The prehistoric rock art paintings of Laas Geel are thought to be some of the oldest and most beautiful in Africa. Located just 50 km from Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland they are not that hard to get to. Or are they?
We break down the somewhat complicated process of getting to the Laas Gaal (as it is sometimes spelled) cave art so that you can see it for yourself!
Getting to Somaliland is a bit of a process, because it is really a place that doesn’t exist. As you may know, the land became an unrecognized independent sovereign state in 1991. However, internationally it is still seen as a part of Somalia.
The country is self-governing with an independent government, democratic elections and a distinct history. However, most governments have a Level 4 – do not travel advisory linked to this country. Therefore there are added complications to travelling here.
In addition, very few flights come into Hargeisa. They are mostly from Addis Ababa, Jeddah or Dubai. And these flights frequently get cancelled like ours did. Therefore, patience and flexibility when planning a trip to see the Laas Geel cave art is imperative!
Getting the Visa
Most passport holders need to meet the typical requiremenst to get a Visa on Arrival:
- Valid passport for 6 months
- 2 passport sized pictures
- $60 USD
- Invitation Letter and Hotel Reservation
However, it is that last requirement of the Invitation Letter that is the troublesome piece. For this we highly recommend contacting the folks at the Ambassador Hotel. For a $60 USD fee per person, Salim, the hotel manager, organized everything! And our process at passport control lasted about 1 minute.
I can’t say enough about the Ambassador Hotel in Hargeisa. They made our trip as smooth as possible – even with the cancelled flight and a bunch of changes to our itinerary.
The hotel is 5 minutes from the airport and a representative picks you up free of charge from the hotel (and drops you off at the end).
It is truly an oasis in the dusty landscape of Somaliland. We felt very comfortable and safe there. In addition, there is a reasonably priced restaurant and a cafe on site.
Organizing the Tour To Laas Geel
Most of the quotes that I received to go to the cave art or any of the other sites in this country were really overpriced. Please note that every vehicle has to be escorted not only by the driver but also by an armed police officer.
Again, the Ambassador Hotel came through and organized the tour for us. The cost was $310 for the car, fuel, driver and armed police officer. In comparison this was a very reasonable price.
PRO TIP: Cash is king in this region, so remember to bring enough USD. There are some ATMs (including 2 at the Ambassador Hotel) which issue USD. However, we were not able to withdraw cash from it (others were able to, especially with European ATM cards).
The Cave Art
The cave art of this area is truly spectacular and the jewel of the country! It is believed that the art was painted somewhere between 3,500 – 2,500 BC. It was found by a group of French researchers in 2002. Could you imagine stumbling on these stunning paintings?!
The vivid rock art depicts many decorated cattle and other wild animals. There are very basic images of humans – drawn as flat rectangles. In addition, they also enjoyed painting dogs beside their human companions and knives. We found some antelope as well as a giraffe on these amazing outcroppings.
We had this extraordinary place all to ourselves! The onsite guide was very excited to share his treasures with us and explain the cave art of each shelter.
Sadly, the art is open to the elements and not in any way protected from them or the human touch. We were very careful not to brush up against anything. However, there was nothing stopping us from doing so. We really hope that these masterpieces remain as vivid and beautiful as they were for us.
I must say that prior to getting to Hargeisa, given all of the negative press about the area, we were quite worried about spending time here. Bottom line we were worried about our safety. However, we felt perfectly safe here.
Perhaps it was because we were so well taken care of by the hotel and the tour operators. Maybe. But I also think it was because this self proclaimed sovereign state is just a peaceful place tarnished by the reputation of it’s neighbor – Somalia.
The Laas Gaal cave art is truly spectacular and the jewel of Somaliland! Our visit here went very smoothly because of the hard work of the Ambassador Hotel in Hargeisa. They organized everything and for the best price that we could find.
Because of our cancelled flight we were able to spend another free night in Addis Ababa before heading on to the Mundari Tribe!
Have you been to Laas Gaal? What did you think of the cave art there? Are you planning a trip – please let us know if we can help you. We would love to hear from you!