There are good hotels in Addis Ababa ranging from the luxurious Hilton and Sheraton hotels to other lower standard hotels. Other good hotels are available in large towns. Hotels tend to be better towards the north than to the south. Prices are high for top end hotels within the major towns and lower elsewhere.
The main airport is Bole International Airport, some 8 Km from Addis Ababa. There is also another major airport in Dire Dawa. Ethiopian Airlines is the national airline and one of the largest and best airlines in Africa. It flies to major cities in Europe, the Middle East and the United States. It also has a broad pan-African route. Other airlines that provide flights to and from Ethiopia are British Airways, KLM, Kenya airways and Lufthansa amongst others.
A railway line connects Addis Ababa to Djibouti and an all weather road links Kenya, from the border town of Moyale, to Addis Ababa. These transport options however, are much slower than flight and may be unsafe, especially road transport; cars have to travel in convoys as a safety precaution. The road conditions are also poor thus a two hour flight can take three days by road. Nevertheless, one advantage of road is that the traveler gets to enjoy Ethiopia’s beautiful scenery.
Travel to the regions of Tigray and Afar is discouraged, as these areas are unsafe. They are near the Ethiopia/Eritrea border over which is disputed and land mines can still be found.
The best way to get around is by air. Ethiopian Airlines provides regional flights to over 40 towns and the prices are reasonable. It also provides a Historic Route Service for tourists to ancient historical sites in the country. Buses operate along all major roads but their services are slow. There is often a long wait for a convoy of buses to assemble before the journey begins. Also, the road network is poor; majority of the roads are gravel dry weather roads. There is a railway track between Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. The services provided however are not admirable; frequent delays and crowded trains are common.
Taxis are available in Addis Ababa. They are blue and white in color and at times provide shared taxi services. Before one embarks on a journey by taxi, the fare should be agreed upon. Minibus taxis also offer shared traveling services and have cheap rates. If one decides to hire a car, 4 wheel drive vehicles are recommended because of the conditions of some roads. Traffic drives on the right. For stays longer than one month, one must apply for a temporary Ethiopian driving license. Generally, visitors should avoid traveling at night especially outside Addis Ababa.
A passport valid for a minimum of three months is required. All except nationals of Kenya, Djibouti, Sudan and Eritrea require visas. Passengers on transit do not require visas unless they are leaving the airport. Visas may be obtained from an Ethiopian embassy in your country or from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Addis Ababa. Visa requirements however, vary from time to time and you are advised to check on the prevailing status well ahead of travel.
There are doctors available through out of the country. However, major hospitals are only situated in the main towns. Travelers are advised to take simple yet life saving precautions before and during travel. Visitors coming from yellow fever endemic zones require a yellow fever vaccine certificate. Ethiopia is listed as a yellow fever endemic zone, thus vaccination is important especially if one is traveling outside urban areas. Malaria exists throughout the year in the low lands. Travelers are advised to start vaccination two weeks prior to their visit. Other precautions that should be taken include, sleeping under mosquito nets between dusk and dawn, as this is the time they are active, wearing long sleeved shirts and trousers, applying insect repellants to exposed skin and using insecticide sprays.
Sleeping sickness also occurs and the same precautions listed above should be taken to avoid infection. Meningococcal meningitis is a serious risk in the western half of the Ethiopia and vaccination is essential. Other risks that require vaccination include, Hepatitis A and E, which are prevalent, Hepatitis B, which is hyper endemic especially for those staying for periods longer than six months and are in close contact with the locals, rabies especially if one is in contact with domestic or wild animals. Typhoid and cholera are also common risks and care should be exercised when handling food and drink. Travelers’ diarrhea is a common occurrence. It is essential that you are watchful of what you eat and drink and carry a supply of the relevant medication in case the event still occurs.
Bilharzia is also a risk; travelers should avoid swimming or paddling in fresh water, chlorinated pools are safer. Like elsewhere in Africa, HIV/Aids is a risk and the appropriate measures should be taken. All water should be sterilized or boiled before consumption. Mineral water is also available and presents another safe option. Milk should be boiled if not pasteurized and care should be exercised when consuming milk products. Powdered or tinned milk is safer. Only meat and fish that is well cooked and served hot is safe for consumption. Vegetables should also be well cooked and fruits washed and peeled.
Telephone, mobile telephone, fax, internet, telegram and postal services are available in the country. The telecommunications head office is at Addis Ababa. The country code is 251 and outgoing international code is 00. PTO and ETA provide GSM 900 network for mobile phones though coverage is limited. Fax facilities are available in major hotels and several internet cafes are available in Addis Ababa. Some top-grade hotels also provide internet services. The main ISP is PTO ETC though connection is sometimes difficult. Postal services are adequate with mail to Europe taking up to two weeks.
The newspapers published in Ethiopia include Addis Zemen, published in Amharic and The Ethiopian Herald published in English. There are also several weeklies published in English. BBC world service and Voice of America can be received. Up to date frequencies can be obtained from the web.
The unit of currency is the Ethiopian Birr. Travelers’ cheques in American dollars are recommended to avoid unfavorable exchange rates. Foreign currency should be exchanged at authorized banks and hotels only and US dollars are the most convenient to exchange. Credit cards such as MasterCard and Diners Club are accepted but on a very limited basis. The import of local currency is limited to Birr100 while export of the same amount is permitted for travelers holding a re-entry permit.
Import of foreign currency is unlimited as long as it is declared on arrival. Tour guides expect a tip and about a dollar an hour is sufficient. Tipping in restaurants is not required but won’t be declined if offered. Bargaining in shops and with taxi drivers is also common.
Peoples & Culture
There are over 80 language groups in Ethiopia. These language groups originate from larger ethnic groups such as the Oromo-who are the largest ethnic group, Semites, Cushites and Nilotes. The Amhara and Tigreans are the largest language groups and are of Semitic origin. This is the reason why Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia. Other language groups include the Surma, Karo, Galeb, Hamer and Mursi. Each language group has its mode of dress but the national one is basically white dresses and wraps for the ladies and white shawls or light blankets for the men with colorful prints on the border. These are known as the traditional shemma dress.
People in the low lands mainly wear leather clothing with bead or shell ornaments or brightly colored clothes. The Surma and Karo are experts at body painting and scarification is popular among the people of the lower Omo River. Oromo girls wear their hair in two buns behind their ears and the Hamer women are also known for their elaborate hairstyles. The Mursi women wear simple yet remarkable jewelry and insert large clay disks in slits in their lower lips as a sign of beauty.
Addis Ababa has a flourishing cultural life. There are several art galleries in the city and many opportunities to experience Ethiopian music. In theatre, cultural and dance shows are frequently held. There are several restaurants, which offer a wide variety of European, Arab, Indian, Chinese and of course Ethiopian cuisine. Traditional restaurants do not provide cutlery thus guests are always provided with an opportunity to wash their hands before meals. Injera, a flat yet bouncy bread made from Ethiopian tef cereal and wat, a thick sauce in which meat, chicken, fish or vegetables are cooked, is a favorite meal among the Ethiopians. It is eaten using hands thus the need to wash up.
Coffee, which is widely grown in the country, is of high quality and there is even a coffee ceremony celebrated when one has a visitor. Fried cookies called dabo kolo are a popular snack. The local brew, made from barley or maize is called tella. Other brews are tej, made from honey and arakie, a grain spirit.
Ethiopia experiences both wet and dry weather conditions. However, due to differential topography, the rainfall varies. The rainy season (kremt) occurs between mid June and end of September. There are three primary climate zones. The highest zone known as Degga (cool) is cool year round. Temperatures can drop to freezing during winter.
The Weina Degga zone, situated on an enormous plateau, experiences temperate climate. Temperatures range between 15 and 20 degrees celsius. The lowest zone is known as Kolla. Temperatures are warm to hot year round. The Dnakil Depression, one of the hottest places in the world, is found here.
Health insurance is of the essence. Ensure your cover extends to medical expenses abroad including possible evacuation to your country. Carry all your relevant insurance documents and keep them safe. However, most medical providers might not accept payment through your insurance company. Therefore, clarify whether your insurance plan will reimburse you later. Personal effects and luggage should also be insured as well as cancellation and curtailment insurance taken out.
What to Wear
Ethiopians are fairly conservative in their dress thus visitors should take note and be sensitive to this in their dressing. Light summer clothes should be worn during the day in the lowlands and warmer clothes in the evenings and in the hilly areas. Hats, sunglasses and sun block are adequate protection from the tropical sun. Light but strong shoes are recommended especially for those walking around viewing historical sites. A lightweight raincoat or an umbrella is recommended in case of rains