Best Guide to Laas Geel Cave Paintings, Somaliland

Rock art of Laas Geel - Somaliland

In the rugged terrains of Somaliland lies a historical gem that dates back to the Neolithic era, known as the Laas Geel Cave Paintings.

These ancient cave paintings, estimated to be between 5,000 and 10,000 years old, offer a unique glimpse into the lives of prehistoric human communities in the Horn of Africa.

Despite its historical significance, the area remains relatively unknown, which presents challenges for those seeking to visit this extraordinary site.

Historical Context

The site features vibrant polychrome paintings, estimated to be between 5,000 and 11,000 years old, that depict various animals and human figures.

The art provides a glimpse into the Neolithic period, showcasing the cultural significance of animals like giraffes, antelopes, dogs, and cows without humps to the people of that era.

The name “Laas Geel” translates to “Valley Where You Water Your Camels,” reflecting the region’s past as a place where people and animals would have sought respite and resources.

The site’s rock art is among the most vivid in Africa, and its seclusion contributes to the preservation of its cave paintings, which continue to fascinate visitors from around the world.

Getting There

Laas Geel is situated approximately a two-hour drive from Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. Travelers can fly into the Hargeisa Egal International Airport, which offers connections to several international destinations, including Addis Ababa, Djibouti, and Dubai.

Once in Hargeisa, visitors can hire a local driver and vehicle or join a guided tour. The journey involves navigating a rough highway and dirt road, highlighting the importance of using a reliable 4×4 vehicle.

The route passes through several security checkpoints, where the driver will need to present the necessary permits.

Planning a visit here requires careful consideration and preparation, given the unique political situation and the logistical challenges of traveling to the site.

Visitors must obtain a visa, which can be arranged through a local tour operator or by applying at the Somaliland Mission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Planning Your Visit

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Laas Geel is during the cooler months, from November to March when temperatures are more comfortable for exploring the site. During this period, the weather is generally dry, making it easier to navigate the terrain and enjoy the cave paintings.

Recommended Time to Visit and What to Pack

A full day is recommended to explore the caves and their surrounding areas adequately. When packing for your visit, consider the following items:

  • Comfortable clothing and footwear suitable for hiking
  • Sun protection, including a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen
  • Water and snacks to stay hydrated and energized throughout the day
  • A camera to capture the stunning cave paintings and landscapes

Exploring the Laas Geel Area

Cave paintings and petroglyphs Laas Geel near Hargeisa closeup Somalia
Best Guide to Laas Geel Cave Paintings, Somaliland 5

Description of the Cave Complex

The cave complex consists of several rock shelters adorned with intricate paintings. The art is well-preserved, depicting humans and animals in vivid colors and clear outlines.

The site is believed to hold religious significance, especially regarding the cow images, which are shown in a revered manner.

Highlights of the Cave Paintings

The cave paintings showcase various themes and motifs, offering a unique insight into Neolithic life in the region. Some of the most notable features include:

  • Depictions of domesticated cattle, which may represent African aurochs
  • Human figures believed to be herders, providing evidence of early pastoral societies
  • Scenes of worship or domestication, reflecting the cultural importance of animals during that era

Hiking Opportunities

The area surrounding the region offers ample opportunities for hiking and exploring the natural beauty of the region. Visitors can expect to encounter a diverse landscape, from arid badlands to dry riverbeds, providing a stunning backdrop for their adventure.

Interacting with Local Nomadic Communities

Engaging with the local nomadic communities can be a rewarding experience for travelers seeking to learn more about the region’s culture and history. These interactions offer valuable insights into the traditional ways of life that have been preserved for generations.

Other Nearby Attractions

Aerial view to Hargeisa - biggest city of Somaliland - Somalia
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In addition to Laas Geel, there are other attractions worth visiting in the region, such as:

  • Dhagah Kure (Kure Hagaha) stone paintings
  • Naasa Hablood hills
  • The coastal town of Berbera
  • Sheikh’s mountain village

Other Attractions in Somaliland

In addition to Laas Geel, the region offers a variety of cultural and historical attractions for visitors to explore. Some notable sites include:

  • The bustling markets and vibrant street life of Hargeisa
  • The historic port town of Berbera, with its Ottoman and British colonial architecture
  • The ancient ruins of Amoud, home to one of the oldest universities in the world

Opportunities for Further Archaeological Exploration

The discovery of Laas Geel highlights the potential for other unexplored historical sites in Somaliland and the broader Horn of Africa region.

This underscores the importance of archaeological research and the need to protect and preserve these valuable cultural heritage sites.

Tips for a Fulfilling Visit

To ensure a rewarding and respectful visit, it is essential to follow some basic guidelines. Firstly, always prioritize the preservation of the site. Avoid touching or disturbing the rock art, as even the slightest contact can cause irreparable damage to these ancient paintings.

To fully appreciate the historical and cultural context of the paintings, it is highly recommended to hire a knowledgeable local guide.

These guides can provide valuable insights into the significance of the artwork, the techniques used by the ancient artists, and the broader history of the region.

Cultural Sensitivity and Conservation

Hamadryas baboon Family on the Road to the Laas Geel rocks
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The Role of Visitors in Preserving Laas Geel

As a visitor, it is crucial to be mindful of the site’s cultural and historical significance. Following guidelines and respecting the environment can help preserve this ancient treasure for future generations.

Current Conservation Efforts and Challenges

Laas Geel faces several conservation challenges, including political instability, natural weathering, and limited government funds.

The site’s location in the unrecognized Republic of Somaliland hinders international funding and protection, leaving it susceptible to damage and looting.

The Impact of Tourism

Sustainable tourism has the potential to help preserve the complex and provide jobs for locals, generating foreign currency for the area.

Increased tourism, when managed responsibly, can contribute to the protection of this important archaeological site and benefit the local economy.


Laas Geel is an extraordinary archaeological site that offers a unique glimpse into Africa’s rich prehistoric art and cultural history.

While visiting Laas Geel requires navigating the complexities of traveling to an unrecognized state, the rewards are well worth the effort.

As one of Africa’s most significant archaeological discoveries, the site offers invaluable insights into the lives of early humans and their interaction with the environment.

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