Harar to Somaliland and back, May 2016

Bob Francescone writes:

We did this trip overland in May, 2016. It’s an easy trip to Somaliland, a time-consuming one back. Buses leave from Harar for Jijiga very frequently, but not until they are filled, double-filled, and triple-filled. Our bus had 25 seats and 45 people. Ditto for the bus from Jijiga to the border. It’s all easy. Transfer time in Jijiga was just a few minutes, but we may have been lucky. The two buses are about 35 and 40 Birr each.

The border is a mayhem filled market, but the passport procedures are a snap…if you can find where you stamp out of Ethiopia and into Somaliland. People will help. The Ethiopia guys are pleasant and efficient. The Somaliland guys are worth the trip, happy go lucky, hand-shaking, welcoming, smiling guys. Our visa had expired, but they made a quick phone call up to Addis and issued us a new one, for the usual charge of $60 for a Somaliland visa. Easy stuff! They only get about 25 walkers a day, so they remembered us 5 days later on the way back, with equal affability and charm. Harar to the border on the two buses took about 4 hours.
The ride into Hargeisa is about $7.00 and takes about 2 hours. It will be cramped. They’ll drop you off at your hotel.
(NOTE: if you get your visa in Addis, plan carefully. Pay very careful attention to the 30 day limit. It begins to count down from the day you GET your visa. 60 day visas may also be available there. Issuing the visas takes a few hours. If you go early you may get it almost immediately. We got there at 11 and had the visa at 1. )

The return trip is another experience altogether. Border to Harar took 8 hours. Details to follow.
The bus from Hargeisa leaves from the bus station and is about $3-$4, with seats and little crowding. Reverse the immigration process at the border. There had been heavy rains so the Ethiopian passport office had moved. People helped us find it.

The bus to Jijiga was crammed with people and piles of goodies they are trying to bring back into Ethiopia. Somaliland has no taxes. Things cost a fraction of what they cost in Ethiopia. You’re traveling with small time ‘smugglers’, and the Ethiopian authorities know it. The buses were stopped 8 times. They’re looking for electronics (and smuggled US cash, the currency of favor in Somaliland) , we were told. They search everything and every package. One stop was essentially a pro forma wave through. Most required us to off load, be questioned and searched. Our back packs were emptied onto the road and our wallets emptied and counted at one. That one also included a body search. It was all polite, and everyone else seemed to take it as a matter of course, so that’s what we did. Other passengers showed us what to do and where to go. It was pretty simple. All the goodies were opened and confiscated.

Our trip might have taken less time, but the first bus broke down and the substitute bus had clutch problems and ‘sped’ along at the rate of a careful stroll. We got to Jijiga as it was getting dark, but there was a bus loading up. It left about 30 minutes later. The bus fare collectors may try to charge you more than they charge the other passengers. On the border-Jijiga busTwo women behind the fare collector waved 3 fingers at us, telling us the fare was 30Birr and not the 50 he asked for.

All in all, it was easy, fun, crowded and a quintessentially Ethiopian experience, with friendly people. This is why we travel.

Jijiga & Tog Wajaale

Phil King writes:

We stayed in Jijiga for a night on the way to Hargeisa and again on the way back. We stayed at the Bade (sometimes spelled Bada) on the way there. We found it to be unfriendly, gloomy, badly maintained, and very poor value at 250 birr. On the way back we stayed at the Hamda Hotel, which I don’t think is mentioned in your guidebooks. OK, I’m not saying it’s the greatest hotel in the world, but for 368 birr it’s at least 3 times as nice as the Bade, and way more friendly. It’s right on the main highway between Harar and Waajaale.

Tog Wajaale (the border post) has to be one of the most miserable places I’ve ever been to. In a future edition you might want to warn readers not to accept the help of the friendly little boys with wheelbarrows who offer to carry your bags across the border. I did, and when I gave the kid 10 birr, which I thought was generous (at least by Ethiopian standards) for 15 minutes work trundling 2 small bags he demanded $10, and I had a world of hassle from a bunch of hustlers/touts in the parking lot before they allowed me to get away with paying 20 birr.

Luxury bus services

We’ve just had news of two companies offering luxury coach services (or what passes for luxury in Ethiopia) along several major routers. In both cases the coach are meant to provide a compromise between expensive flights and rough local buses, and they are aimed at middle class Ethiopian as much as tourists, so not madly expensive.  Both have useful websites, if you want to explore further.  

Sky Bus started up in Dec 2008 and offers services from Addis Ababa to six major cities, namely Bahir Dar, Gonder, Jimma, Awassa, Harer and Dire Dawa.

Selam Bus runs services to Bahir Dar, Gonder, Jimma, Harer, Dire Dawa, Jijiga, Dessie and Mekele, and even has an online reservation system.

Any feedback from travellers who use these services will be greatly appreciated!