Travelers arriving on Ethiopian Airlines receive a discount on domestic flights. Be prepared to show boarding passes or a receipt. For domestic flights, Ethiopian Airlines is the only operator, and has over two dozen airports throughout the country. The airline is very efficient and reliable. Flights on or around holidays will fill up quickly, so it’s best to book early. Otherwise, normal weekday/weekend flights can usually be booked just a day or two prior.
Bole International Airport is a travel hub for the region and links most of Africa’s major cities. The airport is situated in the Bole neighborhood just 5km from the city’s main square. When making same day connections or early morning flights, its best to stay in a hotel in Bole. Paid parking, luggage carts and uniformed porters are available at the airport terminal.
Traveling by road allows visitors to experience Ethiopia’s wonderful scenery, but road conditions are not always optimal. As the country continues to pave roads, the mountainous topography makes overland travel long and arduous. Nevertheless, the landscapes are beautiful. The 1-hour flight to Lalibela, for example, takes nearly two days by road. Ethiopia is close to finishing a six-lane freeway between Addis Ababa and the eastern port of Djibouti and is currently renovating a rail network, which will make the delivery of goods much easier.
If not traveling in a private vehicle, there are experienced bus companies such as Sky Bus and Selam Bus with competitive prices and routes all over the country. There are a multitude of types, sizes and speeds of public transport. It’s always recommended to allow extra time and to avoid traveling by night on public transport.
Climate and Clothing
Because of Ethiopia’s unique position at high elevations, temperatures rarely exceed 25°C (77°F) while in lowland areas, such as Awash, Omo and Gambela, temperatures and relative humidy can be very high. The rainy season usually last from May to September, but visitors should expect some rain in the months of March, April and October.
Pack light clothes for the daytime and jacket or sweater for the evenings, and a good pair of walking shoes even if you are not going trekking. Many of the villages, which are home to the historic sites, lack paved roads and paths tend to be uneven and rocky.
People trekking in the Simian and Bale Mountains will need three layers of clothing including a rain jacket or shell and a three-season sleeping bag.
A cultural note: Ethiopians are generally modest dressers and visitors should be sensitive about going underdressed into places of worship. Shoes must always be removed before entering churches and mosques. For getting around sites like Lalibela with its many churches, confortable sandals or an extra pair of socks are useful.
Ethiopia uses 220 volts 50 cycles AC. Adapters are easy to find in all major cities.
Ethiopia is in the GMT + 3 hours time zone. Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar and the day is measured in a way that the when the sun rises (6am), the Ethiopian clock begins. Hence 12 noon is actually 6am, and so on.
Amharic is the unifying language of the country and learning greetings or phrases can enrich the traveler’s experience. Other major languages include Tigrinya, Afan-Oromo, Guragenya, Somali, & Afari among others. On major tourist circuits, most Ethiopians can speak enough English for communication purposes.
Currency Exchange and Banking Hours
The local currency is the Ethiopian Birr (ETB). Birr notes are available in denominations of 5, 10, 50 and 100. Visitors may import an unlimited amount of foreign currency but this must be declared on arrival to the customs authorities. Foreign currency may only be exchanged at the international airport, authorized banks and hotels. Visitors may change back any surplus Ethiopian Birr to cash at the airport before departure. Banking hours are usually from 8am-5pm, Monday to Friday as well as Saturdays from 8am to 11am.
Telephone, fax and Internet access is available in Addis Abba in most hotels as well as in communications shops. In smaller cities throughout Ethiopia, the Internet may be more difficult to find. Country-wide connections often fail for many hours at a time.
Health and Medical
All visitors should be in possession of valid yellow fever vaccination certificate. Immunization for Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid and Polio is recommended.
Malaria exists and is a health issue for many people living in lowland, rural areas. In the Ethiopian highlands, however, malaria is not a problem. This includes Addis Ababa, Harar, Axum, Mekele, Gondar and Lalibela.
Popular destinations such as the South Omo Valley, the Rift Valley including Hawassa, and Bahir Dar on Lake Tana do pose a risk for malaria, especially at the end of the rainy season (October-November). Chloroquine resistant strains have been identified in some areas so you should consult your doctor about the prescription. Alternatively, you can keep mosquitos and other insects at bay with repellent creams and sprays.
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, sunblock (while temperatures are moderate the sun is still equatorial) 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 home countries.
Addis Ababa has every style of hotel from 5-star to an inexpensive “guesthouse”. Outside the capital city, standards may vary, yet most major cities are equipped with at least 3-star hotels if not higher. In many areas there are now a number of eco-lodges and resorts.
Generally only 100 ASA is available, slide film usually not.
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 tribes living in the Omo Valley, people will demand a fee.
In some sites, Blue Nile falls for example, there is a charge for video photography.