Lake Assal ©
Djibouti is a tiny, arid and easily overlooked country seated on the rim of Africa's horn - an unpopular (though often frequented) pit-stop for vessels passing in and out of the Red Sea, but not much ventured into by tourists. This is unfortunate because Djibouti has some rare qualities that abundantly reward the intrepid visitor.
Large parts of the country's interior sit within the Afar Depression, a region lying 500 feet (155m) below sea level that is rich in ancient fossils and one of the hottest places on Earth, with temperatures reaching 118°F (48°C). Lake Assal, 75 miles (120km) south of Djibouti City, is the lowest point in Africa and the water steams at an unswimmable 34°C. The pressure underneath fissures around the lake cause fantastic plumes of steam to hiss out of the surrounding plateau.
Most of the country is desert with no arable land, crops, irrigation or forest. The interior is mountainous in the centre, filtering down to the coastal plain on the east and the arid plateau in the west. Any ventures into the interior have to be conducted in a 4x4. If you want to get out of Djibouti City but not travel too far, the beaches at Doralé and Khor-Ambado provide warm waters to swim in and exotic marine life to dive with. Two thirds of the 700,000 strong population live in the capital of Djibouti City, while the rest live just as residents of the country have for centuries - as nomadic herders.
There is no industry in the city, and thus in the country, but a large informal market economy thrives. For visitors looking to spend a few hours in the city, the Central Market, the Stade du Ville (national stadium), Presidential Palace and Hamouli Mosque are all worthwhile stops. But getting around is not cheap, the lack of infrastructure and regulation means that a taxi may overcharge heavily for a ride. Unlike her neighbours Ethiopia and Eritrea, Djibouti enjoys political stability and a relatively safe atmosphere.
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