Laas Geel Cave Paintings – Somaliland

Soldier with an AK47 got in.

This will not be a ‘normal’ taxi ride.

My escort across Somaliland, along with the driver and I, passed the hot desert journey listening to music and chewing qat, a mild but legal narcotic.

Our destination was an isolated site of prehistoric cave art.

detail of laas geel cave painting in somaliland
Human figures and animals at the ancient cave art site in Somaliland.

Discovered in 2002 by French archaeologists, Laas Geel is one of the world’s greatest prehistoric art sites.

And it’s open to the public.

These cave paintings are in stunning condition, particularly since they’re exposed to the air; the colors remain vivid.

Yet the rock paintings of Laas Geel date to the Neolithic era, back some 5000 years ago.

dry landscape at wadis laas geel cave paintings in somaliland
Confluence of two ancient rivers – now wadis – and the namesake of Laas Geel.

Laas Geel in Somali, means “Camels Waterhole”, and is named after two rivers below the caves that once merged (but have since run dry) as desert surrounds the granite humps sheltering this ancient cave art.

There are 20 caves at Laas Geel

And the most important cave (number 1) has about 350 images across rock ceilings and walls.

A surreal mural swirl of simple figures.

Humans, goats, cows, antelopes, giraffes, dogs – painted in red, yellow, ochre and white.

Getting to the Laas Geel Cave Paintings

Laas Geel is only 50 km from Hargeisa – but you must hire a chartered taxi with an armed escort from the SPU (Special Protection Unit).

The taxi and escort costs $US 100 organized at the Oriental Hotel.

You also need a permit from the Ministry of Tourism @ $25 each person, which later you give to the guard at the site.

If you can find other travelers to share costs, then do it.

However, I went there alone.

desert family hut in somaliland
This family lived on route in the desert. The driver stopped and gave them some bread and other stuff, as he’d gotten to know them.

Visiting Laas Geel + Traveling to Berbera

You will probably have the site to yourself.

It’s amid a desert and it’s hot – so take water and snacks.

If backpacking in Somaliland then do this: After the cave art site, travel onwards to Berbera to the Red Sea coast (rather than returning to Hargeisa) to avoid doubling taxi fees, SPU costs, etc.

But remember to arrange all this beforehand as public transport is difficult to get. Or even use – and you’ll get grief at checkpoints by doing so (at least I did).

soldier escort cave art paintings in  somaliland
My escort, Madd, contemplating art and life (maybe) at the Laas Geel cave paintings.

Travels in Somaliland – 2013

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