It’s not that Somalia isn’t high on your dream travel list. It’s never been on your travel list. What little news trickles out of the East Africa country is never positive. It’s usually about famine, pirates, or, lately, terrorism. But the country has an autonomous region that seems to be getting its act together.
Somaliland sits in the northwestern corner of Somalia along Djibouti and the Gulf of Aden. The self-declared state claimed its independence 25 years ago, though it’s yet to be recognized by the Somali—or any other—government. But things are different here. There’s law, order, and respect. Visitors are welcomed and feel safe. While two marine national parks bring the promise of future tourism.
One of these parks sits off the coast of Zeila, an ancient city and one of the oldest ports in East Africa. The Sa’ad ad-Din Islands are known for their splendid coral reefs, gorgeous beaches, and huge bird colonies. The six islands have no permanent residents. Local fishermen and the occasional tourist are the only ones who venture out here. It’s left the islands peaceful and undisturbed.
So how can these practically unknown, low-lying islands be the future of tourism in Somaliland? It’s that coral reef. It’s considered the largest, most diverse, and well-formed reef in the Arabian Sea. Ninety nine types of coral and more than 130 species of fish have been found in the crystal-clear water. It’s a snorkeler’s and diver’s paradise. Add a historic lighthouse on Aibat Island and a sultan’s shrine and 100,000 breeding birds—like crab plovers and white-eyed gulls—on Sa’ad ad-Din Island for potential interest well beyond the water. If Somaliland can pull it off, Somalia is bound to follow, right?