Ethiopia is home to a truly diverse landscape and peoples. The otherworldly volcanic landscape of the inhospitable Danakil Depression, the lush peaks of the Simien Mountains and the bleak deserts bordering Somalia are populated by a range of ethnic groups. Christian, Muslim and Pagan rituals and practices blur providing Ethiopia with unique cuisines and cultures.
For most nationalities a single entry visa can be obtained on arrival in Addis Ababa (provided you are not of Eritrean/Somalian origin or holding Pakistani nationality. Note that only a single entry visa can be obtained and no visas on arrival can be obtained at any land border. The only exemptions to the visa policy are that nationals of Djibouti can enter visa-free for 3 months and those of Kenyan nationality may enter visa-free for 1 year.
For double entry visas or visas for entry via land borders you would need to get a visa in advance. Visa requirements vary from embassy to embassy but we will provide letters of invitation and any other visa support that you may require.
If you are based in the UK or Australia then we can recommend using Travcour as a visa agent.
Ethiopia is 3hrs ahead of GMT. Summertime is not observed.
Health and vaccinations
Please consult your local GP about the necessary vaccinations for Ethiopia.
Travel insurance is your own responsibility. We will ask for a copy of your insurance policy at the beginning of the trip to ensure that we can take action in the unlikely event that anything happens. Please ensure that your insurance agent is aware of where and what you are doing. Many policies will state that they are worldwide policies but may not pay out if there are government travel warnings against travel to that region.
If you have any concerns please contact us and we can provide a list of insurers we and others have used in the past. They all have years of experience insuring expeditions, journalists and ex-pats in some of the worlds wildest places. They will able to provide a number of comprehensive insurance options for Ethiopia.
Weather and climate
The altitude differences within Ethiopia are extreme and so are the climate zones. Roughly half the country is considered highland, with a temperate and dry climate. The capital Addis Ababa is located at a high altitude (2355m) and is dry most of the year, except during the short rainy season (called Belg) which runs from February to April and the long rainy season (Meher) from mid-June until September.
The Danakil Depression is one of the lowest and hottest places on earth. It is 127m below sea level and temperatures reach 50 degrees Celsius in summer time. Just a few hunderd kilometres west lie the Simien Mountains. With elevations of over 4000m it has an alpine climate and probably the coldest temperatures in the country. The lowlands that border Somalia are generally hot and dry.
Cash is the best form of currency.
The unit of currency in Ethiopia is the Ethiopian Birr.
For up to date exchange rates please have a look at www.xchange.com
Electricity and Internet
Ethiopia relies heavily on hydro power. In the rainy season, roughly February-September, there’s usually no issues with the power supply in the main towns. However, in times of drought the electrical supply is highly unreliable. Electricity in rural Ethiopia is in general less reliable as the infrastructure is quite fragile. It’s a good idea to pack your head torch, just in case.
Internet facilities are available in Addis Ababa and the bigger towns. Mobile internet coverage is growing and sometimes available in surprisingly remote places. But it’s not reliable, so don’t assume that you will have access to internet outside the main cities.
Food and Alcohol
Ethiopia has a distinct cuisine that sets it apart from many of it’s neighbours. Most commonly vegetables and spicy meat dishes. Typically wat (stew) and injera, a sourdough flatbread made from fermented teff flour which makes it slightly sharp in taste and spongy in texture. The quality of injera and wat vary dramatically from place to place. The standard way of serving most meals is placing the wat (or multiple wats) on a piece of injera (including an extra side plate) and tearing off a piece of injera to eat the dishe(s). Whenever you eat in Ethiopia try and ensure you use your right hand at all times as doing so with your left is seen as a sign of cultural disrespect (and to God).
Other notable dishes include tibs, grilled meat with vegetables, kitfo, raw meat sometimes cut straight from the animal and ayibe, a type of cottage cheese that is a mixture of sweet and sour. Pasta is also very common due to the Italian colonial influence.
Note that the Christian Orthodox church has many fasting days where no meat should be eaten. This includes Wednesdays, Fridays and all of Lent. Therefore it is generally an easy place for vegetarians to travel in – if you are having trouble stating your dietary needs just tell them that you need fasting food.
Buna, coffee, is a major part of life in Ethiopia. It is thought that coffee may well originate from Ethiopia. It is served espresso style.
Drinking alcohol in Ethiopia is no problem. Local beers and wines are widely available. Drinkers should try tej, a local honey wine, which is easy to end up drinking too much of… mainly because it’s very tasty and mellows the mind.
Language and Religion
In Ethiopia around 90 languages are spoken. The country’s official first language is Amharic (related to Arabic and Hebrew). In Addis, English is widely spoken by the younger generations. In the northern part of Ethiopia Tigray the language Tigrinya is spoken. And in the central regions Oromo is the principle language.
The majority of the population is Christian (62%), 35% is Muslim and the remaining 3% worship other religions.
Safety & Security
Ethiopia is generally safe. Areas near the Somalia border have security issues. Also in the Afar region close to the Eritrean border there is an increased security risk. This is the legacy of the decades long conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
RECOMMENDED READING AND WATCHING
This list is not comprehensive, in fact it is very subjective. It is stuff we like and think you may as well:
- The Danakil Diary – Journeys through Abyssinia – Wilfred Thesiger (Book)
- Ethiopia: Through Writers Eyes – Yves Stranger (Book)
- In Ethiopia – Bernd Bierbaum (Book)
- In Ethiopia with a Mule – Dervla Murphy (Book)
- Globe Trekker: Ethiopia (Film)
- Lost Kingdoms of Africa: Ethiopia (Film)
- Town of Runners (Film)
- Land of Extremes: Ethiopia – BBC Documentary (Film)
- People of the Delta (Film)
We do not directly arrange international flights to Ethiopia. We can suggest routes and operators. You can also contact the Untamed Borders dedicated team at Flight Centre for suggested routes. Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: +44(0) 844 560 9966 They will match any price you find online.
Ethiopian Airlines offers direct flights from some European cities, such as London and Frankfurt. The most efficient indirect flights from Europe are offered by Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa.
If there is no direct flight with Ethiopian Airlines from your country, it may be better to come via Kuala Lumpur or Dubai. FlyDubai are a reliable way to reach Addis Ababa from the Gulf.