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Dire Dawa

Ethiopia’s second-largest city, Dire Dawa was established in 1902 as a major stop along the railway between Addis Ababa and Djibouti as it traversed the hot dry plains north of Harar. The city is split into two distinct quarters by the normally dry Dachata River. To the northwest is Kezira, a stately colonial-style quarter whose wide leafy avenues converge on the impressive French-built railway station. Southwest of the river, the old Islamic quarter of Megaala has an altogether more organic feel, epitomised by a trio of lively daily markets offering Kafira (foodstuffs and other local produce), ‘Taiwan’ (electronic and other imported goods) and Ashewa (livestock market). Though some tourists rush through Dire Dawa in transit between the airport and Harar, it’s a lively and interesting city, and the best base for visits to two major rock-art sites: Porc-Epic Cave, overlooking the Dachata River only 3km out of town, and the more remote Laga Oda.