Whale sharks in Djibouti waters gather in large numbers between October and February. We went snorkeling in early December and saw at least five different whale sharks up close and many more from the boat. It is possible to dive with the whale sharks but considering how fast they move snorkeling seemed like a better deal to have more up close encounters.
Surrounding landscape adds to the experience. Surreal looking multi-color hills and solidified lava flows are a result of volcanic activity that split Arabian peninsula from Africa, formed Rift valley and eventually will separate East Africa from the rest of Africa creating a new continent in some millions of years from now. A couple of hours drive from Djibouti to the salt lake Assal allows to see some spectacular scenery.
What to see
Djibouti is somewhat off the bitten track as tourism goes. On the positive side – there are no crowds of snorkelers and divers in the water. On the downside offering of hotels and restaurants is rather underwhelming. There are Sheraton and Kempinski – both charging exorbitant rates – and a bunch of smaller local hotels offering rather basic services at inflated prices.
We went snorkeling with Dolphin who run several boats and also offer diving trips. The boat is large – comfortably fitting about 30 snorkelers and divers – and departs from the fishing pier for about 2 hour trip to Tadjoura bay. Once in the bay groups of about 6 people go snorkeling on 2 skiffs for an hour or so each. The whale sharks are feeding on the surface and one can see them from the skiff.
The skiff comes closer and snorkelers jump into water to swim with the whale sharks. Once whale sharks pass, everyone climbs back to the skiff and go to find more whale sharks and jump again. Done with the snorkeling the skiff returns to the main boat where most delicious lunch is served. The operation is run highly professionally and efficiently.
We hired a car and drove up to the lake Assal and explored some of Tadjoura bay shoreline. The lake looks spectacular. While we originally planned to take a swim – or rather a float in it – we eventually decided against it as there were no showers or other fresh water supply around to wash off the salt and the water in the lake was very seriously painfully salty, not surprisingly. We then drove a little along the shore of Tadjoura bay with some spectacular volcanic scenery – solidified lava stopped by the sea. We had a limited time and did not make it all the way to Tadjoura town where reportedly beaches are very nice and there is some accommodation. Overall we had fantastic weekend snorkeling with the whale sharks and having a look at Djibouti’s surreal landscapes.