Travel information: Ethiopia


People: among Africa travellers, Ethiopians are not always the most popular. Many find them very pushy and almost aggressive. We experienced the contrary, we found them very friendly. In the cities people are a bit more pushy, but in the rural areasm we found them very friendly. But they are certainly omni-present: they follow you and call out to you non-stop whihc might be annoying, but not very different from other countries. Kiora also got a lot of attention: for many Ethiopians she was the first “white“ child they ever saw! Score: 9

Landscape/Nature: very different kind of landscapes: form boring and dry to exciting and beautiful. South of Addis the land seem to be a lot dryer but suddenly there are the majestic Bale Mountains. North of Addis the land is more green and furtile with the fantastic Simien Mountains as an absolute highlight. Score: 8

Transport/Infrastructure: the main roads are just fine, lots of it proper asphalt. A lot of roadworks are taking place (and yes, again the Chinese) so one might expect further improvements in near future. In the southers regions and especially around the omo Valley roads are quite terrible; which is a blessing for the nilotic tribes, it protects them a little bit from western influences. Apart from that you have to count on bad roads in the whiole country once you have left the main roads. Ethiopian Airlines however connects all main destinations like Bahir Dar, Gondar, Axum and Lalibela because of which you can win a lot of travelling time and especially with a child its better to avoid days of driving. Score: 7

Animals/Fauna: actually a bit sad. being one of the “oldest“ countries in Africa one can consider it as a blueprint for other African countries. And animal-wise thats not very good. The most important national park of the country is near Arba Minch (Nechinsar) which is just a shadow of the parks in neighbouring countries Kenya and Tanzania, let alone Botswana. And all endemic animal species in Ethiopie are severe under pressure. It is quite remarkable however that it is relatively easy to see them, despite being rare. Examples are the Galada baboon (Simien Mountains, hard to miss), Walia Ibex (Simien), Mountain Nyala and Menelik‘s Bushbuck (Dinsho in Bale Mountains) and the Simien Wolf (Bale Mountains, Sanetti Plateau). With the exception of the Gelada Baboon are all these species only interesting because they are rare (of the Simien Wolf there are only about 400 left), otherwise they are not very remarkable (the Simien Wolf for instance is a bigger version of the European Fox). Birdlife in Ethiopia is prolific, lots to see. Score: 8

Food: many travellers are complaining but we loved the injerra% It was Kiora‘s favorite and she asked for it every single day. The variety is not enormous, but otherwise its fine. If you want to avoid meat, try the vegetable dish which is always available on the ramadan-days. Take note: if you travel around with a driver he tends to stop at the touristic restaurants, which are usually not very authentic and nice. The authentic places are a lot more fun, but also a lot more filthier so keep track of what they dish out. Our driver knew after a while what we liked so we just ate at the places he used to go. Score: 8

Climate: we travelled around Ethiopia in december which was just fine. No heavy rains, not too hot, not too cold. Of course it was cold at night in the mountains but thats normal. Avoid the Omo valley from march to june, when heavy rains usually cause a lot of problems. The Danakil in the northeast is one of the hottest places on earth. Score: 8

Culture: Ethiopia has a lot to offer with regard to culture. The northern circuit is well-known for its very active and centuries-old orthodox Ethiopian-christian church. Ancient monasteries with colorful wall paintings are still very much in use, the stellae of Axum are world famous (even the lost Arc would be in one of the monasteries%) and the rock hewn churches of Tigrai and definitely those of Lalibela are the 8th world wonder. In the south it will be the very peculiar and very different nilotic tribes that make it culturally interesting. The Mursi with their plate lips are most known to the public, but also the Hamar, Karo, Surma, Dassanech and the Konso are very interesting. Unfortunately the whole setting is changing into a bit of a circus and especially the Mursi will actually count the number of clicks of your camera and demand one dollar per click. But if you take the time and do not go for the first and most touristic village one can still expect real authenticity. But for how long is difficult to say. Score: 10

Hygiene: I don not know why, but it seems that everybody is trying his utmost to keep everything as filthy as possible. Yes of course, it is a 3rd world country, but even where it is possible to keep it a little bit clean it is still filthy. The toilets are by far the worst; I think cleaning toilets is considered the least rewarding labour hence nobody does it. Score: 3

Travelling costs: Ethiopia is not a very expensive country with regard to food etc, and accommodation is present on all kinds of levels. The service in general can be improved a lot. The entry fees for parks and churches are still do-able, but during our stay they raised the fees twice already in 6 months% Score: 7

Safety/stability: Ethiopia does have a very difficult image but thats still based on the famines in the 80s and the dictators as Haile Selassie and Mengistu. But that has been a long tme ago and everything has changed a lot since then. In Addis you have to be careful for pickpockets, but violent crime is very rare. Score: 8

Excitement/Adventure/Challenge: as a not-so-common destination, Ethiopia has numerous challenges. Mountains, deserts, wild rivers, wild animals, beautiful tribes. I am not sure if it is a good destination for certain sports. Unfortunately the white water rafting on the Omo river has ceased to exist after the opening of a dam upstream. Score: 9

Overall score: 7.80

With this score Ethiopie is just outside our top 10 of most attractive countries to travel to.

Travel Guide: Bradt Guide Ethiopie. A rasonable guide book with lots of additional information, but we still did miss information regularly. The book was at least better than their Madagascar one.

Accommodation: below is stated our personal opinion of the accommodation we had in Ethiopia. In the northern circuit many operators use hotels of the (former) government hotel chain, which have had their best days (if there were any at all) which implies old and delapidated. Service usually is very bad. But new initiatives by foreign investors are taking place which are usually much better.

Addis Abeba: Ghion Hotel. Part of former government chain. A real hotel, no atmosphere but OK after a long haul flight. One of their restaurants serves local dishes which are recommendable, but expensive.
Bahir Dar: Tana Hotel. Right at Lake Tana which sounds very romantic, but isn‘t. Old and gone and the lake itself is not directly a shiny diamond, it is more of a big pool with brown water. Its a good place for birding though which is fun. The rooms are exactly the same as in other government hotels and are in need of some restoration work.
Gondar: Roha hotel, without a doubt the best hotel in the government chain. Beautiful location on a hill with a view over Gondar town and the castles in the distance. The service was reasonable, rooms are the same as at the Tana hotel but in a slightly better state.
Simien Mountains: Simien Lodge. Without a doubt the best choice in the mountains and it states proudly to be the highest lodge of Africa (3270m). That could very well be, I wouldn‘t know. I appreciate the effort of the owner of building such a lodge in this area. During our visit it was very quiet and to be honest, a bit boring. It was lacking a bit of “colour“ and the service was without any atmosphere and slow. The fireplace was only lit after asking several times and yes, it is very cold up there% Rooms are clean and fine.
Lalibela: Seven Olives Hotel. Very simple hotel with “tired“ rooms but with a perfect central location regadring the churches. You have to prepared to walk a steep hill every day, and yes, the uphill part is on the way back from the churches. Service was fine, friendly people.
Llangano meer: Sabana Beach resort. Kind of a resort directly at the lake, the owner is Italian. It clearly has European influences which means a better standard of services and clean rooms. Good kitchen. Avoid the weekends because we ended up with about 50 Ethiopians spending the weekend there who were, by the way, very friendly, but loud.
Dodola: Bale Mountains hotel. Small and dirty hotel with very friendly people. With the current development of the Bale Mountains region I foresee new alternative accommodation; one new hotel was already constructed in the main street.
Goba: Wabe Shebelle Hotel. Another government hotel and this was the worst of all; especially the service was almost rude, it was clear every question was one too much. But then again, it was the only option in this remote corner and the best starting place for the Sanetti plateau.
Awassa: we stayed in a brand new, posh hotel which was extremely convenient but definitely not our choice. I already forgot the name. Go for the Wabe Shebelle hotel #2 at the lake, although with “tired“ but with trompetter horn billsmaar met trompetter hornbills in the garden and a group of black&white colobus monkeys. Very funny%
Bale Highlands trekking circuit: we only spent one night in the Angafu hut, which was very basic but oterwise fine. You have to bring your own food but they have some items for sale (like softies and cookies). The location is absolutely stunning with a lot of giant Lobelias around. The guides on these tours are not very good: they mean well but don‘t know what they are talking about. Their English is also very very limited which makes proper communication (and guiding%) pretty much impossible - and frustrating.
Yirgalem: Aregash Lodge. One of the beter lodges in Ethiopia. Good service and beautiful rooms in Tukul style. View on a plantation where vultures and hyeanas are attracted late afternoon with leftover meat (it was a bit dissapointing to be honest). Unfortunately not as relaxing as advertised; a lot of noise coming from surrounding villages and we were there (again) in the weekend, so lots of visitors who walked around and peaked in your room, so privacy is zero.

Omo Valley: in the valley we camped most of our stay, which is the best way to get to know the tribes. In some places (Turmi, Jinka, Arba Minch) we chose simple guest houses, but sometimes I wondered if camping would have been better. Worth mentioning is Tourist Hotel in Turmi, especially because the very friendly managing ladies Digi and Masai.

Agent: we used Yared Tours of which the owner Saskia currently lives in The Netherlands, but she has lived for years in Ethiopia. Ver well organised, not only with regard to the detailled itinerary via emails but even more because of the organisation in Ethiopie. All young men who were very motivated, very friendly and speaking good English. Especially Dave and Miki were fantastic and we really made some new friends% Funny enough also here the after-sales service was very limited (just like last year with Tsara in Madagascar), after the trip we never heard again despite a lengthy evaluation report...

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