Las Geel (also known as Laas Ga’al, Laas Geel and Laas Gaal) is arguably Somaliland’s pièce de résistance. Were it not in Somalia this site would immediately be declared a World Heritage Site. Fortunately, with the ongoing conflict in Somalia, it remains a hidden gem (To get back to 2005 in the tiny guest book, I turned just 3 pages).
Representing humans and animals, hundreds of remarkable neolithic rock art paintings in perfect condition adorn the walls of several interconnected caves and shelters. Some paintings exceed one meter in length and their state of preservation is exceptional. This significant site was only brought to light in 2003, following research conducted by a team of French archaeologists.
It is about 50km from Hargeisa, along the road to Berbera (the turn-off is at Dhubato village and Las Geel is several miles down the road.) You’ll need a guide and a 4WD vehicle to get there.
Walking toward the hill that contains the Las Geel site:
It’s harsh out here – the middle of nowhere, no water, hardly any shade…
This is the first cave we hiked up to. And that’s our guard for the day, Mahamed Ali, in the picture:
Some of the artwork within the cave… The painting below depicts a cow:
With many of these, your interpretation is just as legitimate as that of anyone else. The archaeologists have no special insight into the artists or what they were depicting:
The painting below depicts a lion on the back of a cow and it is thought that the human figure standing behind the animals is shooting an arrow at the lion. Again, open to interpretation…
Here is a diagram of the ceiling left at the site by the French archaeologists… This makes it easier to get a sense of just how much art is actually inside the caves:
This is a view out toward the desert from inside the cave:
Another cave higher up the hill – your editor gazing out at the vast expanse of desert before him:
Another picture of the view from the cave mentioned above – this time with our guard, driver and the Las Geel caretaker in it:
And the paintings inside the cave referenced above – the cows here were very well preserved:
The cave exit – carrying on farther up the hill:
The view from the highest cave:
And some of the artwork inside:
Traversing the hilltop to make our way down to more caves:
This cave the Las Geel caretaker is sitting next to can hardly be called one… It was more of a nook in the cliff face:
Nevertheless, it was fully decorated:
Making our way down to a cave at the base of the rocks:
A look back up at where we were:
The roof of the cave at the base of the rocks:
These are thought to be two daggers, but again, aside from a few certainties such as the cows, much is open to interpretation:
During a recent period of fighting in the ongoing Somali civil war, a group of fighters occupied the caves. Below are the remains of a machine gun nest that was constructed in the cave at the base of the rocks. The fighter manning the machine gun was dislodged from his post by a well-placed rocket – His body is still back there…
As we were hiking out, we passed several burial sites. They were quite large and the Somalis told me that the people in the past had been much bigger. Contemporary Somalis are the same size as any modern human of average size. So, that perhaps could be be an interesting course of study for any anthropologist:
What a remarkable place, Justin. Did you learn from any source the age of the paintings and/or anything about human cultural events of the time they were created. I’d love to shoot photos of the cave art for historic recordation in the event they’re destroyed by modern conflict. That’s surely one of your best expeditions. How much do you pay an armed guard in Somalia and how do you determine that he won’t rob/shoot you five miles out of town?
P.S. The thorny shrub has leaves – and it looks like very small, yellow flowers – similar to our puncture vine weeds, Tribulus terrestris, albeit the latter is small and prostrate; nonetheless, very painful when encountered barefooted and, it is common in some African states.
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The young thorny plant is Galool (Acacia bussei) one of the most useful trees in Somaliland. The bellied thorns are eatable when they are tender (cambuul). Insects burrow in them when tender to relish a good meal. When they dry up and the summer winds come, one can hear musical whistling sounds coming from those thorns!
Amazing. Planning to go soon. How long did you spend in Somaliland? (And did you try to go to any other parts of Somalia?)
Thank you for your comment. We spent about a week in Somaliland and wished that we had planned our trip so that we could have stayed longer. It is a great place and I am sure you’ll have a good time.
We visited some of the rural areas of Somalia proper, but didn’t make our way to any of the larger towns or cities (such as Mogadishu) as we just did not have the guards, money, preparation, etc. to pull off something like that. At least on this trip…
Could you write how you get there (to somaliland), by plane or by car.
What you sugest to visit?
Hello Mariusz –
We arrived in Somaliland via Ethiopia. We flew into Jijiga and then took a minibus to the border of Ethiopia and Somaliland at Wajale. In Wajale, we joined a group taxi that took us to Hargeisa.
While you are in Somaliland, I would suggest basing yourself in Hargeisa at the Oriental Hotel. It is clean and comfortable as well as being conveniently located in the center of town. It also has a decent restaurant. But, more importantly, two of the guys on the staff, Said and Abdi Abdi, speak English well and are extremely helpful with arranging and organizing things. They have a number of useful connections.
Taxi prices… We paid $50 a day for a package deal in Somaliland that included a car and driver along with a soldier. We did not pay for any fuel and the $50 included all necessary bribes.
Soldiers are officially necessary when making your way around Somaliand, however, they are certainly not necessary for your safety. For the price, I was happy to have a soldier come along with us when we were cruising around Somaliland. The soldier we had with us was fun to hang out with, he knew some interesting places to stop and because he was with us, we just blew through all of the checkpoints that were tortuously slow when we were on our own. The avoidance of hassle at checkpoints by itself makes the soldier a great investment in my book.
Las Geel is an easy day trip from Hargeisa. I would suggest visiting Berbera as well (which can be added to the day trip to Las Geel if you choose).
Dear Justin, fascinating! So glad you documented your travels and research online. I noticed some strange rock formations in one of your photo’s and wondered what you made of them. There are a couple of large flat 6 sided stone slabs, one appears to have a couple of lines on them, perhaps cut marks? Another odd rock to the right hand side of that photo shows a stone with an angular depression in it, it doesn’t look like it occurred naturally. I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the matter. Could the site have had additional structures at one point that have since been dismantled?
Thank you for your comment. Yes, Las Geel could certainly have had other structures present. Not a lot is known about the cultures that produced Las Geel or all that has taken place here (the local stories about giants that used to live here comes to mind).
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