Backpacking in Somalia

  • Population: 10.7 million (UN, 2005)
  • Capital: Mogadishu
  • Area: 637,657sq km (246,201 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Somali, Arabic, Italian, English
  • Major religion: Islam
  • Life expectancy: 45 years (men), 47 years (women)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Somali shilling = 100 cents


Backpacking in Somalia

Somalia, the Horn of Africa, is an East African country that has retained to the rest of the world a chief image of starving and dying children. For nineteen years, Somalia has been the pin-up girl in discussions of an impoverished Africa. On top of the famine and death, national armed conflict is waged between the government and Islamist-led insurgents, clan wars, and piracy. The nation is wont to dream an accomplished tourist destination that is virtually far and away due to a want of a real government that would uphold justice and sanction for these general acts of violence against people, kin or not, as if famine and disease isn’t taking enough lives already. This all sounds like Baghdad, doesn’t it? Similarly, Somalia has been a total madness with no end in sight.

Comprising of Italy’s former Trust Territory of Somalia and past British Protectorate of Somaliland that is now seeking recognition as an autonomous state, there is not enough safe places in Somalia for the independent traveller. Fortunate enough for the nation, HIV is among the least of her concerns. Still, infant mortality is a steep +10% ranking the country as 5th in the world with more than 10 infant deaths for every hundred born. Water from tap is the last one should drink in Somalia, and will probably the last as it is highly contaminated. The whole country is amiss for travel as the movie Black Hawk Down depicted.


Backpacking in Somalia

Somalia (10 00 N, 49 00 E) is a coastal landmass of an area of 637,657 km2, the easternmost of Africa, bordered by Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti. The land is mostly flat, although to the north and some parts of the east, the terrain is undulating and hilly. To the northeast is the Cal Madow, a mountain range that features the highest summit of Shimbiris that is 2,416 m high.


The climate is desert hence the year-round heat and droughts together with mean daily temperature range from 30oC to 40oC, except at high elevations along the east coast where the climate can be moderate. The region also faces irregular rainfall and seasonal monsoon winds – the northeast and southwest monsoon. From December through February, the northeast monsoon stifles the hot temperatures in the north (moderate), while from May to October, the scorching heat is felt everywhere. And in between monsoons, a period called tangambili, are sweltering temperatures with high humidity.


Somalis number at an estimate of 10,112,453 as of July 2010. There has been no official census in Somalia since 1975 as a result of huge numbers of nomads and refugees, the latter with an estimate of 2 million to date. Somalis are largely nomadic pastoralists (60%) and settled farmers (25%), while the remaining minority are urbanized. Somali is the dominant ethnic group forming 85% of the total population, whereas Bantus, Arabs, and other non-Somalis make uo 15%. There also are a few hundreds of South Asians from India and Pakistan. Early inhabitants (Cushitic) were evidenced to have settled in Somalia during 100 AD or earlier.


Centuries of cultural convergence has led to what is now an evolved unified Somali culture of common traditions and a single language that is SOMALI, the lingua franca most widely spoken in the country. Somali has remained unwritten until the Latin orthography has been decreed in 1973.   On the other hand, many Somalis also speak ENGLISH. As Italy’s former trust territory, ITALIAN is also spoken mostly by older generations, but ARABIC is the official secondary language, because of more than 30,000 Arabs that settled here. Arabic loan words are abundant in Somali, especially religious terminology.


This is because Somalia is bound by the Islamic faith. Homogenously Muslim, 99.9% of the population adhere to its teachings and practices of the Prophet and the Quran. Sunni Muslim is predominant to other sects of Islam. Christianity is a minority religion with no more than 10,000 believers.


More boon than boom, Islam is resulting an Iraq-style violence in the country. So if the traveller is planning of entering Somalia through the Ethiopian or Kenyan border, if travel to such a conflicted country is really conceivable, now is a time as good as any to change it because both countries closed its borders as a precautionary step against unbridled Somali insurgency and keep extremists off their grounds. Tourism remains a hard sell as it has been for decades, and even the most scenic of places such as the Shanghai Old City is not open for tourists anymore. Bakara Market is the central setting for the movie about the Somali conflict that is Black Hawk Down.

The Iraq-style quagmire overshadows this country of dramatic landscapes – mountains, forests, deserts, beaches, and reef systems. But with an extremely volatile situation, travel to Somalia, particularly to the capital Mogadishu, which Angelina Jolie always sympathized for, is impossible. Too bad…the beach near Mogadishu is among the most glorious in the world. Somaliland is the perhaps the only safe area, and it isn’t even Somalia anymore. When a chance provides, the Kismayu in the southwest and the Hargeisa National Park in the north that boast of rare East African wildlife that can make one oblivious of the incredible sufferings, massive displacements, and loss of life of Somalis.

Transport and Sharia Laws add more limit to freedom of the travellers to Somali. For the moment, travel to Somalia is a matter of urgency – how critical and important it is to be here. After all, it is the most dangerous country on earth (no exaggeration there, mate.) Somalia is a beautiful country and truly an opportunity that ought not to be missed, so check regularly for safety travel advices. When you get to try Somali food, you’ll know what I mean.


For a land stricken with famine that is worse than many parts of Africa, the Somali cuisine is rich sophisticated. It teems of Somali, Ethiopan, Yemeni, Persian, Turkish, English, French and Italian influences. The Somali diet is meat-based, except for pork (halal) and is low in calories, but high in protein. Rice (basmati) is a staple typically served spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, and cumin and eaten for lunch, with spiced goat, beef, chicken, or lamb. Bread or injinera is normally eaten for breakfast with polenta (porridge) or meat or liver. And for a light dinner, have beans and corn or oat patty. Vegetables are either served as sides or cooked with meat stews. Here’s a tip: camel hump fat is an acquired taste.

Also, Somalis enjoy a wide range of fruits as well like apples, oranges, grapes, pears, dates, mango, guava and bananas, which Somalis also eat with rice, adding a lot of bright yellows, reds, and greens on the table. Somali cuisine is both savoury and colourful, and we haven’t even gotten to the localized French and Italian food fare. Somalis also love their confections like xalwa, the most famous and common. Lows iyo sisin is a dessert of peanuts (lows) and sesame seeds (sisin) into hardened caramel and is very much similar to peanut brittle, while jalaato from “gelato” is a frozen popsicle delight and nothing like that creamy Italian heaven. Gashaato is made from coconut shavings in sugar and served in bars, but my favourite remains to be the delectable Somali cakes and cookies known as doolshe and buskud respectively, which again sounds like “dulce” or “biscotti”.


Backpacking in Somalia

Backpacking Addictz looks at Backpacking in Somalia.

Joshua Boorman

Joshua Boorman

Founder & Editor in Chief at Backpacking Addictz
Come with me on a journey with me to various destinations throughout the world. We discuss all things Backpacking, Lifestyle Design & Online Business to help you achieve new found freedom and create a life of meaningful fulfillment.
Joshua Boorman