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How to Navigate Transport in Djibouti

Djama, Downtown Djibouti
Djama, Downtown Djibouti | © Francisco Anzola / Flickr
Djibouti is an extremely small country located on the Horn of Africa and bordering Ethiopia to the east and the Gulf of Aden to the west. An arid land with an old tradition of nomadism, where the only transportation known until the arrival of French colonialism was camels.

In 2018, Djibouti was listed on the hottest travel destinations every adventure and local culture-lover should add to their bucket list. Public transportation is not well developed in Djibouti, but here are the ins and outs of how to safely and efficiently navigate Djibouti city and its surroundings.

Private taxi

Unlike Egypt where Careem’s and Uber’s ready-to-order cars are abundant, Djibouti’s taxis are state owned. A taxi in Djibouti will be pretty much your best friend and ally. In the Ilot of Heron, they are packed next to the Kempinski Palace waiting for passengers. You will find drivers sitting outside chewing qat, the busy ones will forward you to their colleagues. You can find taxis pretty much everywhere, especially downtown near the main night clubs: La Galette, Place Menelik, or a bit further into the Haramouss area, just in front of the Moulk Center. With the opening of Djibouti Bawadi Mall, the taxis that have a special agreement with the mall are queuing inside.

If you are staying for a month or more, you can ask for trustworthy taxi drivers around and you can conclude an agreement monthly. You will have to agree on the price and the number of pick-ups per day.

Djiboutian taxis at rest during Ramadan © Zineb Boujrada / Culture Trip

Local tip: Always negotiate your price before hopping in the taxi. Djiboutian taxi drivers can sometimes be greedy, and if you do not know the local prices, you can be dumped. For instance a lift from Heron to Djibouti downtown, should not cost you more than 500 Djiboutian Francs (US$2.80), and from Heron to Haramouss, from 800—1,000 DJF (US$4.50–5.60) depending on where you are stopping. Also, the prices change at night, especially those departing from night clubs: it can cost you from 1,000–1,500 DJF (US$5.60–8.45). Finally, a taxi to the airport should normally cost something around 1,500–1,800 DJF (US$8.45–10.15). Again, always negotiate.

Djama, Downtown Djibouti © Francisco Anzola / Flickr

Local urban bus

In Djibouti, there is no visible urban bus company or logo, unlike M’dina Bus in Casablanca, Morocco for instance. There are only minibuses that are privately owned. With no known schedule, you will find every now and then a bus stopping at the main intersections of main areas such as Heron to pick up passengers. For as little as 40 DJF (US$0.25), you can hop on and go a fair distance towards your destination. Sometimes it can be tricky, as the majority of drivers’ assistants who call out for passengers do not speak French nor English. Always say out loud the name of the place, and the person will just let you in or not, it is a sort of a code. The prices should increase depending on how far you go. These minibuses navigate all of Djibouti city and link central areas with suburban areas.

Local tip: Tell your bus driver and his assistant what stop you want to get off at, and knock on the window as a reminder when it’s your turn to exit.

Random mini-bus in Heron © Zineb Boujrada / Culture Trip

Outside of Djibouti city

Reaching cities or towns outside of Djibouti can be extremely difficult without a rental car. Starting from Djibouti, you can check the different options, such as EuropCar, for rentals per day or month. The prices differ from one service provider to another, but it can seem a bit expensive compared with other countries because of the rarity of such a service.