Solo travel in Ethiopia – The last frontier for the backpacker

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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Donna Hamar
Hamar woman

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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.

danakil

 

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!

 

etiopia
In Turkana Lake

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!

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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).

 

Myself and Kala - Hamar Tribe
Myself and Kala – Hamar Tribe

 

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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.

 

Harar ethiopia

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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

 

 

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Ethiopia guides

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.

Giulia Raciti

Esperta di Africa e Latino America sono in viaggio perenne dal 2011. Ho fatto un giro del mondo in solitaria durato 3 anni. Mi occupo di realizzazione viaggi personalizzati e su misura in Africa e Sud America

Questo articolo ha 14 commenti.

  1. Elena

    Hi giulia, great post! I am about to leave to Etiopia in a week, i was thinking to stay around 4 to 6 weeks there. Could you give me some advise on the places i could make base? I want to cover most of the country, would appreciate your advise! Great thanks!

  2. Luis

    Hello Giulia. Great post!! Thanks for taking the time to share.

    i would like to visit the omo Valley if possible, but i have a couple of situations that i would like to share with you and if possible have your expert opinion.

    I am from Colombia and I am backpacking Ethiopia on a budget. I don’t have a lot of time or money but i am willing to travel by airplane to Arba Minch for 2 nights and return to Addis on the 3rd day. Do you think is worth it? Is it possible to visit 2 tribes maybe or just to view hippos and wild life nearby? If so, How much will it cost by local or private transportion and the guide or a nice and not expensive tour (if possible) ? Any suggestions or maybe a different plan to do? By that time i would have already visited Addis, Lalibela, Gonder, Simien Mts, Mekele, and Danakil… And those 3 days are my last. I would really appreciate your help and guidance. Thanks a lot for your time.

  3. Hi Giulia! Reading your post is so inspiring! I was actually doubting the safety of the country as a solo female traveler and you just prove that it is possible so thanks for this!

    I am planning to travel for a year and have a couple destinations in mind: Italy, Ireland, Ethiopia & Indonesia for the moment. I plan to travel all those countries in order and spend a couple months each to really immerse myself to the culture of every place.

    My question: since I won’t be going back home (Canada) between each countries and that I will carry with me a good camera and my laptop, is it safe or do I have risks of getting it stolen since there is poverty everywhere? Should I ship it back home before going to Ethiopia?

    I want to write articles along the way and feed my website, so that’s why I’ll be carrying all that gear.

    Thank you so much in advance and keep inspiring us with your articles ! 🙂

    Cheers!

    Shella

    1. Giulia Raciti

      Hi Sheila,
      don’t be worry about it! Ethiopia is really safe and I have been traveling for years in Africa with my expensive (and heavy) camera an lets.
      why would you not take your camera for Ethiopia? You would missed fantastic shots, so carry it and do not be worry about it.
      Just keep an eye at your valuable (but this can be said for all places you go( but do not let poverty believe that Ethiopia is dangerous because it is not!
      Enjoy one of the most beautiful Countries in the world!!

      1. Shella-Eve Simard

        Thank you so much Giulia! I will then 🙂

  4. Daniela

    Hi Giulia! what a nice post. I am from Costa Rica, soon will be travelling to Ethiopia for work. After that I really want to got to Omo Valley, but I’ll be on my own and it makes me a bit nervous. Do you know any guides who do this trips? how is it to travel alone as a women there? I just really want to go, and don’t want the “fear” to stop me from making this trip…..any suggestions regarding the south of Ethiopia?
    Thanks!!

    1. Giulia Raciti

      Hello Daniela, of course I do know a fantastic guide! Contact Nure at this email and tell him I gave you his contact: [email protected]. He is a guide from Addis that will help you with your plan and will also provide you the right contacts (I know all of them too but Nure will help you better than I do, in the Omo Valley.
      I could not recommend a better guide in the whole Country, and he will put in touch with my good friend KALA (Hamar village in Turmi). You are in REALLY good hands!

      Do not be nervous! OMO Valley is AMAZING!!!

      1. Daniela Linares Leandro

        GRACIAAAAS!!!!! 🙂 ….. will contact inmediately!

        1. Giulia Raciti

          Go for it! He is a person I trust a lot and helped me many times. He is amazing!

  5. Haya

    Hey I’m thinking of traveling ethiopia
    I have one month
    I’m looking for the best places to see and visit
    And for a good rout
    I land in adissababa
    Thanx

    1. Giulia Raciti

      Hi! If you want to do most of the trip by public transports then the northern route is the one. The classic itinerary should work fine with you.
      Addis Ababa, Bahr Dar, Gondar, semien Mountains, Lalibela via Dessie, Makale, Geralta and Back to Makale. From here you can take the 4 days tour to the danakil Depression.
      Then you can fly to Dire Dawa, nice city, from there go to Harar (my Favourite), from here you can visit the Babile Market, the biggest camel market in Africa and then back to Addis Abeba.

      How does it sound to you?
      Cheers
      Giulia

  6. Andre Breton

    Hi!

    My name is Andre and I’m from Mexico. I’m considering backpacking in Ethiopia with my wife and you seem like the ideal travel guru for this mission. As many people, we are attracted to both, the Danakil Depression and the Omo Valley. These seem the hardest places to get to, and in some forums I have even read that independent travel is illegal (is this true?) and you might need to go through the agency. Here is where the problem lies, as while we could afford the $500 for Danakil that you mention in one of your posts, we don’t have the $2000+ for the Omo Valley tour that most online operators ask for. It’s just out of our current possibilities (our currency and salaries are not the best). Is there a way to do this cheaper? Having traveled by public bus in Myanmar, India and Nepal, we see the beauty to riding uncomfortable buses for long hours. But we also feel a guide is essential to come closer to the cultures and the people in an experience like this. Is it possible to hire a guide and do all the travel by public transport? Are the rates I will find in Ethiopia more accessible than the ones I see online? What would you recommend? We just want to know if Ethiopia is the right destination for us.

    Thanks a lot for your advice!

    The way you live your life is truly inspiring for a lot of us, keep it up!

    1. Giulia Raciti

      Hello Andre,
      first of all goign your own to the Omo is not Illegal (maybe it was in the past but it is definitely not now). However you will need, in any case, a tribal guide with you when entering to any village. So this is what you have to pay for, guide and for photos.
      The problem with Omo Valley is that you will need a car to go to many tribes, however, you can go by bus till arba Minch and then from there to Turmi. There is one weekly bus going to Omorate, don’t remember the day, but then to go away from Omorate you’ll need to find a lift.
      For going to the Mursi and Caro Villages you do need a car, there is no way you can get there by bus.

      All this for saying that, I have done it by bus and by car, both. By bus is hard because buses in southern Ethiopia compared to India or Myanmar are terribile, that Arba Minch/Omorate probably has been one of the worse bus trip I have ever done in my life, however as I still remember it probably was really cool too.
      You need to travel during market days for getting to Omorate or seeing at least some markets, but if you want to get to Mursi or Caro the only way is going by car.

      You can get there by bus but keep in mind you won’t be able to follow the same itinerary you would if you had a car.
      You will need to get a guide anyway, whatever village you will go to (that’s a rule and is madatory) but no, it’s not possibile to visit all village by public transports.

      Ethiopia is pretty expensive, as all Africa, for what you get, but this is really common in whole Africa.
      woudl I recommend it? I DO!I love Ethiopia, it’s such a unique African country. It’s my fav in the Continent. 🙂

      Happy planning!

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