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Brutal war and terrible famine have given Ethiopia an image of being one of the world's most troubled countries. Sadly, it's a pretty correct perception. But Ethiopia's ancient history makes it a wonderful travel destination despite the country's bristling problems.
Ancient Ethiopians, the locals will tell you, were Jews who settled here well over 5,000 years ago. Archeologists make even bolder claims, stating that Ethiopia is the 'cradle of life'; it was here that they found Lucy, the oldest human fossil discovered. Through its history, Ethiopia was attacked and sometimes invaded, but achieved the remarkable distinctions of being Africa's only nation never to be colonized and maintaining its Christianity when practically every other east African nation accepted Islam. The proud, independent spirit which has driven the nation for milleniums underpins the Ethiopian attitude. Hopefully, this will translate into progressive developments gearing towards a brighter future.
Ethiopia is considered one of the oldest human settlement areas, if not the oldest according to some scientific findings. Lucy, discovered in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia's Afar region, is considered the world’s second oldest, but most complete, and best preserved adult Australopithecine fossil. Lucy is estimated to have lived in Ethiopia 3.2 million years ago.
Around the eighth century BC, a kingdom known as Dʿmt was established in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea, with its capital at Yeha in northern Ethiopia. After the fall of Dʿmt in the fourth century BC, the plateau came to be dominated by smaller successor kingdoms, until the rise of one of these kingdoms during the first century BC, the Aksumite Empire, ancestor of medieval and modern Ethiopia, which was able to reunite the area. In 316 AD, a Christian philosopher from Tyre, Meropius, embarked on a voyage of exploration along the coast of Africa. They practiced the Christian faith in private, and soon converted the queen and several other members of the royal court.
In the early fifteenth century Ethiopia sought to make diplomatic contact with European kingdoms for the first time since Aksumite times. The first continuous relations with a European country began in 1508 with Portugal. When Emperor Susenyos converted to Roman Catholicism in 1624, years of revolt and civil unrest followed resulting in thousands of deaths. The Jesuit missionaries had offended the Orthodox faith of the local Ethiopians, and on 25 June 1632 Susenyos's son, Emperor Fasilides, declared the state religion to again be Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, and expelled the Jesuit missionaries and other Europeans.
In 1889 and the early 1890s, Sahle Selassie, as king of Shewa, and later as Emperor Menelik II, with the help of Ras Gobena's Shewan Oromo militia, began expanding his kingdom to the south and east, expanding into areas that had not been held since the invasion of Ahmed Gragn, and other areas that had never been under his rule, resulting in the borders of Ethiopia of today. The Ethiopian Great famine that afflicted Ethiopia from 1888 to 1892 cost it roughly one-third of its population.
The early twentieth century was marked by the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie I. The independence of Ethiopia was interrupted by the Second Italo-Abyssinian War and Italian occupation (1936–1941). In 1952 Haile Selassie orchestrated the federation with Eritrea which he dissolved in 1962. This annexation sparked the Eritrean War of Independence. Although Haile Selassie was seen as a national hero, opinion within Ethiopia turned against him owing to the worldwide oil crisis of 1973, food shortages, uncertainty regarding the succession, border wars, and discontent in the middle class created through modernization. Haile Selassie's reign came to an end in 1974, when a Soviet-backed Marxist-Leninist military junta, the "Derg" led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, deposed him, and established a one-party communist state.
In the beginning of 1980s, a series of famines hit Ethiopia that affected around 8 million people, leaving 1 million dead.
The Collapse of Communism in general, and in Eastern Europe during the Revolutions of 1989, coincided with the Soviet Union stopping aid to Ethiopia altogether in 1990. The strategic outlook for Mengistu quickly deteriorated.
In May 1998, a border dispute with Eritrea led to the Eritrean-Ethiopian War that lasted until June 2000. This has hurt the nation's economy, but strengthened the ruling coalition.
At 1,126,829 km2, Ethiopia is the world's 27th-largest country. It lies between latitudes 3° and 15°N, and longitudes 33° and 48°E.
The major portion of Ethiopia lies on the Horn of Africa, which is the easternmost part of the African landmass. Bordering Ethiopia are Sudan and South Sudan to the west, Djibouti and Eritrea to the north, Somalia to the east, and Kenya to the south. Within Ethiopia is a vast highland complex of mountains and dissected plateaus divided by the Great Rift Valley, which runs generally southwest to northeast and is surrounded by lowlands, steppes, or semi-desert. The great diversity of terrain determines wide variations in climate, soils, natural vegetation, and settlement patterns. Ethiopia is an ecologically diverse country, ranging from the deserts along the eastern border to the tropical forests in the south to extensive Afromontane in the northern and southwestern parts. Lake Tana in the north is the source of the Blue Nile. It also has a large number of endemic species, notably the Gelada Baboon, the Walia Ibex and the Ethiopian wolf (or Simien fox). The wide range of altitude has given the country a variety of ecologically distinct areas, this has helped to encourage the evolution of endemic species in ecological isolation.
Ethiopia is divided into nine administrative states.
Simien Mountains National Park is a spectactular mountain range in the north of the country including one of the highest peaks in Africa, Ras Dashan. The park is also home to some rare animals like the Gelada baboon, the Simien fox and the Walia ibex, a goat found nowhere else in the world, and the Ethiopian wolf. It was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978, but unfortunately has been placed on the UNESCO World Heritage danger list in 1996, mainly because population of some species was declining rapidly.
Aksum is one of the cultural highlights of Ethiopia and the ruins of this ancient city form the heart of historical Ethiopia, found in the north of the country. The ruins date back to the first century A.D. but much of it is of later times during which the Aksum Kingdom was one of the most important kingdoms in this part of the world.
The Omo National Park is both of cultural and natural significance for the country. The park is located in the south of the country and the lower valley of the Omo river is on the UNESCO World Heritage List list due to its importance regarding fossils of the earliest human settlements in the world.
Lalibela is another cultural highlight of Ethiopia and mainly known for its 11 medieval monolithic cave churches dating back to the 13th-century. They are located in a spectactular mountainous region in the heart of Ethiopia and Lalibela is extremely important regarding Ethiopian Christianity and keeps on being an important place for pilgrims.
The Bale Mountains are home to many of Ethiopia's endemic animals, notably the Ethiopian Wolf, (Canis simensis). Apart from the wolf, you can find giant molerats, nyala and many birds on the Sanetti Plateau at 4,000 metres high.
The Danakil Depression is a remote place home of the Afar population. The depression is 100 metres below sea level. It's one of the hottest place on earth, with an average of around 34 °C, and highs over 50 °C sometimes. You can visit a salty desert, Dallol Crater and Erta Ale volcano wich contain one of the few lava lake in the world.
Although Ehtiopia lies within the tropical zone, large areas in the country are far from tropical, that is hot and humid. Ok, some parts can get extremely hot, especially in the northeast and eastern lowlands, but much of Ethiopia is located at an elevation of 1,000 to over 2,500 metrrs above sea level, including the capital Addis Abeba. In Addis, temperatures average between 21 °C (July-August) to 25 °C (March-May) during the day, dropping to a rather chilly 5 °C (December) to 10 °C (April-August) at night. The rainy season lasts from late May to September, with July and August seeing much more rain than any other month, around 300 mm each month. October to January is fairly dry. This weather applies to most of the higher parts of Ethiopia, but of course temperatures can be a few degrees lower or higher depending on elevation (Addis is at roughly 2,400 metres). Also, the western parts of the highlands tend to be (much) wetter. Like mentioned above, the (north)east is dry and hot yearround with less than 500 mm of rain a year, but some years are almost completely dry, with severe droughts and starvation being a real threat.
Ethiopian Airlines is the national airline of Ethiopia and has its base at Bole International Airport (ADD) near the capital Addis Ababa. International flights with Ethiopian Airlines include destinations like Abidjan, Abuja, Accra, Asmara, Bahrain, Bamako, Bangkok, Beijing, Beirut, Brazzaville, Brussels, Bujumbura, Cairo, Conakry, Dakar, Dar es Salaam, Delhi, Djibouti, Douala, Dubai, Entebbe, Frankfurt, Guangzhou, Harare, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Khartoum, Kigali, Kilimanjaro, Kinshasa, Lagos, Libreville, Lilongwe, Lomé, London, Luanda, Lubumbashi, Lusaka, Mombasa, Monrovia, Mumbai, Nairobi, N'Djamena, Ouagadougou, Paris, Rome, Riyadh, Stockholm, Tel Aviv, Washington, D.C. and Zanzibar.
A number of other cities like Amsterdam (KLM), Sana'a (Yemenia), Istanbul (Turkish Airlines) and Jeddah (Saudi Arabian Airlines) have connections as well. Cairo, Dubai and Amman also have flights to Addis Ababa.
Trains travel between Dire Dawa and Djibouti City. Trains leave three times a week in both directions and it takes around 13 hours to cover the route.
Ethiopia may be entered by vehicle at any of the open borders with Djibouti, Kenya, Sudan and Somaliland.
The Awash/Galafi route towards Djibouti is longer than the one via Gelille, but it's entirely paved tought might be even faster. Crossings borders with Djibouti usually is suprisingly hassle free.
To Kenya, use the route described below or a rougher route via the Lower Omo Valley to Lake Turkana. Note that you need visa before arrival and you can only get your Kenyan entry stamp in Nairobi, making this route not advisable in the other (north-south) direction.
Have your papers and insurance in order and expect some hassling at borders, though it's usually ok and won't take too much time.
Borders between Ethiopia and Eritrea remain closed, but you can travel to Djibouti, Kenya, Sudan and Somaliland by bus. There are two land routes to Djibouti. One via Dire Dawa and Gelille, and one via Awash and Galafi. By bus, it takes around 11 hours from Dire Dawa to Djitbouti City.
To Kenya, the best crossing is at Moyale, almost 800 kilometres south of Addis Ababa. Daily buses link Addis Abeba and Moyale taking about 1.5 days. Across the border, buses go to Marsabit (8,5 hours) and Isiolo (17 hours) along a very rough dirt road. The route used to be unsafe because of banditry but this has been reduced significantly, though always check the latest safety situation.
To Somalia, daily buses run between Jijiga and Wajaale (two hours), and across the border taxis go to to Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital.
To Sudan, crossing is at Metema/Gallabat, 180 kilometres west of Gonder. Take a direct bus (seven hours) from Gonder to Metema, cross the border on foot and take a truck in Gallabat to Gedaref (six hours).
There are no foreign entries to Ethiopia by boat, as the country no longers has access to the open sea since Eritrea became an independent country.
Ethiopian Airlines has service between Addis Ababa, Arba Minch, Dire Dawa, Kabri Dar, Lalibela, Mekane Selam, Mek'ele, Mizan Teferi, Asosa, Axum and Bahir Dar, among a few others. If you purchase your arriving and departing international flights on Ethiopian Airlines, you will be eligible for a huge discount on flights within the country.
The only train line that actually runs trains is the one between Addis Ababa and Djibouti, via Dire Dawa and Harar.
It is a long, slow and even uncomfortable train link.
Several main roads are in reasonable condition. Other than those few roads, conditions are much worse and 4wd cars are almost always recommended if you want to explore more of Ethiopia, except the parts close to Addis Abeba. You can rent cars at international firms at Addis and several airports. Cars with drivers who double as guides are also possible and recommended. You need a national driver's licence or international driving permit and be at least 18 years old. Traffic drives on the right.
Government buses and private (mini)buses ply most routes between cities and regional towns. Services are slow, uncomfortable and sometimes are delayed when the weather strikes. Try to book tickets a day in advance. Several new bus lines have recently started running buses from Addis, including Salam bus company and Sky Bus. Salam Buses go to Bahir Dar, Gondar, Dessie, Harar, and other major towns.
No scheduled passenger services run within Ethiopia, although the occasional tour on several rivers like the Nile are an option.
Nationals from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Kuwait, Luxemburg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom and the United States can obtain a visa upon arrival for US$20 and two passport photos. This is only available at Bole International Airport and not at border posts over land!
The procedure is relatively quick and painless; just look for a door with a sign "Visa" on the left hand before the immigration counters. You can get a visa in advance of travel through your local Ethiopian embassy, but the queue at the airport is frequently longer for those who already have visas than it is for those getting the visa at the airport. This is because all Ethiopian passport holders need to go through the same queue as those who have already obtained visas in advance, and the majority of arriving passengers are Ethiopian citizens.
For more information, contact the nearest Ethiopian embassy.
See also Money Matters
Local currency is the Ethiopian birr. There are 100 santim to the birr and coins of 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 santim circulate, together with a one birr coin. Banknotes come in values of 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 birr.
In the big cities, especially Addis Ababa, there is a high demand for IT professionals.
Amharic is the first official language of Ethiopia. The language is a Semitic language related to Hebrew and Arabic, and if you know either one you'll recognize some cognates. In all parts of the country everyone speaks Amharic to some extent, no matter what their first language may be. The language is written in the Ge'ez script.
In big cities, many people under 40 speak some English. (The Commonwealth version of English, as spoken in neighbouring Kenya and Uganda, is the primary foreign language taught in schools and both the British Council and the EU have helped in providing textbooks.) In rural areas, find local school children to translate for you for a fee that could be next to nothing. (Ethiopians have a distinct way of speaking English. Because it is heavily accented, it might be a bit difficult to understand it at the beginning. However, when you get used to the way they pronounce some English words, it will become fairly understandable.) Older Ethiopians, especially those from the Tigray region or Eritrea (which was once a state of Ethiopia), may speak Italian, while other elders may speak Russian or Cuban-accented Spanish due to the influence of the former Derg regime.
In the north, especially in Tigray, Tigrinya is the primary language, also written in Ge'ez. However, Amharic is widely understood. In the middle highlands regions Oromifa, or Afaan Oromo is widely spoken. Oromifa uses a Latin alphabet. In the Ogaden region, located mostly in Somali regional state (near the border with Somalia and Somaliland), Somali is common, and is written in a Latin alphabet; Arabic is also common, with a Yemeni influence. Towards the border with Djibouti, French becomes slightly more common.
Ethiopian food is unique. A grain known as teff (Eragrostis tef) is indigenous to the area and is used to create injera. Injera is a spongy pancake-like bread with a slightly sourdough flavor (it is allowed to ferment for several days). These pancakes are served with nearly every meal and are used to scoop the other foods as an edible utensil. Most Ethiopian food is eaten with the hands. It is customary to eat only with the right hand, as the left hand is considered unclean.
Various stewed meat and vegetable dishes are common, often utilizing local spices and herbs. Wat generally refers to a meat dish, often made with lamb, beef, goat, or chicken cut into bite sized pieces.
One of Ethiopia's most famous dishes is tibbs or tibs, spicy beef or lamb fried in butter (nitre kibbeh). Tibs comes in several styles, most commonly "chikina tibs", fried in a sauce with berbere spice, onions, bell peppers, and tomato; and zil-zil tibs, a more deep fried breaded version served with tangy sauces. Equally as famous is kitfo, minced meat spiced with chilli. You can have it raw (the locally preferred way, but there's a risk of getting parasites), leb-leb (lightly cooked) or fully cooked. It comes with a local cheese ayeb and a spinach. In the Harar region, you can find kitfo derivatives including camel meat. Many restaurants that serve kitfo include it in their name (e.g. Sami Kitfo, Mesob Kitfo, etc.) but typically serve a wider selection than just raw meat.
If you prefer vegetarian foods, try the shiro wat, which is an oily bean stew served with injera. Shiro is common on Ethiopian "fasting days", in which devout Ethiopians eat an essentially vegetarian diet.
Due to Ethiopia's history with Italy, Italian food is fairly common. However, the traveler should not expect local chefs to be skilled in this area of cuisine.
There is a wide range of accommodation in Ethiopia. Staying in tourist areas generally results in a broader range of choices, but watch out for tourist prices. It is acceptable to bargain with the hotel owner, for they usually tend to charge you "faranji" (foreigner) prices at first, which are often twenty times the local rate. This is not true at the government run "Ghion" chain, and the fancier private chains as well, where prices for foreigners are fixed.
Guest houses are common in Ethiopia. These vary from large homes with a number of bedrooms to small hotels and essentially operate as a "Bed and Breakfast". Some have shared baths, other have private baths. The best ones have generators available to deal with power outages as well as internet service and satellite TV. The good ones tend to be clean and they treat you like family. They are much cheaper than the brand name hotels and you will get more exposure to the local culture.
Ethiopia is the historical origin of the coffee bean, and the coffee is among the best in the world. Coffee is traditionally served in a formal ceremony. The coffee ceremony involves drinking a minimum of three cups of coffee and eating popcorn, and it is a special honour, or mark of respect to be invited into somebody's home for the coffee ceremony. Ethiopians tend to drink their coffee either freshly brewed and black, very strong, with the grounds still inside; or as a macchiato, Ethiopia's popular form of coffee.
Tej is a honey wine, similar to mead, that is frequently drunk in bars; in particular, in a tejbeit (tej bar). It strongly resembles mead in flavor though it typically has a local leaf added to it during brewing that gives it a strong medicinal flavor that may be off putting. It is considered manly to consume this beverage. A variety of Ethiopian beers are available, all of which are quite drinkable. Formerly owned by the Ethiopian government, they are now owned by Western beverage companies like Heineken (Harar beer) and Diageo (Meta beer). The national beer is St. George, or "Giorgis", which is a light lager similar to American beers.
See also Travel Health
Proof that you had a yellow fever vaccination is required upon entering Ethiopia when you have been in a yellow fever country within 7 days of entering Ethiopia. Still, it is recommended you get the yellow fever vaccination anyway. You have to have a cholera stamp (prove of the fact that you don't have that desease) when entering overland.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Ethiopia. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also both hepatitis A as well as typhoid would be recommended.
If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against Tuberculosis as well as hepatitis B are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. When staying longer than 6 months, vaccination against meningitis might be recommended, depending on your contact with other people.
Like most African countries south of the Sahara, Malaria is prevalent in the country. Don't underestimate this tropical disease and take precautions. Buy repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Dengue is present in some parts of the country, mainly around urban areas.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Ethiopia is a relatively low-crime country compared to some other countries in Africa. Compared to other African countries, robbery is not a major problem in the cities and towns. However, travellers are advised to look after their belongings. Travellers should be cautious at all times when travelling on roads in Ethiopia. There have been reports of highway robbery, including car-jacking, by armed bandits outside urban areas. Some incidents have been accompanied by violence. Travellers are cautioned to limit road travel outside major towns or cities to daylight hours and travel in convoys, if possible. Travellers with vehicles and cyclists may often be the target of stoning by local youths when driving in rural areas. Organized crime and gang violence are very unusual in most parts of the country. However, in the border areas of Sudan (Gambella Region) and Kenya, there are reports indicating occurrences of banditry. Avoid these areas.
Avoid travelling to the eastern part of the country beyond the city of Harar. Somali separatist groups occasionally launch guerilla attacks. Harar is safe for extended stays, and Jijiga is generally also safe for short trips. Armed insurgent groups operate in the Afar region. In 2011 an Afari group attacked tourists in the Danakil Depression, killing five European tourists, and kidnapping two others.
Traffic accidents, both for pedestrians and vehicle passengers/drivers are common. Ethiopia is one of the most dangerous places in the world to drive. These accidents are often fatal. Pedestrians frequently walk into the middle of the road without looking, vehicles do not use mirrors and traffic lanes are more of a guideline than a rule. It is highly advisable to hire a driver and to travel in the largest vehicle reasonably possible, to maximize safety. Always keep doors locked and do not lower windows enough for beggars to put their hands in (distracting a driver while robbing through the passenger side window is a common tactic).
Internet is slow and is better early in the morning or middle of the night. There are numerous internet cafes in Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Nazret, Bahir Dar, Gonder, Awasa and other cities; however their speeds are often dial-up at best, and some operate illegally. In Addis Ababa, connection speeds are more than adequate for performing tasks such as checking e-mail most of the time.
See also International Telephone Calls
Ethiopa's international telephone code is 251.
For all travellers, having a mobile phone is a must. It is cheap and easily available. There are only a few stores renting SIM cards including ArifMobile. However, purchasing a SIM is inexpensive, and can be done anywhere that sells phones. The best spot is to buy it at a Ethio Telecom shop to not get ripped of. A SIM card costs 15 birr and the system requires the seller to take a photo of you and your passport information to activate your SIM. You'll have to sign an agreement that you will not commit any crimes with your phone. All local stores will have calling cards you can purchase to call internationally. For domestic calls, phones are topped up with a prepaid card, available in denominations of 2000, 500, 100, 50 and 25 birr and smaller.
The Ethiopian postal service is one of the most efficient postal services in Africa.
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Ask haile a question about Ethiopia
I am working in one of the tour operator companies of Ethiopia. It is called Finot tour Ethiopia. I would like to help you for your reliable services with us. Finot Tour Ethiopia combines our instinctive travel expertise with client comforts to create an unforgettable African experience in the heart of one of the world’s most alluring destinations. As you navigate our website, you will see ideas for tour groups and we invite visitors to combine and match itineraries to create the trip of a lifetime through Finot Tour Ethiopia.
Many thanks for choosing me to help you!!!
Ask budgetguy a question about Ethiopia
I have extensive backpacking experience all around the world, including a good amount of time in Ethiopia where I traveled to many places in both the north and south of the country. It's a truly amazing place and worth visiting for anyone looking for an adventure.
Ask nneka a question about Ethiopia
i lived there for two years, so i can inform travellers about what to expect from their climate, the people, the business, health sector, transport, food, monetary value, customs, airport customs and culture.
Ask tania423 a question about Ethiopia
I arrived in Ethiopia in December 2006, with the intention of staying for a month. Two and a half years later (and counting!)...I'm still here! I live in Addis Ababa and can help you with basically anything you need. I also run a tour company - Abeba Tours Ethiopia (http://www.abebatoursethiopia.com) - and can assist with any questions or queries you may have about visiting Ethiopia. I'd also enjoy a nice cup of wonderful Ethiopian coffee for a chat, if you find yourself in Addis Ababa - just get in touch!
Ask Abel 11333 a question about Ethiopia
My name is abel ,i live in Addis Ababa the capital and have my own tour company (www.buskatours.com).recently i came across this travel web site and thought that i would introduce my self ,the company and become a member too.i have been working in Ethiopia as a tour operator for the last 6 years,and would be happy to reply to any queations or information nedded regarding Ethiopia.
Take care ...Abel
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