Ethiopia OverviewEthiopia is in eastern Africa just north of Kenya and south of Eritrea. It is a fascinating country that is unlike any other place in Africa. In the north it is lush and green with villages and historic sights such as the world renowned Lalibela. It has natural beauty, like the famed Blue Nile Falls, and cultural history with its religious ties to both Islam and Christianity. In the south, you can encounter traditional tribal communities that continue to live and thrive as they have for centuries. In the Omo Valley, you can see the Merci people, with their clay plates and unusual body jewelry. Back in the capital, Addis Ababa, you can see a growing and changing African capital that is becoming more and more linked to the international world.
Ethiopian religion, history and food is unlike anything else. Visit a traditional restaurant where you can watch the impressive local dances and dine on the unique Ethiopian cuisine. Coffee ceremonies are performed in many places as an intricate way to welcome you to the country.
Trips to this country are often divided into two "circuits." Many people head to the culturally rich north to visit Lalibela and Blue Nile Falls among other sights. Public transportation is an option in this more developed portion of the country. The roads are constantly improving and bus routes are fairly common. Many people do choose to take a least one domestic flight on Ethiopian Air to help reduce their travel time. The southern circuit has much less infrastructure and generally requires use of a private vehicle. Many travelers group together to split the cost of hiring a car and driver. This is a very fascinating part of the country and you really shouldn't miss it, but do realize that the expenses can be far greater because you essentially have to do a tour.
In general, this is one of the less expensive African countries. You will likely be charged a "ferengi" price which is at least twice the local price. You can try to negotiate this down but it will be challenging. Restaurants, hotels, and public transportation are still quite cheap in the country. If you're looking to save money, consider traveling to the northern part of the country independently and then skipping out on the south because it is far more expensive with a private vehicle.
At A Glance
- Lalibela is easily the most famous and popular tourist destination in Ethiopia. No trip to the country is complete without a visit to this sight. There is now a fixed price to visit Lalibela. You can expect to pay upwards of 350 Birr for a multi-day pass. There are no single day passes available. This price is significantly hire than in the past but it is still well worth it. You will be shown a basic slideshow and then allowed entry into the churches. It truly is a once in a lifetime experience.
- Ground transportation in northern Ethiopia is generally uncomfortable, but doable. If you're doing the entire northern circuit you should consider taking at least one flight. This will dramatically cut down on the amount of time you spend in a bus by at least a day.
- If you're going to be in the country for any length of time then you're likely to get a little burned out of injera. Even though it's delicious, it can get to be a little too much. If you're in the capital city there are plenty of western restaurants that are actually quite good. You can choose anything from Chinese to Indian or Italian. You will likely pay a little more for them.
- If you're heading into Southern Ethiopia you'll probably have to hire a private car and driver. It's easy to split the cost with other travelers if you can locate them. You can try to coordinate with people via a travel forum like Lonely Planet, or you can wait until you arrive. Either option is usually reliable.
- If you plan to buy domestic plane tickets on Ethiopian Air it is usually cheaper to purchase them online once you're in the country. You do have to make the purchase about forty eight hours in advance, and the internet can be unreliable so do plan ahead.
Top Tourist AttractionsBlue Nile Falls: This is a stunningly beautiful waterfall in northern Ethiopia. It beautifully forms a rainbow when the sun is positioned correctly. It's best to visit it towards the end of the rainy season when it is at its fullest.
Lalibela: This is a world famous town in northern Ethiopia that is known for its rock-hewn churches, some of which date back to the tenth century. It's also one of the holiest cities in Ethiopia and one of the most popular with tourists.
Simien Mountain National Park: These dramatically beautiful mountains offer some of the country's best trekking opportunities. Government requirements dictate that you hire a guide and several assistants before you begin the climb, so organizing a trip can be somewhat cumbersome for an independent traveler.
Popular FoodsEthiopian food is unlike any other African cuisine. It's a unique and delicious cuisine that involves a lot of meat and spices. It is typically served on top of a pancake like bread. Similar dishes are available breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If you do get tired of typical Ethiopian food then it is possible to find spaghetti in most towns. In Addis Ababa you can find a wide variety of western restaurants as well.
Injera: The staple of most Ethiopian meals, this is a traditional pancake like flat bread that's made from teff flour. Some people compare its flavor to sour dough bread, but its texture is far more chewy. Stew like entrees are typically served on top of the bread and diners then enjoy the meal by eating with their hands.
Wat: This is a thick meat stew that is served on top of injera and is usually quite spicy. It's one of the more popular stew like dishes in Ethiopia and can be made with several different types of meat.
Kitfo: This popular Ethiopian specialty is made with raw ground beef that is mixed with a type of chili powder and served on top of injera. Many travelers choose to avoid this dish because it is raw, but it is a favorite of most local residents.