A leap in the dark, in the heart of the earth to touch the cradle of civilization that still today ranges between 150 different tribes, the many languages and different traditions flowing into one big country. No matter how much you have traveled in the past, a journey in Ethiopia with take you in completely and you won’t be able to escape. Get ready to live an experience that goes far beyond the itineraries and routes where at times you do not even realize of being an outside observer watching places and people floating by.
In Ethiopia the journey leads to a healthy self-centeredness because everything revolves around you, around your attitude and instinct, around the people you want to join to discover black Africa, which is, perhaps, one of the most proud. Traveling solo in Ethiopia paradoxically leads you never to look for solitude but rather to seek the company of an Ethiopian.
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So a radical change of the perspective we adopted up to now.
You actually need it, and not because the risk is always round the corner, rather because otherwise you would see but would not perceive and because the chaos, the incessant music, this “inability” of the Ethiopian to be quiet or without music will be a constant companion throughout your journey. And never as much as in this corner of the world in the Horn of Africa, not understanding it would mean travel for just a fifth of its worth.
There is no Ethiopia without Ethiopians and there is no understanding without someone to introduce you to this magical and difficult world of colors, music, smells sometimes so strong and intense ( the incense, the smell of goats and the clothes of the Hamar tribe, which impregnate anything staying for more than 15 minutes in their hut ).
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Ethiopia is considered one of the safest countries in Africa, even though it seems, one of the most “annoying” regarding the continued demand for money or services offerings. Who wants breakfast, who lunch, who the birr for a photo, some candies, some pens or t-shirt and so forth. But after a few days you will be able to laugh and joke on this and the annoyance will subside until you won’t acknowledge it anymore. Travel it on your own means taking up all the consequences that have to do with something new for those who have never set foot in Africa: poverty.
It is hard, personally it took me two weeks to get used to it, to realize how to behave in front of this inability of mine to understand and to separate those who were well from those who were not. The first days everybody would look the same to me, such perception changed with the passing weeks and today, after almost two months makes me see the same Addis as an avant-garde city, always considering that we are in Africa, and much less distant from many other central American capitals, for example.
It is a tough and intense journey, not exactly for beginners, it was not unusual to see those who after two weeks believed they wanted to get away, for a moment I admit, that was me as well. Long hours in uncomfortable buses, continuous pauses to pee, then for lunch and then because there are too many people and the police keeps giving our fines, never ending demands for money, poverty at every corner, you a white person in a world of black people to whom, at least for me it has been so, you have to get used to.
It’s tiring but most generally time passes slowly, you keep on following the rising and setting of the sun, the amount of information and inputs that occur during this planetary movement is that much that is not uncommon go to sleep at 9pm. And another long day in Ethiopia is over. That was what I used to say every single night before falling asleep.
But traveling solo in Ethiopia is possible, it won’t take more than a few days to be fascinated by one of the most beautiful countries in the world, a place that deserves time to be discovered in its complexity made up of tribes, deserts, mountains and mix of cultures and traditions of the most several of the globe.
A beautiful trip in the heart of the proud black Africa!
All you want to know before traveling to Ethiopia
Here are some questions I answered while I was traveling to Ethiopia and many people asked me.
If you have any question leave a message and I will be happy to answer to all your doubts!
Is it easy to travel solo in Ethiopia?
Easy is a big word, we must arm ourselves with patience and above all spirit of adaptation. Trips can be very long and uncomfortable, it requires a long time, but that’s what makes the adventure, right?
Therefore not easy, but with the passing weeks even the most uncomfortable bus of level 2 will be seen as one of many fun and unlikely means of transportation of this country.
It also needs to be said that this is one of the few African countries that offers the possibility of taking domestic flights, for those flying within the country with Ethiopian Airlines there is a discount of 50% , and connections by bus, for the north and east circuit, are rather good with Salem Bus and Sky Bus.
Things get a lot more complicated for south and west where the spirit of adaptation must be at its highest from all points of view. Not easy, but definitely adventurous!
If you do not feel at ease rely on a local or guide
For me they have been providential, just guides at first who then became friends, they have been my keys to the Ethiopian world and without them the first few weeks I would have been lost because the strong sense of discomfort and feeling out of place, the actual incapacity to take a mini bus in Addis on my own tore at me.
Therefore if you do not feel comfortable on your own let a local be your guide, you will find in these people ( obviously not all are the same I have been lucky ) an opening into a complex world and maybe hard to digest at first.
Afterwards, when you feel able to continue alone … .Go !
The fees vary from person to person, in general they would start from 200/300 birr per day and a little more in Addis ( ie starting from € 8).
Is Ethiopia dangerous?
Absolutely not! It is the safest the country of Africa and apart from some markets, especially the market of Addis where you should always keep an eye on your bag, you are in no danger.
Maybe some theft, of which I was never a victim, but even when it is dark, and it will often happen to who takes the bus, walking in the streets is safe. At the very least if you do not feel comfortable you can always take a taxi. I would not define Ethiopia a dangerous country and this also according to many other travelers. I repeat, one of the safest places in Africa.
Do you meet any other backpackers?
Actually not so many. As I guess you wouldn’t meet many if traveling in Africa in general, but those you do meet are daring and adventurous just like you! However if you fear loneliness don’t worry, the Ethiopians know how never to let you feel alone, even when you want it!
How can I meet other travelers?
Ethiopia is huge, and backpacking with public transports takes at least a month and a half given the size and diversity of the population and cultures, and it is not always easy to match your itinerary with the others however possible if arranged on time.
In particular, this applies to the two areas that predominantly require a private car, that is Omo Valley and Danakil. This is because the more you are the less you pay. A very useful site to find travel companions is the forum of lonely Planet, here you will find many independent travelers looking for travel companions.
A few recommendations for your trip to Ethiopia
No actual danger to fear, but there are some recommendations that I wish to make which are very practical:
- Make sure your insurance covers all the places you want to visit, Ethiopia is considered a country at risk
- Be prepared for diarrhea, always brings with you the pills, me, the irreducible, always able to eat and drink anything, here I felt sick 3 times
- Watch out for lice, cover your head when you’re in touch especially with children. Having worked in a school there were lice, in some cases you could even see them, so this is why I always wear a head scarf in my pictures. Prevention is better than cure and the lice are not nice.
- Remember to make the necessary vaccines. Click here for recommended vaccination
I would strongly recommend the Ethiopia (Bradt Travel Guide), which, unlike other guides I read, is the only one truly complete. Lonely Planet although I think is pretty disappointing since ie it looks like it was written by someone who did not appreciate this beautiful country.