Laas Geel in Somaliland is Africa’s best-kept secret; these intriguing cave paintings fascinate people all over the world.

By Pranjali Korgaonkar

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Hailing from thousands of years ago, Laas Geel in Somaliland is Africa’s best-kept secret. While Africa is famous for wildlife and national parks, stretching deserts, incredible waterfalls, heart-thumping safari adventures, and diverse ethnic groups, Somaliland is barely thought of as a tourist destination. Disclaimer: Somaliland is not similar to Somalia in Africa. Somaliland is itself a self-declared republic state and is quite an underrated tourist destination.

Being one of the most vivid rock arts in Africa, Laas Geel’s origins had been obscure for a very long time. Also, there are many unexplored places in Africa that are similar to Laas Geel. The cave paintings of Laas Geel are fascinating to witness indeed as they behold a history with them.


About Laas Geel

Laas Geel translates to “Valley Where You Water Your Camels” Ancient cave formations, also known as to own historic cave paintings, Laas Geel is located on the rural outskirts of Hargeisa, Somaliland, Africa.

These caves are in the settings of the desert plain and are quite secluded along two intermittent streams. Particularly, the well-preserved paintings in these caves with their vibrant hues and surprisingly, unfaded by time make this place a prime source of attraction.

They are scattered across 10 cave chambers, also known as “alcoves” and the rock art depicts Ethiopian and Arabian styles.

The whole complex comprises 20 shelters or rock caves that are naturally occurring and not man-made. The rock formations vary in size and the largest one is ten meters long and 5 meters depth. The prime shelter is Shelter 1 due to the richness of variations and the complex composition of its rock art.

The ceiling is enveloped with paintings and is deemed to be the creative center of the complex.

The Story Behind Laas Geel

Dating back to between 3000 BC and 9000 BC, Laas Geel is believed to derive its name from the name of massif rock, referring to “dromedaries waterhole” in the local language. The largest living camelids in the world are dromedary and the site is termed “Camels Well” in Somali.

The name strikes confusion as the land is completely barren until visitors climb to its highest point or when it rains, the two wadis encircling the site are filled with water. Apart from this, the surroundings of Laas Geel are bare and dotted by acacia trees solely.

Some locals also believe that Laas Geel had been cursed as a land where Devil resided and thus, it was oblivious to most of the people. Nevertheless, it came into recognition when a group of French researchers discovered the caves in 2002.

Cave Paintings In Laas Geel

An array of elements in form of animals and humans are engraved which reflects the life of the people back then. Animals such as dogs, cows, giraffes, monkeys, hyenas, and humans worshiping cows can be vividly seen in these paintings.

This points out that the arid region of Africa was once lush and home to many wild animals and the beginning of a pastoral way of life back then witnessing the domestication of animals.

Cows have been predominantly shown more than any creature as well as humans worship them with large lyre-shaped horns. The human representations seem ambiguous although, hunters and herders both can be recognized.

In total, there are almost 300 representations of animal and human figures. Moreover, the hues used in the painting are not only black, red, and white but brown, violet, and orange as well lending the painting a vibrancy.

The intriguing aspect of the caves is that their colors remain unhampered despite the war, natural weathering, or the history-bearing political instability of that area. However, per one of the professors, the paintings were created by the people who lived in these caves.

These caves were their permanent settlement, and they were not nomads. Apart from the paintings, there are also tombs in this area.

The highest point of Laas Geel is 950 m high and there are steps leading to higher levels too. Although, treading the steps is tricky territory as the granite boulders are quite slippery.

Surprisingly, the site is not a UNESCO heritage site yet.

How To Reach Laas Geel

There is no public transport available directly to reach Laas Geel and is generally visited by a driver from Hargeisa. Any accommodation in Hargeisa assists visitors with necessary permits along with the guide to visit Laas Geel.

Generally, a combo tour is available to visit Djibouti and Mogadishu for 7 days which includes Laas Geel as well. The tour costs around $3200 per adult meanwhile, a 4-day private tour of Laas Geel and Berbera from Hargeisa costs around $1100 per adult.

The tours include private transportation along with accommodation in a 4-star hotel, an English-speaking guide, armed police escorting the trip, travel permits, and Laas Geel entrance fees including taxes.

The Prime Itinerary Of Laas Geel

Generally, people start the tour of Laas Geel with their arrival in Hargeisa. After exploring the city consisting of gold and camel markets, sights such as the War Memorial crashed MiG fighter plane, and a few others, visitors head for Laas Geel the next day.

Laas Geel has some of the oldest cave arts in Africa but apart from it, Somaliland has numerous rock arts found at Haadh, Gudmo Biyo Cas, Dhambalin, etc. Berbera is another city to be explored with incredible architecture from Ottoman and British periods.

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