Ethiopia’s Traveller’s Tips
When to travel to Ethiopia | Best Travel Time
The rainy season in Ethiopia is between June and September. Some national parks and excursion destinations cannot be visited during this time, as the rain can cause landslides or the high water levels simply make it too dangerous.
November, December, January and February count among the busiest months.
I was in Ethiopia in March and found the temperatures super pleasant. Besides, I didn’t meet many tourists.
However, avoid holidays like Easter, as Ethiopians themselves are on holiday and buses and flights are quickly booked up.
The longer the better. In two weeks you can get a good first impression of Ethiopia and visit the classical, historical route in the north and also the Danakil depression.
Money in Ethiopia
The national currency in Ethiopia is the Birr – abbreviated B or ETB.
1€ equals (August 2018) approx. 31 Birr.So 100 Birr are approx. 3€.
You will hardly see any coins because they have such a little value. Banknotes are available in 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 Birr.
Many of the banknotes are very worn out and have an unpleasant inherent smell.
In Ethiopia, almost everything is paid in cash or by cheque.
Paying in Ethiopia
Bring enough cash to Ethiopia, as ATM and credit cards are officially accepted in hotels and travel agencies, but the machines were out of order all the time. For my trip I had 350€ in cash with me, but I would advise to take 500€ and then change it in Addis Ababa at the airport. In addition, you can get a maximum of 4000-6000 Birr (approx. 120-180€) per transaction at the ATMs – choose the option credit card (even if it is an ATM card). The withdrawal charge is approx. 2.50€.
Be sure to disable GEOcontrol before you travel, otherwise, you run the risk of your card being blocked.
By the way, you may not export more than 200 Birr from Ethiopia – I wasn’t checked, but you never know.
Visa for Ethiopia
You need a visa for Ethiopia. An agreement already exists with a handful of countries – including Austria, Germany, and Switzerland. This means you can apply for your Ethiopia visa online, pay and be faster on arrival in Addis. A visa for 30 days and one-time entry currently costs 52 US$ (approx. 44€). Apply for the visa at least a few days before your planned trip to Ethiopia, as it may take a few days to be approved. Mine took about eight hours.
As most airplanes from Europe arrive in Addis Ababa in the early morning hours, the queue is hardly noticeable on arrival. So if you can’t get the e-visa beforehand, you can apply for it as soon as you arrive.
Flights to Ethiopia
Be sure to book your international flight to Ethiopia with Ethiopian Airlines, even if they are a little more expensive than other airlines. If you fly internationally with ET, you pay a lot less for domestic flights. From Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar, the flight (one way) costs about 50€ (1600 Birr) and otherwise from 150€ (5000 Birr).
Flights within Ethiopia
Domestic flights in Ethiopia are relatively cheap, bring you quickly to your destination and are usually very punctual. They are cheap if you have also flown internationally with Ethiopian Airlines.
For my trip, I only booked one domestic flight from home on my laptop. I actually intended to book the remaining flights from Austria, but I could no longer book the cheaper domestic flights because the Ethiopian Airlines website didn’t show me the window with the Special Discounted Fare anymore. If it does pop on your computer, this is the code that will help you to get cheaper flights: DOM71
Important: Only use this code if you really flew internationally with ET, because otherwise you may not be allowed to board the plane.
I booked my remaining domestic flights on the first day in Addis Ababa at a small travel agency for a small surcharge of about 10€.
Tip: For domestic flights, you always have to take off your shoes during the security check. If you are wearing sandals, pack socks to avoid having to walk barefoot on the dirty floor.
Ethiopian Airlines Discount
Travel Guide Ethiopia
There are not many travel guides in German for Ethiopia and neither the Lonely Planet nor the Reise Know How convinced me during my trip. Unfortunately, I did not have enough time to organize the Bradt travel guide for Ethiopia before my trip, many travellers I met swear by it!
During your trip in Ethiopia | What to know once you are there
Arrival in Addis Ababa
Most hotels in Addis offer a free shuttle service to and from the airport. Use it – because taxis from the airport are usually very expensive and cost around 50 US$.
Spend the first day of your trip in Addis – on one hand, to visit the city (but don’t expect too much) and on the other hand to make your other travel preparations in Ethiopia. Without the help of Ethiopians and local travel agencies, it would not be impossible to explore the country, but it is much easier (and usually not really expensive) if you accept their help.
Local SIM card for Ethiopia
To use your phone in Ethiopia, you must register it on arrival just before you leave the secure area. If you don’t register your phone you can’t buy a SIM card for Ethiopia.
The easiest way to buy a SIM card is directly at the airport, but it costs a lot more than in the city. The state communications company ethio telecom has several shops in Addis, but it can be a long process if you try to buy a SIM card in the city. Without the help of an Ethiopian and after several hours in different shops I was the proud owner of a local SIM card.
To top up credit, you can buy the green phone credit vouchers at every corner. The internet is still slow and mostly I used the SIM card to call tour guides or clarify small things.
On one hand, it is the language barrier that makes it difficult to find one’s way around Ethiopia, and on the other hand, there is also a cultural barrier. Most Ethiopians are suspicious of travellers who want to explore the country alone without a local. Many also do not speak a word of English or do not want to speak it.
So accept help and trust in reputable tour operators who can help you not only with planning but also with everyday things. Thanks to friends who were travelling in Ethiopia before me, I already had contact with a tour operator in Addis Ababa. Without the help of Balehageru my journey through Ethiopia would never have been so successful and smooth. In less than an hour we planned my entire trip – at home, I had tried to organize hotels and tours for several hours. The office of Balehageru Tours Ethiopia is located in Addis Ababa and organizes tours throughout Ethiopia and also takes care of flight and bus tickets. His mobile number is +251 911434066 and you can find him here on Facebook.
Tour operators often get better hotel deals than you can find on the internet.
Getting around in Ethiopia
Allow enough time to get from A to B. On the map, distances often look very short; in reality, driving style and road conditions can make a trip very lengthy.
The easiest and most time-saving way to get from A to B is by plane. The tickets are also inexpensive if you have flown internationally with Ethiopian Airlines (see above for details).
However, if you want to see more of the country, the buses are also worth an experience. Long-distance buses usually leave in the very early morning hours and do not travel at night (too dangerous as there is hardly any street lighting and the roads are usually in poor condition).
From Addis Ababa to Gondar the bus leaves at 4.30 in the morning, drives for 13 hours and costs 435 ETB (approx. 13€).
Bus connections for longer distances can be found here. For shorter distances such as Bahir Dar to Gondar, just go to the bus station, the buses leave regularly and as soon as the bus is full – which usually doesn’t take long.
Important: check the price before you go and don’t get ripped off! For the journey from Bahir Dar to Gondar the ticket costs 80 Birr (approx. 2,40€) and the driver wanted from me four times as much. Reason? I am a Ferenji (foreigner) – and I am white….. But then I insisted and talked to a guide on the phone and he sorted out the issue for me.
Always negotiate the fare before you get in the cab. In Ethiopia, there are hardly any street signs and if you give an address to an Ethiopian, he probably will not know the way. They go by distinctive buildings or squares. This can sometimes lead to confusion.
Write down your stories. Ethiopia has so many stories to tell and moments to experience.
Travelling Ethiopia as a woman
I was generally alone in Ethiopia. In cities, I trusted in the expertise of guides, but I also took the bus from Bahir Dar to Gondar alone. The men in Ethiopia – as in any other country in the world – can be super supportive, completely neutral or even very annoying. Most of the men I dealt with fall into the first two categories. Only two hotel employees definitely overstepped the line and made annoying pick-up lines and offensive comments. After I had pointed out to them with a loud and definite tone of voice that they should stop the nonsense, they left me alone.
Little white lies
Wear a (fake) wedding ring. For some years I have been wearing a friendship ring, which passes easily as a wedding ring and I refer again and again in the course of conversations to the fact that my husband is on a business trip in Addis and this time I travelled with him to see the country. After that, most of the men were quiet and left. In addition, I used a photo of my nephews as a wallpaper on my mobile phone and displayed them as my children.
General information for your Trip to Ethiopia
Here I have gathered some travel tips for Ethiopia:
Security in Ethiopia as a traveller
Ethiopia is one of the safest countries in Africa and it is also relatively safe by international standards. Apart from a few rip-offs and chat-up attempts, I have never felt uncomfortable in Ethiopia.
Is Ethiopia expensive?
There is no general answer to this question. On the one hand, you can get a delicious lunch for less than 2€, but day trips or longer tours where you have to pay a guide, driver, and scout will cost you a lot of money. I would suggest 100-150€ per day of travel.
Eating & National Dish Injera
Not once was I unlucky with the food in Ethiopia! Every single meal was delicious and I especially enjoyed the national dish Injera. The dish with the sour bread, which has a strong resemblance to old Wettex, together with various sauces and stews of beans, lentils, meat and other ingredients should not be missed.
Vegetarians have no problem in Ethiopia to find sufficient and varied food.
In Ethiopia, many dishes are eaten from shared plates and with the hands. It is good manners to wash your hands before eating and should be done without request.
I have no idea why but Ethiopian cities often have a slightly different name in German or English. Addis Ababa becomes Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar becomes Bahar Dar, Gondar becomes Gonder or Gondor, Mekele becomes Mek’ele or Makele, etc. This can be very confusing, especially when booking flights.
Own calendar and time
Clocks tick differently in Ethiopia. And their calendar is also different from our Gregorian calendar.
The time and date are usually given in international format, but it can still cause confusion from time to time. In Ethiopia, day and night consist of 12 hours respectively. Our 6 am is midnight Ethiopian time. Our 8 o’clock is therefore 2 o’clock Ethiopian time.
When it comes to the date it gets even more complex: the Ethiopian calendar falls almost 8 years behind our Gregorian calendar. New Year in Ethiopia is celebrated on September 11 or 12. Thus August 13, 2018, here is December 7, 2010, in Ethiopia.
Domestic flights are issued at a time and date known to us non-Ethiopians. However, bus tickets are not. If you are going to meet Ethiopians, you better ask twice what time they are referring to.
Internet & Censorship
On my trip to Ethiopia, Google was blocked. I also could not access many other sites and apps like Instagram without VPN. On my travels and at home I always use the App ExpressVPN and can work around the virtual walls.
Learning to deal with begging children
The kids didn’t ask me for money in Addis or Gondar, but it was all the worse in Lalibela. Groups of children and young people gathered around me begging for money, shoes, clothes, pens and other things. Even if it seems difficult and perhaps cold, you should not give anything to these children. Usually, they are organized gangs, where money and objects have to be handed in at the end of the day. So you just support the organizers and even keep the children from going to school because they can earn some money on the streets.