In pure guidebook style, the ‘getting there and away’ section tells you how to get to your destination cheaply and safely. Or just how to get there, let’s be modest here.
The journey I’ll describe starts from Nairobi. If you’re coming from Dubai or other parts of the world, there may be several alternative ways to get to Hargeisa. Word at the Hargeisa International Book Fair 2015 was that the most reliable connection is via Addis Abeba with Ethiopian Airlines.
Hargeisa isn’t the easiest destination to reach from Nairobi but you do have choices. Three airlines fly that route – Ethiopian Airlines, Jubba Airways and Africa Express Airlines (see Fly in for details).
1. Overlanding it, like a true backpacker
This is what I had initially intended to do so I have a couple of tips to share from the research I had done ahead of the trip.
The plan involves flying from Nairobi to Addis (relatively cheap and easy, with either Ethiopian Airlines or Kenya Airways) and processing your visa for Somaliland at the Addis Ababa liaison office. I’m told it isn’t easy to locate though.
The bus journey takes you first to Jijiga, where you board another vehicle to the border town of Wajale. Once stamped into Somaliland, you can take a shared taxi for around 7 USD or a bus.
I can’t vouch for any travel times since I haven’t tried this route myself. Although the journey is well documented on travel blogs, it is always worth enquiring about more recent details from a traveller who’s undertaken the overland route, or directly on the ground once in Ethiopia.
A more comfortable and faster way to get to Hargeisa via Ethiopia is to book an internal flight from Addis to Jijiga, and travel by bus from there. Some Ethiopian residents in Hargeisa regularly use this route and have found it the most convenient and cost-efficient way of getting home.
Word of advice to those who need a visa to Ethiopia: if you intend to come back via Addis, make sure you pick a multiple entry, since you won’t be able to purchase an Ethiopia visa in Somaliland, either in Hargeisa or at the land border in Wajale. You may however exit via Djibouti or fly out.
2. Fly in
To fly in, you’ll have to have arranged an entry visa to Somaliland in advance with the institution inviting you. You’ll be sent an entry permit that you must show upon arrival in order to be granted a visa (60 USD in cash).
When leaving Nairobi, make sure you go to the correct terminal at JKIA: Ethiopian flies from terminal 1C while Jubba Airways and African Express operate from the newly opened terminal 2 – aka Syo Kimau (lol). In case you are dropped off at the wrong place, all is not lost: you can still catch the free shuttle connecting terminal 1D to terminal 2.
I had booked a return flight with Jubba Airways…which later turned out to be a cost saver but a headache through and through. After 2 hours of waiting in the wee hours, we were informed that the flight to Hargeisa had been cancelled without notice. It took the better part of the morning for the 20 stranded passengers to wring a solution out of the airline but eventually we were rebooked on Ethiopian Airlines the following morning. Our 3-member team headed to the book fair made it just in time to catch the first day of the festival, though we missed the opening ceremony.
I don’t think this was an isolated incident so, if you have a business meeting to attend in Hargeisa, I’d suggest paying a bit more to go with Ethiopian via Addis.
Getting to Hargeisa took longer than expected but I was in for another surprise on the way back. The Jubba Airways flight makes a planned stop-over in Mogadishu. Hargeisa – Nairobi passengers don’t get off the plane. Quite straight-forward, really. Only, there is a catch: the plane stops again in Wajir for a security check-up that can take anything between 1 and 2 hours. Hand luggage is submitted to the usual checks and you’ll go through customs and immigration at the Wajir International Airport. Once you get to terminal 2, the Jubba Airways crew has to tick off the passengers list, which creates yet another delay. We ended up getting out of the airport around 3 hours behind schedule…
It would be unfair not to mention that the Jubba Airways staff have always been kind and helpful, though it does not make up for all the other operational issues with the airline.
3. Some practical information about the airport in Hargeisa
The airport is quite small so it’s really impossible to get lost. In fact, you’ll see the airplane on the runway from the departure lounge. However small and laid-back the airport may be, it’s good practice to double or triple check your flight time and generally talk to other passengers to find out if anything may have changed while you were happily sipping on your last cup of somali tea.
It’s interesting to note that it is very common for ladies to form a separate queue. On our flight back to Nairobi for instance, ladies were made to board first.
Facts, facts, facts! You certainly need them but the next post will be less dry, going into experiences of Hargeisa as a city.