Ethiopia’s uniqueness makes it a
fascinating destination for every kind of traveler, but in particular
for the traveller who wants that bit more. Ethiopia’s historic sites
are extremely wide-ranging and possibly the most extensive in the whole
of Sub-Saharan Africa. Experts claim that such sites are only a fraction
of what Ethiopia has to offer given that a further 95% remain to be
discovered and excavated.
Archaeologists and anthropologists
continually claim that the oldest hominid remains (Australopithecus
ramidus, a new species, 4.4 million years old) were originally discovered
here in the Afar region. More recent findings by Professor Tim White
from the University of California, Berkeley, suggest that the earliest
ape man lived in Ethiopia 5 million years ago (Daily Telegraph, Monday
18th January 1999).
Ethiopia’s scenery is as diverse as its people and includes lakes, forests,
savannah, depressions and deserts. In elevation it ranges from 120 metres
below sea level in the harsh salt flats of the Danakil depression, to
a 4624 meter peak in the Simien mountains. The Bale National Park in
Oromia is the home of many endemic mammals and birds. For big game safaris
the Omo and Mago National Parks situated in the Southern Region are
Ethiopia is home to more than 80 ethnic groups
and a similar number of languages, the dominant religions being Christian
and Muslim. However, one thing that unites all Ethiopians is their shared
national independence having never truly been colonised, although occupied
by Mussolini’s Fascists from 1935-1941. Consequently, Ethiopia has maintained
what many refer to as its ‘Ethiopianness’, unlike many of its African
neighbours now characterised by resonances of former colonial powers.
Travel to and in Ethiopia
The national carrier is EAL (Ethiopian Airlines). Visitors are encouraged
to use EAL for their international flights since priority is given to
these clients when flying on the domestic circuit. Most travel between
major towns and sites is easily accessible by air and prices are relatively
cheap by international standards. EAL has an excellent safety record
and is noted for its excellent service. In addition, British Mediterranean
Airways now has regular flights from the UK to Ethiopia.
In order to fully experience
the vast array of Ethiopian scenery it is a good idea to travel by road.
However, visitors must be aware that due to the nature of the terrain,
road conditions in Ethiopia are poor. Consequently, travel by road can
be time consuming and a four-wheel drive can be an advantage.
Rail links are from Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa
and on to Djibouti. Visitors wishing to travel by rail should be prepared
for occasional delays.
Climate and Clothing
Ethiopia has two seasons; the dry season prevailing
from October through May, and the wet season, which runs from June to
September. Light, summer clothes are suitable for daytime wear and a
jacket or sweater is useful for the evening when the temperature is
much cooler. Visitors to Ethiopia in the rainy season are reminded to
pack suitable clothing if they intend to trek in the Simien or Bale
mountains. Footwear for walking expeditions and visiting historic sites
should be light but strong, thus sandals are not recommended.
Health and Health Precautions
On entering Ethiopia all visitors must be
in possession of a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate. In addition,
immunisation against the following is strongly recommended: Hepatitis
A and B, Tetanus, Typhoid and Polio.
Malaria can also be a big problem
in Ethiopia so before leaving consult your doctor for a prescription
for both chloroquine and paludrine. Insect repellent cream or spray
are also extremely useful for mosquito bites.
The average temperature is about
25C and in the lower lying areas such as Awash, Omo and Mago parks it
can be considerably higher. Visitors coming from cooler climates are
advised to use protection against the sun.
Due to an increase in the number
of reported cases of AIDS visitors are advised to take the necessary
precautions in the event of any planned or unplanned sexual encounters.
Food and Restaurants
The Ethiopian national dish consists of injera,
a flat, circular pancake made of fermented dough. Various side dishes
of meat, pulses and vegetables along with sauces which are generally
spiced are also served with injera. The injera is either topped with
these side servings or it can be torn off and used to pick up the sauces
In Ethiopia it is traditional to
eat with the right hand and water for washing one’s hands is usually
brought to the table before the dish is served.
Restaurant prices vary from area to area.
The cheapest ones starting at around 3 birr per head. More expensive
restaurants range from 25 to 35 birr per head and this often includes
national music and dancing. In private restaurants such as the Hilton
and the Sheraton where non-Ethiopian dishes are served, visitors can
expect to pay considerably more.
The top two 5 star hotels - The Hilton and
the Sheraton - are situated in Addis Ababa along with several other
tourist class hotels. Outside of Addis Ababa the standards vary immensely
with the Hotels in the north being generally better than the hotels
in the south. Overall, rooms are very clean and comfortable with en
suite toilet and shower.
Vistors should request permission before taking
peoples photographs. Generally, there are no problems about photographs
with the exception of some areas, particularly in Afar and in the Omo
valley. In these regions people may ask for money. Photography in churches
is allowed. Video photography in famous tourist attractions such as
the Blue Nile Falls carry a charge. In some areas such as airports and
around military camps photography may be prohibited altogether.
Visitors will require a visa (see section on embassies for information
on your nearest embassy or general consulate). For visitors traveling
from countries where there is no Ethiopian embassy, arrangements can
be made to collect a visa at the airport on arrival.
Voltage is 220.
Most hotels and restaurants have a service
charge, however depending on the size of the bill visitors might want
to leave a small tip of one or two birr.
There are no set taxi prices. All fares are
subject to negotiation, therefore it is a good idea to agree on a price
before starting a journey.
Useful Books and Guides
The Lonely Planet Guide to Ethiopia, Eritrea
Bradt Guide to Ethiopia
Collins Birds of East Africa
Ethiopian Amharic Phrasebook – Lonely Planet
The Blue Nile – Alan Morehead
Spectrum Guide to Ethiopia (English and German editions)