"Ethiopia is one of the least known but most fascinating of all African destinations. Any land that has thirteen months in each year, a clock that starts at six in the morning and an utterly unique alphabet deserves your attention!"
"The only African country never to have been properly colonised, Ethiopia makes no compromises – and that is part of its charm. As soon as you step off the plane and into Addis Ababa you realise that Ethiopia is different from the rest of the continent. For a start, Ethiopia is well off the beaten track, and you won’t see too many other tourists on your journey here, meaning that a trip to this land really does make you feel like you’re pushing the frontiers of travel; enjoying a unique experience that few are privileged enough to have. With its wealth of cultural, historical and natural sites, it’s surprising that more people don’t visit – but for the moment the lucky few are able to enjoy it all to themselves. Explore centuries old churches decorated with elaborate frescoes, guided by monks who still guard the holy artefacts as they have done for millennia. Wander around medieval castles, probably one of the least likely things you’d expect to find in the Horn of Africa. Immerse yourself in the mystery that is Lalibela, often described as the eighth wonder of the world, or Africa’s Petra, and fully deserving of the title – a collection of rock churches in a small rural town still living largely in the dark ages. And no visit to this enigmatic country is complete without taking a trip into the spectacular Simien Mountains, the highest plateau in Africa, and stunningly beautiful - like the Grand Canyon but only greener, where you’ll have the chance to spot some of the world’s rarest animals. When I returned from Ethiopia for the first time I couldn’t stop telling everyone how wonderful it was. Years later, I still can’t."
Jim O’Brien, Head of Operations, Imaginative Traveller
Capital: Addis Ababa
Official Language: Amharic, Tigrinya, Omorinya
Others: There are around eighty other languages and dialects in Ethiopia
Religions: Christian 50%, Muslim 40%, others 10%
Voltage: 220 volts. Plugs are of the two pronged variety.
Required by all nationalities expect Kenya. This should be obtained in advance.
This information was correct at the time of writing. However it is advisable to re-check the latest information regarding your specific visa requirements with your local Ethiopian Embassy or Consulate, a few weeks before your planned date of travel.
The monetary unit in Ethiopia is the birr. Approximate exchange rates (as at January 2008) are as follows:
1 Pound Sterling: 18.7 birr
1 US Dollar: 9.6 birr
1 Euro: 14.7 birr
There is no restriction on the amount of foreign currency that a visitor may bring into Ethiopia.
Note: It is not usually possible to obtain Ethiopian birr outside of Ethiopia. We would therefore recommend that you bring US dollars.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: During your stay in Ethiopia, you will notice a general lack of small change. We recommend maintaining a small supply of coins and small denomination notes.
XE.com is a useful site for currency conversion.
Banks and Bureau de Change facilities can generally only be found in larger cities such as Addis Ababa and Gondar. It is advisable to exchange money at banks, in large hotels, and authorised Bureau de Change. At the time of writing it was possible to exchange money at Addis Ababa airport on arrival, although this may change in the future. Traveller’s cheques can be difficult to exchange, even in Addis Ababa. ATM's are not common and are often not reliable, therefore you should not rely on them as a method of obtaining money.
We would recommend that you bring cash in US$ to ensure you have access to enough funds during your stay.
Note: Australian Dollar and Canadian Dollar traveller's cheques and cash will usually not be accepted.
The Pre Departure Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains general information about organising your spending money. Your Tour Leader will be able to advise you on local facilities.
The Pre Departure Booklet contains general information about the things you will need to consider when budgeting for your holiday. Below are some specific notes relevant to our tours in Ethiopia.
Entrance fees are included for all sites listed as part of the itinerary. There are many sites in Addis Ababa that you might want to visit if you are arriving before the tour starts or departing after it ends, including the Ethnological Museum and the Addis Ababa Museum. Entrance fees for sites are normally around US$2.
You will find the meal plan for your tour clearly indicated in the brochure and on your Trip Dossier. Our tour in Ethiopia includes breakfast each day, as well as most dinners, but lunches are not included. Food in Ethiopia is extremely cheap, and approximate costs for meals not included are shown below:
For a guide to the type of food you will find in Ethiopia see the Local Food & Drink section of this dossier.
Tea and Coffee is always provided with breakfast. All other drinks (i.e. bottled water, soft drinks) are at your own expense. Approximate costs for drinks bought in a shop in the street are shown below.
Note: Prices in restaurants, hotels, and in remote areas can be double those specified.
It is not recommended that you drink the local tap water in Ethiopia however bottled water and carbonated soft drinks are widely available throughout the country.
In Ethiopia the most common method of getting around town is by taxi – either shared or private. Private taxis are more expensive than shared taxis, but do have the advantage of leaving when you want them to – shared taxis only leave when they have their full quota of passengers and can take some time to fill up depending upon the destination. On our Ethiopian Explorer trip, you won’t have a great deal of time to explore on your own, and so private taxis would usually be your best option. As a rough guideline, taxi journeys should not cost much more than US$3 per hour. However, as prices can often change, it is a good idea to find out in advance from your Tour Leader or the hotel receptionist, approximately how much the fare should be for the journey you propose. You will almost certainly have to accept that you will pay more than locals do.
The Pre Departure Booklet that you will receive once you have booked your tour contains a comprehensive list of items that you should consider bringing with you. There are certain items of equipment (e.g. sleeping bags, towels) that you will need on some tours and not on others. Check your Trip Dossier for any special requirements.
As a general guideline, clothing should be lightweight, loose fitting, hard-wearing and easily washed. Ethiopia is generally warm, but during and towards the start or finish of the rainy seasons, as well as in the mountains, it can be quite cool. We would recommend that you take a lightweight jacket or fleece with you, as well as a waterproof jacket. In general, shorts are not worn in Ethiopia.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: Make sure you bring a few items of clothing which cover your shoulders and knees and also several outfits which cover your legs to the ankles and your arms past the elbows. A sarong is an invaluable item to carry as it can be used to instantly cover any exposed areas (i.e. head, legs). It also doesn’t go amiss to bring along a set of smart/casual clothes for the occasional night out.
In certain areas, such as Lalibela and Axum, your Tour Leader may ask you to dress conservatively. Out of respect for local values, we ask that you follow your Tour Leader’s advice at all times.
Make sure you allow for climate changes and remember that even in very hot countries, night-time and early morning temperatures will be cooler so it is worth taking a fleece along.
Please note that you DO NOT need a mosquito net on our Ethiopian Explorer tour.
Whilst few of our tours can be described as physically demanding you will find all activities more enjoyable if you are reasonably fit and active.
As our Ethiopian Explorer trip includes a short trek in the Simien Mountains, you will need to be reasonably fit and we recommend that you do some physical preparation before your trip. The more physically fit you are, the more easily your body will adapt to trekking and the more you will enjoy the experience. Hill walking and aerobic activities like jogging, tennis, swimming and aerobics classes are all excellent forms of exercise to prepare yourself.
Whenever you use a squat style toilet please place your toilet paper in the rubbish bin provided – DO NOT flush it down the toilet as this may block the sewerage system. You may also want to carry your own toilet paper as not all toilets will supply it.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: You may find it useful to take a supply of antiseptic wet wipes and sealable plastic bags to put your toilet paper in if it cannot be burnt / placed in a bin.
It is particularly important to take all rubbish and non-biodegradable items with you when you leave camp sites. Try to leave camp sites even cleaner than you found them! Although you may see many local people dropping litter in towns and villages, we would ask that you refrain from this and use proper waste disposal facilities.
Ethiopia’s population is made up mostly of Christians and Muslims, and has a rich heritage of both religions. One of the first countries to adopt Christianity as a national religion, Ethiopia is packed full of ancient sites which still attract pilgrims from all over the country in large numbers, and in certain towns such as Lalibela has large monastic populations. It also hosts some amazing religious festivals – the most notable being Timkat which is celebrated in January each year. Ethiopia’s patron saint is St George, and all over the country you’ll find colourful frescoes depicting his slaying of the dragon.
Most of Ethiopia’s Muslim population live in the east of the country, as the religion was brought here from traders across the Red Sea in Oman and Yemen. Most Muslims in Ethiopia belong to the Sunni faith.
Your tour leader will advise you of any rules of etiquette or customs in Ethiopia, but in general Ethiopia is quite relaxed in terms of these.
You should always ask permission before taking anyone's photograph and respect their decision if they say no. In more remote areas women and older people often do not want to be photographed. Some people may also ask for some money – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot - in return for a photo. Taking photos of military installations, state buildings, and airports can lead to problems with local authorities. You should also be aware that in Ethiopia photography is not viewed in the same way as it is in your home country, and can sometimes give rise to suspicion – you should always seek your tour leader’s advice on guidelines for photography.
The level of poverty in Ethiopia is very high – it is often quoted as being the third poorest country on earth, and begging is very common. Ultimately donations are a traveller's personal choice but in line with initiatives and government policy in many of our destinations, our recommendation is NOT to give money, pens, gifts or sweets as this encourages a begging mentality. If you do want to help it is probably better to give to a recognized charity. If you choose not to give simply say no with a smile and keep on walking. If you learn nothing else of the local language, learn to say ‘no thank you’!
In many shops prices are not negotiable; however, haggling is expected for tourist souvenirs. The shop keeper or market trader will start with a high price which you are then expected to bargain down until you reach a fair price. If the seller accepts your price it is very bad form to not go through with the sale. Haggling should always be relaxed and can be a lot of fun – it’s a great way of interacting with the local people.
An arrival transfer is included in the cost of the tour. Upon arrival at Addis Ababa Airport, please look out for our representative who will be holding a sign with ‘The Imaginative Traveller’ or your name on it. They will usually be waiting after the customs area. Please make sure you take time to look around carefully for our representative with the sign. There may be a large crowd of people waiting, and it may take time to find them.
If several travellers on Imaginative Traveller tours are arriving on the same flight, the transfer representative may be taking you all together to the meeting point. Please be patient if you need to wait a few minutes for other travellers from the same flight.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: If you experience any problems with your luggage and are delayed in the baggage/customs area, please try to make contact with the transfer representative immediately to advise them of the problem and ensure they wait for you. You may need to ask permission of security to exit the customs/baggage hall and then re-enter.
The Meeting Point for your tour should be clearly marked on your travel vouchers.
If you have not arranged an arrival transfer, then you should take a taxi to the meeting point hotel. Taxis can be found outside of the airport building. As prices can vary wildly, it’s worth asking around to obtain the best deal. Don’t be afraid to bargain! You should agree a fare with the driver before getting in. As a general rule, at the time of writing taxis cost around 50 birr for the trip to the hotel.
Ethiopia is generally very safe to travel around providing travellers exercise a reasonable degree of common sense. Try not to carry obvious valuables upon your person such as a camera around the neck, expensive wristwatches, or a bum bag containing your funds. Brand new clothes can also mark you out as a new arrival, and therefore, a prime target. However, it’s important to note that the vast majority of travellers to Ethiopia experience no problems.
Your Tour Leader's role is to ensure all aspects of the trip run smoothly. He/she will share their local knowledge, advise on how to fill your free time and co-ordinate the day to day running of the tour – although occasionally he/she may need your understanding if things do not go according to plan. If you have any problems on the tour, please let your Tour Leader know so that steps can be taken to put it right. Tour Leaders are supported by our ground agent.
Please note: Some styles of trip, such as Imaginative Escapes or Imaginative Honeymoons, do not have a Tour Leader. However, there will be representatives on hand who will be able to assist you in arranging any excursions that you wish you take.
Our Ethiopian Explorer trip stays for the most part in simple hotels and guesthouses, but also uses tents for camping in the Simien Mountains. These would normally be two man dome tents. Mattresses are provided but you will need to bring a sleeping bag, and perhaps an inflatable pillow or fleece to use as a pillow. It is however possible to hire sleeping bags for around US$5. Please bear in mind that washing facilities can often be very basic while camping.
Please note that facilities in Ethiopian hotels can be much more basic than you are used to at home. Our main criterion for choosing hotels is cleanliness and location. In Ethiopia the standard of hotels may vary from region to region, however most will have private bathrooms, and some have bar / restaurant facilities. Please bear in mind that hotels can sometimes suffer from minor problems and technical difficulties.
At each hotel your Tour Leader will try to organise the rooming arrangements to suit everyone's requirements. If you are travelling alone you will be allocated a room with another group member of the same sex (unless you have paid a single supplement). If you are travelling as a couple please note that we cannot guarantee the availability of double beds.
Meals in Ethiopia are normally fairly simple affairs, usually consisting of some form of wat (stew), accompanied by injara, Ethiopian bread. Injara is a unique type of bread, which looks rather like a pancake and is made from tef, a type of cereal found only in Ethiopia, and is very different from any other bread you will have tried! Most dishes are meat based, and the main types of meat found here are lamb and beef. However, vegetarians need not despair – restaurants will also serve vegetarian dishes, although the choice may be limited – a common dish is shiro, which is a type of chickpea dhal and very tasty, and pasta or spaghetti dishes are also commonly available. In hotels the choice is likely to be more extensive and western dishes may also be served.
On Wednesdays and Fridays however, the tables are turned. These are traditional fasting days, and restaurants will usually only serve vegetable dishes on these days. The choice on these days is much more extensive than during the rest of the week.
A popular Ethiopian dish is kitfo, which is minced meat that has been warmed – but not cooked. This is considered a delicacy in Ethiopia, but may not suit Western stomachs!
The usual collection of soft drinks can be found in Ethiopia, and are widely available, as is bottled water. Tea and coffee are also readily available. Coffee is the country’s most important export, and is generally very good, although some places may serve just instant coffee. Tea tends to be of the black variety.
Ethiopia has a rather good selection of local beers, and top brands include St George and Dashen. You may also want to try talla, a form of mead which is very popular in rural parts of Ethiopia. Another popular drink is tej, which has been described as a honey wine, and is quite delicious. In many towns you can find tej beats, which are local bars selling only tej. If you’re lucky, you may also find azmaris there – wandering minstrels who entertain the drinkers with songs and music.
Meat is often the main feature of a meal, and can be found in many dishes, even if only as a stock. Therefore, if you are a vegetarian you may experience a distinct lack of variety in the food available at meal times. Your Tour Leader will do their best to offer a vegetarian alternative, but your patience and understanding is requested.
If you have food allergies or preferences, please make them known to your booking agent, and to your Tour Leader who will do their best to ensure that your requirements are met.
Please note: Unfortunately we can give no guarantee that special requirements can always be met.
The Imaginative Traveller Recommends: You should advise us at time of booking if you have any special dietary requirements. You may like to bring some snacks or supplements in case food choices are limited.
Internet cafes can now be found in Addis Ababa, although connection times can be slow and unreliable. The cost for an hour is generally around US$1-2 per hour.
The phone system in Ethiopia is generally quite good, although international calls are extremely expensive. A 3 minute call (to the UK) can cost up to approx. US$5-15, depending upon whether you call from your hotel or from a phone booth. Your tour leader will be able to advise you on the best way to call home.
The postal service is relatively good and stamps are available everywhere. An overseas stamp for postcards will cost approx. 1 birr.
Availability of Film
Colour print camera film can be found in the larger towns in Ethiopia, however you should always check the expiry dates. Slide film, black and white film and video film can be more difficult to come by so it is best to bring your supply from home.
Ethiopia has a wet and dry season, like most African countries. The most rainfall falls between June and mid September, and can be quite fierce – but very spectacular. The temperature varies according to the region, but in the area covered by our Ethiopian Explorer tour remains in the low to mid twenties (degrees Celsius) year round.
Iit rarely rains all day in the rainy season, and normally there would be short downpours each day which stop after a few hours.
The following shows average daily temperatures (in degrees celsius) in Addis Ababa:
Ethiopia has many festivals and holidays.
Approximate dates are below:
Islamic Holidays are fixed in accordance with the Lunar Calendar.
Approximate 2005 dates are:
Ethiopia has many different dialects, but in the areas covered on our Ethiopian Explorer trip the one that is most prevalent is Amharic. .
We’ve included a few basic phrases to help you get by.