DEPARTURE INFORMATION GUIDE TO ETHIOPIA
this note you will find useful travel facts, background
information and our suggestions, that will help you
prepare for and enjoy your travel. In this pre-departure
guide we have covered details from currency and visas
to suggest reading and responsible travel tips. Please
note that things change rapidly in Ethiopia, so you
should use this document as a guide containing information
which is subject to change.
LOCATION Ethiopia is located in north-eastern Africa,
between latitudes 4 and 18 north. It is a ruggedly mountainous
country, covering 1,251,282 km. It is surrounded by
Kenya, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Djibouti.
The capital city is Addis Ababa.
Prior to 1974, Ethiopia's government was more of a feudal
empire, headed by His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie,
who was overthrown and killed in the 1974 revolution,
whereupon a military dictatorship known as the "Derg"
(committee) was installed. In 1987 a leader of the Derg,
Mengistu Haile Maryam, established the Workers' Party
and a new constitution, making Ethiopia a one-party
republic with himself as the formal President. He was
ousted in 1991 by two rebel movements and a transitional
government was installed. The transitional government,
made up of an 87-seat Council of Representatives lead
by chairman Meles Zenawi, established a new constitution
and a more democratic and federal form of government.
The new constitution (1994), decentralized the government,
and subsequently the country has been divided into eight
regions and three city-states, with borders based on
ethno-linguistic lines. The regions are guaranteed political
autonomy in most aspects of internal government, while
the central government is responsible for national and
international affairs and policies.
Ethiopia was among the first independent nations to
sign the Charter of the United Nations, and it gave
moral and material support to the decolonization of
Africa and to the growth of Pan-African cooperation.
These efforts culminated in the establishment of the
Organization of African Unity and the United Nations
Economic Commission for Africa, both of which have their
headquarters in Addis Ababa.
territorial extent has varied over the millennia of
its existence. In ancient times it remained centered
around Aksum, an imperial capital located in the northern
part of the modern state, about 100 miles (160 kilometers)
from the Red Sea coast. The present territory was consolidated
during the 19th and 20th centuries as European powers
encroached into Ethiopia's historical domain. Ethiopia
became prominent in modern world affairs first in 1896,
when it defeated colonial Italy in the Battle of Adwa,
and again in 1935-36, when it was invaded and occupied
by fascist Italy. Liberation during World War II by
the Allied powers set the stage for Ethiopia to play
a more prominent role in world affairs.
Ceremonies, Festival and Rituals: There are many great
national and local holidays and celebrations throughout
the year and all over the country. Every one of the
54,000 parish Churches and the 800 monasteries of the
Orthodox Tewahido Church all have at least one minor
monthly and one major annual festival.
These may share origins with Christian, Moslem and tribal
festivals elsewhere in the world, but have unique indigenous
characteristics in Ethiopia.
7 - Christmas
January 19 - Timkat (Epiphany)
February 8 (date varies) - Ramadan
March 2 - Battle of Adwa
April 17 - Il Al Adha (Arefa)
April 25 (date varies) - Ethiopian Good Friday
April 27 (date varies) - Ethiopian Easter
May 1 - Labor Day
May 5 - Ethiopian Patriots' Victory Day
May 28 - National Holiday (Downfall of the Derg)
July 17 (date varies) - Birth of the Prophet Mohammed
September 11 - Ethiopian New Year
September 27 - Maskal Day (Finding of the True Cross)
The main airport, with international connections to
most parts of the world, is Bole Airport, just 8km from
the center of Addis Ababa. Domestic services fly to
all regions and most tourist sites.
Entry Requirements A valid passport is required by all
visitors and a visa is required for all foreign visitors,
except for citizens of Kenya, Djibouti, Sudan .Visas
may be obtained by application to the nearest Ethiopian
Visas are also available upon arrival at the Bole International
Airport in Ethiopia (for citizens of the USA, Canada,
Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, South
Africa, China, Japan, Korea, Israel, Kuwait, Russia,
the UK and most other European Union nations). Please
bring with you $20.00 in cash. If you opt for this method,
application forms will be handed out to you on your
international flight. You must complete these and take
them to the counter to pay and get the visa stamped
into your passport. You then proceed to baggage claim.
you intend to get your visa on arrival please ensure
that your passport is valid for at least 6 months from
your date of entry to Ethiopia and that you have at
least 2 blank pages (both sides) per country to be visited.
of picture page of passport showing number, etc. Keep
this in a separate place in your baggage. If for any
reason you lose your passport, this will expedite the
process of replacing it enormously.
On the plane you will be given an Arrival Card to complete.
After going through Immigration, you will collect your
baggage and pass through Customs. Personal effects are
admitted free, and a duty-free allowance of 1 liter
of alcohol, 200 cigarettes and X liter of perfume is
permitted. If you have a computer, video camera or major
electrical equipment you will need to declare them.
You will also be expected to have those with you when
Flights within Ethiopia
Ethiopian Airlines operates an extensive and generally
efficient and reliable domestic air service, but cancellations
and delays do occur. Traveling by road allows visitors
to experience Ethiopia's wonderful scenery, but road
conditions are generally poor, and mountainous topography
in the north will cut speed. The hour flight to Lalibela
for example takes nearly two days by road.
weight restrictions within Ethiopia:
On all light aircraft domestic flights within Ethiopia
the baggage weight allowance is 20 kgs per person including
camera equipment and hand luggage. Flights to more remote
areas, such as Gambella, may still impose a 10 kg limit
depending on the plane being used. Only soft bags (no
hard suitcases can be transported as they physically
cannot fit into the aircraft) will be accepted and no
excess baggage is allowed. Ethiopian Airlines does perform
luggage and body searches. If you are carrying anything
that could be perceived an antiquity, it will be confiscated,
unless you produce a receipt.
The local currency is the birr. Notes are printed in
denominations of birr 100, 50, 10, 5, and 1; and 50,
25, 10, 5 and 1 cent coins are minted. The birr is one
of the strongest currencies in Africa. In general, the
currency is not available outside of Ethiopia. The rate
of exchange fluctuates moderately.
Checks are not easily cashed outside of the larger cities,
and many smaller towns have no bank at all. We would
be remiss to not warn you that there is no way to replace
Cash if it is lost or stolen. If you are carrying US
dollars, bring plenty of 10's and 5's as they are needed
for tipping and change is not always possible to get.
In addition, whether you decide to bring Cash or Traveler's
Checks, it is advisable to take small denominations
and exchange only small amounts of money at a time.
It is a very complicated and time-consuming exercise
to change birr back to a hard currency so this should
be avoided if at all possible, especially as US Dollars
are accepted as readily as birr. In order to change
birr back to dollars on leaving the country, visitors
will be asked to produce bank receipts so if you think
you might need to change money back please be sure to
keep your bank receipts.
cards are accepted in certain hotels and lodges and
some shops. Be sure to ask if a commission is being
added to your total.
Monday - Friday: 08:00 AM- 03:00 PM; not closed during
Saturday: 08:00 AM- 03:00 PM;
The Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) at the Bole Airport
is open every day of the week.
Ethiopia is 3 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, 8
hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time, and 11 hours ahead
of Pacific Standard Time. Relatively close to the equator;
there is an almost constant twelve hours of daylight.
In Addis Ababa, the sunrise and sunset start at around
6:30am and 6:45pm respectively. Apart from a different
calendar Ethiopia reckons the day in two 12 hour cycles
(as in much of East Africa). Therefore midday could
be 6 o'clock.
Lying between the Equator and the Tropic of cancer,
Ethiopia's seasons are reversed: spring begins in September;
summer runs from January to the middle of March. The
first rainy season lasts from February to April; a more
substantial rainy season lasts from June to September.
The average rainfall between June and August is 39 inches,
while the northeast and eastern plains receive less
than 19 inches. The average rainfall in Addis Ababa
is 49 inches.
major portion of the country consists of a high plateau,
which gives Ethiopia its mild, sunny climate. There
are months of guaranteed sunshine, yet the altitude
keeps the climate pleasant with upland temperatures
rarely rising above 77 degrees Fahrenheit nor falling
below 45 degrees. In Addis, the average temperature
consistently remains around 59 Degrees throughout the
year; however, you should not underestimate the intensity
of the equatorial sun- it is essential to bring plenty
of sunscreen, sun glasses and a hat.
While clothing will depend on the time of the year,
it is best to remember that Ethiopians are fairly conservative
in their dress, suits and ties being standard in offices.
For tourists light cotton clothing with sunglasses and
a hat will be required in the warm lowlands, while in
the highlands light or medium-weight clothing is appropriate.
During the rainy season a light raincoat and umbrella
are essential, and a sweater is best for chilly evenings.
The sun can be very strong in high altitudes, so a strong
sunscreen is important.
Shoes must always be removed before entering churches
and mosques-for getting around sites like Lalibela with
its many churches airline socks are very useful. Dress
is less conservative in Addis Ababa, where most people
dress in Western fashion.
Because of its elevation, temperature rarely exceed
25C (80F) in most of the country, although in some of
the lower lying areas (Awash, Omo and Mago parks) it
can get considerably hotter, 90F - 95F. Pack light clothes
for the daytime and a jacket or sweater for the evenings.
A good pair of comfortable walking shoes is advisable.
WITH YOUR HOME
Ethiopia has a good internal and international post
service, which celebrated its centennial in 1994. Mail
between Addis Ababa and most of Europe takes approximately
one week, but it can take longer (2 weeks to a month)
to reach elsewhere in the world. International postage
rates in Ethiopia tend to be significantly less than
elsewhere in Africa.
There are telecommunications centers in most towns,
as well as functional phone booths. Ethiopia's telephone
service is decent; however, expect to wait 10 minutes
to an hour for your call to be placed. International
phone rates are inexpensive from Ethiopia.
Reliable internet cafes are located throughout Addis
Ababa and major cities outside of the capital. Elsewhere
in the country, internet usage and access is rare, and
Recognition of traditional courtesies is important when
visiting another country. While Ethiopians are well
aware of the form in other countries, they tend to be
conservative at home. A handshake greeting is normal,
with a pleasant discussion on personal matters before
getting down to business. The offer of tea or coffee
is normal, and time is not that important. Smoking is
not popular amongst traditional people, or in front
Remember that you are a "guest" of the country
and we encourage trip members to respect the indigenous
cultures and customs. Also we want to underscore that
trip members should respect the privacy of individuals
(especially when taking photographs) and not make promises
unless they fully intend to fulfill their obligation.
In the same vein, bargaining is a serious matter in
most countries and it is really not fair to bargain
unless there is a genuine interest in buying. For example,
if you are not interested in buying something then simply
say "No" because in many places "Maybe"
85% of the population get their livelihood from the
land. Coffee (the word originates from the name of the
province Kaffa, in the south west of Ethiopia) provides
65% of foreign currency earnings.
The opening up of the economy since the overthrow of
the previous government in 1991 has created more favorable
grounds for development of Ethiopia's resources.
Ethiopia is the "water tower" of the region
(the Blue Nile contributes to 85% of the main Nile flow)
and plans are now in progress to better exploit the
country's water resources both to boost agricultural
production and for power generation.
Mineral exploration and mining has stepped up in recent
years-there are reserves of natural gas, coal, Gold,
copper, tantalum, potash, zinc, iron ore, marble, precious
and semi-precious stones.
The export of livestock, skins and hides (Ethiopia has
the largest domestic livestock population in Africa)
oilseeds, pulses and animal feed makes up the rest of
Ethiopia's foreign currency earnings, with tourism set
to make an increasingly important contribution.
As a result of the 1998-2000 Ethiopian-Eritrean war,
development of services and infrastructure suffered,
as did foreign investment. Landlocked Ethiopia now uses
the ports of Djibouti, connected to Addis Ababa by rail,
and to a lesser extent, Port Sudan in Sudan. Of the
23,812 kilometers of Ethiopia's all-weather roads, only
15% are asphalt. Mountainous terrain and the lack of
good roads and sufficient vehicles make land transportation
difficult. However, the government-owned airline is
excellent. Ethiopian Airlines has 42 international destinations,
and is one of the largest airlines in Africa.
Electricity in Ethiopia is 220 Volts, alternating at
50 cycles per second. If you travel to Ethiopia with
a device that does not accept 220 Volts at 50 Hertz,
you will need a voltage converter. Outlets in Ethiopia
generally accept 2 types of plug: Three round pins arranged
in a triangle, or two round pins. If your appliances
plug has a different shape, you will need a plug adapter.
be aware that the electricity service can be erratic.
You should always travel with a flashlight and spare
batteries, and do not rely on an electric razor or hairdryer.
FLORA AND FAUNA
Ethiopia's land is dramatic, with altitudes ranging
from the lowest point on the continent of Africa (the
Denakil Depression at 125 meters below sea level), to
the fourth highest peak in Africa (Ras Dashan at 4533
meters). Thus, the ecosystems of Ethiopia are diverse
and varied, ranging from arid badlands to extensive
indigenous rainforests. Ethiopia has a large variety
of indigenous plant and animal species. In some areas,
the mountains are covered with shrubs such as pyracantha,
jasmine, poinsettia, and a varied assortment of evergreens.
Caraway, carcade, cardamom, chat, coriander, incense,
myrrh, and red pepper are common.
number of mammal species present in Ethiopia is not
comparable to countries like Kenya and Tanzania; populations
are generally lower and they tend to congregate in the
most remote areas. The lakes in the Great Rift Valley
region abound with numerous species of birds. The birds
in Ethiopia are abundant, with over 800 species including
16 endemics as well as Palaearctic migrants and residents
that are rare further south in Africa.
Most of Africa's predators have become endangered. This
is a result of limited space in the farmer's constant
search for agricultural and grazing lands. It almost
goes without saying that you should not collect or purchase
any items made from endangered plant or animal species.
Addis Ababa has three 5 star hotels: the Hilton, Sheraton
and Radisson Blu Hotel-and a growing number of tourist
Standards vary outside the capital (the hotels in the
north are generally better than those in the south),
but apart from the Omo and Mago areas where camping
is unavoidable it is generally possible to get relatively
clean rooms with en suite toilet and shower.
A traditional Ethiopian meal involves a gathering of
people, who eat together from one large circular plate.
The choice morsels of meat are placed in front of the
guests. Guests wait to consume the meat until they have
first filled up on injera and sauce. The most common
meat eaten is beef (cooked, dry or raw). Mutton is eaten
in the high altitudes, while camel and goat are eaten
in the lower altitudes. Cooked and dried fish is also
consumed in the coastal regions. Along with the traditional
Ethiopian meal, one would typically drink either t'ej,
a type of honey wine, or a local beer called t'ella.
Ethiopia produces its own wines: Dukam and Gouder are
dry reds; Crystal is a dry white; and Axumite is a sweet
eat with your right hand, and you should wash your hands
ahead of time. Typically, a jug of water and a bar of
soap are brought to you for that purpose.
local specialties of Ethiopia are:
a flat, sourdough pancake made of the indigenous grain
called t'ef, is the country staple. The injera is typically
served with either meat or vegetable sauces. To eat
it, you tear off a bit of injera and use it to pick
up pieces of meat or to mop up the sauce.
a grain containing 2-3 times the iron of wheat or barley.
The calcium, potassium and other essential minerals
are also many times what would be found in an equal
amount of other grains. T'ef is the only grain to have
symbiotic yeast. Like grapes, the yeast is on the grain,
so no yeast is added in the preparation of injera. T'ef
is milled into flour and made into a batter. The batter
is allowed to sit so the yeast can become active. When
the batter is ready, it is poured on a large, flat oven
and allowed to cook.
Berbere: the blend of spices that gives Ethiopian food
its characteristic taste, can be quite hot. A popular
food called wot is a hot spicy pepper sauce, which is
eaten with basic ingredients like vegetables, meat and
chicken. Kotcho, another popular food, is a pancake
made of "ensete" stem and root.
Vegetarians should try "fasting food" (for
devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christians fast days make
up nearly half the year), a colorful spread of Salads,
vegetables and pulses, devoid of all meat and animal
The food served at hotels, lodges and tented camps is
almost exclusively continental cuisine, and universally
ample and healthy.
Everything being so completely different from what you
are used to, can sometimes be as daunting as it is fascinating.
Trying Ethiopian national foods and drinks may be a
case in point.
Ethiopia supports a diverse mix of linguistic groups.
Amharic is the official language, while English, French
and Italian are widely spoken, especially in business
and academic circles. There are over 80 different languages
with 200 dialects spoken around the country. The many
languages can be broken down into four main groups:
Semitic, Hametic, Omotic and Nilo-Saharan.
Semitic languages are related to both Hebrew and Arabic.
They are mostly spoken in the Northern and Central parts
of the country. The principal Semitic language is Amharic.
The Hametic languages are found mainly in the East,
West, and South. Of this group, Oromiffa is the predominant
language. The Omotic languages are spoken in the Southwest
and have been given that name in recent years because
they are spoken in the general area of the Omo River.
Finally, the Nilo-Saharan languages are spoken in a
wide area along the Sudan frontier.
of the written languages use the Ge'ez alphabet, the
language of the ancient Axumite kingdom. In fact, Ge'ez
is the only indigenous written language in all of Africa.
Today some of the written languages in Ethiopia are
using the Latin alphabet.
LANGUAGES AND WRITING
In 1582 when the rest of the Christian world adopted
the Gregorian calendar, Ethiopia stayed with the Julian
calendar. With the passage of time, seven and a half
years have somehow dissolved in the intervening centuries.
It is now 2001 in the Ethiopian calendar.
is not only its calendar that differentiates Ethiopia
from its neighbors. Ethiopia is the only civilization
on the continent with its own alphabet, chronology and
calendar system and religious art.
FINE ARTS AND CRAFTS
Ethiopia prides itself for having its own lexicon of
knowledge, especially in such celestial matters like
astronomy, cosmology, mystical theology and the art
of healing. These come, of course, with their own strongly
distinctive symbols, arts and crafts and decor.
today possesses some 250,000 ancient books on parchment;
some nearly 1000 years old (e.g. Ritu Haimanot from
Narga in Lake Tana). Among them are very important works
that Ethiopia shares with other traditions but copies
of which were found only in the country's ancient liturgical
language, Ge'ez': The Book of Enoch is a good example.
Ethiopia's unique character, its "Ethiopianess",
makes it a fascinating destination. There are more than
80 ethnic groups and as many languages.
A proud, ancient and living history Ethiopia has the
most extensive historic sites in Sub - Saharan Africa.
Experts estimate that perhaps as little as 5% of the
total has so far been discovered and excavated. The
oldest hominid remains (Australopithecus ramidus, a
new species, 4.4 million years old) were found here.
Some 1600 years before his counterparts in Europe, Ethiopian
Saint Yared devised a musical notation in the 6th century
for his stupendous repertoire of sacred music with finely
choreographed sacred dance to go with it.
this day, highland Ethiopian secular music and dances
are based on Yared's legacy. The most common folk dance,
the esskista has basic elements running through the
traditional dances of all the various highland peoples.
Mostly based on shaking shoulders, its combination of
the religious, fetish and sensuous is as confusing as
it is fascinating. The somersaults of the Welaita and
the coquettish theatrics of the Omo people are in sharp
contrast to this.
It has been ascertained that the gold with a platinum
content used in Tutankhamen's statue could have only
come from either Ethiopia or South Africa. Indeed, the
legendary King Solomon's mines may have their origins
in the Horn of Africa.
The oldest traditional gold mine in the world is supposed
to be in the Nejo area of Western Ethiopia. The Dorze
people of the Omo Basin still carry out the ancient
iron working industry by melting iron from iron ore.
Though you will find Ethiopia to be rich in spirit and
culture, in an economic sense it is far from that. We
ask you not to give money, candy or gifts indiscriminately
to children as this encourages begging. If you wish
to do something for the children you meet, we suggest
you bring pencils, pens, crayons, erasers, simple English
books, "magic slates" etc. and give them to
your guide who will distribute them to local schools
where they will be much appreciated and of greater overall
benefit to the community.
When it comes to shopping for rare gift articles and
genuine souvenirs from Ethiopia there is an amazing
selection of religious icons, crosses, antique jewelry
of various metals, gold and silver jewellery, leather
goods of all kinds and pure cotton textiles to choose
Ethiopia's population is thought to be nearly 82 million
people. There are more than 78 ethnic groups in Ethiopia,
with 69% of them found in the Southern Nations, Nationalities
and Peoples' State. The highest population percentages
(according to the 1994 census) are Oromo, 32%; Amhara,
30%; Tigray, 6%; Somali, 6%; Guragie, 4%; Sidama, 3%;
Wolaita, 2%; Afar, 2%; Hadiya, 2%; and Gamo, 1%.
For most photographers, lenses in the range of 135-300
mm are perfectly adequate, together with a good supply
of 200 - 400 ASA film. Whatever you decide to bring,
please make sure you have a decent bag which will protect
your gear from the elements.
on the whole is fairly relaxed about photography, and
apart from a few museums and sensitive government and
military installations, you can photograph virtually
everything. However, please note that flashes damage
artifacts. Except in general street and market scenes,
it is not appropriate to photograph people without permission.
As a matter of courtesy, permission should be sought
before photographing individuals and in many parts of
the country, particularly among the Afar and among the
ethnic groups living by the Omo River, people will demand
a fee. In some sites (Blue Nile falls for example) there
is a charge for video photography. Most will agree for
a small payment (birr 5 is an accepted "fee").
Please respect the privacy of the local people, especially
in remote areas, and do not intrude unduly with your
camera. Use discretion and you should return with some
security reasons, do not take pictures of military installations
and personnel, airports, aircraft, bridges and government
X-ray machines in Africa are not always "film-safe"
so it is best to carry film separately and ask for it
to be hand-checked, or store it in an X-ray resistant
good pair of binoculars is essential, particularly for
The predominant religions in Ethiopia are Ethiopian
Orthodox (or Monophysite Christianity) and Islam. Other
religions that are also practiced include Judaism and
Animism. The Animist faith is found mainly in southern
regions of Ethiopia. Further south in Somali and surrounding
areas, Islam is practiced. Christianity is more common
in the northern and central parts of Ethiopia, where
Judaism and Islam can be found as well.
HEALTH AND MEDICAL While both doctors and dentists are
available throughout many areas of the Country, the
major hospitals are located in the main towns. We recommend
that visitors bring sufficient supplies of any drugs
that they need regularly. A valid vaccination certificates
against yellow fever, and vaccinations against hepatitis
Malaria: in many sites malaria is not a problem because
of the elevation - this is true of Axum, Gondar and
Lalibela for example, but it can occur in Bahir Dar
at the end of the rainy season and after unseasonable
rains. Chloroquine resistant strains have been identified
in some areas so you should consult your doctor about
the prescription. Alternatively, you can keep mosquitoes
and other insects at bay with repellent creams and sprays.
(Climatic changes and phenomena such as el-Nino has
meant the appearance of Malaria at unseasonable times,
and its spread to areas previously malaria free)
Visitors should take a simple first aid pack, which
would include: different size plasters, antiseptic cream,
anti-histamine cream and/or tablets for insect bites,
sun barrier cream (while temperatures are moderate the
sun is strong) and anti diarrhea tablets such as Imodium
for emergencies (they will not cure the problem but
will control the symptoms). Generally, visitors should
take out standard holiday health insurance in their
SECURITY AND CRIME
Ethiopia is generally a very safe country; however,
casual theft and pick-pocketing are fairly commonplace
in parts of the country. As a precaution, we recommend
a lightweight passport pouch that can be worn under
your clothing, either around your neck or waist. The
pouch should hold only your passport, air tickets, a
credit card and most of your travelers' checks. Be alert
when in the cities, police are obvious in their uniforms.
In medium to large towns, you will find stationary shops,
good pharmacies, music shops and general stores. Even
in small towns you will find kiosks selling items such
as batteries, pens, paper, soap, biscuits and bottled
drinks. Most towns and villages have markets. In larger
towns these will be open daily, but the main market
day throughout the country is Saturday. Buying from
markets rather than shops puts money directly into the
hands of the local community.
antiques cannot be exported and may be confiscated if
found in airport searches. The National Museum in Addis
Ababa can issue a clearance certificate.
unique items to buy:
-Hand woven silk and cotton textiles
-Hand- made wooden furniture
Consular Information Sheet
Reports on Ethiopia [Lonely Planet]
[INCORE Internet Country Guides]
Addis Tribune Home Page
[Foreign Affairs Canada]
for determining correct times anywhere in the world:
around the World: