I returned from Ethiopia after a two-month trip with many stories to tell and thousands of photos.
Two intense months that led me from the borders with Kenya to those with Eritrea, an important and poignant dive in a world that I like to call “something else”.
The first time in an African Country and an initial desperate search for common grounds with my culture or with those I knew up to then.
An amazing country, beautiful, diverse and very peculiar. You are never ready for Ethiopia, not until you actually get there.
So many lessons I learned that I wish to share with you, hoping that they will come in handy for your next fantastic trip in one of the most interesting countries of the globe.
Where to stay in Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa is a big city and as such it offers several areas in which to stay.
The main destinations of the tourists are two: Square District, Bole District. How to choose?
Area full of hotels and where all Backapckers generally prefer to stay. In particular Taitu Hotel, Wutma and Boro are among the most lively and the meeting place for travelers.
In this neighborhood you find shops, the AirEthiopia office and links for the whole town by minibus.
Chaotic and always full of people, I have always opted for this area, although I admit not everybody likes this area, especially because of the children on the road and the high number of beggars. Besides the risk of “harassment” lays just outside the hotel door. But you must get used to this in Ethiopia.
This is the business district of Addis, the style is completely different from Square, close to the airport, the embassies, Meskal Square ( whence most of the long distance buses leave ) . From here it is easier to get around Addis independently but room rates are considerably higher than in Square District, we start from about $ 25 per night. The cons of staying in this area is that you don’t get to meet many travelers, as they’d rather go for cheaper solutions in hotels in the Piazza District.
Safety in Ethiopia
Addis Ababa is considered as one of the safest capitals in Africa, this is true when it comes to violent crimes, but a little less if we refer to pickpocketing. I personally never had such experience, but it happened to my guide in Addis, therefore you must pay attention especially when visiting Market, the most impressive and largest market in Africa.
However you needn’t be afraid if you only take some measures aimed at discouraging the pickpocket:
- Be cautious when you get to Meskal Square and also when you get away from it, as usually the pickpocket acts in the middle of hustle and the general commotion that happens while waiting for luggage. Keep everything on yourself and do not let strangers approach you.
- Board the minibus only if from the window you hear calling out loud the name of your destination (there are no stops indicating the destination but you have to take them as they go). In order to recognize the stops you will always see a group of people waiting, if in doubt, ask, most Ethiopians speak English and are extremely kind, so much so that they won’t even wat for you to ask for help, they will offer it themselves.
- Attention to Merkato, an awesome square, chaotic but a place of excellence for various thefts. Keep your money and camera on you, do not leave anything of value in your backpack… sometimes it happens that without you noticing they cut it and take what’s inside. I suggest to get a belt where you can store your money and hide it under your trousers.
- Be wary by children selling candy or souvenirs on a tray held on their neck. This way they have both hands free and can put them where they want (in your pocket, in particular).
Aside from this danger, Ethiopia is really a safe country, the only fears (rare but I admit I had them myself at times) are the roads, especially those trafficked with animals and during market days, the drivers are used to it but it is not too rare that in some cases in order to dodge some animals they’d drive off road.
Internet in Ethiopia
The reliable and fast internet connection is still rare in Ethiopia, but the hotels even economic ones are beginning to offer it, although not always free (take foe example Taitu hotel ) .
Wifi access , however , is available at the common area of many international hotels ( such as the Jupiter Hotel and Intercontinental) , in order to get access you may go to the bar and the restaurant and at the cost of a drink you can stay online. For those who do not need WiFi, Internet cafes are everywhere in Addis but things get complicated in the south, as there are none in the Omo Valley.
I admit that I was amazed by the lack of wifi in hotels but the presence of the connection via mobile, obviously to make a card with data connection you need to go at the Ethiotel office, armed with passport and photos, and in a few minutes you will have your own 3G card.
General recommendations for Ethiopiaa
Bring a cell phone / smartphone. During my trip to Ethiopia I used the phone more often than I would at home, considering that hotels, guides or the locals do not check Internet very often nor everybody has data connection, the only way to communicate is through mobile phone.
Whether you need it to call taxis, confirming flights, to confirm the guide or book a hotel, an Ethiopian sim card is of the utmost importance. The prepaid card can be bought at selected stores, top ups on the other hand can be found literally everywhere, even the hawkers on the street would sell them. Top ups start at 25 birr (just over one euro). To buy the card your passport and ID photos are required. To top up the SIM card is simple. You buy your top up card, get the code and type *805*HIDDEN NUMBER#. To check your credit *804#
- Bring US dollars, especially if you have to pay very expensive tours such as Omo Valley or the Danakil Depression.
- Ethiopia is literally a world apart, even the time is different, and I do not mean the time zone. Their time is 6 hours different from ours, calculated from 1 to 12, 4 am for us (and the world) for them is 10. So especially when buying bus tickets always ask if it’s Ethiopian or European time.
- The public Minibus represent the most economic means of transport to move in Addis Ababa and they link the main areas of the city. The fare is around 3 birr per way.
- Bring an anorak and warm clothes, although you might believe that Ethiopia is synonymous with warm you should know that you are at +2000 meters above sea level and at night the temperature range varies and you can get cold. Polar fleece sweaters are recommended.
- If you fly with AirEthiopia always confirm the status of the flight, it is not rare for them to be changed (even leaving earlier), which is why a cell phone is crucial!
- Prepare yourself to eat A LOT A LOT of injera! This is the local and traditional dish and you eat it using your hands, and usually in company. If some strangers invite you to eat together, accept … you will get a wonderful experience!
How many days are enough to travel in Ethiopia?
Ethiopia is big and for those who have never traveled in Africa the arrival could be a bit of a shock. To know how I lived the first few weeks click here.
As a fact, the northern circuit is well equipped with public transport but if you’re visiting independently you need to consider at least two weeks not including the Danakil.
If you wish to travel South and the Omo Valley the situation is more difficult given the lack of links with public transport and in this case it would be advisable to use a private car.
Hence it is not possible to travel along the entire Ethiopia in just two weeks, but you need to choose what you would like to discover and engage the correct amount of time.
For independent travelers it would be ideal to have at least five weeks.
How much does a trip to Ethiopia cost?
If traveled independently and you have a minimum of 5 weeks time, the total cost of traveling in Ethiopia is not exaggerated, if we exclude the Danakil and you only choose two destinations in the Omo Valley as most tribes cannot be reached independently.
On the other hand if you leave with an all inclusive organized tour the costs can be quite high, as for housing there is no mid range.
Either hotel starting at $10 per night or less, with outdoor shared bathroom or resorts. In addition, the rental car with driver has quite high costs
The costs are very high for those who travel alone, but for those traveling as a couple or with more people costs get more even and it becomes definitely more accessible.
In two months traveling I have spent about €1700 Danakil included.
Conclusions – a Journey to Ethiopia yes or not?
Absolutely yes!! I admit that Addis can be a difficult city to love for plenty of reasons, but a trip to this country is a real adventure. Accompanied by a lot of books that have kept me company in the many days spent in solitude, you wouldn’t meet many fellow travelers, I discovered a new world, different, diverse, colorful, chaotic and noisy but also very beautiful, fascinating and almost mythological.
Indeed, my advice is to go as soon as possible because in 10 years time probably the Omo tribes are bound to disappear and just that corner of the country is worth the time and cost!
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