Travel Guide to Visiting Ethiopia

Ethiopia_travel_guide

Advises on Visiting Ethiopia as a Woman

What can cause a woman to visit 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.

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 adventurer in some way.

What can cause a woman to visit 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.

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 adventurer in some way. 

Ethiopia_Geralta

WHY TO 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 a unique architecture. Many of them are difficult to access and therefore have retained its authenticity. Another important fact that needs to known 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”.

Ethiopia_village

SAFETY

What should you expect, as a woman, on the roads of 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 does 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.

Very important issue is the possibility of terrorist attacks and kidnapping. So far, there are no major accidents but there is certain risk especially around the borders with Somalia and Sudan. Check the latest information with your national government before undertaking the trip.

SICKNESSES & HYGIENE 

Traveling in Ethiopia, one should bear in mind that the country is one with 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 on very low level and only the private hospitals provide reasonable standard of medical care. You should care extensive medical pack while traveling in Ethiopia, especially out of the capital.

Life_in_Ethiopia

TRANSPORT

In terms of flights, you can use Ethiopian Airlines because of their cheaper fares but also 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 member of Star Alliance so you can gain points and miles if you are member of their frequent flyer program.  

 The best way to see the country is to rent a car. Usually it will be 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.

People_of_Ethiopia

VISAS

You need visa to enter the country. It is easy to get one month visa on arrival at the Bole International airport in Addis Ababa. The costs is 50$ and you can pay in Euro, US dollar or in the local currency – Birr.  In every case, check again this information with your local authorities because the requirements for visa may vary for the different countries.

WHEN TO TRAVEL

Ethiopia can be visited 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_park_in_Ethiopia

Awash National Park

WHAT TO SEE

Rock-Hewn Churches:

Ethiopia is abundant of  and monasteries that can be found only here. Few of the most famous 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 can be reached only by climbing rope. As it is friary, women are not allowed to come 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.

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.   

GonderFasil Ghebbi was the residence of the Ethiopian emperors during the 16th and 17the century. The architecture of the building is a mixture between Arabic and baroque influence.

Nature:

Nature varies between the south and north part of the country. More interesting is the South where you can visit Awash National Park

Lake Langano – it is popular weekend destination and few resorts can be found around. The lake is located 200 km south from the capital Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa: 

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 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 center 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.

Tribes: 

In the southern part of the country you can see people from some of the most interesting African tribes. Despite they are now 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.  

Axum_Ethiopia

Axum

FOOD:

Do not expect a variety of delicious dishes. Even the opposite – you may be disgusted from the traditional local “injera”. It is a pancake-like bread made from fermented dough that retains the acidic taste even after baking. It is served garnished with a variety of cooked vegetables and meat. Most likely, this food is well adapted to local climatic and hygienic conditions, but foreigners seldom  fine it tasty. 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.

Woman_of_Ethiopia

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 embroidered cross on the robe’s front, which contrasts wonderfully with the dark skin of the Ethiopian people.

Children_of_Ethiopia

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 ethno style to your outlook and will remind your of your African adventure.

LOCAL HAIR STYLES 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 roads are dusty and you’ll have to travel long distances, bring all cosmetic products that you will need with you. You will wash your hair more often than usual. Will have problems to buy the necessary at the place because even if you find a product, it will be adapted to the local needs. I mean shampoos are made for African, tightly curled hair, not for the brighter, straight hair.

SHOPPING:

Food you can buy from few places. Markets are good for vegetable/fruits and packed food you can buy from shops which are mainly for foreigners.

There is large choice of souvenirs and gifts. Almost all are made locally from natural materials such as wood and leather. Ethiopia golden and silver jewelry 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.

Debre Damo

Debre Damo

THE 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 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 suffices you …

Gonder

Gonder

After all that said, you probably will ask: But why I have to visit Ethiopia? It looks dangerous, its 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 the Biblical times where the influence of globalization on the local culture is still limited.

For me this reason is enough. Is it for you?

 

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