Ethiopia Travel Advice
Ethiopia is the land that has enjoyed a very long and rich history. It is one of the nations that can trace its establishments back through millennia towards the very dawn of civilization. The country is believed to be the origin of mankind as proved by the earliest Hominid fossil ever to be discovered. Lucy or Dinkinesh is a 3.2 million year of old skeleton of a bipedal hominine, Australopithecus afarensis, discovered in Afar regional state and on display at the National Museum in Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia has its own script, notational system and calendar. The country adopted Christianity long before the rest of the world in the 4th century before Rome. Muslim communities were established in Ethiopia in the 7th century before the triumph of Islam in its birth place, the Arabian Peninsula. There are quite a community of the Bete Israel –called Ethiopian Jews before the mass travel to Jerusalem.
The battle of Adowa which took place on March 1896 is commemorated each year in Ethiopia as a decisive victory of Africans over colonial forces which allowed Ethiopia to remain an independent state while Europeans were dividing the rest of the continent amongst themselves. To revenge the defeat at the battle of Adwa, the Fascist Italians again invaded the country in 1935 and occupied the country for six years only and faced continued resistance. The occupation left no impact on the character of the Ethiopian people.
Climate, topography and clothing
Basically, there are two distinct seasons in Ethiopia, the dry running from October through May; and the wet season runs from June to September. There is also a short rainy season in March/ April especially towards Southern Ethiopia.
Ethiopia, covering an area of 1.4 million square km, is the tenth largest country in Africa. With this size, the country is as large as France and Spain combined. There is every diversity of scenery, with tropical rainforest, high moor land with Afro-alpine flora, lakes, savannah and deserts. In terms of elevation, it varies from 116m below sea level in the Danakil Depression to 4620m above sea level at Ras Dashen in the Semien Mountains.
The country is dominated by the Abyssinian highlands at the center, to the west of the chain the land drops to the grasslands of Sudan, to the east to the deserts of the Afar and the Red Sea. Southern Ethiopia is mainly occupied by the Rift Valley Lakes.
As the result of the elevation, temperature rarely exceed 25 degree centigrade in most of the country ; although in some of the lower lying areas like in the Awash, the Afar and Somali Regions, Omo and Mago Parks, Gambella) it can get considerably hotter. If you are like to trek in the Semien and Bale Mountains National Park you need to pack warm clothes and a good pair of trekking shoes (which is advisable even around the historical sites as the passages are not smooth and stony). Visitors are advised to cover their shoulders and not to underdress with shorts especially in the places of worship like churches, mosques; and even in public areas. Whenever, you are going inside churches and mosques, don’t forget to take –off your shoes and huts.
Ethiopia is predominantly an agricultural country where it accounts for about 85% of the population gets its livelihood. The principal export from Agricultural sector are coffee, finished leather products, oilseeds, pulses, chat, flowers, vegetables and food stuffs from animals. There is also a thriving livestock sector (Ethiopia has the largest domestic livestock population in Africa), exporting cattle on the hoof. Tourism is making an increasingly important contribution coming ahead of Coffee in terms of generating foreign currency according to the recent figures.
People and Culture
Ethiopia, with a population of up to 93.8 million by some estimates, is the second most populous nation in Africa. The country is composed of over 80 ethnic groups with their own language and dialects. Courtesy and hospitality are virtues that we transcends time and generations in Ethiopia, inviting visitors to truly feel welcome. A few words of local language, no matter how spoken they may be, will go a long way in the kind hearts of the people. The day to day rituals of the diverse cultures, the traditional ways of eating delicious spicy sauces by hand with Injera, and the wholesome aromas of Ethiopian coffee ceremony can only be fully experienced by indulging oneself in this delights.
Yellow Fever Vaccination certificate is no more mandatory coming to Ethiopia. However, you might be asked by some countries like Australia and Thailand to present the certificate if they know that you have been to Ethiopia. Again because of the country’s elevation malaria is not a problem in most of the sites like Gondar, Lalibela and Axum. However, it can occur in Bahir Dar after the rainy season or unexpected rain. Lowland areas including Awash River, Omo valley and Gambella region is subject to malaria outbreaks. Repellent creams and sprays can protect you from malaria.
Visitors should take a simple first aid kit with different size plasters, antiseptic cream, anti – histamine cream and/or tablets for insect bite. Moreover, aspirin and/or Panadol, sun barrier cream and anti – diarrhea tablets such as Imodium for emergencies are advisable in order to control symptoms. In case of emergency, you can visit doctors either at private or government clinics and hospitals that are available in most places. Pharmacies are better stocked than earlier.
When to Visit Ethiopia
It actually depends on where you want to visit in the country. The major rainy season in Ethiopia is from June to the end of September especially in central and northern highlands. With the improved airport and other services in the northern historic site, you can visit the sites enjoying the more green landscape with less visitors in the sites.
In Southern Ethiopia (Omo Valley) the main rain is from March to June with short rain in November. However, generally speaking the weather condition is unpredictable because of the global climate change.
Food and drink
Contrary to some people’s expectation, Ethiopia is liberally endowed with good eateries. The Ethiopian national dish consists of Injera – a kind of pancake made from the indigenous cereal called teff. The pancake is served with a sauces of different kind made of vegetables or meat. The sauce is usually spiced with hot peppers which gives Ethiopian food its characteristic taste. Vegetarians can try the fasting Ethiopian food which is available on Wednesday’s and Friday’s most of the time and contains vegetables and salads; without any meat and other animal products.
In Addis Ababa, you have a wide variety of restaurants with European, Asian, Arabian style of dishes. If you are travelling to remote areas such as the Omo Valley and other parts of the Southern Ethiopia, it is advisable to stock up with tinned and packet food in Addis Ababa. If you end up at local restaurant, stick to fresh cooked dishes like the bean sauce – shiro or tibs.
The prime soft drinks is fresh juice, most commonly banana, avocado, papaya, and Guava, with availability dependent on season and location. The usual soft brand drinks are widely available and very cheap. The most popular local drink is tej, a mead like drink made from honey. Another locally brewed beer, made from millet or maize, is called tella. There are lots of locally produced beers with popular brands including Dashen, Castel, Bati, Bedelle, St. George, Harar and Heineken. Wine is brewed locally; and result is indifferent but affordable, especially if brought directly from shop.
There is a growing number of tourist class hotels throughout the country. Addis Ababa has hotels ranging from five star to tourist class basic hotels. The standard/services in each properties varies; especially outside the capital. Apart from some destinations like the Afar Depression and West Omo areas where camping is necessary, one can find basic room with en suit toilet and shower.
Travel in Country
Once you are in Ethiopia (Addis Ababa), you can either fly or drive to regions. Ethiopian Airlines operates a safe and reliable domestic air services to most of the attractions in country.
If you want to enjoy the stunning scenery of Ethiopia, you can drive throughout the country. The road condition is improved though the mountainous topography in the northern highlands cut speed.
Currently it is no longer mandatory for visitors to declare currency in their possession unless one is carrying a large sums. Foreign currency may be changed only at authorized banks and hotels; and keep the receipt if you want to change the money back to foreign currency up on departure. Visitors are not allowed to take the local currency out of the country. The local currency is the Ethiopian Birr. The exchange rate is determined essentially based by market demand.
Cash can be withdrawn from automated teller machine in major cities and big hotels using VISA, MasterCard, and Union Pay debt cards.
• Visa: If you are coming from the countries which are allowed to get visa on arrival, you can get it based on the purpose of your visit. For tourism purpose, the payment is US $ 40.00 for 30 days and US $ 60.00 for three months for single entry visa; and US $ 70.00 for three months and US$ 80.00 for six months for multiple entry visa.
• Electricity: The electricity supply in the country is 220 volts. Electric wall outlets (plugs) are usually the round two – pin variety.
• Ask before taking pictures: Some subjects are honored by your interest, while others may be offended. To be sure, always ask permission before snapping a shot. In some villages in the south, people will insist upon payment for photos. This tends to be the case when tourism to the area fails to bring real benefit to the local people.
• Be sensitive about gifts: When confronted with poverty, travelers often feel compelled to give donation. If properly channeled local charitable organizations, donations can have a profound impact. However, random handouts of money, candy and other gifts can in fact be detrimental, promoting a culture of begging and dependency.
• Dress respectfully: Outside of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is still a very traditional country. Particularly in the more rural areas, wearing revealing clothing can cause offense. So while there is a natural inclination to dress light in the hotter areas, women should be sure to wearing clothing that covers their knees, chests and shoulders.
• Don’t buy old artifacts: We have sadly lost many of our priceless manuscripts and relics through unscrupulous dealings. Although it can be very difficult to determine which pieces are genuine antiquities, it is always best to stay on the safe side –especially in light of the country’s severe penalties for smuggling out old artifacts. The Ethiopian National Museum is authorized to check and issue a clearance certificate.
• Learn some local words: Locals are always appreciative when travelers greet them in their native tongues. Given the large number of languages in the south, however, you may want to focus on the two most widespread: Amharic and afaan Oromoo. For example, “Selam” is common greeting in Amharic, while “akam” is often used in afaan Oromoo.
• Airlines: Egypt Air, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, KLM, Kenya Airways, Lufthansa, Saudia Airways, Sudan Airways, Turkish Airlines and Yemenia fly to Ethiopia Bole International airport.