My trip to Djibouti, swimming with the majestic Whale sharks in the Gulf of Tadjoura, soaking in the super-salty water of Lake Assal and exploring the bustling streets of the African quarter in Djibouti City.

Day 1.

Outside Dubai Airport's Terminal 2 just before 10am. I had awoken earlier in the day to super-thick fog enveloping the whole city. Although it had largely cleared by the time I got to the airport, there were likely to be ongoing delays as the airlines caught up on their flights.

Originally my flights were going to be a simple return flight to/from Djibouti (JIB). However after Flydubai cancelled my JIB-DXB flight, I flew back to Dubai on a combination of both Ethiopian Airlines and Emirates:

Day 1: Flying Flydubai (FZ) from Dubai to Djibouti(DXB-JIB).
Day 4: Flying Ethiopian Airlines (ET) from Djibouti to Addis Ababa via Dire Dawa (JIB-DIR-ADD).
Flying Emirates Airline (EK) from Addis Ababa to Dubai (ADD-DXB).

With the heavy fog earlier in the morning, almost all flights were delayed, with some up to 4 hours and some even cancelled. My flight to Djibouti was currently only showing a 55 minute delay however.

The Marhaba lounge was packed with all the delay affected passengers, so I went to the food court and had some tandoori chicken and naan bread for 30 AED from the Indian restaurant.

Our revised 12:45pm departure time came and went but we eventually boarded the departure bus just before 2pm.

A Qeshm Airlines A300 next to a Fedex 777-200 as we push back finally at 2:30pm.

Looking down at the Dubai creek soon after take-off with some of the morning's fog still visible.

And across to the Dubai skyline.

Starting to bank left as we turn south towards Oman.

Al Satwa and Downtown Dubai.

Dubai Airport and the Emirate of Sharjah in the distance.

And the mountains of Oman below as we head south-east to avoid Yemeni airspace.

The clouds above the Somaliland coast along the Gulf of Aden.

Looking down on Djibouti City as we come in for approach at Djibouti–Ambouli International Airport.

After parking up, it was only a short walk across the tarmac and to the terminal. I had landed at Djibouti Airport two years ago on my way back from Somalia so there was a bit of a sense of déjà vu.

My three day visa on arrival for 10,000 Djiboutian francs ($60).

And catching an old Toyota taxi into the city for 2,000 francs.

After the short drive we arrived at my hotel in the European quarter for the next three nights, Residence Lagon Bleu.

$80 per night and it was relatively clean and modern and with super cool AC.

I had an early morning tomorrow and too early for the hotel breakfast so headed to the local supermarket to buy a few things.

For dinner I then headed to Restaurant La Chaumière and had the tasty veal scallops with creamy mushroom sauce.

I then headed back to the hotel to have an early night before the exciting day out in the Gulf of Tadjoura tomorrow.

Day 2.

After an early morning run, I had some breakfast I had bought the day before. Djibouti is a former French colony and there still seems to be alot of French influence.

After a 2.5 kilometre walk from the centre of town, I arrived at the Port de pêche, ready to meet up at the boat Faragallah. Onboard I met up with Ricardo from Dolphin Services, our trip leader for today.

On the back deck of the boat while waiting for the other people to arrive. In the distance on the left is Djibouti's first and only skyscraper.

At about 7:45am we departed port for our trip in the Gulf of Tadjoura. There were about 20 people on board today with myself, 6 South Africans, a French couple, and the rest being American military personnel and contractors based at Camp Lemonnier, the United States Naval Expeditionary Base at Djibouti Airport.

The DP World port as we leave Djibouti City. Since Eritrean Independence in 1991, the Port of Djibouti has been the main port for imports to and exports from neighboring land-locked Ethiopia.

Our two skiffs being towed behind as we head west along the Djiboutian coast in the Gulf of Tadjoura.

After 2 hours cruising west along the coast, we anchored just off a reef. While 6 of us suited up for a scuba dive, the rest of the boat headed out in the two skiffs to see if they could find the Whale sharks.

After briefing the guys heading out to see the Whale sharks, Ricardo gave us a briefing on our reef dive this morning.

I was paired up with Rob from South Africa. Rob was flying an Embraer ERJ 135 for the UN, ferrying personel to and from Sanaa in Yemen for their humanitarian relief operations.

We headed along the reef, checking out the multitude of beautiful and colourful fish.

Lurking in the shadows in the centre of the photo we saw a slightly shy Moray Eel.

Some more fish peeping out behind some coral.

One of the other divers down below.

I didn't go much below 10 metres as there wasn't much to see beyond the reef in the shallower waters.

My tank pressure gauge was in imperial units (psi) and I'm normally used to the pressure being measured in metric so had to do mental conversions back to bars while monitoring my remaining air.

Rob had learn't to dive in Djibouti and had often come out on his days off from shuttling UN personnel to and from Yemen.

It was amazing too see the abundance of fish, both in number and variety.

A Bluespotted ribbontail ray.

With the shallow dive depth and focusing on conserving my air I managed to squeeze out 65 minutes underwater, my longest dive yet!

Back on the Faragallah with some of the guys having a snorkel after a successful morning swimming with the Whale sharks. The boat in the background is on a 7 day 'live aboard' divetrip around the coast.

Lunch being served at about 12:30pm. Some tuna salad and rice to start.

Followed by some freshly BBQ'ed and very tasty tuna and beef kebabs.

And some watermelon and banana to finish.

After lunch, the divers loaded up onto one of the skiffs and headed out to try and find the Whale sharks.

After about ~30 minutes riding along the coast in the skiff, our spotter saw a Whale shark. The boat driver maneuvered just in front of the big fish and we all jumped in!

The Whale shark was moving through the water at a bit of a pace so we had to swim quite frantically to catch up with it.

Luckily we caught up with it though, despite being nearly out of breath! Some yellow pilot fish also right in front of the Whale sharks mouth.

It was hard not to feel overawed by this massive but gentle fish. Whale sharks are migratory fish and only spend ~6 weeks every December and January in the waters around Djibouti.

It was definitely one of my most memorable and amazing travel experiences!

The spots on a Whale shark form a unique 'bodyprint' that helps identify and track individual sharks. Luckily my photo above was perfect for this, and Dolphin Services submitted it to the international Whale shark database.

Whale sharks are listed as vulnerable to extinction in the IUCN list of threatened species, so it was great to help in a small way to better understand and protect these beautiful creatures.

After the amazing afternoon, we clambered back into the skiff, both exhausted and exhilarated after the awesome experience, and then headed back to the Faragallah.

And back at Djibouti Port de pêche just before 6pm. The whole day had cost $160, including the dive and lunch, and was well worth it.

After walking back into the city, I headed to Kokeb Star, a restaurant specialising in Ethiopian cuisine.

For dinner I head the injera with beef, chicken, cheese and other traditional dishes. Very tasty and it could have easily fed two people!

I then retired back to the hotel to get some rest before another busy day tomorrow.

Day 3.

After an early morning run, I had breakfast and then met up with Ken from Rushing Water Adventures when he picked me up in his Landcruiser outside my hotel at 8am.

Today's plan was to head west out of Djibouti City to Lake Assal, the world's most saltiest lake.

Heading out of the city. It was Saturday morning so luckily the traffic was quite light. Also along for the ride was Hani, a Djiboutian that Ken was training up as a tour guide.

On the way out of town we stopped at a local pâtisserie and picked up some almond croissants for morning tea.

And heading west out on the open road out of Djibouti city. Ken had lived and worked for a few years in Somalia in the 1980's and spoke fluent Somalian. After bringing up his kids back in Wisconsin, he returned to the horn of Africa, and had spent the last 6 years living and working in Djibouti.

Allahu Akbar marked out in rocks on the side of a hill. 94% of Djiboutians are Muslims.

Buying some roast peanuts for a few francs from the local kids as we passed through the town of We'a. The nuts were amusingly wrapped up in the kids school homework!

We stopped at about 10am to take in the view of Canyon Dadaile.

There were some souvenir sellers offering some geode rocks so I bought one for 1,000 francs to take home.

Passing through a small village. The area was extremely dry, and the government brings in a tanker of water once a week to refill the villager's water drums.

A panoramic shot of the volcanic terrain. On the far right is Lac du Goubet and in the distance on the far left is our destination for today, Lac Assal. The main source of water for Lac Assal is subterrean geothermal springs fed with water originating from Lac du Goubet.

More souvenirs for sale at a road side stop above Lac du Goubet.

Lac du Goubet is actually connected to the sea by a narrow inlet so is technically a bay.

We then headed further west before coming to the turn off to Lac Assal.

Lake Assal is 155 meters below sea level and is the lowest point in Africa and the third-lowest point on Earth.

The salinity level of its water is 10 times that of the sea. It is the most saline lake in the world and is even saltier than the Dead Sea.

And the salty white foreshore. The Chinese are investing in a project to mine the salt and had recently rebuilt the road out to the lake.

The white salt easily reflected the sun and the use of suncreen was a definite must!

Wading into the super salty water. I had swum in the Dead Sea before and its bottom was more of a soft, muddy brown and the water quite murky. Lac Assal was crystal clear though and you could easily see the pure salt bottom.

I had brought along my swimming gear and eagerly took a dip. Like the Dead Sea, the water is very dense at 1.25 g/cm3 and you could float very easily in the clear and sterile water (like the Dead Sea, no fish survive in the super salty water).

Looking back at our Landcruiser parked on the salt plain.

We then started the drive back. At a hot spring near the lake where some minnow fish live and are said to be similar to species found in the Caribbean and South American salt works.

In the distance is the volcano Ardoukôka which had erupted a few years ago.

The road with slowly growing cracks along the Aden Ridge. Ken said that as the Somalian and Arabian tectonic plates drift apart, Somalia will eventually become an island in 70 million years time, just like Madagascar.

We then stopped at a guesthouse on the shores of Lac du Goubet and had a picnic lunch that Ken had brought along.

We also had a good chat with the guesthouse owner, who told us the legend of when Jacque Cosuteau had visited many years ago, in search of a mysterious monster that supposedly lurked at the bottom of Lac du Goubet. The story was that Monsieur Cousteau had sent down a dead camel in a cage into the lake, but it came back crushed. Cousteau had apparently filmed the monster but decided not to release the footage as mankind was not quite ready for such a thing!

After the tasty lunch and entertaining legend of Lac du Goubet we headed back to Djibouti city. Some Hamadryas baboon by the road side as we got closer to the city.

We got back to Djibouti about 4:30pm where I thanked and said farewell to Ken after he dropped me back at the Residence Lagon Bleu.

After resting up at the hotel, I went out for a walk in the evening.

It was New Years eve so the city was quite busy with people out enjoying their evening.



Down one of the alleys in the African quarter.

At the local souq.

And some tasty chicken pizza for dinner at Le Pizzaiollo at the end of day 3.

Day 4.

I was awoken at 3:30am by a BBC news alert on my iPad. There had been a terrorist attack on a nightclub in Istanbul. I had a quick look at my emails and saw one at 2am from Flydubai. I thought it was just a reminder to check in online for my flight back to Dubai at 3:45pm later today, but upon opening it I realised that the flight had been cancelled!

I had a quick look on Flightradar24 and there didn't seem to be other flights cancelled in Dubai (due to fog?).

There was another Flydubai flight scheduled for tomorrow, but I didn't want to spend another 24 hours in Djibouti (and be late back for work) or risk the flight being cancelled again.

After having a quick look at the other options for getting back to Dubai today, I managed to book a flight to Addis Ababa va Dire Dawa on Ethiopian Airlines departing at 11am, and then connecting onto an Emirates flight at 3:40pm to Dubai.

With the frantic search to book a new flight back to Dubai I couldn't get back to sleep, so went for a last run around Djibouti and then had some breakfast before checking out of the hotel at 8am.

After catching a taxi to the airport, I went through to security and went to check in for the flight to Addis Ababa. Given that I had only booked the flight online only 5 hours prior, I was a little nervous that my booking wouldn't be in the system, but luckily everything worked out ok.

I then headed to immigration. As I only had a one-way ticket, the immigration lady wanted to see my connecting ticket to Dubai. I showed it to her on my iPad, and she then used the camera normally used for taking a photo of your face to awkwardly take a photo of my iPad screen showing my DXB ticket.

The Ethiopian 737 from Addis Ababa then arrived ontime and we boarded just before 11am.

C-130J Hercules and V-22 Ospreys on the tarmac as we depart.

And the view of Djibouti–Ambouli International Airport, Camp Lemonnier and Djibouti City as we head to Ethiopia.

After a short flight we descended into Dire Dawa. The new Chinese built and financed railway from Djibouti port to Addis Ababa out the window.

And on the ground at Dire Dawa Airport where we picked up more passengers for the onward flight to Addis Ababa. It felt quite strange taking a domestic flight in a country I had technically not visited yet!

A small sandwich and a bottle of water that was served on the short hop to the capital.

And circling above Addis Ababa a short while later.

A couple of old DC-3's on the ground at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. Not the usual planes you see abandoned at airports in Africa.

After transferring from the domestic to the international terminal, I went in search of my boarding pass for my Emirates fight to Dubai. After asking at the Ethiopian transfer desk, I was told to head to the gate to get it.

There was a queue of passengers at the gate also getting their boarding pass for Dubai, but after a short wait I finally got it and then headed to one of the restaurants for some lunch.

The EK 777-300ER ready to take us onto Dubai.

The flight was ony ~60% full and boarding went relatively smoothly. The 777 was only 15 months old and had the latest EK Y IFE system which had an impressively big screen.

Ethiopian-style chicken and rice with some French white wine served soon after take-off.

The flight map as we approach Dubai, with the obligatory path around Yemeni airspace.

And arriving back at Dubai Airport after an amazing and very memorable trip to Djibouti!

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