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Travel and Tourism

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 strongly recommended.

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 and fillings.

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 and Djibouti
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)


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Last updated 23-01-07 11:30 CEF DST
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