Arrival Experience: The majestic Kempinski Djibouti Palace resort is perched on the peninsula with sparkling water wrapping around the entire hotel. It is technically a business hotel attracting corporate and military travelers, but its dual swimming pools and exceptional surrounding encourage lingering for a weekend of pleasure or short vacation. Inside, the decor mimics that of an Arabic palace with beautiful archways, hand-woven fabrics, and artistic lighting. It is not surprising, then, to find the shisha bar on the top floor overlooking the water. For those that like to feel immersed in the local culture without passing up on too many modern comforts, Kempinski has found an excellent balance.
Dining: Considering that locals (including off-duty American military) make this their go-to spot for dining and recreational entertainment, the plethora of restaurants here is exciting. Tentazioni is the delectable Italian eatery with air conditioned dining room and outdoor terrace seating offering homemade pasta, brick-oven pizza, local seafood, and classic veal dishes. If buffet fare is the order of the day, three meals are served at Lac Assal. Live cooking stations and a rotating, themed menu make each dining experience a surprise. The space runs the length of the one of the hotel's main buildings increasing the odds for scoring a window seat.
Cafe Arta is a coffee shop serving sweet pastries and a new afternoon tea menu. At dusk, live piano music lures guests into Gran Barra for a cocktail watching the sunset. Once the mood livens up, guests can head to Sky Lounge for a shisha puff or more cocktails from its sixth floor perch. Those with a hankering for something local consider Bankoualeh to be the perfect antidote with Yemeni-style dishes served in an outdoor setting at the water's edge. Diners select their fish from the fresh market display and deliver them to the chef, who then places them into the cavernous clay oven and dashes them with regional spices.
Accommodations: The overall feeling here is energetic with warm colors and Arabic design influences similar to those in the public areas. Local jewelery and fabrics in the entry foyers are framed as artwork. Crowning the room are the king or double beds topped with duvets and a stack of thick pillows worthy of a sultan. Rooms can look over the sea or the gardens although the latter also enjoy distant water views.
Flat-screen cable TVs face the beds, and work desks feature free wireless and wired high speed Internet. Small closets house laptop-sized safes, and minibars are either by the door or underneath the TV. Complimentary bottled water is also standard in all accommodations. Bathrooms are luxurious with gold lantern lighting, marble vanities stocked with Espa toiletries, robes, and slippers. Rainfall showerheads wash away the heat and sand while deep soaking tubs are great for an evening of relaxation. Most are positioned well to enjoy views of the sea from the tub.
Conclusion: The largest ballroom (seating 1,500) and meeting rooms in the country are found here, which is why it hosts all of the top functions for visiting diplomats and corporate events. Each of the event rooms are named after local places including surrounding islands and mountains. Free wireless Internet is available for guests throughout the common areas, including by the pool. A full business center comes with printing and translation capabilities. Two infinity-edge swimming pools are available to guests, one of which is open to locals that purchase memberships to use the pool, tennis courts, health club, or spa. All have plush lounge chairs, many underneath umbrellas, and terrycloth towels. It is more common to find guests taking a dip then sunbathing due to the heat, but the palm fronds provide a soothing shade. A second pool is reserved just for guests and is quieter and ideal for contemplating the changing tides and the activity of the port in the distance. The spa features an authentic hammam experience with colorful tiles and massages on the marble slab. More traditional massage and beauty treatments are available as well in addition to an exceptionally equipped gym.
There is no question that this is the top address in town; in the country in fact. It has strong security thanks to the number of expats and diplomats that stay and play here. With its traditional palace architecture and a service staff dedicated to perfection, this is a comfortable and surprisingly affordable resort hotel.