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Burco Somaliland

 Burco Somaliland

In Burco Somaliland, there is little known about the early history of Burao, but it was clearly the site of an important well and, during the British era, a place of anti-colonial riots. Due to the civil war, most residents fled across the border to an Ethiopian refugee camp in 1988, leaving the town almost abandoned. In May 1991, Burao was the site of the Grand Conference of the Northern Peoples that led to Somaliland’s unilateral secession from Somalia.

As the refugees returned to Burao after the 1991 conference, most of the buildings they had left behind had been destroyed or abandoned, and the streets were overgrown with invasive vegetation. Since 1992, Somaliland has experienced a dramatic economic recovery despite disruptions related to conflict (the latter almost derailing Somaliland’s emerging democracy). Likewise, public services have been substantially rehabilitated: Burao now has reliable electricity and groundwater supplies, and its youth have access to more than 30 primary schools, seven secondary schools, and a university.

Getting Burco and Away

The route to Burco in Somaliland runs via Berbera and Sheikh Somaliland, which are both 130 km and 60 km away from Hargeisa, respectively. A private vehicle should take around four hours to reach Hargeisa; public transportation will take about half that time. East & West buses or Salaama minibuses provide the best public transportation to Burao from Hargeisa’s central bus station area on Road Two, as well as from Berbera near the south end of the old town on Road Two. From Hargeisa, the fare is $8, and from Berbera, it is $3. Burao taxis congregate on the main circle in front of the Al Jarisa Café for inbound and outbound trips. In addition, 4x4s depart from here every other day for Erigavo (usually in the early morning), a trip that costs US$40 per person.

Foreign visitors to Burao are legally required to travel with at least one SPU guard, whether in a private vehicle or on public transportation – a requirement that is almost certain to be enforced at roadblocks unless you arrange a waiver letter from the tourist office in Hargeisa. No one has yet been granted such a letter to travel beyond Burao to Erigavo, nor has anyone used public transportation along this route.

Getting around Burco

Burco is a small town, so you can navigate it on foot, but you may want to hire a tuctuc to visit the livestock market, 15 minutes south of the town centre, or to get to City Plaza or Egal Hotel. The fare shouldn’t exceed US$3. There are also shared minibus taxis that run along a few major roads and are very inexpensive.

Where to stay in Burco and hotels

Burco hotels, aside from the suburban City Plaza, offer a variety of accommodation options for travelers. Burco’s City Plaza Hotel has 38 rooms, which is the nicest hotel in the vicinity of Burao, located 3.5km east of the town center along the main road to Erigavo. Rooms feature comfortable beds, a piping hot en-suite shower, and some have air conditioning or satellite TV. Moreover, it’s far enough from the nearest mosque that you can contemplate a proper lie-in. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout and there is a pleasant outdoor seating area. The menu caters to Western palates; most main dishes are in the US$5–6 range (including soup) and the fruit juices are delicious. 

Burco or Burao has budget hotels such as Hotel Barwaaqo, a multi-story hotel located about 5 minutes’ walk southeast of the main circle and taxi park. Hotel Liban has spacious & pleasantly furnished rooms with a queen-size bed, fan, TV, hot water & writing desk. It is also of the central medium-rise with clean, tiled rooms with a 3-quarter bed, TV, telephone & en-suite. 

Where to eat and drink in Burco

If you want to take a break from Somali fare, the City Plaza Hotel in Burco has the best restaurant in town, but it is only convenient for those staying there or with their own transportation. Along the Berbera Road, there are decent garden restaurants at the Kaafi and Kaah filling stations. There is a busy terrace cafeteria at the Ruwais Hotel that serves burgers and pizza in addition to Somali dishes. The Shamxale Restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor seating, a lovely setting along the north side of the Togdheer watercourse, and an occasional roast goat dish among its pasta and rice dishes. Fruit juices and snacks are available at the Al Jasiira Cafeteria behind the taxi park.

What to see and do in Burco

Burco in Somaliland won’t deliver superlatives if you expect them. The town appears to be a scaled down, dustier, and even more prosaic version of the capital, centering around a bustling central market where Somalis go about their daily lives. Juma Mosque, a large but unadorned modern building of limited architectural interest, is the most important landmark in the town center.

A very large German school ruins lie along the river north of the Ruwais Hotel, but so little evidence of the civil war remains due to subsequent reconstruction efforts. Several roofless double-storey classrooms and an old church still stand at this school, which opened in 1969 and flourished for 20 years before it closed in 1989 as a result of the civil war.

A livestock market in Burco, located about 1.5km south of the town center, attracts nomadic traders from as far as northern Kenya, Djibouti and Somalia. The market is well worth checking out, especially between 09.00 and 11.00, when trade activity peaks. In our experience, the market isn’t nearly as busy as its Hargeisa counterpart, and it specializes in goats and sheep rather than camels.

The area around Burao offers some good birdwatching opportunities, according to Callan Cohen and Mike Mills. Around town, a combination of acacia scrub and plains supports species such as the little brown bustard, magpie starling, white-crowned starling, tawny eagle, northern carmine bee-eater, and Somali long-billed crombec. Located almost exactly 20km southwest of town, the Arorih plains are excellent places to observe the striking secretary-bird (a long-legged and predominantly terrestrial raptor).

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