Life as a Nomad: Djibouti City, Djibouti

Life as a Nomad‘ is an occasional series that focuses on the nomadic life and where we’ve lived it. Read the whole ‘Life as a Nomad‘ series, including guest posts from fellow nomads!

This one comes to us from Brock and Tangerine, who blog over at

So, tell me about Djibouti.

We moved to Djibouti City, Djibouti because of Brock’s work. “Where the hell is Djibouti?” It’s in Africa! A lot of people don’t even know where it is, and yes it exists. This is what we got from people who think we are crazy for moving there, with dogs in tow. Djibouti is in Eastern part of Africa, often called the Horn of Africa, just north of Somalia and south of Eritrea.

baboons in the wild

How we got the news that we are moving to Djibouti is quite funny. We are on our first cruise seeing Scandinavia and the Baltics, when we got the biggest shock of our lives. We were prepping to move to Qatar (Middle East) and all of a sudden, with a blink of an eye things changed, Brock received an e-mail saying “You need to go to Djibouti in two weeks.” Just like that, our plans changed.

When did you live there?

We lived there in 2012 for about a year.

But why Djibouti?

Brock manages construction projects all over the world and one of his projects happens to be in Djibouti.

How do you get there?

We flew from the US via Ethiopian Air, passing by Addis Ababa and from there, a short flight to Djibouti. Other routes from the US would be a connecting flight to Paris or Dubai then a short flight to Djibouti.

Are there many foreigners around?

grand canyon of djibouti

Yes, mostly French, German or American military. The French colonized Djibouti so there is a lot of French expats working over there as well with their families, or foreigners volunteering to help in this part of Africa.

Are there many foreign products or services around?

Since it was French ex-colony, there is at least one French chain grocery store that caters to most of the expat’s needs. They have European goods, which was really nice. There is also a bunch of French, Arabic and Yemeni restaurants around town.

What about the language barrier?

If you can speak French, you are golden. A lot of people speak Arabic but a lot of them understands and can speak English.

What’s there to see around town?

In Djibouti, there is not much to see around. It’s quite depressing to see poverty everywhere. If you want to escape this scenery, you can go to the only 5 star hotel in the country (Kempinski), have a drink or sit by the pool.

Is it worth coming to Djibouti as a tourist?

Definitely NOT!

What’s your favorite spot to get local cuisine – a place not frequented by tourists?

barren african lands

Tourists in Djibouti are quite rare. Typically, the people who would want to tour and eat around Djibouti are the people who are there for work. (Side note: Djibouti broke off with Somalia, and their cuisine is quite similar to most Arabic food and Yemeni food). So, we typically go to our neighborhood restaurant (we forgot the name) that serves this type of meals. We actually enjoyed it!

What about a taste of home or the Western world?

kempinski hotel

It was quite good since the restaurants are mostly owned by French expats. We could say that our favorite Western restaurant would be La Mer Rouge wherein they serve Sting Ray with Black Butter and Capers. One thing that is worth of us mentioning here is the real good gelato place called Da Fortuna Italiano (owned by an Italian guy), downtown. Their gelato was really really good, especially with the African sun, this place is heaven!

How did you find a place to live (e.g. where did you look)? What will you do differently the next time out?

Anywhere we go, typically, the company finds an apartment or a house where we could live.

Which specific websites, forums, or Facebook groups are worth joining? Which ones aren’t?

We saw a website wherein an American expat blogging about her life in Djibouti, called Djibouti Jones. We initially contacted her and asked her a few questions to settle our doubts about our move there.

Are there many jobs available for nomads like yourself, or is it easy to find clients in the neighborhood?

Not a lot of jobs for foreigners, even locals. It’s quite scarce.

What’s the vibe you get around locals? Do they see you as a potential partner or a threat?

road tripping djibouti

They see us as a potential source of handout wherever we go. You judge for yourself, for example, Brock’s company was hiring local neighbor to do the work and the company pays twice or thrice more than the normal local wage. Instead of taking advantage of this and showing up routinely for work, people would work for one week per month and stop. They usually just work as little as possible, instead of saving it for rainy days.

Djibouti is the only country in the world where khat or qat (stimulant in a form of chewing a leaf) is legal. A lot of the locals usually chew them, it stains their teeth and looks gross.

What’s been the most difficult thing to get used to as a nomad in Djibouti?

The prevalent poverty and as animals lovers, seeing stray dogs around is just heartbreaking.

Think you’ll miss it after you leave?


Last, but most important question: where’s the best place to get a beer?

For ambiance and experience, just go to Café de la Gare, located in the center of the city.

lac assal - the saltiest body of water in the world saltier than the dead sea

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