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Somalia is bounded on the north by the Gulf of Aden, on the east and south by the Indian Ocean, on the southwest by Kenya, on the west by Ethiopia, and on the northwest by Djibouti. The total area is 637,657 sq km (about 246,200 sq mi). The northern part of Somalia is known as Somaliland and is a semi-autonomous region.
Mogadishu is the capital and largest city of the country. Most travelers will find that it is the most convenient place to start their trip to this fascinating country. It's the only place with an Internet Cafe, for example.
Somalia has a long coastline, extending for about 3025 km (about 1880 mi), but it has few natural harbors. A sandy coastal plain borders on the Gulf of Aden in the north. A series of mountain ranges, with average elevations between about 915 and 2135 m (about 3000 and 7000 ft), dominates the northern part of the country. To the south, the interior consists of a rugged plateau, ranging in elevation from about 500 m (about 1640 ft) in the north to less than 180 m (less than 600 ft) in the south. In the south, a wide coastal plain, which has many sand dunes, borders on the Indian Ocean. The country's two major rivers are found on the southern plateau, the Jubba in the southern part and the Shabeelle in the south central section.
The climate of Somalia ranges from tropical to subtropical and from arid to semiarid. Temperatures usually average 28° C (82° F), but may be as low as 0° C (32° F) in the mountain areas and as high as 47° C (116° F) along the coast. The monsoon winds bring a dry season from September to December and a rainy season from March to May. The average annual rainfall is only about 280 mm (about 11 in).
Vegetation in Somalia consists chiefly of coarse grass and stunted thorn and acacia trees. Aromatic flora, producing frankincense and myrrh, are indigenous to the mountain slopes. In southern Somalia, eucalyptus, euphorbia, and mahogany trees are found. Wildlife is abundant and includes crocodiles, elephants, giraffes, leopards, lions, zebras, and many poisonous snakes.
The vast majority of the population consists of Somali, a Cushitic people. A small minority of Bantu-speaking people live in the southern part of the country. Other minority groups include Arabs, Indians, Italians, and Pakistanis. Some 70 percent of the people are nomadic or seminomadic pastoralists. The remainder are either crop farmers or inhabitants of the few urban centers.
Islam is the state religion in Somalia, and most of the people are Sunni Muslims. The official languages are Somali and Arabic; English and Italian are also used.
Getting around in Somalia can be tough. The country has no railroads; of about 22,500 km (about 14,000 mi) of roads, about 25 percent are paved or gravel. Mogadishu is the leading port. A government-owned airline provides international service. Until the early 1990s, two government-owned radio stations broadcast in Arabic, English, Italian, Somali, and several other languages, but the collapse of Somalia's infrastructure because of the civil war has caused much of the country's telecommunications to be disrupted. Three of the competing factions provide some broadcasting.