifically, coastal, remote areas such as Khor Ambado and Dorale shouldn’t be explored by solo travelers. These are really isolated locations that pose a range of dangers.
At the same time, it’s highly recommendable not to walk around after dark, since this could expose you to a bunch of unnecessary safety risks.
Scam Risk in Djibouti: MEDIUM
Djibouti's scammers engage in simple scams only, so to say. In short, you may not have to deal with a complex scheme meant to leave you without your wallet or possessions. Instead, scammers will simply approach you and claim that they don't have enough money to get home via transportation, for food, for medicine, or for a certain medical intervention that they desperately need.
Of course, you may be inclined to give some of the above money, but do so at your own risk and, as an advice from us, make sure to inspect them/ give them a good look before deciding whether they really need the money or not. Such scenarios happen all over the world and, if you really want to help someone, better help an individual that really needs the money and not one that longs for alcohol or similar things.
Also, keep in mind that street vendors may also try to scam you by selling products at a higher price - especially country-specific items and souvenirs. Don't buy the first souvenir you see and like and browse for more shops that sell it to compare prices. Be extremely careful when buying anything - be it product, service, food, and so on. This is the only way you can fully avoid scams.
- How to avoid getting scammed in Djibouti?
As mentioned above, you can easily avoid being scammed if you pay attention to your surroundings and don't interact with any strangers/ locals. It is better if you simply ignore or politely refuse anyone that approaches you. You don't know their intentions and, therefore, shouldn't take any risks - especially if they request something that implies you taking out your phone or your wallet; obviously, refrain from revealing the place where you keep your valuables and such.
In short, with a little bit of preparation and care, you can "escape" a country without being scammed!
Kidnapping Risk in Djibouti: MEDIUM
Furthermore, tourists should note that kidnapping cases are likely to occur, as well. Since there are some criminal gangs in Djibouti, these usually target foreigners, young women included.
That’s primarily because this small African country has become a crossroad for people fleeting from Yemen, due to the war. This is associated with a higher rate of kidnapping risk.
- How to avoid being kidnapped in Djibouti?
One of the most important Djibouti safety travel tips is that you should avoid remote areas. More specifically, you shouldn’t go to remote places by yourself, especially at nighttime. On a different note, overcrowded places pose the same challenges, as criminals target popular tourist spots, as well.
In order to avoid being a victim, it’s critical not to draw attention towards yourself. So, avoid carrying valuable belongings with you and limit your exploring to daytime hours, to maximize your safety during your journey.
Terrorism Risk in Djibouti: MEDIUM to HIGH
According to official information, Djibouti poses a high terrorism threat, due to a handful of reasons. For one thing, this small African country is located between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East.
Additionally, it hosts a significant number of refugees. That is to say, due to Djibouti’s geographical proximity to these conflict-torn states and due to the fact that the government isn’t capable of monitoring illegal immigration, cross-border terrorism incidents could take place.
The terrorist group Al-Shabaab, which is from Somalia, has actually issued public threats against Djibouti. To be more precise, in May 2014, they claimed responsibility for a bombing attack that took place at La Chaumiere Restaurant, located in Djibouti.
As a result of the attack, roughly three people were killed, while many others were injured – foreign nationals included. Former attacks led to foreign fatalities and the likelihood of future indiscriminate attacks – especially in the areas frequented by tourists.
- How to avoid terrorism in Djibouti?
This is why tourists visiting Djibouti are advised to be conscious regarding their security at all times. Concurrently, it is recommendable to monitor the media and be doubly mindful if the authorities issue any restrictions or instructions. Additional care should be taken in public and crowded areas that are frequented by expatriates and foreign travelers.
Risks for Women Traveling Alone in Djibouti: MEDIUM to HIGH
Considering that Djibouti is a predominantly Muslim nation, this makes it quite conservative. Hence, one should always dress respectfully. This applies specifically to rural areas, in which you should dress more conservatively.
However, considering that the incidence of crime is quite high in Djibouti, traveling alone there, as women might not be the best idea. For the most part, due to the conservative mindset of the locals, this practice might be frowned upon – especially if you plan on exploring the rural areas.
What is more, this might draw unnecessary attention towards you. At the same time, you should exercise additional caution whenever you’re exploring the country, as both overcrowded and remote places could turn out to be quite dangerous for a woman traveling alone.
So, to answer the question is Djibouti safe for solo women travelers? At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide whether visiting this country is a good idea or not, but make sure you take the risks into account beforehand.
- How to avoid crime as a solo woman traveler in Djibouti?
As you can see, Djibouti is not quite the recommended country for solo women travelers. If you're traveling with a group and will stick to the main cities or important areas, so to say, you may escape without verbal harassment or cat calling. However, if you plan on really discovering the country and visit rural and remote areas - thing that you shouldn't really do - then you may not escape the local mindset and be harassed.
Therefore, if you want to avoid crime as a solo woman traveler, it is best if you stick to the areas meant for tourists and to the country's main/ big cities. Also, a short trip is recommended for solo travelers, as they won't have to worry about the many things and concerns that come with a lengthy trip.
Rape Risk in Djibouti: MEDIUM
According to official records, the risk of assaults ranges from low to moderate. Nonetheless, the situation was far more serious a few years ago, considering that, since 1993, roughly 246 women were victims of rape in their own country. Still, most of these incidents took place in the midst of the civil war. As a result, only 20 women dared to file complaints against their attackers.
On a different note, though, the incidence of foreigners being victims of sexual assaults or rape isn’t high. In spite of that, one cannot entirely exclude the likelihood that this could happen, in extraordinary conditions – which is why it’s compulsory to take the necessary precaution measures.
- How to avoid being raped in Djibouti?
In order to exclude the likelihood of being a victim of rape during your visit in Djibouti, by all means, you should avoid walking alone at night. This also goes for going to night clubs alone. Plus, it’s contraindicated to accept drinks offered by strangers, as well as leaving your drink unattended whenever you’re in a public space.
Risks for People Traveling with Children in Djibouti: MEDIUM to HIGH
Even though Djibouti is a beautiful country with contrasting natural surroundings, this doesn’t make it safe for family travels. Aside from the crime rates and the high risks of pickpocketing and theft, the infrastructure in Djibouti is really poor, whereas the emergency response system is much below western standards.
That is to say, local medical facilities don’t supply the standard of care that is usually provided in developed countries. This could be an issue in the case of emergencies. Plus, Djibouti features the second highest infection rate of tuberculosis – in the world. That is not all: Falciparum-type malaria is widespread, as well, among other viruses and infections.
All these aspects and many others make Djibouti fairly unsafe for children.
- How to avoid unwanted scenarios?
In short, children need to be kept under surveillance at all times - they can run away, get lost within crowds or complicated areas, so to say, or do things that they shouldn't be doing. As we all know, the small ones have a special talent of getting into trouble with very little effort - naturally, this is not something that should happen in a foreign country. Locals might get angry/ mad, you may get scared, and many other things can happen. So make sure to keep an eye on them at all times!
Then, you should also consider their health. For children, it is better to have a first-aid kit prepared before you start your trip - with basic medicine that they may need, wet wipes/ towels; in short, any basic medicine/ treatment they may require while traveling. Make sure that, no matter happens, you can tend to them while getting to a safer place or to a doctor.
Natural Disaster Risks: MEDIUM to HIGH
Is you’re wondering how safe is Djibouti for tourists, you should note that the risk of natural disasters is quite high. To be more precise, this country is located in a Seismic Zone 4 – indicating that the risk of earthquakes is significant.
As a matter of fact, in 2012, earthquake incidents were monitored, which were registered as high as 3.9 and 4.4. Numerous rental properties were actually deemed unsafe, considering the prevalent risk of earthquakes.
On a different note, even though the weather is usually hot round the year, during brief periods of abundant rain severe floods could occur. This is primarily due to the poor infrastructure. At the same time, flooding scenarios could exacerbate during high tide. Plus, over the last couple of years, flooding has caused a number of fatalities around the country, specifically when unpredicted rain caused flash flooding in the city.
Transportation Risks in Djibouti: MEDIUM to HIGH
As mentioned earlier, you should avoid traveling in the areas around the border with Eritrea, as military clashes may occur here. The overall situation between Djibouti and Eritrea is fragile, as the latter send forces into the border region of Djibouti that was disputed, back in 2008. There's still a possibility of conflict and all travelers are advised to stay away from this area.
The same can be said about remote areas and villages near the border with Somaliland, on some roads north of Tadjoura region, as well as near the north-west region of Somalia. Traveling through these areas implies encountering military roadblocks that will ask you to return. In some cases, you may have to request a formal approval of journey from the military - if you want to pass the border or travel through the mentioned areas.
When it comes to road travel, you should avoid traveling through any area after dark - besides city centers. There are multiple reasons why, while in Djibouti, you shouldn't leave your accommodation after sunset. First of all, vehicles here usually don't have lights or drivers don't turn them on. Then, livestock is commonly found on the roads, wandering around with no one taking care of it - thus making drivers that don't use lights subject to accidents. On top of that, the roads come in a poor condition and shouldn't be tackled, to so day, by a foreigner accustomed only with smooth streets.
Roads are also unfit for multiple or large vehicles - they are not maintained almost at all, come with little to no lighting, and are quite narrow. Statistics show that many large trucks can be found on the roads of Djibouti, thus making it difficult for foreign drivers to adapt to such road conditions - given all of the above as well.
Night-Clubs, Pubs, and Bar Risks in Djibouti: HIGH
Naturally, Djibouti may not be the perfect place to party and have a drink - or more, depending on your type. Moreover, given the conservative mindset of the people living here, it goes without saying that bars and night-clubs are frequented by shady people, thieves, criminals maybe, and what not. In short, you may not find likeable/ decent people in such locations - unless you come across another group of travelers. On the other hand, there may be pubs/ bars that respect the country's conservative nature - but, in this case, don't expect to party or get really drunk, or else you'll make a fool of yourself.
With these two scenarios, it is simply better if you stay away from night-clubs and pubs, especially if you plan to visit them after dark. In such cases, our recommendation is to stick to the bar that you can find within your accommodation - it's easy to reach it and easier to get back to your room if you had one too many drinks. On top of that, nothing bad could happen to you here!
Health Risks in Djibouti
While traveling, you must not forget to take care of yourself - this also implies knowing what to do and where to go in case something happens.
First of all, it is recommended to consult with your doctor or with a professional and talk about your trip with at least 2 months before. They can tell you which vaccines you should take, what you should be worried about, as well as what to do and not do (drink and eat) while in a specific foreign country. Moreover, they can also tell you what medicine you can take with you, or point you to the websites or officials that know what kind of medicine is can be brought from abroad in Djibouti.
When it comes to medical facilities, Djibouti comes with decent hospitals/clinics that are equipped to certain standards. However, don't expect any US or UK level of equipment, treatment, or medicine. In order to fully benefit of these facilities in case of an accident, make sure to travel only with proper travel health insurance, as well as with enough funds to pay for every cost related to treatment, medicine, and so on. In case of an emergency, it is strongly recommended to contact your insurance company as soon as you are sent into a medical facility for inspection or treatment.
List of Vaccines You Need in Djibouti
Here's a list of the vaccines that you will need to take before visiting Djibouti. Keep in mind that this information is subject to change and, as mentioned above, it is recommended to consult with a health professional to make sure that you get all the necessary vaccines.
- Hepatitis A and B
- Yellow Fever
- Routine Vaccines
Most Dangerous Areas in Djibouti
- the Border with Eritrea
- the Border with Somaliland
- the north-west of Somalia
- the roads north of Tadjoura
- Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean - thread of piracy
Concluding Remarks: Is Djibouti Safe to Visit?
To conclude our Djibouti safety guide: is Djibouti safe to visit? Truth be told, traveling to this African country comes with a range of risks.
Essentially, you should acknowledge them before embarking on your journey, to ensure that you know what to expect. As a matter of fact, many people have traveled to Djibouti and indicated that the place was safer than they expected it to be. Even so, perhaps families with children and solo women travelers might reconsider the trip, due to the risks outlined beforehand.