What is the terrain and geography like in Djibouti?
The Republic of Djibouti is situated in the Horn of Africa on Africa’s east coast. Djibouti covers 8,400 square miles (21,883 square kilometers). The country is shaped like a "C" surrounding the Gulf of Tadjoura, an inlet off the Gulf of Aden. Along with Eritrea and Yemen, Djibouti shares direct access to the strategic Bab el Mandeb, the "Gate of Tears," which controls southern access to the Red Sea.
Djibouti’s capital, also called Djibouti, is a verdant oasis in an area of dry watersheds composed of harsh, stony desert and low, barren hills. The capital is at sea level and mostly surrounded by water, affording sea views from much of the city. In addition to Djibouti City, Djibouti has four provincial capitals: Ali Sabieh and Dikhil in the interior to the south and west, and Tadjoura and Obock on the north coast of the Gulf of Tadjoura.
The landscape beyond the capital, though largely barren, is quite strange and impressive. Beyond the Gulf of Tadjoura via a narrow strait is the Ghoubet, a deep body of blue water with two striking volcanic islands. The coastline north of the Gulf of Tadjoura juxtaposes palm-lined beaches with jagged hills. In the north a large high desert region rises to Mount Moussa Ali, the highest point in Djibouti (3,600 feet). Also to the north is the Forêt du Dai, a national park on Mount Goda. In this last vestige of a forest that once covered the area are several rare plants and animals, including monkeys and antelope. Lake Assal, a unique natural phenomenon over 500 feet below sea level, is 80 miles west of Djibouti City. A lake ten times saltier than the ocean, Lake Assal is an ethereal blue and surrounded by picturesque volcanic hills. It is the lowest body of water in Africa and the second lowest on Earth. Farther into the countryside to the southwest lies Lake Abbe, a large salt lake bisected by the Djibouti-Ethiopia border.
Djibouti’s location astride the East Africa, Red Sea, and Gulf of Aden rift systems provides a unique environment for studying volcanic, geothermal, and earthquake activity arising from the meeting of three tectonic plates. Over 600 tremors occur every year, virtually none of which are felt.
Geography - note
strategic location near world's busiest shipping lanes and close to Arabian oilfields; terminus of rail traffic into Ethiopia; mostly wasteland; Lac Assal (Lake Assal) is the lowest point in Africa and the saltiest lake in the world
Djibouti has two seasons. During the May-to-September hot season, daytime temperatures average over 100°F and often exceed 120°F. The high temperatures are sometimes accompanied by hot, sandy winds called the "Kahm Sin." The beginning and ending months of the hot season are also marked by high humidity. The cooler season, from October through April, has clear skies, refreshingly cool breezes, somewhat lower humidity, and temperatures in the 80s.
Because of its geographic location between the Ethiopian and Yemeni escarpments, Djibouti gets little precipitation. Occasional rains occur mostly in the hills in the interior, but the average annual rainfall is only 5 to 10 inches. Rains most often come to Djibouti City in the fall and spring; some years are rainless. Because of a high water table and lack of drainage, the rare heavy rain can cause flooding in and around the capital.