Howdy all and happy Thursday to y’all. Today it’s Ethiopian tips for you! And I will start by saying that Ethiopia is my FAVOURITE African country – that I have visited. Narrowly edging out the amazing Cameroon for that honour.
Why? Well, Ethiopia is two things that always pique my interest when thinking about a place I would like to go. Firstly, it’s unique. With the exception of Italian occupation in the Second World War which lingered a bit I fancy, Ethiopia is basically the only African Nation that was never fully colonised. Although you do see an Italian influence in the country, mostly in Addis Ababa the capital, it’s mostly in the food on offer – lots of places for pizza. Which you know, is never a BAD thing!
It’s varied lands have tropical areas in the south of the country, mountains in the north, and in the east you have deserts and even a spot where the land is lower than sea-level known as the Danakil Depression. You can hike, you can see desert cities, see strange things spew from the earth, meet people of all walks of life, and even see historic buildings, citadels and churches – the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela are a highlight of anyone’s visit. So you just won’t be left disappointed, that’s for sure!
But the question that this post asks is – what do you need to know before you head to Ethiopia?
Visas are needed for most visiting Ethiopia. Whereas back in 2009 I needed to get my visa by sending my passport to the consulate in Australia, and then waiting for it to come back. But these days, the process is much easier and doesn’t run into trouble when you don’t have a consulate in your country, because visas are now online for Ethiopia. I think this is the official site – Ethiopian Online Visa. 30-day visas cost around $52USD, obviously more for more days. As always, better to get your visa, I think, before you leave home as it’s always faster at arrival if it’s already in your passport.
Check online and perhaps at the Ethiopian consulate/embassy in your own country before you leave for requirements but it’s a relatively straight forward process I believe for most nationalities.
So altitude sickness can be an issue in Ethiopia. The capital, Addis Ababa is at 2,355 metres and parts of the north are much higher. I hiked to just over 4000 metres in the Simien Mountains, and I got a little altitude sickness there, although it lasted less than a day. Generally I think it’s anything over 1800 to 2000 metres when you can start to feel the effects of altitude on you. Shortness of breath is usually the first and main one. They recommend adjusting by slowly moving up in altitude, a sudden gain can hit you pretty hard. But check out the ways the altitude might and could affect you, talk to a medical expert on this one. There is medication you can take to counter the effects of altitude sickness.
What to Bring
The clothing that you bring to Ethiopia will need to reflect what parts of the country you are going to. Basically, the north – Addis Ababa to the border with Eritrea – is at altitude and therefore it’s cold. Can get below freezing at night. Depending on the time of year it can be really cold so keep that in mind. The south is tropical as you head towards Kenya, and the east is desert in the direction of Somalia. It doesn’t matter too much where you are headed – you are going to want to cover up to some extent. Tropical areas to keep the mosquitoes away, in the north to keep warm and in general you’ll see most Ethiopians tend to cover up and dress conservatively.
What else would be really helpful in Ethiopia? Well, if you’re going trekking in the mountains many trekking gear you think you might need. If, like me you want to trek the Simien Mountains most things are organised from the gateway town of Debark where you can find a guide who’ll sort you out with a tent, sleeping bag, mat and what not. I took my own sleeping bag which I think is a pretty good idea, as you can’t be sure of the quality or cleanliness of what might be supplied.
It’s useful in budget hotels too, as is a sleeping sheet/bag thing which is just a thin sheet really but like a sleeping bag it goes all the way around you. Lalibela in particular, one of the most-visited places in Ethiopia, is known for insects, including fleas in the churches. So repellent and anything to help you clean them out is probably not a bad idea at all.
Check up with your doctor too or a travel clinic for medication you might need. Malaria, like most countries in Africa, is an issue, although not in places over 2000 metres or so. Do your due diligence and know what’s possible and dangerous before you go.
See also – Why You Should Consider Ethiopia!
So I would say that apart from a few areas, Ethiopia is a pretty safe country to visit. Around its borders though, you need to know what the situation is before going because Ethiopia and Eritrea do not get along and have a history if war. As I write this post, the border with Sudan is a spot where refugees are gathering and crossing, and there has been fighting breaking out. The border with Kenya is okay I believe on the Ethiopian side, but the Kenyan side does see banditry and violence from time to time. I don’t think it’s a HUGE issue for travellers, but again you want to check on the situation before you pass through it.
Out in the east you come to the border with Somalia, and that region is not always stable too, and I heard many years ago now that there can be trouble out in the area of the Danakil Depression, this point below sea-level in the middle of the desert where three tectonic plates meet and volcanoes and other geological marvels exist.
Anyways, wherever you go in general you want to check on the safety of the area, obviously. Always be aware of where it you are going in terms of any medical issues you might face and for physical safety as well. On top of that, as ALWAYS, have travel insurance that includes unlimited medical coverage and check for exclusions before taking it.
How do you get around?
Okay so Ethiopia is a country that if you want to travel mostly or completely by land, it’s going to be somewhat of a challenge. The combination of mountainous terrain and less-developed infrastructure means that distances are not covered as quickly as they might be. Roads have improved since I was there, when it was impossible to go by land from Addis Ababa to Lalibela by land without and overnight stop in Dessie. By that road it’s a bit over 600 kilometres. Google quotes me around 14.5 hours when I check it today. That’s by CAR though not by bus.
The buses are variable, but the local ones are pretty basic and very crowded and long journeys are not for the feint-hearted. I took an all-day VIP bus from Bahir Dar to Addis Ababa which was more comfortable. This buses on long journeys often leave before the sun goes up which isn’t always when one is at their best. But they get you in, usually, before the sun goes down.
Fortunately, the domestic network of Ethiopian Airlines is pretty good and not particularly expensive. It’s well worth paying for it to save time if you don’t have a lot of it. Some incredible views from the sky as well.
Ethiopian food is actually pretty special. And pretty spicy too! It’s eaten with this soft, sour bread called ‘injera’. You get a bunch of things with it, tomato-based sauces, mutton, chicken. Stews are also very common. In Addis particularly you can find pizza and Italian food everywhere.
See Also – Nuts N’ Bolts Guide to Ethiopia
Costs and Money
Finally, the Birr is the local currency and as I write the value of the Birr is reflected in $1USD being worth around 44 Birr. I don’t remember that being the rate back when I was there in 2009, it was less than 10 per $1USD I think. Costs are well, it’s not very expensive, especially compared to a lot of African countries. You can get a budget room for $20USD easily even in Addis Ababa. Meals are only likely to set you back a few bucks. You’re biggest cost will be transport if you are flying. But even then domestic flights shouldn’t cost you much more than $50USD. So it’s very manageable.
Thanks for popping by today. I hope this little guide helps someone somewhere travelling to Ethiopia. It’s been one country that hasn’t been too hard to visit during the pandemic, so perhaps if you’re able you might consider it! Take care, and May the Journey Never End!