A-Z of Useful Information When
In this list you will find useful travel facts, background information and some suggestions that will not only help you prepare for your trip, but make your travel experience enjoyable from start to finish. Please note that things can change rapidly in Ethiopia, therefore some of the information herein may be subject to change.
Ethiopians are modest dressers and visitors should be sensitive about their dress when visiting places of worship. Shoes must always be removed before entering churches and mosques so we recommend bringing a pair of socks to wear when visiting sites such as Lalibela.
Ethiopia, with a population of more than 112 million, is the second most populous country in Africa. The Ethiopian nation is made of people of different ethnic, religious and linguistic backgrounds ranging from Cushitic and Nilotic – like other East African countries, to Semitic – like those found in the Middle East. The population is composed of more than 80 ethnic groups, with Oromo and the Amhara being the largest.
Courtesy and hospitality are virtues that have transcended time and generations in Ethiopia. A few words of a local language, no matter how broken 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 flatbread, and the wholesome aromas of an Ethiopian coffee ceremony can only be fully experienced by indulging oneself in these delights.
CULTURE & CUSTOM
In Ethiopia, a handshake greeting is customary, with a pleasant discussion on personal matters before getting down to business. After a close personal relationship has been established, people of the opposite sex may kiss three times on the cheeks. Greetings should never be rushed and it is appropriate to inquire about the person’s family, health, job, etc. The offer of tea and coffee is very common and provides a setting to discuss and understand Ethiopia through the lens of the local people. Smoking is not popular outside of the major cities and it may be perceived as insulting to smoke in front of priests or the elderly.
As a guest of Ethiopia, we highly encourage our visitors to respect the cultures and customs of the indigenous people. We also want to highlight that trip members should respect the privacy of individuals (especially when taking photographs) and not make promises unless they fully intend to fulfill their obligation. In the same vein, bargaining is a serious matter in most countries and it is really not fair to bargain unless there is a genuine interest to buy. For example, if you are not interested in buying something then simply say “no” because in many places “maybe” means “yes”.
FESTIVALS & CEREMONIES
There are many great national and local holidays and celebrations throughout the year, which are observed all over the country. These may share origins with Christian, Muslim and tribal festivals elsewhere in the world, but have unique indigenous characteristics in Ethiopia.
- January 7 – Ethiopian Christmas
- January 19 – Timket (Epiphany)
- March 2 – Adwa Victory day
- April 17 – Id Al Adha (Arefa)
- April 14 – Ethiopian Good Friday (date varies)
- April 16 – Ethiopian Easter (date varies)
- May 1 – International Labor Day
- May 5 – Ethiopian Patriots’ Victory Day
- May 28 – Downfall of the Derg
- June 26 – Eid al-Fitr (date varies)
- September 2 – Eid al-Adha
- September 11 – Ethiopian New Year
- September 27 or 28 – Meskel (Finding of the True Cross)
- December 01 – Birth of the Prophet Mohammed (date varies)
Ethiopia is a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual state. There are over 83 languages spoken in the country, with 200 dialects. Amharic is the working language in Ethiopia. Other major languages include Oromigna, Somali and Tigrigna. English is also widely spoken.
The Semitic languages are mostly spoken in the northern and central parts of the country. The principal Semitic language is Amharic. The Cushitic languages are found mainly in the East, West, and South. Of this group, Oromiffa is the predominant language. The Omotic languages, on the other hand, are spoken in the Southwest part of the country, near the Omo River. Finally, the Nilo-Saharan languages are spoken in regions along the Sudan frontier. Some of the written languages use the Ge’ez alphabet – the language of the ancient Axumite kingdom. In fact, Ge’ez is the only indigenous written language in all of Africa.
Why not learn a few words of Amharic (Amarigna)? It is said that knowing another language allows one to cross rivers! The locals will appreciate your effort. The following link should prove useful in this regard: https://wikitravel.org/en/Amharic_phrasebook
You can also search on your mobile app store – there are some fantastic apps that can be downloaded.
The predominant religions in Ethiopia are Ethiopian Orthodox and Islam. The peaceful existence of Christianity and Islam, the two major religions in Ethiopia, which entered the country near their times of founding, demonstrates the tolerance and co-existence of the various groups in the country. Christianity is more common in the northern and central parts of Ethiopia, while Islam is more dominant in the lowlands.
MUSIC & DANCE
Ethiopian Saint Yared devised a musical notation in the 6th century for his stupendous repertoire of sacred music, with finely choreographed sacred dance to go with it. To this day, highland Ethiopian secular music and dances are based on St Yared’s legacy. The most common folk dance, the esskista, has basic elements running through the traditional dances of all the various highland peoples. Mostly based on shaking shoulders, its combination of the religious, fetish and sensuous is as confusing as it is fascinating. The somersaults of the Welaita and the coquettish theatrics of the Omo people are in sharp contrast to this.
We Are There For You
UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES
Ethiopia is home to nine World Heritage Sites – eight cultural and one natural site. This is the highest number in Africa. “The country’s UNESCO-registered heritages including the majestic obelisks of Axum, the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and the historic fortified town of Harar, among others, have always remained tourist magnets, drawing visitors in droves,” Ethiopian Airlines, 2019
ZONES & REGIONS
Ethiopia is a Federal Democratic Republic composed of 9 National Regional states: Tigray, Afar, Amhara, Oromia, Somali, Benishangul-Gumuz, Southern Nations Nationalities and People Region (SNNPR), Gambella and Harari; and 2 Administrative states (Addis Ababa City administration and Dire Dawa city council). The national regional states as well as the two cities administrative councils are further divided in 800 woredas and around 15,000 kebeles – Ethiovisit.com
CALENDER AND TIME ZONE
Ethiopia is in the GMT + 3 time zone. As Ethiopia is situated close to the equator, there is almost a constant twelve hours of daylight. In Addis Ababa, on average, the sunrise and sunset starts at around 6:30am and 6:45pm respectively. Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, which consists of 12 months of 30 days each, and a 13th month of five days (6 days in a leap year). The calendar is 7 years behind the Western or Gregorian calendar, with New Year’s Day falling in the month of September.
LOCATION AND GEOGRAPHY
Ethiopia is located in North Eastern Africa. It is a ruggedly mountainous country, with an area of 1,251,282 km². It is surrounded by Kenya, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Djibouti. The country is composed of an elevated central plateau generally varying in height from 2,000m and 3,000m.
In the north and center of the country, there are up to 25 mountains whose peaks rise over 4,000m, the tallest being Ras Dashen, which is 4,543m in elevation. The most famous Ethiopian river is the Blue Nile (Abay), which runs a course of 1,450km from its source at Lake Tana, to join the White Nile in Khartoum.
Agriculture is the backbone of the national economy. The sector accounts for over 50% of the country’s GDP and 85% of the labor force. The principal exports from this sector are coffee, oil seeds, pulses, flowers, vegetables and sugar. There is also a thriving livestock sector, as Ethiopia has the largest number of livestock in Africa. As result, the export of cattle products such as – hoofs, hides and skins have been gaining momentum.
The manufacturing sector has shown enormous growth in recent years. Food, beverages, textiles and leather are important subsectors for manufacturing in Ethiopia. Mineral exploration has also stepped up in recent years. There are reserves of oil, natural gas, coal, gold, cooper, tantalum, potash, zinc, iron ore, nickel, marble, precious and semi-precious stones.
CLIMATE AND WEATHER
With such diverse landscapes, Ethiopia has a range of climatic conditions but can generally be described as temperate. May is a pleasant time to visit, with daytime temperatures in the capital around 26°C. In the south some rain can be experienced in May with temperatures in the high 20’s.
The climate of Ethiopia varies greatly according to topographical regions. In general, the climate is temperate in the highlands and hot in the lowlands. The major part of the country comprises high plateaus, which gives the country its pleasant, moderate climate with minimal seasonal temperature variation. The mean minimum during the coldest season is 6˚C (43˚F) while the mean maximum rarely exceeds 26˚C (79˚F). Temperature variations in the lowlands are much greater, and the heat in the desert and Red Sea coastal areas is extreme, with occasional highs of 60˚C (140˚F). In Addis, the average temperature consistently remains around 15˚C (59˚F) throughout the year; however, you should not underestimate the intensity of the equatorial sun. Bringing a hat & sunscreen is advised.
Heavy rainfall occurs in most of the country during June, July, August and September. The average annual precipitation in the country during the major rainy season is 39 inches. While the northeast and eastern plains receive less than 19 inches, Addis Ababa receives close to 49 inches of rainfall.
NATURE & WILDLIFE
The ecosystems of Ethiopia are diverse and varied, ranging from arid dry lands to extensive rainforests. Ethiopia has a large variety of indigenous plant, animal and bird species. In some areas, the mountains are covered with shrubs such as pyracantha, jasmine, poinsettia and an assortment of evergreens. Caraway, carcade, cardamom, chat, coriander, incense, myrrh, and red pepper are common.
Most of Ethiopia’s predators have become endangered. This is a result of limited space and the farmers‘ constant search for agricultural and grazing lands. It goes without saying that you should not collect or purchase any items made from endangered plant or animal species. Ethiopia has 66 documented wildlife protected areas (national parks, sanctuaries & reserves etc.) Wildlife recorded includes 287 species of mammals (31 endemic); 862 species of birds (17 endemic); 201 species of reptiles (14 endemic); 63 species of amphibians (30 endemic) and 150 species of fish (40 endemic). The Ethiopian wolf, Walia Ibex, Gelada Baboon, Mountain Nyala, Swayne Hartebeests, Menilik bush buck, Simien monkey and Starck’s hare are mammals that are endemic to Ethipia. There are 34 important Bird Areas (IBAs), identified as conservation hotspots that harbor diverse common, endemic, threatened, endangered and globally threatened species of birds.
SECURITY AND CRIME
Ethiopia is generally a very safe country. However, casual theft and pick-pocketing are fairly common in some parts of the country. As a precaution, we recommend a lightweight passport pouch that can be worn under your clothing, either around your neck or waist. The pouch should hold only your passport, air tickets, a credit card and most of your travelers’ checks. You should be alert when traveling in cities and crowded areas. Police can be identified easily through their obvious uniforms.
We always put the safety of our clents and staff first. We would not suggest any trip without considering the safety of our clients. Should the foreign and commonwealth offices advice against travel for any reason, we will contact anyone who is booked to travel to discuss alternatives.
Valuable items (cash, passports, medication, jewellery, electronic devices, mobile phones, etc.) should be locked in the safe in your hotel room, whenever possible. If you must carry any valuables with you, keep them on your person at all times and do not leave them unattended. For everyday access, use a money belt or pouch rather than a wallet or handbag. When travelling it is always prudent to exercise caution when using your credit and/or ATM cards to avoid the risk of fraudulent charges. You should never leave valuables unattended in a hotel room or inside any vehicle.
The Ethiopian currency is the birr, made up of 100 cents. Notes are issued in denominations of 5, 10, 50, and 100. There are five different coins: 1, 5, 10, 25, 50 cents and 1 birr.
Traveler’s checks are not easily cashed outside the larger cities. Credit cards are accepted in certain hotels, lodges and large shops. Cash may be withdrawn from ATMs in major cities using VISA, Master card, and Union Pay debit cards, but it is best not to rely on these outside of Addis Ababa. VISA, Master card and credit cards are accepted in big hotels in major cities and some malls in Addis Ababa. US dollars are accepted at major establishments, like hotels, ticket offices. However, you need to use local currency for shopping and while traveling outside of Addis. You can exchange USD into local currency at any bank. Tipping in USD is acceptable.
We would be remiss to not warn you that there is no way to replace cash if it is lost or stolen. If you are carrying US dollars, bring plenty of 10’s and 5’s as they are needed for tipping; and change is not always available. It is a very complicated and time-consuming exercise to change birr back to a hard currency so this should be avoided if at all possible, especially as US Dollars are accepted as readily as birr. When changing birr back to dollars on departure, you will be asked to produce bank receipts
Banks are easily accessible throughout Ethiopia. Banking hours are generally from 8:00am until at least 4:30pm (Mon-Sat). Ethiopia’s society is largely cash based, but International bank/debit cards are accepted at most ATMs. You are unlikely, though, to get local currency advanced to your credit card. ATMs are plentiful in the cities, but rare elsewhere, so we advise that you draw sufficient cash prior to heading into the hinterland. If you change any foreign currency to Birr, do keep your receipts, as you will need them to change any unspent cash into hard currency at the end of your trip. The rate of exchange fluctuates moderately.
STANDARD OF FACILITIES & SERVICES
Ethiopia’s tourism infrastructure is still in its infancy and many services are well below international standards. This is a destination for intrepid travellers who are interested in the country’s incredible sights and history. We believe the beauty of this country makes up for the shortcomings of its service offering, but travellers should keep in mind a few basic facts:
- Transport: Most of the roads are asphalted now and in a reasonably good condition. On some short stretches in the Simien Mountains, you will drive on gravel roads.
- Hotels: While good hotels are found in Addis Ababa, outside the capital the accommodation can be classified as 2-3 star at best. Also see Accommodation, above.
- Food: Meals in Ethiopia are basic. Hotels offer set menus with a choice of two or three main courses. Pasta dishes are common but may only come with a basic tomato sauce, with fish and meat also available. Local fare is found throughout the country but may vary in quality.
Electricity in Ethiopia is 220 Volts, alternating at 50 cycles per second. If you travel to Ethiopia with a device that does not accept 220 Volts at 50 Hertz, you will need to purchase a voltage converter. Outlets in Ethiopia generally accept 2 types of plug: three round pins arranged in a triangle, or two round pins. If your appliance plugs have a different shape, you will need a plug adapter.
Please be aware that the electricity service can be erratic. You should always travel with a flashlight and spare batteries, and it is best if you are not reliant on an electric razor or hairdryer.
GETTING TO ETHIOPIA
The main airport, with international connections to most parts of the world, Bole International Airport, is conveniently located a mere 8km from the center of Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa. Domestic services fly to all regions and most tourist sites. All international flights arrive and depart from Bole International Airport. The national carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, is Africa’s oldest airline, and has an excellent safety record
Visitors are required to carry a valid passport and sufficient funds to facilitate their stay. Visas are required for all foreign visitors to Ethiopia, with the exception of nationals of Djibouti and Kenya. A visa application may be obtained at Ethiopia’s diplomatic missions overseas where visas are readily available. However, nationals of 37 countries are now allowed to receive their tourist visas upon arrival in Ethiopia.
Citizens of the USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, China, Japan, Korea, Israel, Kuwait, Russia, the UK (and most other European Union nations), may receive their visa upon arrival in Ethiopia. If you opt for this method, application forms will be handed out to you on your international flight. You must complete these and take them to the counter to pay (50 USD for one month) and get the visa stamped into your passport. If you intend to get your visa on arrival please ensure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months from your date of entry to Ethiopia and that you have at least 2 blank pages. We also recommend that you carry a photocopy of the picture page of your passport. Keep this in a separate place in your baggage. If for any reason you lose your passport, this will expedite the process of replacing it.
Remember to pack a small flashlight with extra batteries, binoculars, ear-plugs (for noisy planes or roommates), reading materials, converter and adaptor plugs for electronics, and travelers checks and credit cards. If you are traveling to Bahir Dar or the South, remember to pack mosquito repellant. A high SPF sunscreen and hat are also recommended, as well as a first aid kit.
Personal effects are admitted free and a duty-free allowance of 1 liter of alcohol, 200 cigarettes and 0.5 liters of perfume is permitted. If you have a computer, video camera or major electrical equipment you will need to declare them. You will be expected to have this equipment with you when you leave.
While clothing will depend on the time of the year, it is prudent to note that Ethiopians are fairly conservative in their dress. In the capital city of Addis Ababa, however, most people wear western fashion. For tourists, light cotton clothing with sunglasses and a hat is advised in the warm lowlands, while in the highlands light or medium-weight clothing is appropriate. During the rainy season a light raincoat and umbrella are essential, and a sweater is best for chilly evenings. The sun can be very strong in high altitude locations, so we recommend that you pack a high SPF sunscreen. Outside of the rainy season, pack light clothes for the daytime and a jacket or sweater for the evenings. A good pair of comfortable walking shoes is essential. Pack a few pairs of socks, as shoes must always be removed before entering churches and mosques. See Cultural Sensitivities
All modern forms of communication i.e. telephone, mobile, fax and internet are available and relatively reliable in Ethiopia. Airtime cards are sold at most shops and hotels. The country code for Ethiopia is 251 and Addis Ababa’s area code is 11 (or 011 if calling from within the country). Reliable internet cafes are located throughout Addis Ababa and major cities outside of the capital. Elsewhere in the country, however, internet usage and access is rare and slow. Wi-Fi is available in all major hotels, although the network reception is often a problem.
For courier services, DHL, FedEx, UPS, TNT, and EMS have offices in Addis Ababa. Standard mail between Addis Ababa and most of Europe takes about one week, but it can take longer (two weeks to a month) to reach elsewhere in the world.
WHEN YOU ARE IN ETHIOPIA
Accommodation, food, traveling around and shopping.
Addis Ababa has a number of five-star hotels incl. the Sheraton Addis, Radisson Blu and Capital Hotel. There is also a growing number of international brand and local tourist-class hotels. Standards vary vastly outside the capital. As a general rule the hotels in the north are of a higher standard than those in the south. Although there are areas, including the Omo and Mago areas, where camping may be unavoidable, it is generally possible to get relatively clean rooms with an en-suite toilet and shower.
Luxury hotel choices are very limited in this part of the world. We have, for your comfort, selected the best available accommodation in each area. Altnough basic, the lodging are comfortable and clean, with en-suite facilities. These properties are not considered luxurious by international standards.
TRAVEL WITHIN ETHIOPIA
- Air: Ethiopian Airlines offers domestic services to the major towns in Ethiopia. The cheapest and quickest way to get around Ethiopia’s historic sites in the north is by air. Most of Ethiopia’s major towns and sites of interest are accessible by air, and fares are cheap by international standards. Baggage weight allowance on domestic flights is 20 kg per person including camera equipment and hand luggage. Flights to more remote areas, such as Gambella, may impose a 10 kg limit depending on the plane being used. Ethiopian Airlines does perform luggage and body searches. If you are carrying anything that could be perceived as an antiquity, it will be confiscated, unless you produce a receipt.
- Road: The best way to experience the variety of scenery that Ethiopia has to offer is travelling by road. But road conditions in Ethiopia can be poor and given the nature of the terrain a road journey to Axum, for example, takes three days, while the flight from Addis Ababa takes two hours. The scenery by road is, of course, incomparable, but some travelers may lack time. Vehicle hire in Ethiopia is relatively expensive when compared to other countries. Cheaper, less comfortable alternatives are public and private buses running between most towns.
DOMESTIC FLIGHT LUGGAGE RESTRICTIONS
A strict luggage restriction of 20kg per person, and hand luggage, applies to all light aircraft flights within Ethiopia. It is important that you carry soft-sided or “barrel” bags, as hard-sided suitcases (Samsonite-style) cannot be fitted into the small holds of light aircraft, if you use charter flights. Excess baggage may be stored at your hotel in Addis Ababa.
DRIVING IN ETHIOPIA
Drivers in Ethiopia use the right lane. A valid international license is required to drive and it is important that you observe the maximum speed limit within the city, which is 60km/hr.
HELICOPTER & CHARTER FLIGHTS
Helicopter and charter flights are available by prior booking. Helicopters can seat five people, each with a luggage restriction of 10-15kg per person (not negotiable). Charter flights are offered on nine-seater and 12-seater planes. A 20kg lugguage restriction applies.
BEING A TOURIST
Accommodation, food, traveling around and shopping.
PHOTOGRAPHY / FILMING
Ethiopia on the whole is fairly relaxed about photography, and apart from a few museums and sensitive government and military installations, you can photograph virtually everything. However, please note that flashes damage artifacts. Except in general street and market scenes, it is not appropriate to photograph people without permission. As a matter of courtesy, permission should be sought before photographing individuals in many parts of the country, particularly among the Afar and among the ethnic groups living by the Omo River. In some sites (Blue Nile falls, for example) there is a charge for video photography. Please respect the privacy of the local people, especially in remote areas, and do not intrude unduly with your camera. Please use discretion.
A foreigner wishing to shoot documentary or feature films in Ethiopia is required to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Information and Culture.
TIPPING & DONATIONS
Tipping is done at your discretion, for good service. If you have booked a transfer through us, your guide will tip the porters at your hotel. We ask you not to give money, candy or gifts indiscriminately to children as this encourages begging. If you wish to do something for the children you meet, we suggest you bring pencils, pens, crayons, erasers, simple English books, “magic slates” etc. and give them to your guide to distribute to local schools, where they will be much appreciated and of greater overall benefit to the community.
While doctors and dentists are available throughout the country, the major hospitals are located in the large cities. We advise that you bring a first aid pack and sufficient supplies of any drugs that you may need regularly.
In many tourist sites malaria is not a problem due to high elevation. This is true for Axum, Gondar and Lalibela. In Bahir Dar, however, there is a relatively high incidence of malaria, particularly at the end of the rainy season and after unseasonable rains. Chloroquine resistant strains have been identified in some areas, so you should consult with your doctor before departure if you intend to take prescribed medication. Alternatively, you can keep mosquitoes and other insects at bay with mosquito nets and repellent creams and sprays. If travelling to the Omo Valley, it is highly recommended to take both the yellow fever innoculation and malaria prophylaxis.
It is also worth taking some precautions in regards to food and drinks to avoid any potential health problems. Drinking tap water is not advisable and in certain local places, it is best to drink from the bottles instead of glasses. It is also recommended to eat well cooked food. Eating vegetables and fruit is not a problem provided that you are certain of the cleanliness.
FOOD AND DRINK
The Ethiopian national dish, injera, is prepared using a grain called Teff. Originally, Teff used to grow only in Ethiopia, but recently it has gained worldwide attention due to its high nutritional value; also that it is gluten and cholesterol free. Once teff is fermented, it is cooked as a flatbread (similar to a pancake) known as injera. The injera forms the base for most local fare including a range of meat dishes, vegetables and sauces. The sauces are generally spiced with berbere – a warm, aromatic blend of herbs and spices (including hot peppers), which gives the cuisine its distinct Ethiopian flavour.
Ethiopian food is particularly popular with vegetarians, with an extensive selection of tasty vegetable and pulse dishes on offer. These dishes are devoid of meat, dairy and all other animal products.
Strictly vegetarian dishes accommodate the diets of devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, who observe 196 fasting days in a year, during which they abstain from consuming all animal products. Meat lovers will not be disappointed, however, as several beef, lamb and chicken dishes are widely available. Doro Wat, a rich chicken stew, is a dish that is traditionally served on special occasions.
Along with the traditional Ethiopian meal, it is a customary to drink either t’ej – a type of honey wine, or a local beer called t’ella. Ethiopia also produces its own wines. Dukam and Gouder are dry red wines, while Axumite is sweet red wine. Crystal is dry white wine. Bottled beers are also sold throughout Ethiopia. Brands include Dashen, Habesha, Castel, Bedele, St. George, Harar & Heineken.
In medium to large towns, you will find stationery shops, good pharmacies, music and fashion shops and general convenience stores. Even in small towns you will find convenience stores selling items such as batteries, pens, paper, toiltetries, biscuits and bottled drinks. Most towns and villages have markets. In larger towns these will be open daily, but the main market day throughout the country is Saturday. Supporting local markets puts money directly into the hands of the local community.
Many antiquities cannot be exported and may be confiscated if found in airport searches. The National Museum in Addis Ababa can issue a clearance certificate.
When it comes to shopping for rare gift articles and genuine souvenirs from Ethiopia there is an amazing selection of religious icons, crosses, antique jewelry of various metals, gold and silver jewelery, leather goods of all kinds and pure cotton textiles to choose from.
Drinking tap water is not recommended. Bottled spring and purified water is widely available in most shops, hotels, and restaurants throughout the country. You may use any brand of bottled water as all are safe and reliable.
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