Djibouti things to see and do

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Djibouti was originally inhabited by nomadic tribes, the main ones being the Afars and the Issas, who are strongly linked to Ethiopia and Somalia respectively. In 1862, the French signed a treaty with the Afar leaders, giving them land on the north coast. During the rest of the 19th century, Djibouti gradually became more firmly associated with France.

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In 1945, French Somaliland (as the area was called) was declared an 'overseas territory' and in 1967, it became the French territory of the 'Afars and Issas'. In 1977, the French agreed to withdraw and the country achieved independence.

Controlling access to the Red Sea, Djibouti is of major strategic importance. During the Gulf War it was the base of operations for the French military, who continue to maintain a significant presence, contributing directly and indirectly to more than half the country's income.

Things to see and do

Afar Triangle

Djibouti lies within a geological feature known as the Afar Triangle, one of the hottest and most desolate places on Earth. Part of the Great Rift Valley system, it is a wedge of flat desert pushing into the Ethiopian Massif. Much of it is below sea level.

Ambouli

Just outside Djibouti, stroll in the Ambouli palm grove during the cooler parts of the day.

Djibouti

In Djibouti, a late 19th-century city with a distinctly Arabic feel, visit the lively Central Market (Le Marché Central) near the Mosque.

Doralé

The beaches at Doralé and Khor-Ambado, which are both about 15km (10 miles) from Djibouti, offer safe swimming. Another good beach can be found at Ghoubet al Kharab, which is about an hour's drive from Lake Assal, and where black-lava cliffs border the beach.

Geology

Geology and wildlife enthusiasts may head to the wilderness around Lake Abbé (accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles only), a gathering place for flamingos and pelicans and the location of strange natural steaming chimneys.

Gulf of Tadjoura

The Gulf of Tadjoura (especially Obock) contains many species of fish and coral and is ideal for diving, snorkelling and underwater photography; in many places, the coral reefs in the Red Sea are easily accessible from the beaches. The best time for these activities is from September to May when the waters of the Red Sea are clear. Waterskiing and windsurfing can also be arranged.

Lake Assal

Surrounded by dormant volcanoes and lava fields, Lake Assal, 100km (60 miles) to the southwest of Djibouti city, is one of the lowest surface areas anywhere on the planet (150m/570 ft below sea level); and is reachable only by 4-wheel drive vehicle. It is possible to windsurf on wheels in the desert areas.

Tropical Aquarium

Also worth seeing in Djibouti is the Tropical Aquarium with underwater exhibits from the Red Sea (open daily 1600-1830), and the Presidential Palace.