There aren’t many options in Djibouti, if you want to stay somewhere recognisably branded. That’s not to dismiss the Kempinski’s efforts, it has managed to become somewhere where both solider and tourist can feel at home. Built originally in the 90s as a bespoke host of a huge conference, it is a long and low affair with almost time bending long corridors. Nowadays it hosts many economic, political and business get togethers, providing a safe haven for meetings, compared to the more unstable neighbour countries of Somalia and Ethiopia.
It’s also one of the only places soliders and visiting military, sailors and contractors can kick back and relax. The hotel has built two pools – one for guests and families, and another for more rambunctious R&R, next to an outdoor bar. But as noisy as this sounds, the hotel is so large, you can easily find a more quiet area. It also has a small beach where it has monthly themed parties that go on later into the night.
The hotel has an all day dining buffet restaurant, an Italian which has a lovely al fresco terrace and a seafood restaurant out on the beach, which serves up the locally famous Yemini fish. Spread open and rubbed with spices, the local fish is cooked inside a brick oven and is served with piles of local bread, also cooked in the oven, which is perhaps the most delicious flat bread I’ve ever had. It’s the only outside seafood restaurant in Djibouti and you’ll probably find yourself dining next to army captains although there’s no need to stand on ceremony.
There’s also a casino in the hotel which offers black jack, slot machines, poker and roulette, and although it can be pretty grim in the early evening, after midnight the place is packed with lads trying their luck.
The hotel can arrange whale shark trips – an absolute must do, as well as trips to Mousha Island – a ramshackle beach bar and restaurant where you can snorkel dive and kitesurf. Also ask for trips to Lac Assal, a lake two hours north, in a volcanic area, which is saltier than the Dead Sea.
The staff here deserve a special mention. Young, keen and ever so helpful, I couldn’t fault them – if you’re looking for tips on where to get a beer outside the hotel, or where to go to for a dance, they’ll not only point you in the right direction, they might even come with you.
Despite the difficulties in running such a vast hotel, Djibouti Palace Kempinski actually has a heart.