Frequently Asked Questions
Is it safe to travel to Ethiopia?
It is a very common question. The Horn of Africa is an unknown place from a tourist point of view as the media have only broadcast droughts and wars in past decades.
However, Ethiopia is experiencing an unprecedented period of economic development that began 20 years ago, only, and that has launched it to be the African country with the fastest growth of the continent.
New infrastructure for roads, airports, telecommunications, hydroelectric dams, hospitals, schools, hotels, etc. All this is attracting a lot of investment, jobs and a better quality of life.
The traveller is seen as part of this new era and is absolutely welcome.
Robberies are rare and confrontations with visitors are never seen.
We recommend paying attention to markets as they can be a place for pickpockets.
What Is It Like To Travel To Ethiopia?
The climate in Ethiopia is very diverse because we are faced with a huge country (the tenth in size in Africa and just double that of Spain) with a wide variety of geophysics and therefore climate. It occurs to me the radical difference that exists between the frosts summits of more than 20 peaks that exist above 4,000masl on the one hand, and the scorching heat of desert areas such as the Ogaden, the Afar area or the desert of Danakil on the other, where daytime temperatures can reach 50 degrees.
But if we talk about average temperatures, Ethiopia in general has a warm and humid climate, with temperatures ranging from 13 º C to 33 º C, with the exception, as I mentioned, of places with extreme weather.
The NORTH is rainy and humid during the months of July, August, September and October, but temperatures are not low. A sweater or a thin jacket and a raincoat by hand during the day will suffice. During the campings in high places like the Montes Simien YES that lower temperatures to 3 or 4 degrees with what is essential to take thermal clothes and of coat. During the dry season, i.e. the rest of the year, it is a hot and dry climate. At night, however, we are given a pleasant breeze to mitigate the daytime sun.
The SOUTH is usually rainy during the months of July, August and September but is hot during the day, despite the rains, and also very pleasant at night.
The Omo Valley area presents some difficulties of access to Surma and Bodi villages during the months of April and May due to torrential rains that leave impracticable the roads to these tribal villages. Roads in the Omo Valley are being improved and access through the savannah has been greatly facilitated. In summer you must have mud and in the dry season, dust.
Ethiopia's EASTERN region suffers from high temperatures all year round, so it is necessary to warn against the heat. The Danakil desert area is considered one of the hottest places on the planet, but also one of the most fascinating and bizarre for its geomorphological characteristics that travelers often compare with almost Martian landscapes (although for now no one has been on Mars).
Generally, during a route through Ethiopia we find hot days or mild temperatures, torrential rains during the summer combined with hours of sunshine, and cool but pleasant nights. The coldest nights are lived in very high places, as you would expect.
What is the best time to travel?
If you want my opinion on which season or month is the most suitable to visit Ethiopia, many will agree with me that it is the months of September and October that offer a particularly beautiful landscape because after the end of the rainy season (between June and October), the whole country is covered with a mantle of flowers of thousands of colors that bring a beauty to the already magical landscape. Let's say it's the Ethiopian spring.
However, do not fear if you can not visit the country at this time of year, it is just an extra beauty for the view because Ethiopia can be visited at any time of year.
During the European summer, between July and September coinciding with the Ethiopian rainy season, the most seen traveller here is the Spanish because it coincides with the holiday season in Spain. But don't worry, no Ethiopian visiting place is ever crowded or overwhelming, tourism here is quite shy, and above all, during the rainy season is when you find the least tourists, something to bear in mind when visiting the churches of Lalibela. It should also be said that we Spaniards are almost the only nationality to come between July and October because the rest of Europeans do so between October and January.
What are the means of communication and what methods of transport can I use?
Ethiopia is a country that is making spectacular progress. In the last year its economy has grown by 13%! However, much remains to be done and its authenticity lies precisely in the fact that life here is offered without make-up or artifice.
When travelling to Ethiopia we must bear in mind that infrastructure is generally scarce despite great progress in the construction of roads, hydroelectric dams and airports.
Roads are mostly paved in the north and east, and under construction on the main section heading south to Kenya. In the rest of the country the sections of track are unpaved finding good dirt tracks easily passable or authentically African roads that take us into the most remote parts of the country.
In short, road journeys are usually quite long due to the size and orography of the country and the fact that life, as in all African countries, runs on both sides of the road and often right in the middle. This means that rarely will the 4x4 vehicles we make available exceed 70km/h. The positive side is that it is the ideal speed to enjoy Ethiopian daily life, the overwhelming scenic landscape that accompanies the traveler on their journeys, allows you to make stops at places at will and lets you enjoy the breeze showing your face through the window (less when there is a lot of dust, do not forget).
This is the best option to save the 3,000km that cover the entire Historic Route of northern Ethiopia when we have limited time for our holidays.
Ethiopian Airlines is great. It won Best African Airline in 2016 and 2017. Its airports have been fully operational since the 1950s and have recently been remodeled and modernized. Ethiopian Airlines planes for domestic flights are the new Bombardier Q400 (from Canada) whose activity began in 2010, meaning that they are not old junk.
If you don't have a lot of time for your holidays, the best way to optimise your time is to use domestic flights between Addis Ababa, Bahar Dar, Lalibela, Gondar, Axum or Mekele. The journeys do not exceed 2 hours of flight and save the hundreds of kilometers between these destinations. Ethiopian Airlines offers at least one daily departure to these destinations at affordable prices and good schedules that optimize the time of your visits. The luggage limit is 20kg.
How are accommodations in Ethiopia?
As everywhere, there is everything and for everyone:
4* Hotels: they work very well and have good facilities, however you should not think that a high standard here covers exactly the same as in the West. In particular, I am referring to one aspect of Ethiopia that fascinates me: maintenance. It's just something that's barely practiced. The technique here is the so old and well-known concept of "apaño", "patch" or more popularly called "chapucilla" (with affection) that is put into practice only and exclusively, and never before, when the fault arises, that is to say, just when you pull the chain or turn on the faucet to shower. The breakdown is not fixed, it is managed momentarily, but not lastingly, until another client of the hotel is again in the same situation as you.
Jokes aside, all top hotels have electricity, hot water, occasional Internet, satellite TV, good restaurants with local and western food, good service and friendly staff. It is the best category available in value for money.
The best, beds and food. The worst, pipes and everything to do with plumbing.
In this section of high level accommodation I am excluding the Hilton and the Sheraton (5*) whose rates are around 250€ a night in a double room but that is not excessive at all considering the excellent quality, design and service that these hotels offer in all aspects, whether in accommodation, gastronomy, entertainment or relaxation.
Lodges: they are a wonder. Equipped with all the comforts and located in natural places of great beauty, they make you feel in the earthly paradise. The bungalows have everything necessary for your rest and enjoyment and are usually surrounded by trees, monkeys and birds whose morning sounds will bring to your awakening that African touch so evocative. They tend to have high prices because they are difficult to build when transporting materials to remote places in the middle of nature, but who wants to skimp on beauty and comfort when it comes to holidays? Highly recommended.
The best, the location, the scenic beauty and the environmental sounds. The worst, find your bungalow again through the thick jungle night after an evening of beers in the outdoor restaurant.
Local Hotels: Perfect for backpackers. There's a little bit of everything in this section. They are pension type, some clean and others not. They usually have hot water but power cuts are frequent. The rooms are very austere, unfurnished and normally noisy. The shower can be shared but normally there is a bathroom inside the rooms. It is a really cheap option for those who go on a tight budget and the local hotels we choose for your travels are not the lowest.
The best, the lowest price and the authentic Ethiopian atmosphere. The worst, plumbing and not usually include breakfast in the price but there is restaurant and you can pay for breakfast separately.
Camping areas: they are very beautiful because of the natural environment but the infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired. They have showers without hot water and the bathrooms are very neglected. In the south zone the easy access to restaurants and bars does not fail. In the high mountain camping areas it is essential to take with you all the food for the stay. The camping areas are recommended if you have a 4x4 vehicle to move the camping equipment and you do not have to carry it on your back. For the same price of the campsite you have a local hotel nearby, so you don't really save money and avoid carrying a lot of weight.
Best of all, the night campfire and the starry sky. The worst, finding the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Is it possible in Ethiopia to adapt the trip to my particular needs?
One of our greatest achievements is our success in developing tailor-made trips for each traveller. Whether you are looking for action and interaction with nature, more urban experiences or just something more traditional and peaceful outside the crowds, Birana Ethiopia Tours designs the best routes for every desire. The human part of the communication between you and us is essential. The conversations we have (email, telephone, etc.) will determine what you are looking for in order for us to satisfy you. We believe that a high quality service implies communication in first person with the traveler and personalized attention to understand what type of traveler we are dealing with and develop a route adapted to their characteristics.
Important Information For My Trip
Documentation and Visa.
Passport in rule with minimum validity of 6 months and what is very important, with 1 free sheet as minimum to stamp the visa on your arrival in Ethiopia.
Ethiopian entry visa is processed online www.evisa.gov.et. Or, much slower, at the same Addis Ababa airport at the immigration office. Price 44 €. They give change, accept coins, accept Visa.
Tour Operators are not authorized to provide public health information. For information on diseases, vaccinations and health precautions we recommend this website:
http://fundacionio.org/viajar/paises/africa/etiopia.html or go to your city's medical centre.
Personally I consider it more effective to prepare the intestinal flora weeks before the trip, instead of waiting for the diarrhea to arrive and cutting it with medicines. They sell Lactobacillus complexes in capsules that a few weeks before it is good to take with meals.
The best advice for money is pension, but if it's not your thing, there are ATMs everywhere. However, they tend to fail quite a bit if there is no light at that time so don't depend entirely on withdrawing cash at ATMs. Bring cash that you can change into local currency at any bank in Ethiopia.
The best exchange is offered by banks, with no commissions. Hotels also offer change but this is not official and they charge a commission.
Check the official website of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia to make sure of the current exchange rate 1 day before departure.
Wherever you change, it is important to ask to be given some low-value banknotes (e.g. 200 etb in 1 etb banknotes and another 200 etb in 10 etb banknotes) in order to have small amounts. We must bear in mind that although 100 etb is equivalent to approx. 3 euros, is the highest banknote in the country so often in some local establishments or markets do not have change. On the other hand, in the rural areas, six of these bills suppose the salary of a person with what to take out a wad of green bills can suppose a lack of respect and a totally unnecessary act.
Travel insurance and cancellation insurance.
In Ethiopia there is no travel insurance covering foreigners visiting the country. What is insured by law is the vehicle in which you travel and covers you in case of accident during the journey, but once you get out of the car, there is no insurance. We therefore recommend that you take out travel insurance from Spain that includes cancellation, accident, medical assistance and loss of luggage.
The fundamental thing is not to leave anything relevant but at the same time not to exceed 20kg per person fixed by the airlines. Personally I think that for a trip in Africa even 20 kg is too much. If you manage to bring a rucksack from 8 to 10 kg you will achieve comfort and lightness and you will appreciate it during the trip.
We suggest a soft backpack instead of a hard suitcase because they break more and take up too much space in the vehicles.
If your luggage doesn't show up when you arrive at Addis Ababa airport, don't worry too much, your suitcase hasn't disappeared, it will arrive on the next flight. Go to the Baggage Claim counter in front of tape 1 and make a claim. You will need to provide a contact telephone number which should be our 0944 23 19 03 (Miriam Gómez) and 0911 67 07 20 (Endalk Teshome).
The team of Birana Ethiopia Tours is committed to act as a local mediator to solve as soon as possible the incidences caused by the loss of luggage and minimize to the maximum the inconveniences that this can cause you, without being able to promise a satisfactory result despite the efforts and procedures made.
What should not be missing in the suitcase.
1 change of coat for high mountain nights (thermal t-shirt, long trousers, polar lining and jacket), 1 raincoat (just in case), light and comfortable summer clothes, handkerchief for protection against dust, trekking boots if you come to kick mountains, comfortable and light slippers for the day to day, sandals for the rest of the feet, small backpack for the day to day, flashlight, first aid kit with the appropriate medicines for the trip (antimalarial, antibiotics, etc.).), antimosquito 35%DEET (spray, patches), hand antiseptic, high protection sunscreen, camera with large capacity card and spare battery (if you have a car charger better), light camping towel and sleeping bag (for camping areas).
Communication from Ethiopia with foreign countries.
Mobile phone: There is already mobile coverage everywhere, except in very remote rural areas. You can call Spain from your mobile if you have activated roaming (check rates with your phone company), but it is usually very expensive.
Landline: Calls from the hotel landline are inexpensive. Public booths don't work.
Internet: hotels and cafes with wifi in the cities, internet cafes everywhere.
Route through Ethiopia: Organization, Philosophy of travel, Attitude of the traveler.
We will get up early: We will always get up early to make the most of the hours of sun because the sun rises at 6 am and sets very early between 19h and 19.30h.
Meals: Breakfast is included in high class and tourist class hotels. Local hotels do not usually include breakfast but have a bar and restaurant. Lunches and dinners are not included to give more freedom to the traveler; there are days when you don't feel like having dinner or prefer to have just one juice. Ethiopia has restaurants everywhere, at all times, with food in abundance, rich and very economical. Some days you can eat at the hotel, others at restaurants in the city or you can even enjoy a picnic under a tree if the excursion requires it.
Transport: For journeys in the north we have minibuses and 4x4s, fast and powerful, with English-speaking drivers. Some stretches, the heaviest to do by land, will be done on domestic flights with Ethiopian Airlines if you prefer. The aircraft fleet of this company was completely restored by the new Canadian Bombardier Q400 manufactured in 2010. They are short, punctual and very safe flights. For the southern area we have 4x4 vehicles with capacity for 1 English-speaking driver and 4 passengers. There are new vehicles with air conditioning and more comfortable and there are older and harder but cheaper.
Unforeseen en route: There will be days when we will cover a few kilometres and there will be journeys that will involve travelling long distances to reach remote and quite inaccessible places, with dusty or muddy tracks. Travelling through these remote areas with limited and sometimes non-existent infrastructures requires the traveller to be flexible and to accept any changes that may occur in terms of the planned services. We may also find ourselves with the surprise factor that a hotel does not give us the room for reasons that are incomprehensible to us, or there is no water or light that day in the hotel, or the town we want to visit turns out to be tribal meeting and do not let us in, etc, so it is necessary to have the ability to adapt to the unexpected. In each case, the traveller is asked to collaborate actively in the solution of the problem (another hotel, another town, another way). A passive attitude or pure observation is not in line with the philosophy of our trips. The more you get involved in the trip and what happens on it, the more unforgettable your experience will be. Sometimes we forget that we can participate in things and we focus on looking at the countries we visit exclusively through the camera lens.
Local guides and drivers - Our guides and drivers are prepared to guide you around the country in a professional way, they know every stretch of the route, the most interesting and attractive places, but you will be able to propose activities on your part. They are not closed and packaged programs for tourist consumption. They are trips open to the improvisation and imagination of each one, as much yours as of the guide or driver. If you want to visit places that do not appear in the program and require payment of entry, you must take care of it. On the other hand it is important not to require all the time to the driver as this needs hours of rest and time for repairs. The working day of a driver is 10 hours, with a maximum of 8 hours of driving. We will never, ever force the driver to drive at night in rural areas (car insurance in Ethiopia only covers until 18h).
To give or not to give, that is the question. On begging
Surely before leaving for Ethiopia you will be thinking about what I can take to give. My advice is not to bring candy or toys, but school supplies that you can leave in centres to help children. Birana Ethiopia Tours collaborates with a centre in Aksum that supplies school material to several children in the city, so you can bring the material personally to the centre if you wish.
My advice is not to distribute anything directly to the children. Why? Well, it's a question with different answers and perspectives but basically because giving for giving encourages begging. A country like Ethiopia needs solid projects, in education, health, etc., projects in which if you really want to help you can collaborate.
If the Farangi (Ethiopian word meaning foreigner) act as if we were Three Kings coming from the far West, we create a distorted image of reality. We teach them that we are the rich and they are the poor and that on top of that we give them those old t-shirts that we don't even need anymore. It's not very supportive, is it? Besides, a T-shirt does not solve anyone's life and encourages the bad habit of asking. We feel good, but we do badly, because this is about children.
There are beggars in some places, war cripples, widowed mothers with many children, barefoot nuns, etc. These people live on the daily coins that the Ethiopians give and without that they have nothing. Giving money to these people is not bad because it is the only future that awaits them at their age and in their situation. However, children are the future of the country.
Poverty is also an inferior state of mind that anthropologists and psychologists (and Bob Marley) call "mental slavery. It sounds harsh, but it's true. Poverty can be overcome with a mental attitude of non-submission and by socially eliminating the inferiority complex. Obviously without help or investment it is difficult, but attitude is something very important. So is ours: treating Africans with condescension and paternalistic attitude does not help them change their situation. They are strong, hard-working people with enormous resources and possibilities. But they have to believe it.
Tourism is the business that most distributes visitor expenses among the local population. A group of travellers walking through remote mountains can benefit the community there by buying souvenirs made by local women, having a coffee at the bar, eating at a local restaurant, and so on.
If you really want to give something away, consume local products. Because a country of beggars can never prosper.
To end a little anecdote that happened to Endalk, the General Manager of Birana Ethiopia Tours, and me during an excursion in Lalibela.
A group of teenagers followed us to the group of tourists and with laughter they asked:
- Mister, one birr, give me one t-shirt, mister, mister.
Endalk turns and in his tone of children's teacher (which he was in his day) tells a girl:
- Don't ask, it's not right. Stop chasing us. Is there no school today?
She, with a hooligan's face and half smiling, answers him:
-You also go with the tourists.
Endalk, with the attitude of a wise man, explains to her:
-Yes, but I'm in front of them, not behind them. If you go on like this, you'll always be behind the foreigners. Study and work and you'll be able to stand in front of them.
That's all he said.
P.S.: What do I do with the T-shirts, slippers, etc. that I take with me on the trip and I don't want to take them back to Spain? Leave them in the hotel room for the cleaning girls. I'm sure they'll thank you and it's an indirect way of giving something used that doesn't look bad.