Reasons to travel to Ethiopia on your own and to travel with an agency

Travel to Ethiopia

Travel to Ethiopia on your own or with an agency

Africa is an extraordinary, impressive continent. Ethiopia is a country both wonderful and authentic. It has contrasts you will never forget.

Ethiopia is a challenge for you.

We know what you are feeling. We know Ethiopia. And as much as we would like to, we cannot decide for you.

What we will do is give you some good reasons to travel to Ethiopia on your own and also some good reasons to travel with an agency.

After reading them we are sure that you will be able to decide what to do.

Do you want to know the best part?

Travelling to Ethiopia will be a safe, unforgettable experience whichever option you choose.

Ethiopia is a magical country and Africa is a continent you get hooked on.

The decision is yours. So, we do not want to give you a list of recommendations because each reason we are going to tell you can be an advantage or a disadvantage for you.

You know yourself and you know how far you want to go.
You know what you are looking for and we want to tell you what you’re going to find.

Let is put all the cards on the table. And you choose the card that suits you best.

Remember to get the Ethiopian visa before starting this adventure.

We want to tell you the Ethiopian reality

Surely, you have heard of public transport and African accommodations, of the variation in prices, and some adventure or other which a relative or friend will have told you.

We love the African continent. Ethiopia has stolen our hearts. So we will explain what we experience every time we travel to this wonderful country. We want you to know the best of each option. You can put the pros and cons on a scale and see how much each one weighs.

Travel to Ethiopia on your own VS. with a travel agency

Advantages of traveling to Ethiopia on your own

Traveling to Ethiopia on your own has something you never get on organized trips. Perhaps we still carry the adventurous blood of our ancestors. Or that we need strong emotions from time to time.

The freedom to decide at any time where you want to go, where you want to stay, if you have a coffee or if you continue your journey. If you visit a place or pass by, if you stay a few days in this unique corner that you have found or continue traveling, the power to decide at every moment in what you want to spend your money and make more and less with the accommodation, transport or food, start the trip preparing it, looking for information and organizing the route. It can be a good way to start tasting and knowing your destiny.

Well, you already have good reasons to put on the side “Travel to Ethiopia on your own“.

That Is why, if you travel to Ethiopia on your own:

You will need a lot more time to see the same thing, you will have to be patient, content with what is coming and enjoy a country that can be hard for us, because of the climate, the cleanliness and the gastronomy. if you are one of those who sleep on your feet, eat whatever it is for days and are able to endure discomfort, heat and dust, you may be ready to take the backpack and get on the first bus that stops.

Advantages of traveling to Ethiopia with an agency

Traveling with an agency to Ethiopia does not mean abandoning adventure. You can discover wonderful places, feel alone in the immensity of the world and have unique experiences.

Get to know places you could not get to by yourself: get to know some of the Ethiopian tribes, enter national parks, participate in celebrations, have someone expert tell you a story about each place, tell you what to try and what you cannot miss. In short, to know in a short time everything that matters to understand and enjoy the country. Personalize the trip as much as you want, with advice from a person who knows the destination well.

Tribe in Ethiopia

If you want to travel in a group and meet different people with the same interest: enjoy the most of a single trip, or travel alone, or in a couple, or with friends.

You already have the reasons to “Travel to Ethiopia with an agency“.

Although, perhaps you are one of those who prefer to live the experience alone even if you do not get everywhere. You like to let yourself go and not plan anything more than the essentials. Or you have taken a year and have time to discover.

Whatever you decide, do not forget that:

You are going to travel to a country with a culture very different from yours, concepts such as time, cleanliness and distances can cause confusion. But all this difference is part of the charm of travelling and discovering new places.

Ethiopia is in Africa. And although it may seem an obvious phrase, we must remember it if we do not yet know the continent.
Another obvious thing to remember, Africa is not Europe, not even America, not even Asia. Public transport is cheap but slow and massive. The seats of two, are shared by four and each of the four will surely carry two bundles and something to eat. Sometimes a journey can take several hours for a few kilometres. Quite a feat only suitable for a few.

Transport in Ethiopia

Accommodation in the South is scarce. In addition, what for them is a room in perfect condition, for us may not be. Finding accommodation with a minimum of amenities can become complicated. Prices can be a nightmare. The Ethiopians will take advantage of our tourist status to try to raise prices by up to 400%. They know we will pay for it.

It will be difficult for you to get to know the south of the country because transport and accommodation are scarce. Only if you know the country it is recommendable to enter this area.

You can make your decision using what we have explained to you.

Remember

Do not stay with preconceived ideas. Traveling with an agency does not mean making a trip with a multitude of people, nor having to settle for a standardized package.

Letting them help you make your trip to Ethiopia the trip you want is not renouncing its authenticity.

To travel on your own requires above all, more time.

In the end, the most important thing is that whatever you decide, surely it will be the best.

We are sure it will be a trip that will always remember because Africa does not leave indifferent and Ethiopia never is forgotten.

Health Information to Ethiopia

Health info Ethiopia

Health Information and Tips for Going to Ethiopia

Addis Ababa is a territory where you can have easy access to proper health care; elsewhere in the country, not so much.
Ethiopia has a good number of tropical diseases, but as long as you have been properly vaccinated and take some essential precautions, you are less likely to have diarrhea, a cold, or an infection caused by a mosquito bite than an exotic disorder such as sleeping sickness.

Before arriving

Travel Insurance

Having travel insurance is crucial, but policies differ. You should always verify that they include all the planned activities. Some specifically exclude ‘dangerous’ activities, such as rafting, rock climbing and motorcycling (sometimes even trekking).

Should be ascertained whether the insurance will make payments directly to the medical centre or later reimburse the traveller for health expenses abroad (in Ethiopia it is normal for people to pay the doctor in cash).

Make sure that the insurance covers you the necessary emergency transport if you must receive treatment in a major hospital in the city, in other parts of Africa with better medical facilities, or you must be repatriated by plane and, if necessary, with a doctor on board. Supposing that the traveler needs medical assistance, your insurance company can advise you about the nearest clinic or hospital, or you can also ask at the hotel. In case of emergency, you must inform your embassy or consulate.

Members of the African Medical & Research Foundation can benefit from the air evacuation service that this organization provides to its members in many African countries, such as Ethiopia. It also facilitates air ambulance transfers between one medical center and another. Funds contributed by members are used to provide medical assistance to the local population.

Do not forget to apply for your Ethiopian visa in advance. You can travel relaxed and avoid queues upon arrival!

First Aid Kit

It is advisable to carry a first aid kit for minor disorders or injuries, which should contain the following elements:

  • Acetaminophen or aspirin
  • Acetazolamide (Diamox) for altitude sickness (prescription)
  • Asparagus (cloth or paper)
  • Antibacterial ointment (eg, Bactroban) for cuts and abrasions (prescription)
  • Antibiotics (discuss which with your doctor)
  • Antidiarrhea (eg, loperamide)
  • Antihistamines (for hay fever and allergic reactions)
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs (eg, ibuprofen)
  • Antimalarial drugs
  • Band
  • Insect repellent with diethyltoluamide (DEET)
  • Iodine tablets to purify water
  • Oral rehydration salts
  • Insect repellent with permethrin (for spraying on clothing, tents, and mosquito
  • nets)
  • Razor
  • Scissors, safety pins, tweezers
  • Sterile needles, syringes and fluids if traveling to remote areas
  • Steroid cream or hydrocortisone (for allergic rashes)
  • Sunscreen
  • Thermometer

First aid kid in Ethiopia

Since P. falciparum malaria is predominant in Ethiopia, it is not superfluous to carry a self-diagnostic kit capable of detecting the presence of malaria in the blood with a single puncture.

Once in Ethiopia

Availability and cost of health care

Health care in Ethiopia varies: Addis Ababa has great professionals and medicines, but outside the capital, it is irregular.

In general, public hospitals in the region offer the cheapest care, but medical equipment and drugs are more deficient.
Mission hospitals (where donations are the usual form of payment) tend to have better facilities.
Private clinics and hospitals are more expensive, but drugs and equipment are more advanced and the staff is more prepared.

Almost all medicines can be purchased without a prescription. They should be purchased in pharmacies as they are the only establishments with trained staff able to offer adequate advice.

Many of the drugs sold in Africa may have no effect: counterfeits abound (this is often the case with antimalarial tablets and expensive antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin) or they may have not been kept in proper condition.

Virtually all medicines are available in the larger cities, but in remote villages, you will be lucky to find paracetamol. It is strongly recommended that travellers buy in their own country all the medicines they take for a chronic illness.

Although condoms are readily available (sometimes several boxes will be found in the hotel room), they are not always reliable. They should be purchased in the traveller’s own country; condoms sold in Africa may not be of good quality and may have been stored in inadequate conditions.

There is a high risk of contracting HIV from contaminated blood transfusions. The BloodCare Foundation sends to its members, within 24 hours and anywhere in the world, safe and properly tested blood.

Infectious Diseases

Although the list of infectious diseases present in Ethiopia is long, the traveller would have to be very unlucky to contract any of them.

Dengue

Cause

Transmitted by a mosquito bite. Avoid mosquito bites whenever possible.

Symptoms

Fever, headache, muscle cramps similar to those of prolonged flu and, sometimes, a rash.

Treatment

Acetaminophen (aspirin should not be taken) and rest.

Hepatitis A

Cause

You may have hepatitis A due to the consumption of contaminated food (especially shellfish) and water.

Symptoms

Early symptoms include dark urine and yellow coloring of the whites of the eyes. Sometimes, fever and abdominal pain as well.

Jaundice is rarely fatal though can cause prolonged lethargy, and recovery is slow.

Recommendations

The Hepatitis A vaccine (Avaxim, VAQTA, Havrix) is given in the form of an injection: a single dose offers protection for one year and a booster dose after one year protects for 10 years.
Vaccines against hepatitis and typhoid fever can also be administered as a single dose vaccine: Hepatyrix or Viatim.

If you have had hepatitis A, you should not drink alcohol for the next six months, but when you are recovered, there will be no long-term problems.

Hepatitis B

Cause

Hepatitis B is transmitted by infected blood, contaminated needles, sexual intercourse and even from mother to child during childbirth.

Symptoms

It affects the liver, causing jaundice and occasionally liver failure.

Almost everyone recovers completely, but some people may be chronic carriers of the virus, which over time could lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Recommendations

People who visit high-risk areas for long periods of time or have an increased social or occupational risk should be vaccinated.

Many countries now include hepatitis B vaccine in the childhood vaccination schedule. It is given alone or in combination with the hepatitis A (Hepatyrix) vaccine and offers protection for at least five years. It can be administered over four weeks or six months.

HIV/AIDS

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is a serious problem in Ethiopia and Djibouti.

HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia

CAUSE

The HIV can be transmitted through contaminated blood and blood products, through sexual intercourse with an infected partner, through ‘blood to blood’ contacts, such as the use of contaminated instruments during medical, dental, acupuncture and other body piercing procedures, and by using intravenous needles already used.

Besides, an infected mother can pass it on to her baby during childbirth and breastfeeding.

Treatment

It is currently incurable. Drugs exist to keep the disease under control, but they are too expensive for the vast majority of Africans, and travelers cannot easily obtain them either.

If someone suspects they may have been infected, they should be tested at least three months after exposure to the virus to allow antibodies to show up in the blood.

Leptospirosis

Cause

The Leptospirosis is transmitted through the excrements of infected rodents, especially rats.

Symptoms

Causes fever and sometimes jaundice. It can also cause hepatitis and kidney failure, which can be fatal.

Recommendations

It is unusual for travelers to be affected unless they live in poor sanitary conditions.

Malaria

Malaria is a serious problem in Ethiopia: up to two million new cases are reported each year. Although it is not usually present above 1800m, epidemics have occurred in areas above 2000m in height. The central plateau, Addis Ababa, the Bale and Simien mountains, and most of the northern historic circuit are considered safe but not risk-free.

For short-term visitors, it is best to err on the side of caution. If you are going to travel to areas other than those indicated, do not think twice: prophylactic measures are essential.

Cause

Malaria is caused by a blood parasite that is transmitted by the female species of the Anopheles mosquito. There are several types of malaria but malaria caused by P. falciparum is the most dangerous and accounts for 70% of cases in Ethiopia.

Infection rates vary according to the season and the climate hence it is advisable to check the situation before travelling.
Unlike almost all other diseases that can affect the traveller, there is no vaccine for malaria yet. However, there are several drugs to prevent it. It is essential to contact an international travel centre since some drugs are better suited for some travellers than others.
The pattern of multi-drug resistant malaria is changing rapidly, so what was advised a few years ago may no longer be valid.

Mosquito that causes Malaria in Ethiopia

SYMPTOMS

It can come in a variety of forms. Early symptoms include headache, fever, general pain and malaise (may be confused with flu), as well as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and cough. Anyone with a fever in a malaria area should assume that they have malaria until a blood test shows otherwise, even if they have been taking the recommended prophylaxis.

TREATMENT

Unlike almost all other diseases that can affect the traveller, there is no vaccine for malaria yet. However, there are several drugs to prevent it.

Many travelers believe that malaria is a mild disease, that treatment is always easy and works, and that the side effects of antimalarial drugs can be more dangerous than malaria itself. In Africa, unfortunately, this is not the case. Side effects depend on the drug used.

Doxycycline can cause heartburn, indigestion and increased sensitivity to sunlight; mefloquine (Lariam), anxiety attacks, insomnia, nightmares and (rarely) severe psychiatric disorders; chloroquine, nausea and hair loss; and atovaquone and proguanil hydrochloride (Malarone), diarrhea, abdominal pain and mouth sores.

Side effects are not universal and can be minimized by taking the medication correctly, for example, with meals. In addition, some people should not take a specific antimalarial drug.

If you have epilepsy you should not take mefloquine; pregnant women and children under 12 should not take doxycycline.

Travellers who decide not to take any antimalarial medication should analyse the risks and avoid mosquito bites at all costs (with mosquito nets and insect repellent), and go immediately to the doctor if they have a fever or flu-like symptoms.

Some are in favour of taking homeopathic malaria products (e.g. Demal200), but there is still no conclusive evidence that they are effective and many homeopaths do not recommend them.

In case of not treating it, the next phase can develop in 24 hours, especially in the case of P. falciparum malaria: jaundice, decreased consciousness and coma (also known as cerebral malaria) followed by death. Hospital treatment is essential. Even so, the mortality rate can reach 10%, even in the best intensive care facilities in the country.

BACKUP TREATMENT

If you are traveling to an area of malaria, especially where exist the P. falciparum malaria, you should bring a backup treatment: you should consider it as an emergency treatment to save the life of the traveler and not routine self-medication.

You should only use it when adequate medical care is not available (e.g. in a remote location), if you know the symptoms of malaria, and if you know to use the drug. Then you should consult the doctor to confirm the effectiveness of the treatment.

The type of back-up treatment will depend on local conditions (such as drug resistance) and the antimalarial drugs used prior to the back-up treatment.
It is important because a particularly severe form of malaria, such as cerebral malaria, must be avoided. This affects the brain and central nervous system and can lead to death within 24 hours.
As mentioned above, self-diagnostic kits can also be purchased in the West to identify with a simple prick the presence of malaria in the blood.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Infection rates vary according to the season and the climate hence it is advisable to check the situation before travelling.

In case of suspicion of contracting the disease, it is essential that you contact an international travel center, since some drugs are better suited for some travellers than others.
The pattern of multi-drug resistant malaria is changing rapidly, so what was advised a few years ago may no longer be valid.

Rabies

CAUSE

Rabies is a disease transmitted by the bite of a virus-infected animal or by its licking on injured skin.

SYMPTOMS

It is always fatal once clinical symptoms begin (which can occur up to several months after the bite); therefore, post-exposure vaccination should be administered as soon as possible.

RECommendations

Whether the traveler has been vaccinated before or not, post-exposure vaccination prevents the virus from spreading to the central nervous system.

You must be vaccinated if you work with animals, as well as if you travel to remote places where it is not possible to get a post-exposure vaccine in 24 hours.

The guideline consists of three preventive injections during one month. Travellers who have not been vaccinated will need five injections from 24 hours (or as soon as possible) after the bite.
If they have been vaccinated, you will need fewer injections and will have more time to seek medical help.

Yellow Fever

Cause

Yellow Fever is transmitted by infected mosquitoes.

SYMPTOMS

Symptoms range from the flu to severe hepatitis (liver inflammation), jaundice and death.

RECOMMendations

The yellow fever vaccine should be given in a specialized center and lasts 10 years. It is a live vaccine and should not be given to immunocompromised travelers or pregnant women.

A valid vaccination certificate must be required in order to obtain the Ethiopian visa. It may also be necessary to show it to Immigration upon arrival in the country. If the travellers do not have it, they may be vaccinated and held in solitary confinement at the point of arrival for up to 10 days, or repatriated.

Traveler’s diarrhea

The traveller will probably have it during his or her stay in Ethiopia: it is the most common travel-related illness; figures reveal that at least half of all travellers have it at some point.

CAUSE

It is sometimes the result of dietary changes (more spices or oils). To avoid it, you don’t have to drink tap water. In addition, fresh fruits or vegetables should only be eaten cooked or peeled, and care should be taken with dairy products (they may contain unpasteurized milk). Although freshly cooked foods are usually a safe option, the dishes or utensils to serve them can be dirty: you have to be very selective when buying food in the street stalls and always make sure that the cooked food is very hot (outside and inside).

RECOMMENDATIONS

In case you suffer from diarrhea, drink a lot, preferably an oral rehydration solution that contains water and a little salt and sugar.

Mild diarrhoea does not require treatment. However, if you go to the toilet more than four or five times a day, you should take antibiotics, such as quinolones (ciprofloxacin or norfloxacin).
If there is no toilet nearby, an antidiarrheal medication can work well for you (such as loperamide).

If there is blood in the stool, diarrhea lasts more than 72 hours or is accompanied by fever, chills or severe abdominal pain, you should seek medical attention.

Amoebic Dysentery

CAUSE

It is contracted by consuming contaminated food and water and causes blood and mucus in the stool. It may be relatively mild and tends to come on gradually,

Recommendations

Visit the doctor for specific antibiotics if you suspect you have contracted it.

Environmental Risks

Pay attention to the ingestion of liquids and use sun protection. Insect bites are common, but easy to prevent, while snake bites are very rare.

Heat Exhaustion

Heat Exhaustion in Ethiopia

CAUSE

It usually occurs after excessive sweating and fluid loss without adequate fluid and salt intake. It is common in warm climates when more exercise than usual is done before full acclimatization.

SYMPTOMS

Symptoms include headache, dizziness and tiredness. By the time you are thirsty, dehydration has already begun. You must drink water to produce pale and diluted urine. In Danakil, you should take precautions of depression.

Treatment

Replacement of liquids with water or fruit juice and use of cold water and fans to keep cool. Salt loss is treated by drinking salty liquids (e.g. soup) and adding more salt to foods than usual.

Sunstroke

CAUSE

Heat exhaustion precedes heatstroke, which is much more serious.

SYMPTOMS

The sunstroke affects the mechanism of sweating and causes an excessive rise in body temperature, irrational and hyperactive behaviour and, finally, loss of consciousness and death.

RECOMMENDATIONS

It is advisable to provoke rapid cooling by spraying the body with water and fanning it. Urgent replacement of fluids and electrolytes by intravenous drip is also usually required.

Insect Bites

RECommendations

Mosquitoes do not always transmit malaria or dengue fever, but along with other insects, they can cause irritation and infections. To avoid this, take the same precautions as for malaria: insect repellent for the skin. There are also excellent repellents for clothing. When a mosquito lands on it, it dies.

Bees and wasps are only a problem for people who are allergic to their stings (anaphylaxis); it is recommended that they carry an EpiPen: adrenaline injection that can be self-administered. It could save their lives.

Scorpions are often found in arid or dry climates. Their sting can be very painful and sometimes lead to death. If you are stung by a scorpion, take a pain reliever. If it causes collapse, medical assistance should be obtained.

Fleas and bed bugs are often found in cheap hotels. Fleas are also common on local and long-distance buses and on the carpets of some remote churches. Bites become a bulge and itch. They are eliminated by spraying the mattress with insect repellent after the sheets have been removed.

Cheap lodgings are also home to scabies mites – tiny parasites that live on the skin, especially between the fingers. They cause an itchy rash, which can easily be treated with malathion and permethrin, available in pharmacies.

Snake bites

RECommendations

In essence, you must do everything possible to avoid them.

Do not walk barefoot, or put your hand in holes or cracks.

However, in 50% of bites, the poison does not penetrate the body.

The first thing to do is not to panic. Then, the affected limb is immobilized with a splint and a firm bandage is applied, as if it were a sprain.
Do not apply a tourniquet or attempt to cut or suck the bite. Immediate medical assistance should be obtained to administer an antivenom if necessary.

Tapeworm

CAUSE

Quite common in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa, the consumption in rural areas of typical dishes, such as kitfo and tere sega (with raw meat), is often the cause.

RECommendations

After the trip, it is advisable to carry out a stool analysis to avoid future health problems.

Transport in Ethiopia

Transport information of Ethiopia

How to get there and get out

Almost all travellers arrive in Ethiopia by air (Addis Ababa). However, those who have time and an adventurous spirit can also do so across the land borders of Sudan, Kenya, Djibouti and even Somaliland. There are no land or air links between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The borders with Southern Sudan and the rest of Somalia are closed or dangerous.

Arrival in Ethiopia

Entering Ethiopia by air is easy, even if you have to pick up your visa when you arrive at Bole International Airport. The departure fee is included in the ticket price.

Ethiopian officials at land border posts are stricter. The official rules for obtaining the Ethiopian visa indicate that it can be obtained on arrival, but in practice, this is only the case if you arrive by plane at Bole International Airport. Therefore, to enter Ethiopia by land, it is essential to already have a visa. If you travel by car, you must bring all the necessary documentation.

Airplane

Airports and airlines

Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa is the only international stopover in Ethiopia. Although it is modern, on arrival you will only find little more than a bank (24 h), a restaurant and some cafés; luggage carts and wifi connection are free. Those preparing to go out will enjoy a bar and some duty-free shops.

Ethiopian Airlines, the country’s only domestic and international airline, is considered one of the best and largest in Africa; it has a modern fleet and a good safety record.

A word of caution: if you prefer to fly with a European airline (such as Lufthansa or KLM), make sure that the flight will indeed take place on one of its aircraft rather than on one of Ethiopian Airlines.
They share routes and often place passengers on an Ethiopian Airlines plane, but they charge them more than if the ticket had been purchased directly from the Ethiopian airline.

Banknotes

It is advisable to book the flights to Ethiopia in advance during August, Easter, Christmas and New Year.

By land

Arriving in Ethiopia by land is an adventure the travellers will never forget, no matter where they come from or how they do it.

Djibouti

Border formalities between Djibouti and Ethiopia are often quite straightforward, but it is essential to have a visa beforehand, as it cannot be obtained at the border.

Road

There are currently two roads linking Djibouti and Ethiopia: one through Dire Dawa and Gelille and other through Awash and Galafi.

If you do not have a vehicle, the first one is better: there are daily buses linking Djibouti city and Dire Dawa. The journey takes 10-12 hours, but you have to change at the border.

In Djibouti city, Société Bus Assajog buses depart at dawn from Ave Gamel Abdel Nasser. Tickets to Gelille cost 1500 DJF and must be purchased at least one day in advance to be sure to find a seat.

The ticket to Dire Dawa must be purchased in Gelille.
Once in Dire Dawa, the ticket can be bought the same day of your trip at the Tibuuti Ee City office, north of the Old City (Megala), next to Ashawa Market. Tickets cost 185 ETB and buses depart around 00.00 from a place north of this office.

The road between Dire Dawa and Gelille is expected to be fully paved within a few years.
In the meantime, it is recommended that those travelling by car use the road that passes through Galafi. It is longer, but it is completely paved.
If you are coming from northern Ethiopia, you can take this route through an asphalted shortcut from Woldia.

If you do not have a vehicle, you can also pass through Galafi, although it is not a direct route.
In Djibouti city, you have to take a minibus to Galafi, 5 km from the border. The only option in Galafi is to take one of the few morning minibusses that go to Logiya (60 ETB, 3h) or get transport with one of the many trucks that go to Ethiopia. If you use this route to leave Ethiopia, it is possible to go by truck directly to Djibouti city.

The price of the 6-hour trip from Logiya is around 400-500 ETB, but there are many trucks and a few passengers, so it is necessary to negotiate.

Train

The railway line between Dire Dawa and Djibouti is now completed, but passenger services are not yet operational. When the line is fully completed, it will connect Djibouti with Addis Ababa via Dire Dawa.

Eritrea

If you want to go to Ethiopia from Eritrea you have three options: from Asmara to Adwa and Aksum via Adi Quala; from Asmara to Adigrat via Senafe; and from Assab to Addis Ababa via Serdo and Dessie.

However, all of these border crossings have been closed indefinitely since the 1998 war and, judging by the relations between the two countries, are unlikely to open soon.

The only way to get from Ethiopia to Eritrea is by plane, with a stopover in another country, such as Djibouti, a much cheaper and more direct option than passing through Cairo, Egypt.

Kenya

There are usually not many problems moving between Ethiopia and Kenya. The only viable land border crossing is Moyale, located 772 km south of Adías Ababa. Moyale offers two options, one on each side of the border.

The northern Ethiopian part of Moyale is well connected to the north and Addis Ababa by bus: the road is paved and in quite a good condition, but bumps abound. Although safety is not usually a problem on the main north-south route and in the Moyale area, violent tribal clashes have occasionally occurred.
Obtaining reliable information about the situation when you want to cross the border can be complicated. The websites of travel agencies and governments providing information to travellers will be able to indicate when there have been serious and prolonged clashes in the area, but for everyday skirmishes, it is best to talk to other travellers.

The southern (Kenyan) part of Moyale is in the middle of nowhere: about 800km north of Nairobi. A daily bus connects Moyale with Marsabit, where transport can be obtained to Isiolo and then Nairobi. At the main junction, trucks on this route pick up passengers.

For those with vehicles, the journey between Moyale and Marsabit is long, but the construction of the asphalt road has made things much easier. Fortunately, it seems that the problems of banditry that existed in the past are under control, even if there are no outbreaks of tribal clashes and some cases of banditry. Although this usually happens far from the main Marsabit-Moyale road, there have been serious tribal fighting in and around Moyale.

This route is sometimes traversed with armed convoys, but only when the tension is extreme. The Wajir road to the south is still not considered safe. Before leaving Moyale, it is always necessary to find out about safety; it is also advisable to fill up the tank in Ethiopia, as petrol costs half as much.

The Ethiopian and Kenyan borders of Moyale are open every day. At the Kenyan immigration office (6.30-18.00) you can get a visa (3 months) for 50 US$. They accept US dollars (sometimes euros), but not birrs. Transit visas (7 days) cost 20 US$.
The Ethiopian immigration office does not issue visas: they must be obtained from an Ethiopian embassy before arriving at the border.

If you go south and have a good SUV, you can cross the border near Omorate on the shores of Lake Turkana. At present, the main (but rarely used) route for land travellers is a vague sandy track off the Turmi road, about 15 km after Omorate. It is a tough trip with few services, which requires being well prepared; many recommend doing it with a guide. The trip to Loyangalani takes two days; during the rainy season, the road is impassable.

With the construction of the bridge over the Omo in Omorate, crossing at Namoruputh is easier, because the road is better. The Kenyan immigration office is in Todonyang, 7 km after the border. Tribal conflicts in this area remain frequent: check the situation.

There is an Ethiopian immigration office (7.30-17.00) in Omorate, where you get the exit stamp. Besides, there is still no Kenyan representation issuing visas; they must be obtained in advance from the Kenyan embassy in Addis Ababa. When arriving in Nairobi, it must be taken to be stamped; Immigration officials are accustomed to this procedure. This trip requires good fuel reserves and a great spirit of adventure.

Somaliland

Although it sounds very adventurous, the truth is that getting to Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, is very easy.

Many buses and minibusses run on the paved road between Jijiga and the border town of Togo-Wuchale (32 ETB). Get your exit stamp from the Ethiopian immigration office (a white building with a flag and satellite dish) before you walk the 100 m of no man’s land along the elevated road to the clearly marked Somaliland immigration office in Wajaale. The visa must be obtained in advance through a hotel or travel agency in Hargeisa.

From an unpaved parking lot next to the immigration office there are frequent taxis to Hargeisa (140 ETB), about 90 km southeast. Taxi drivers will try to charge a surcharge for luggage, but there is no need to give in.

Sudan

At the time of writing, the border between Ethiopia and Southern Sudan at Jikawo was closed to foreigners but is usually open to citizens of both countries. If reopened, there are buses from Gambela to the border town of Jikawo (98 ETB), where you take a collective taxi to Adora (Southern Sudan).

Another option sometimes used by Gambela people is to wait by the river in Gambela in the hope of getting transport with one of the small boats that occasionally cross the Baro on their way to Akobe. Although there is no evidence that any traveller has opted for this route, if permission is obtained from Immigration officials it will undoubtedly be a very interesting way to cross the border between Ethiopia and Southern Sudan.

Whichever option is chosen, the situation in Southern Sudan must always be carefully checked. As this guide was being written, there were numerous clashes in southeastern Southern Sudan.

How to get around Ethiopia

Airplane

The only airline offering regular domestic flights is Ethiopian Airlines, with extensive destination coverage and a good safety record.

Even if you travel on a limited budget, it’s worth considering taking one or two planes: it’s not particularly cheap, but it saves you long and uncomfortable bus trips.

Standard security rules apply at all airports. Domestic flights allow 20 kg of luggage to be carried; hand luggage should not be bulky, as space inside airplanes is limited.

Most flights depart from Addis Ababa, but not all are direct, so it is possible to travel between several cities.
If tickets for domestic flights are purchased at a travel agency upon arrival in Ethiopia, it is almost always cheaper than doing so over the internet from outside the country.

For the historical circuit and during the main holidays it is important to book in advance to ensure a place on board.

In theory, all domestic flights must be confirmed 72 hours in advance. This is certainly a good idea, although the authors of this guide never did and did not have any problems. However, you can never be too cautious.

Remember that flight times can vary due to weather or technical problems: it is better not to plan an itinerary so tight that it does not allow changes.

Bicycle

Cycling in Ethiopia is an extremely rewarding way to explore the country. New and second-hand bicycles can be bought in Addis Ababa, but they will not be ideal for the historic circuit.

In the past, uneven terrain and poor road conditions deterred many adventure lovers, but today the road network has improved significantly, so it may be a good time to try the experience.

It is recommended to observe the usual safety rules: never travel after dark, beware of theft and keep the bike in good condition. When riding on mountain roads, it is essential that the brakes work perfectly.

Local drivers should not be expected to take the cyclist into account. Trucks, minibusses and other vehicles often take bends on the wrong side of the road: you have to be alert and ready to step aside in a fraction of a second.

Be very attentive to dogs: sometimes it is better to get off the bike and slowly walk away. Pedaling during the rainy season can be especially difficult.

Punctures are easily repaired: just go to a tyre repair shop or mechanic. In many cases, they will be happy to lend a hand and are often very resourceful in improvising an emergency repair.

There are special customs regulations for importing bicycles. Normally, when you arrive in Ethiopia, you have to leave a deposit (equivalent to the amount of the bicycle) which will be returned when you leave the country.

Ethiopian Airlines international flights accept bicycles. For nationals, you should consult it, as it will depend on the type of aircraft that covers the route on the desired date.

Check and tighten the nuts and bolts often; carry a spare chain; mount a luggage rack at the front and back; carry a water filter in case you get trapped somewhere remote.

Boat

Apart from tourist boats, there are few commercial boats to move around Ethiopia. An exception, although not very advisable, is the weekly ferry between Bahir Dar and Gorgora, on Lake Tana.

Bus

A good network of long-distance buses connects Ethiopia’s major cities.

Ethiopian bus transport

Recently, a new category of fairly sophisticated buses (with air conditioning, reclining seats, onboard toilets, TV, and even free snacks) circulate on Ethiopian roads. The best companies are Selam Bus and Sky Bus. It is strongly recommended to travel with one of these new private companies, even if they are a little more expensive: buses are much more comfortable, rarely travel at night and are safer.

The other option is to use state buses and other similar private services.
There are a state bus company and about a dozen private companies, but it is not easy to distinguish them.

State buses sell tickets with pre-numbered seats and passengers wait in line while the bus is loaded. Tickets are then checked and passengers board. Private buses, on the other hand, simply open the doors and start selling tickets to the avalanche of passengers who crowd up. Logically, the private ones tend to leave earlier and are also a little more comfortable than the state ones.

Unlike in many other African countries, long-distance buses in Ethiopia are not allowed to stand in the aisle, making them more comfortable – without being comfortable – and safer. On longer journeys, there are usually 20-minute meal breaks.

In many cases, when you arrive at the station there will only be one bus in the desired direction, so whether it is private or state-owned will be irrelevant. If a reservation has not been made through the new private companies, there will only be one choice: take the bus that departs first.

You will soon notice that all buses are slow. On asphalt roads, an average speed of 50 km/h is reached, but on tracks, the usual speed is 30 km/h or less. In the rainy season, delays are very frequent. Fortunately, new roads are being built all over the country and dirt roads are being transformed into fabulous asphalt roads. Unfortunately, this has increased the number of accidents due to increased speed.

When asking for the departure time, remember that it will be indicated according to the Ethiopian system (6 hours more than in the West).

In remote areas, it is common to have to wait a long time until the bus is full and starts (sometimes it does not get out). Generally, the sooner you get to the bus station, the more likely you are to catch the first bus out of town.
The main drawback with bus travel is the size of the country: just to cover the 2500 km distance of the historic circuit you have to spend 10 days sitting on a bus.

Almost all journeys of more than one day require a stop at night (Ethiopian law stipulates that all long-distance buses must stop running at 18.00, although in practice it is not usually complied with).
In many cases, it is not allowed to remove the luggage from the roof, so it is advisable for the traveler to put in a small bag what is necessary for one night and take it with him.

Transportation is usually done by Isuzu minibusses and trucks n the most remote cities and towns. They are usually faster and sometimes cheaper, but it will be necessary to decide whether this compensates for the risk involved.

Rates

Buses are very cheap in Ethiopia. Both public and private buses cost 1.50-1.75 US$/100 km. New buses charge double or triple, but it’s always worth it.

Booking

Sky and Selam bus tickets should be booked as far in advance as possible.
Tickets for most long-distance journeys (over 250 km) can normally be purchased in advance. If possible, it is best to do so: it guarantees a seat (but not numbered on private buses) and frees the passenger from the clever ones who buy all the remaining tickets to resell them for double to last-minute travellers. Almost all state ticket offices are open daily from 4.30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For short journeys, tickets can usually only be purchased on the same day.
If you want some fresh air during the journey, it is best to sit behind the driver: the window is usually open, unlike almost all Ethiopian passengers, who keep them closed. However, in the event of an accident, these are the worst seats.

Automobile and motorcycle

Own vehicle

If the traveller is going to use his or her own jeep or motorcycle, he or she will need a passage card (a document issued by the national motoring association of his or her country guaranteeing that the vehicle will not be sold during the journey), vehicle registration documents and a third party insurance policy covering Ethiopia.

Driving license

Tourists who drive their own vehicle can use the international driving license for three months, after which they will need an Ethiopian driving license. However, this measure is rarely applied: most travellers do not apply for an Ethiopian permit (the process is extremely complicated) and have no problems.

Fuel and spare parts

Fuel (gasoline and diesel) is easy to find, except in the most remote regions, such as the southwest. However, the option of unleaded petrol is non-existent: there are only diesel and normal petrol (in Ethiopia called benzene). Remember that in the highlands the vehicle will consume 25% more fuel than at sea level.

Although there are good workshops all over the country (the hotel may recommend one), it is not easy to find spare parts outside Addis Ababa. It is recommended to buy in the capital all parts that are expected to be needed during the trip. Many tour operators use Toyota Land Cruisers, so spare parts for these vehicles are more abundant and less expensive than for Land Rovers.

Rent

Many travelers rent a SUV with a driver. Now that the roads are much better, this type of vehicle is not always necessary, but given that almost all tour operators only offer all-terrain vehicles, it seems that there is no other option.

Despite competition among the many Addis Ababa travel agents who rent SUVs, prices are high: from US$180/day. Many companies’ fares include unlimited mileage, driver and per diem (food and lodging), fuel, third-party insurance, partial exemption from liability for collision damage and government fees. You should ask if there will be any additional charges later and if the driver has a set schedule. Some companies allow you to pay for fuel separately, which is usually cheaper than the all-inclusive fare.

Prices are always negotiable and vary greatly depending on the length of the rental and the season. Although it is more annoying, it will always be cheaper for the traveller to arrange the rental on his own (or through a local company) in Ethiopia than through an agency in his country.

The driver is compulsory: currently, no agency rents jeeps without a driver outside Addis Ababa. Your presence is very useful: you can act as a guide, interpreter and mechanic. Although he is usually tipped at the end of the trip, it would be good if during the trip the traveller invited him to eat with him (it costs very little).

Renting an all-terrain vehicle is expensive, but the main advantage over travelling by bus is the saving of time: at least half; moreover, in remote places, it avoids waiting for infrequent and erratic buses. Also, some national parks can only be visited with a SUV.

Some agencies based in Addis Ababa have branches in the cities of the historic circuit and rent all-terrain vehicles (reservation required).
You can only rent a car without a driver to drive around Addis Ababa and the surrounding area (and this is not very common). If you are interested in renting a car to move around the capital (it is more expensive to take a taxi), you must have an international driving license and be between 25 and 70 years old. It costs from 120 US$/day, with 50-70 km free.

Currently, it is not possible to rent motorcycles.

Insurance

The law requires third party insurance.

Fortunately, unlike other African countries that require vehicles to be covered by an insurance company based in that country, in Ethiopia insurance elsewhere is also valid. If one is not available, the many offices of the Ethiopian Insurance Corporation, sell insurance policies to third parties and against all risks.

State of the roads

Ethiopian roads are getting better and better, but many are still not paved.

Those in the south have improved considerably in recent years; now many areas of the Omo valley can be accessed all year round (even without an all-terrain vehicle). However, there are still many bumpy stretches.

The paved roads start from Addis Ababa to the west, and it seems that in the not too distant future they will reach Gambela. In other parts of the west, many roads in the plains can be infernal in the rainy season.

Addis Ababa is connected to many of the major cities on the northern circuit by acceptable paved roads (but there are still bumpy stretches).
Harar and Dire Dawa (both 525 km east of Addis Ababa) are connected to the capital with well-paved roads.

Dangers on the road

On the outskirts of towns and villages, attention should be paid to pedestrians (especially children playing on the road). Unmarked speed reducers can also be an unpleasant surprise.

Avoid driving at night. The risk of accidents is much higher; in the most remote areas, there are still shiftas (bandits); some trucks park (without lights) in the middle of the road.

In the countryside, animals are the main danger; in the plains, camels roaming the road can cause serious accidents; many animals, including donkeys, are not accustomed to traffic and are easily frightened: approach slowly and cautiously.

During the rainy season, some roads (especially in the west and southwest) are impassable. Before leaving you should check with the local authorities.

Rules of the road

You drive on the right side of the road.
The speed limit for cars and motorcycles is 60 km/h in towns and cities and 100 km/h in extra-urban areas.

The level of driving is not very good; mirrors and flashing lights are more decorative than functional.

On plateau roads, drive defensively and watch out for trucks moving at high speed in the opposite direction (sometimes on the wrong side of the road).
A row of stones or pebbles on the road indicates the presence of works or an accident.

Safety belts are only mandatory for the driver, but many vehicles lack them.

Hitchhiking and carpooling

In the past, if someone hitchhiked or asked for a ride it was supposed to be because they couldn’t afford the bus ticket and didn’t arouse much sympathy. Many Ethiopians were also suspicious of ulterior motives, such as theft.

Now, however, it is quite common in villages that are not easily reached by buses or light vehicles, and the fare has to be paid and negotiated beforehand. The best place to get transport is in hotels, bars and cafés and in the centre of the town.

On many roads, the density of vehicles is still very low; in remote areas, you may not see any.

Hitchhiking is never completely safe and is not recommended. Those who opt for this mode of travel must understand that they run a small risk, which could become serious. It is safer to hitchhike in pairs and it is advisable to inform someone of the planned route. A woman should never hitchhike alone.

Local transportation

In many large cities, minibusses are the fastest, most comfortable and cheapest way to get around (about 2 ETB for short distances). Bus collectors often shout out the destination of the bus; if in doubt, ask yourself.
Taxis are available in many major cities, including Addis Ababa. Fares are reasonable, but wealthy foreigners and Ethiopians should always pay more for ‘contractual services’. Ask the hotel what a reasonable rate would be.

In many cities there are bajajs (motorized rickshaws); the price per person in a collective bajaj for an urban route is around 5 ETB; the same route, but without sharing the bajaj, leaves for 15-20 ETB.

Ethiopian bike transport

Microbuses and trucks

Minibusses are often used for journeys between cities connected by paved roads or for short journeys. Legally they cannot cover more than 150 km, but many drivers ignore this rule; some travel at night to reduce the chance of encountering the police; by day, they simply change documentation halfway to confuse officers. Minibusses cost a little more than buses, but they are more frequent and cover distances more quickly; however, they are also more dangerous: avoid buses that run at night. They are usually found at bus stations.

Some foreigners used to travel through the most remote regions of the country (such as the lower Omo valley) in the back of freight trucks. This practice is now illegal for security reasons, although it is rumoured that it is actually for tourists to hire organised circuits; however, it seems that the rule only applies to foreigners.

Taxi

In Ethiopian towns, villages and rural areas, there are two types of taxis: ‘private’ and ‘collective’. The latter have fixed routes, stop when a passenger wants to get on or off, and generally function as a small bus. They become ‘private taxis’ when stopped (or ‘hired’) by one or more people for a private journey. In this case, the fare is divided among all taxi passengers.

You always have to negotiate the price beforehand.

Circuits

There are four reasons why the independent traveler should consider hiring an organized tour: perform certain activities (such as a safari); access remote regions with limited public transport (such as the lower Omo valley or the Danakil depression); make thematic excursions with expert guides; see the maximum of the country in the shortest possible time.

You can reduce the price of the tours (few are cheap) by forming a group with other tourists or contacting the agency well in advance in case the traveler could join any of the scheduled tours (in these cases you have to be flexible).

The agencies offer all or some of the following services: guides, 4×4 rental, camping equipment rental, historical circuit excursions, bird watching and wildlife watching, Omo valley circuits, photographic safaris, trekking in the Bale and Simien mountains, excursions to the Rift Valley lake, the Danakil depression and the Afar region. Some have branches in cities other than Addis Ababa, where (by reservation) you can rent an all-terrain vehicle or do a circuit.

Although prices are officially fixed, they can almost always be negotiated, especially in the low season. Some agencies now accept credit cards (2-3% commission). The following list includes some of those recommended by travellers and Ethiopians in the tourism sector.

Train

Important railway projects are currently being carried out, such as the following:

  • Dire Dawa-Yibuti Finished, but not very useful.
  • Addis Ababa-Dire Dawa Mostly completed.
  • Addis Ababa-Mekele Under construction.

Practical information for travelling to Ethiopia

Travel guide Ethiopia

When to go to Ethiopia

  • Aksum, October-April.
  • Gambela, December-March.
  • Addis Ababa, all year round.
  • Harar, October-April.
  • Jinka, January-April.

High season (January-March)

Sunny and hot days.
Ideal for wildlife viewing and colourful festivals (Timkat and Leddet).
During religious holidays, it is advisable to book accommodation through an agency.

Mid season (October-December)

Green landscapes. Sunny skies. Fabulous walks. Fewer tourists.
Wild flowers in October and a massive influx of birds in November.
December is an excellent month for Danakil’s depression.

Low season (April-September)

Rain in the south. Suffocating temperatures in the plains.
A cloudy sky that makes it difficult to observe wild animals.
In the rest of the country, moving is uncomfortable.

Vaccines recommended for travelling to Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a high-risk destination in terms of health conditions. However, you are not obligated to get a vaccine. (except the yellow fever vaccine if it comes from a country at risk of transmitting it).

Health authorities recommend, in addition to the yellow fever vaccine, to get vaccines against typhoid fever and hepatitis A.

In case of a risk group, also against meningococcal meningitis (especially if you travel from December to June), rabies, cholera and poliomyelitis.

Also, experts recommend malaria prophylaxis in all areas below 2.500 metres, except in the city of Addis Ababa.

For this reason, when travelling to Ethiopia, it is advisable to keep the vaccination schedule up to date.

Currency and money exchange

The Birr is the Ethiopian currency and can only be obtained there so you cannot get it elsewhere.

Ethiopian currency

It is recommendable to travel to Ethiopia with euros or US dollars. You can change both currencies on Addis Ababa banks.

In Ethiopia, problems can arise for paying small amounts with large notes. Therefore, it is suggested to take small notes.

Moreover, there will be people who systematically have small amounts of money, because during the trip they will have to give one or two birrs to open a church, to help them crossing a river, etc.

Daily budget

Economic: less than 50 US$

Double room with private bathroom: 15-25 US$.
Bus trip between cities: 8-17 US$
Local, tasty and cheap meals: from 6-10 US$.

Medium: 50-100 US$

Double room in a comfortable hotel: 25-75 US$
Internal flight: 115-250 US$
Dinner with alcohol in a restaurant: 10 US$.

High: more than 100 US$

Accommodation in a full board resort or luxury hotel: from 75 US$.
Private all-terrain vehicle with driver: 180 US$.
Dinner at a luxury restaurant: from 15 US$

Money

ATMs

In larger towns, many banks have ATMs that accept international Visa and MasterCard and some hotels have ATMs in the lobby.

Foreign cards in the Solo, Cirrus or Plus network do not work at any ATM.

Black market

Unlike 10 or 15 years ago, when almost all foreign exchange was openly traded on a black market, which offered much higher exchange rates than banks, all this stuff is much stricter today.

The black market still exists. While 1 US$ is approximately exchanged by 22.25 ETB in banks,  1 US$ is exchanged for 24.50 ETB in the black market, with lower exchange rates outside Addis.

It is best for the travellers to ask their driver or guide for advice. However, it must be remembered that the black market is illegal and sanctions range from heavy fines to jail.

Cash

There are notes of 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 ETB, although the 1 ETB note is being replaced by the 1 ETB coin. A birr is divided into 100 cents, and there are coins of 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents.

As in many African countries, the US dollar is the preferred foreign currency in Ethiopia, although the euro is also very easy to exchange. There are no problems to exchange US dollars where Forex services are available, but you should try to carry notes from 2006 or newer as some banks may not accept notes prior to that date.

Almost all hotels can exchange dollars or euros, but the exchange rates are sometimes worse than those of banks.

According to the Ethiopian National Bank rules, all accounts in this country must be paid in birrs. However, people do not always follow these rules and Ethiopian Airlines, almost all major hotels and many travel agencies accept US dollars.

A rule that is strictly adhered to is to change birrs into US dollars or euros before leaving the country, though this transaction can only be done if you have plane tickets to leave Ethiopia.

Therefore, people must calculate their budget for spending birrs before leaving the country. Near the borders, there are black market money changers, but the exchange rates are bad and can be dangerous.

Credit Cards

You cannot arrive in Ethiopia and rely solely on your credit card.
Addis Ababa accepts Visa and MasterCard more frequently. They are rarely accepted outside the capital, with the exception of some Ethiopian Airlines offices and luxury hotels.
Travel agencies, airline offices and large hotels that accept credit cards usually charge an additional 2% or 3% for that privilege.

Cash advances (Visa and MasterCard) can be obtained at Dashen Bank branches in the capital and elsewhere.

Gratuities

People consider tips as a part of everyday life and help supplement often very low wages. Even small tips are highly appreciated.

Ethiopian tips

If a professional offers his or her help, it is probably best for the traveller to show his or her appreciation by shaking hands, exchanging names, or buying a coffee (local ways for expressing gratitude).

It is advisable to carry many 1 and 5 ETB bills, since will be needed for tips, photographs, etc.

Legal issues

Travellers who are arrested must be brought before the judge within 48 hours.
The travellers have the right to speak to a lawyer, as well as to a member of his embassy.
If the police arrest you, you should always remain calm, smile and be polite. Compared to other African countries, Ethiopian police officers hardly ever request bribes. Checkpoints often allow tourists to pass through without blocking.

Alcohol

Children under 18 can not buy alcohol. Driving under the influence of alcohol is also illegal and carries a fine.

Those who cause disorders under the influence of alcohol may be sentenced to imprisonment from three months to one year.

Drugs

There are strict sanctions for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs (including hashish). The authorities can punish offenders with fines and long prison sentences.

The warnings

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of the Government recommends taking extreme precautions when travelling to Ethiopia as well as avoiding certain areas.

You have to avoid risk areas like the borders with Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya (Borena region) and the border with Southern Sudan (Gambela region). Also, you should not cross the Afar region (north-western Ethiopia), and in particular the Danakil region, bordering Eritrea.