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The best time to travel to Ethiopia

The climate of Ethiopia makes it possible to travel in this country throughout the entire year; the time of our visit ought to be depending upon the region which we are visiting and the purpose of our trip. In Addis Ababa and in the North of the country, there are two occurring seasons of the year: the dry one (October – May) and the rainy one (June – September). In the South, in the Valley of the River Omo, it is different – it usually rains in April and May. Afterwards, a dry summer follows, and further precipitation, not so abundant any more, is in October. In the North of the country and in the Valley of the River Omo to an equal extent, rains do not make it impossible to go sightseeing, as it was the case once upon a time when the absence of roads used to make it difficult to move around. The temperatures are favourable throughout the entire year. In the northern part of the country and in the capital city, due to the altitude exceeding 2000 meters above the sea level, they amount to approximately 20 degrees Celsius during the day. In the South, it is hot and dry, as it befits the heart of Africa; in July and August. It is frequent for the temperature to reach more than 30 degrees Celsius.

Visas

The citizens of the European Union and between ten and twenty other countries (France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Rep.Korea,kuwait, Luxemberg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom, United States) obtain a tourist visa upon entering  Bole international airport in Addis Ababa; it is required that their passports ought to retain their validity for the period of six months since the day of entering the country. Photograph is not needed. The cost of a visa amounts to 50 USD. A tourist visa is a single-use one and it retains its validity for the period of 30 days. That period can be extended at the Immigration Authority in Churchill Road in Addis Ababa. It is better to apply for a multi-use visa prior to the departure at one of Ethiopian embassies, for instance in Berlin. The procedure usually takes one day. The maximum period of validity of it is 6 months.

Customs regulations

It is possible to carry with oneself, not incurring payment of customs, 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or ½ kg of tobacco, 1 liter of alcohol, ½ liter or 2 bottles of perfumes. At the airport in Addis Ababa, it is possible to buy duty-free alcohol after having arrived there by plane. It is possible to enter the country with non-professional tourist equipment – no restrictions are imposed.

Language

The three main local languages are – Amharic (official),  Oromipha and  tigregna. The most popular foreign language is – English

Prices and currency

The local currency unit, the Ethiopian birr, is divided into 100 cents 1 dollar – 28 Ethiopian birrs 1 euro –near to 32 Ethiopian birrs (2017) It is a good idea to exchange currencies at the airport after having arrived by plane. The exchange rate is the same throughout the country. Exchanging currencies in banks, in particular in the areas distant from the main cities, is time-consuming at times. Credit cards are only accepted in a very small number of places: at airports and in larger hotels. The network of cash machines is very limited: there are a few in the capital city, and a small number in larger cities. It happens at times that it is impossible to pay money out of the machine, therefore, it is better to carry cash with you. The most popular foreign currency is the American dollar. The banknotes have to be new, produced after the year 2000.

Ethiopian Time

Universal time + 3 hours Making arrangements concerning meetings, it is worth remembering that the European manner of counting time is different than the Ethiopian one. There, the day is divided into 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. Six o’clock in Ethiopia is 12 o’clock (midday) of Central European time. In international contacts, and in places popular with tourists, Ethiopians use our measurement of time.

Ethiopian Calendar

The Julian calendar is in use. A year is divided into 12 months, each counting 30 days, and thirteenth month, counting 5 (6 in a leap year) days. The difference between the year date in the Julian and the Gregorian calendars amounts to nearly 8 years. The Ethiopian New Year is celebrated on 11th September.

Practical information

The offices working hours are: Mo. – Fri., 8.30 a.m. – 12.30 p.m. and 1.30 p.m. – 5.00 p.m. The shops are open without a midday break till the late hours of the evening.

Traveling and Safety

Ethiopia is a safe and friendly country, however, it is possible for restrictions in travelling to occur here, that means next to the border with Eritrea and Somalia. International transportation is provided by coaches offering a very low level of comfort. It is possible to travel in a comfortable manner by coaches representing European standard from/to Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar, Jimma, Gondar, Mekele, and Dire Dawa. Air transportation – Ethiopian Airlines (www.ethiopianairlines.com) provide regular flights to all of the larger localities. This company is regarded as one of the best airline companies in Africa. It is a member of the Star Alliance. At the airport in Addis Ababa, the following airline companies: Turkish Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa, Kenya Airways, Egyptair, Kuwait Airways, Saudia, Emirates, Sudan Airways, Yemen Airways have their planes touching down as well.

Power Supply

Power supply in the Ethiopian network of power supply amounts to 220 volts and frequency to 50 Hz. Electrical power sockets are the same like in Europe.

Information for drivers

Road traffic is the right-side one, and the network of roads has been thoroughly modernized in the recent years. It is possible to reach practically all places of importance for tourists on tarmac roads. In the open areas, for instance, during the journey through the Valley of Omo, it is necessary to use a four-wheel drive vehicle. Foreigners personally driving their vehicles are a rarity in Ethiopia. It is required that they have passed a complementary examination on the knowledge of differences in regulations concerning road use. It is not necessary to do it if we enter Ethiopia in our own vehicle. In the case of travelling further than within the capital city, it is customary to hire a vehicle with a driver.

Religions

Christianity and Islam are dominating religion. The majority of Ethiopian Christians belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. Prior to entering a church or Mosque, one ought to take off his/her footwear. It is forbidden to smoke in the vicinity of churches, monasteries and mosques. Only priests are permitted to enter the holiest places in which the copies of the Arc of the Covenant are stored.

Health

In Ethiopia, there is no direct threat to health, but, due to the conditions which are different from the European ones, care ought to be maintained. Upon entering Ethiopia, no vaccinations are required. Some countries require that a certificate of having received a vaccine against yellow fever upon entering their territory after a previous stay in Ethiopia be held. It is so in the case of the Republic of South Africa. It is recommended by the World Health Organization that tourists staying in the South and West of the country use anti-malaria prophylaxis. 

Accommodation

Anyone who visited Ethiopia a couple of decades ago will recall joyous nights sleeping in rural hotels that were nothing but stables for animals and urban hotels that were essentially just brothels.  No matter where you stayed, fleas were a constant companion. Fortunately, Ethiopian accommodation has come-on in leaps and bounds.  Fleas, sheep and prostitutes are now the exception rather than the rule.

Camping

Tents are useful in Ethiopia for trekking and the exploration of remote areas. If you’re just planning a short trek, tents can be hired from Addis Ababa’s tour operators or from other business centers. Campsites have been set up in some of the national parks and in the Omo Valley, but most lack facilities and consist of little more than a clearing beside a river.  It’s always essential to treat drinking water at the sites.

There are increasing numbers of upmarket hotels now allowing camping on their grounds, though prices are close to what you’d pay for nice budget accommodation. All camping fees in this book are per person unless stated otherwise. In Ethiopia, hotels will play home to everyone who’s not camping.  Even in the capital, there are no hostels, home stays or rental accommodation available to travelers.

Pricing invariably leads to resentment from many travelers as countless hotels (many openly) charge substantially higher rates for faranjis (foreigners, especially Western ones).   Although you make take offence to a hotel owner calling you a rich faranji, remember prices are still dirt-cheap and you’ll always be given priority, as well as the best rooms, facilities and service.

Charging same-sex couples more for rooms than mixed couples is also pervasive but less justifiable. Some hotels (particularly government owned ones) charge a 10% service charge and 15% tax on top of room prices.  We’ve incorporated these extra charges into the room prices listed.

In Ethiopia, a room with a double bed is confusingly called a ’single”, and a room with twin beds a “double”.  Single travelers are often forced to pay the same as a couple.  In our reviews we’ve used the Western interpretation of singles, doubles and twins, although singles are listed only where the room price is different from that for a couple.

Reservations are wise in Addis Ababa,Awassa,Bishoftu,Gonder, Aksum and Lalibela when one wants to book in advance. While there are no left-luggage facilities in Addis Ababa, most hotels will hold your belongings for no extra charge. More expensive hotels sometimes quote their rates in US dollars, but all accept payment in birr.  We have quoted prices in the currency the hotel uses.

Books

Though very many books are available on the History and Culture of the nation,decent Ethiopian-themed books are provided below.

Graham Hancock, the author of the Sign and the seal, spent 10 years attempting to solve one of the greatest mysteries of all time: the bizarre “disappearance” of the Ark of  Covenant.  Though Hancock’s research and conclusions raised an eyebrow or two among historians, this detective story is very readable and gives a good overview of Ethiopia’s history and culture no matter how tenuous the facts may be!

Evelyn Waugh’s Remote people, though rather dated now, include some wry impressions of Ethiopia in the 1930.  Waugh in Abyssinia is based on the author’s time as correspondent covering the Italian Ethiopian conflict in the 1930.  Both books provide invaluable information though they may not be easily found.

The charming A cure for serpents by the Duke of Pirajno recounts the duke’s time as a doctor in the Horn and is beautifully and engagingly written.  Episodes include encounters with famous courtesans, noble chieftains and giant elephants.

The newly reprinted (locally) Ethiopian journeys, by the well-respected American writer Paul Henze, charts travels during the emperor’s time.

In search of King Solomon’s Mines entertainingly takes the reader through Debre Damo, Lalibela, Gonder and other exotic  Ethiopian locations on author Tahir Shah’s quest to find the mythical mines of Solomon. In typical Shah fashion it’s full of magic and bizarre encounters.

Thomas Pakenham’s fascination with the historical anecdotes revolving around Ethiopia’s ambas (flat-topped mountains) is the basis of The Mountains of Rasselas, an engaging and nicely illustrated coffee-table book on Ethiopia’s history.

Internet Access

Aninternet café in Ethiopia is like a pimple on your wedding day – always found where everyone looks and never where nobody can see.  In Addis Ababa, pretty easy to spot in major towns and nonexistent in places that see few tourists.  Most are open with limited hours on Sunday.

However, just because internet cafes exist that doesn’t mean internet exists all the time and everywhere, and connections in Ethiopia are among the worst in the continent.  It can easily take an hour to download one simple, two line e-mail. And that’s in Addis! To avoid intense frustration it’s better to assume that while in Ethiopia you will not be able to get online.  When it does work, costs range from birr 0.20 to birr 0.30 laptops, a number or up market hotels in Addis now supposedly offer Wi-Fi access.  We say “supposedly” because we never actually managed to get it to work.

 Legal Matters

Remember that when in Ethiopia you’re subject to Ethiopian laws.  If you’re arrested, you must (in theory) be brought to court within 48 hours.  You have the right to talk to someone from your embassy, as well as a lawyer.  For the most part, police in Ethiopia will show you as much respect as you show them.  If confronted by the police, always remain cool, smile and be polite.  Compared to some other African nations, police here rarely, if ever, ask for bribes (we’ve yet to experience it).

Alcohol

Alcohol cannot be served to anyone under 18 years of age in Ethiopia.  Disturbance caused by those under the influence of alcohol is punishable by three month’s to one year’s imprisonment.  Driving while under the influence is also illegal and attracts a fine.

Drugs

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs (including hashish) are strictly enforced in Ethiopia.  Convicted offenders can expect both fines and long jail sentences. Consumption of the mildly stimulating leaf chat is permitted in Ethiopia.

Maps

For simply travelling around the country on public transport, the maps in this magazine should suffice.  For those of you venturing off into the nether regions with 4WDs, a more detailed map is essential.  Since trekking without a guide is illegal in the Bale and Semien Mountains, additional maps aren’t necessary, though topographic maps can help you plan your routes with more precision.  In Ethiopia, the map produced by the defunct Ethiopian Tourism commission (1987; 1;2,000,000) isn’t  bad and can be picked up in some Addis Ababa hotels or in the gift shop next to the Tourist information centre in Addis for birr 60.

A more accurate map (although it lacks distance labels between cities) of the same scale is available from the Ethiopia Mapping Authority in Addis Ababa.

Of the maps currently available outside the country, the best is that (1998; 1:2,000,000).  It’s much more up to date than both maps available in Ethiopia.

The cartographic map of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti (19996; 1:2,500,000) comes second and isn’t a bad choice for the region.

Tipping

Tips (gursha in Amharic) are considered a part of everyday life in Ethiopia, and help supplement often very low wages.  The maxim’ little but of ten’s is a good one, and even very small tips are greatly appreciated.  It’s a great mistake to over tip: it unfairly raises the expectations of locals, undermines the social traditions and may spoil the trips of future travelers.  Local guides can start to select only those tourists who look lucrative, and can react very aggressively if their expectations aren’t met.

If a professional person helps you (or someone drawing a regular wage), it’s probably better to show your appreciation in other ways: shaking hands, exchanging names, or an invitation to have a coffee and pastry are all local ways of expressing gratitude.

Furnishing yourself with a good wad of small notes- birr 1 and birr5- is a very good idea.  You’ll need these for tips, taking photographs etc.  You should budget around birr 50 for tips per week.

Travellers Cheques

Travelers cheques remain more useful in Ethiopia than most other countries, and banks in Addis Ababa and the larger towns (but not smaller ones) will exchange them.  Like cash, traveler’s cheques are best carried in US dollars.  Note that most banks ask to see your passport and the cheque’s proof- of-purchase receipt (which most travelers-cheque companies advise you to leave at home!)

Telephone

Ethiopia’s telecommunication industry is entirely government-run.  The industry is in desperate need of privatization as currently making a phone call is certain to turn you grey and, just like with the internet (run by the same company), it’s best to assume that you won’t be calling home very much.

Countless shops operate as “telecentres” and can normally/sometimes/ once in awhile connect you to the big wide world for birr 15 to birr 25 per minute.  Some hotels offer phone service, but they are usually at least 20% more expensive.

When calling abroad from Ethiopia, use followed by the appropriate country code.  Collect calls are only available at the telecommunications offices and can be made to the UK, USA,Canada,Australia, Germany and France; you still have to pay a “report charge” of birr 5 to 8, plus a birr 10 (refundable) deposit.

Cheap local calls can also be made from telecommunications offices, telecentres and public phone boxes.  Most boxes take both coins and cards (sold at the telecommunications offices in denominations of birr 10,15,25, birr 50 and birr 100).

Note: all Ethiopian numbers were changed in 2005 to have 10 digits.  The old six-digit numbers now trail a new four-digit area code that must always precede the old number, no matter where you’re calling from. Important telephone numbers and Ethiopia’s country code can be found at ethio telecom offices.

Mobile Phones

The speed with which Ethiopia’s mobile phone network has expanded would make Starbucks blush.  However, like all other aspects of Ethiopian telecommunications, the service can hardly be described as reliable.  Whether you’re using your home phone on a roaming plan or a locally bought phone and SIM card, expect days to go by when, despite having a reception, it’s impossible to actually make a call- and as for sending a text message…

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