YWhy a woman might be interested in visiting Ethiopia? And what to expect from your trip there? I decided to share the experience gained during my one-year stay there, as the country is less popular for tourists, but very interesting.
What to Expect when Visiting Ethiopia?
The first thing you should expect is that this trip will change your life forever. Because in Ethiopia you will encounter misery that you hardly have seen somewhere before. In one of the poorest countries in the world, you will learn a lot about the world and yourself. If you like nice, luxurious places, this trip is not for you. But you will miss a lot! It is a country for adventure lovers and I believe every woman is an adventurer in some way.
Why Visit Ethiopia?
Ethiopia is the first country in the world which adopted Christianity. Its people, according to local legend, comes directly from the dynasty of the Queen of Sheba, whose son was conceived by King Solomon. See how far back in biblical times Ethiopia has its origin. Nowadays, this ancient history and zealously Christianity can be seen in the rock churches, which are scattered around the country and have unique architecture. Many of them are difficult to access and therefore have retained its authenticity.
Another important fact that needs to know in advance to avoid disappointment is that in Ethiopia you will not find most of the wonderful African animals. The dry and rocky Ethiopian Highlands does not offer good weather conditions for the development of populations of these animals. On the other hand, Ethiopia is rich in different and unique with its traditions African tribes. All are distinguished by beauty and simple life. In the southern part of the country, you can still see how they live, half-naked, in the dry savanna, as we’ve seen in the pages of “National Geographic”.
Safety in Ethiopia
What should you expect, as a woman visiting Ethiopia? One thing is certain, you will not feel harassed by male disrespectful attitude. Although there are Muslims in the country, men are generally respectful and do not annoy foreign women. On the other hand, you will not get rid of begging children. They are taught to do so at a very early age. And the best advice I can give you is not to try to get rid of them, but to smile and continue on your way. Otherwise, they become aggressive.
A very important issue is the possibility of terrorist attacks and kidnapping. Check the latest information with your national government before undertaking the trip.
Diseases and Hygiene
Visiting Ethiopia, one should bear in mind that the country is one with the driest climate (except in the rainy season which is in August) and people have not developed hygienic practices as in the rest of the world. Bring always water (bottled), wet wipes and antibacterial gel to use it when it is not possible to wash your hands properly. The health care is at a very low level and only the private hospitals provide a reasonable standard of medical care. You should care extensive medical pack while travelling in Ethiopia, especially out of the capital.
Travelling around in Ethiopia
In terms of flights, you can use Ethiopian Airlines because of their cheaper fares but also a good quality of service. They are one of the best African airlines and have large international and domestic flight network. Ethiopian (as simply is often referred) is also a member of Star Alliance so you can gain points and miles if you are a member of their frequent flyer program.
The best way to see the country is to rent a car. Usually, it will be a big SUV as often you will be on gravel roads. Of course, you have the option to participate to organized tour (also uses SUV vehicles) which will save you much stress and inconveniences.
Visitors Visas for Ethiopia
You probably need a visa to enter the country. It is easy to get a visitor visa on arrival at the Bole International airport in Addis Ababa. However, sometimes there are significant. It is now also possible to obtain an E-visa if you would like to get done with it prior arrival.
Read the most current information about e-visas on the Ethiopian government website.
When to Travel to Ethiopia
Visiting Ethiopia is possible all year-round. However, is better to avoid the raining season period which is especially heavy in August. Best is to plan your trip for the months from October to May.
Awash National Park
What to See in Ethiopia
Ethiopia is abundant in monasteries that can be found only here. Some of the most interesting are:
–Lalibela rock-hewn churches – probably the most enigmatic tourist site of Ethiopia and the most crowded as well. There are thousands of people travelling to Lalibela for pilgrimage every year.
–Debre Damo is a rock monastery that you can reach only by climbing a rope. As it is friary, women can not go close to the foot of the hill and have to stay in the village. But still, the view is spectacular and the local children are very friendly.
Tigray, where I lived for a while, has a pretty good collection of rock-hewn churches too.
The old capitals of Ethiopia:
–Aksum – the capital of biblical queen of Sheba. The place is famous with the numerous monolithic obelisks and the “swimming pool” of the queen.
–Gonder – Fasil Ghebbi was the residence of the Ethiopian emperors during the 16th and 17the century. The architecture of the building is a mixture of Arabic and Baroque influence.
Here is a five-day tour that covers the two capitals plus Bahir Dar and Lalibela. It is the classic historical route tour.
Nature varies between the south and north part of the country. More interesting is the South where you can visit Awash National Park on a multi-day safari trip.
Lake Langano – it is a popular weekend destination and few resorts can be found around. The lake is located 200 km south from the capital Addis Ababa
When visiting Ethiopia, the capital Addis Ababa is the only place in the country where you will feel some presence of modern life. There you can enjoy nice dinner in a restaurant (try Aladdin for a mix of Armenian-Lebanese food and Makush on Bole Road for its Italian food and beautiful exhibition of Ethiopian art); you can do some shopping in Getu commercial centre in a case you incidentally need some ladies’ garment. St George’s Cathedral, the National Museum and the old French style railway station on the line Addis Ababa-Djibouti (not operating anymore) are worth visiting but be prepared for simple yet very old historical and cultural finds.
Here is an option if you want to join an organised tour.
In the southern part of the country, you can see people from some of the most interesting African tribes. Despite that they are now a popular stop for the tourist groups, it is still amazing to see how the life of these people didn’t change for hundreds of years and how simple it is. Their culture is preserved in a great way and although they live not far from each other, every tribe have its distinctive traditional looks and customs.
Some of the most interesting tribes are Oromo, Afar, Mursi and Hamar.
Do not expect a variety of delicious dishes. The traditional “injera” is a pancake-like bread made from fermented dough that retains the acidic taste even after baking. Ethiopians served it garnished with a variety of cooked vegetables and meat. The good news is that in Ethiopia they make pretty good pizza, as a result of the 30 years in which Ethiopia was under Italian control.
People & Photography
Children and women in Ethiopia are the best objects for photographs and possess exquisite beauty. (For proof you can see recent photos of the adopted daughter of Angelina Jolie, Zahara, who is from Ethiopia) In the northern part of the country, the traditional clothing is made from snow-white cotton with an embroidered cross on the robe’s front, which contrasts wonderfully with the dark skin of the Ethiopian people.
Ethiopian Art & Craftsmanship
Another remarkable thing, similarly to the rock churches, is that in Ethiopia there are 2-3 different designs of church crosses, that are corresponding to the different country regions. They are very decorative and look like made of silver lace. The most famous ones are the cross designs from Aksum and Lalibela. You can find them also made of gold in the shops of the capital Addis Ababa. It is a gift that will add ethnic style to your outlook and will remind you of your African adventure.
Local Hairstyles to Try
One of the things that you can do for yourself in Ethiopia is to try these so interesting African hair braiding styles. Ethiopian ladies are masters at this and their hair is braided constantly and remains like that for months. It will be fun to see yourself with such hairstyle.
Since the Ethiopian roads are dusty and you’ll have to travel long distances, bring all the cosmetic products that you will need with you. You will wash your hair more often than usual. You will have problems to buy what you need because even if you find a product, it will be adapted to the local needs. For example – shampoos are made for African, tightly curled hair, not for the brighter, straight hair.
Shopping in Ethiopia:
Food you can buy from a few places. Markets are good for vegetable/fruits and packed food you can buy from shops which are mainly for foreigners.
There is a large choice of souvenirs and gifts. Almost all are made locally from natural materials such as wood and leather. Ethiopia golden and silver jewellery has a rustic charm but unique design. It’s worth buying one of those silver cross necklaces. Also in Addis Ababa, you can find beautiful silk scarves with motives from the local art, leather bags and wooden statues.
And Finally – about Ethiopian Coffee!
But maybe, the best souvenir that you can bring from Ethiopia is the coffee. Ethiopia is not only the first country to officially adopt Christianity, the only one representing the Orthodox Church in Africa, but also the homeland of coffee. Here, the coffee ceremony is an old tradition by which the local women greet their guests. And today, the country is one of the largest producers of quality coffee and in every home the wife use black clay pot with a round bottom to prepare the hot, fragrant drink made of freshly roasted and ground coffee beans. If you visit Ethiopia, surely try the coffee. But I believe that when the freshly brewed coffee starts spreading its aroma around, you will barely need a second invitation. And one cup will hardly suffice you …
After all that said, you probably will ask: But why I have to visit Ethiopia? It looks dangerous, it is poor and it is quite far. Well, it is one of the few places in the world where you can see life as simple as it was in Biblical times where the influence of globalization on the local culture is still limited. For me, this reason is enough. Is it for you?