Ethiopia holds more than 80 ethnic groups, many languages, some 200 dialects and three alphabets and witnessing this incredible patchwork of culture is a fascinating insight into human nature. Talking of nature, Ethiopia is equally as dazzling in that department, with its soaring mountain peaks, humming rainforests, sprawling savannahs, vast lakes and stirring cities. A holiday here is an eye-opening rollercoaster you won’t want to end. Here are some things to note before your stay.
You need a visa to travel to Ethiopia – this can be purchased ahead as an e-visa, or easily on arrival at the airport. While the country isn’t dangerous in the way of crime, like anywhere in the world it’s prudent not to flaunt wealth or show off bundles of notes (Monaco may be the only exception to the rule!).
Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, has by far the widest range of evening entertainment options – from theatre restaurants offering dinner and a show to live music bars, cinemas or even nightclubs – there’s always something going on after dark. Outside of the city, life is more low-key, although there are evening establishments peppered in most towns.
It’s wise to take any medical supplies you’ll need during your stay as pharmacies are often poorly supplied, especially in rural areas. Tap water, like all African countries, is not drinkable, but bottled water is readily available. Avoid ice and be cautious of fruit and vegetables that have been washed with tap water.
Weather-wise, Ethiopia is a country of contradiction and the climate varies massively depending on elevation. In one holiday it’s possible to experience arid desert in scorching heat, a deluge of rain on lush mountainsides and cities that sweat in the day and shiver at night. It’s best to plan for cold evenings – include layers and an extra jumper for when the sun sets and it turns chilly.
Accommodation varies wildly in Ethiopia, from single rooms with squat toilets for $5 USD a night to Western-style hotels with TV, Wi-Fi and a buffet breakfast from anywhere between $30 and $50 a night. Ethiopia’s currency is the birr. ATMs are all over the country, even in smaller towns and villages, so withdrawing money is easy. US dollars and Euros are accepted foreign currencies. Many hotels accept credit cards as long as the connection speed makes it possible, as power cuts, while not a regular occurrence, do still crop up.
Haggling is commonplace in markets and souvenir shops, so limber up your bartering muscles. Ask for the best price and stand firm, but jovial. Tipping is a strong custom in Ethiopia – £2 is respectable for a porter and housekeeper, £5 for the day’s tour driver and a good guide would expect around £10 a day. 10% of the bill in an Ethiopian restaurant is a generous tip. Taxis are not metered, so it is appropriate to fix the amount for journeys in advance.
Ask permission before taking a photograph – recipients generally won’t expect payment though, except in the Southwest tribes of the country (Omo Valley or Afar region).
Travelling in Ethiopia is an amazing experience, rich in cultural sights and sounds, natural wonders and historical significance – breath it in and enjoy.