Ethiopia’s second largest city, with a population of 420,000, DIRE DAWA started life in 1902 as a major stop on the railway from Addis Ababa to Djibouti. Originally known as Addis (“New”) Harar, it overtook the original Harar in size in the 1970s, and has been a pivotal trade link to the ports of Djibouti and Somaliland since the closure of the Ethiopian border with Eritrea in the late 1990s. In tourist terms, it is of interest mainly as the air gateway to Harar, which lies 65km to the southwest. During the rainy season, its warm, dry climate can make a refreshing contrast to the cold drizzly highlands.
Easily explored on foot, Dire Dawa is bisected by the Dechatu Wadi, a normally dry watercourse crossed by a bridge and a cement causeway. Northwest of the wadi, the rather genteel city centre, also known as Kezira, comprises a neat grid of French-laid roads emanating from the old railway station and lined with tall, shady trees. East of the wadi, Megala is a more traditional Islamic quarter of narrow roads and alleys leading south to the arched facade of the rather wonderful Kafira Market, which is often attended by Somali, Oromo and Afar in traditional garb, and tends to be busiest in the morning.