Wrecked Ships Berbera Somaliland

Berbera – Ancient Port at the End of the World – Somaliland

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If you’re looking for a ragged, end-of-the-earth place – go to the old town of Berbera.

Mosques Berbera Somaliland
Mosques and old architecture are the draw-card for Berbera

Guaranteed no backpacker hostels or cafes. And probably zero foreigners. Bliss for some travelers; hell for others.

Getting to Berbera is half the mission.

Not that’s it’s difficult, just taxing …

Somali Children Berbera Somaliland
Young people of Berbera

Getting there, I continued on-wards from Las Geel pre-historic rock art site with my hired taxi and armed escort.

But half-way towards Berbera, my escort got out at a checkpoint and returned to Hargeisa.

(So much for the mandatory – paid – armed protection insisted on by Government officials to travel anywhere outside the capital; not that I cared except for the additional expense).

However, getting back to Hargesia 2 days later, things got a little edgy – trying to convince a driver to take me in a shared taxi van without an escort.

Luckily, I was hidden in the very back behind numerous heads and rear-side tinted windows, ducking my white-face deep into my lap, avoiding soldiers’ brief glances in at the driver thru his open front window as we passed half-a-dozen checkpoints back to Hargeisa.

Berbera Somaliland Scenes Collage
Rustic scenes from old port of Berbera.

A Brief History of Berbera

Berbera was mentioned 2000 years ago by a Greek trader and much later by 9th century Chinese scholar as a port dominated by the trade of slaves and ivory.

Beyond these footnotes, little is known about Berbera – a sparse story much like the surrounding desert.

Further mentions occur during the Portuguese exploration of Africa’s Swahili coast – when they sacked the town in 1518. And later in 1546, the Turkish Ottoman Empire occupied the northwestern regions of Somalia, including Berbera.

Street Scenes Berbera Somaliland
Street scenes of old Berbera.

From the 19th century the story picks up, with the British explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton visiting twice.

During his second visit, hundreds of Somalis attacked his camp on the night of April 19th 1855. They killed one of his companions but Burton managed to escape to Aden (a British-base in Yemen).

After signing treaties with Somali sultans in 1888, the British established a protectorate known as British Somaliland.

Container Ship Arriving Berbera Somaliland
Ship going towards the modern port of Berbera – as seen from the old city limits. I hung out with this local crazy guy and some fishermen as the wind really blew a refreshing gale across the summer heat.

But this zone was really only a supply source of meat for their outpost in Aden (on route between Britain and India) and Berbera was nicknamed by Brits as “Aden’s Butcher Shop”.

In 1940 during the East Africa campaign of World War Two, the Italians briefly occupied British Somaliland.

Later independence in 1960 was followed by unification with the other two regions of Somalia, only to dissolve again with the past decades of civil war across Somalia.

Ship Monument And Camel Berbera Somaliland
A true: “Ship of the Desert” …

Today, Berbera remains an end of the earth place of crumbling colonial and Islamic architecture.

Quiet streets. Slight infrastructure. But a nearby modern terminal still serves as an important Red Sea port. Mostly exporting “sheep, arabic gum, frankincense, and myrrh to Aden in Yemen, 240 km to the north. Goods from Ethiopia are also exported through the facility.”

Berbera’s climate is brutally hot and dry.

The town receives around 50 mm of rain, which equates to only six days of measurable rainfall per year!

Average temperatures in the summer exceed 40°C and can easily crack the 50°C mark.

Ocean Sunset Berbera Somaliland
Sunset over the Red Sea at Berbera (I had to sneak around a military checkpoint to get to this beach).

Hence, most of the city residents are forced to seasonally migrate to the cooler inland cities during Summer.”

… Well that explains the appalling heat (I paid extra for AC).

And also the reason for the quietness of the town (I found only one simple restaurant open, where I ate fried fish and rice w/ carrot + onion). But being a conservative Islamic state – alas zero chance of an ice cold beer or two.

Ship Wrecks Berbera Somaliland

Travels in Somaliland – 2013


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