A Quick Guide to Ethiopia
All visitors will require a visa to enter Ethiopia (see Consular and Visa section on how to apply).
Is one of the few African countries never to lose its independence. It is as large as France and Spain combined and has one of the richest histories on the African continent.
The capital, whose name mean "New Flower", was settled in 1886 and christened by Empress Taytu, consort of Menelik II. The population according to the last official census was 2.4 million. For more information about Addis Ababa, click here.
The second largest town in Ethiopia is Dire Dawa, which had a population of 306, 000 in 1999. Gondar is the third largest town, with a population of 142, 328 in 1999.
The population of Ethiopia today is estimated to be approximately 65 million. Ethiopia is home to more than 80 ethnic groups and a similar number of languages, the dominant religions being Christian and Muslim. One thing that unites all Ethiopians is their shared national independence having never truly been colonised, although occupied by Mussolini's Fascists from 1935-1941. Consequently, Ethiopia has maintained what many refer to as its 'Ethiopianness', untainted by resonances of former colonial powers.
The major religions are Christianity (mainly Ethiopian Orthodox Church) and Islam.
Vistors should request permission before taking peoples photographs. Generally, there are no problems about photographs with the exception of some areas, particularly in Afar and in the Omo valley. In these regions people may ask for money. Photography in churches is allowed. Video photography in famous tourist attractions such as the Blue Nile Falls carry a charge. In some areas such as airports and around military camps photography may be prohibited altogether.
Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia, although English, Italian, French and Arabic are also widely spoken. In areas outside of the larger cities and towns, indigenous languages are likely to be spoken - of which there are eighty-three, with some 200 dialects. The most common of these are Oromo, Tigrinya and Somali.
Despite its proximity to the Equator, Ethiopia's high altitude ensures a temperate, moderate, even sometimes chilly climate - certainly not tropical. There are two rainy seasons: the irregular short rains from late January to early March, and long rains from June until mid-September. Ethiopia's scenery is as diverse as its people and includes lakes, forests, savannah, depressions and deserts. In elevation, it ranges from 120 metres below sea level in the harsh salt flats of the Danakil depression, to a 4624 metre peak in the Simien Mountains.
Light summer clothes are suitable for daytime wear and a jacket or sweater is useful for the evening when the temperature is much cooler. Visitors to Ethiopia in the rainy season are reminded to pack suitable clothing if they intend to trek in the Simien or Bale mountains. Footwear for walking expeditions and visiting historic site should be light but strong. Sandals are not recommended.
Ethiopia is an independent republic operating under the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. The President is the head of state, while the Prime Minister is the head of government.
Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, which consists of twelve months of thirty days each and a thirteenth month of five days (or six days in a leap year). The calendar is seven years and eight months behind the Western (Gregorian) calendar.
The local currency is the Ethiopian Birr, which is made up of 100 cents. Notes are issued in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 birr. There are five different coins: 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 cents.
There is no limit to the amount of foreign currency imported into Ethiopia. Foreign currency may be changed at authorised banks and hotels. Visitors may change back any excess birr into foreign currency at the airport before departure.
Drivers require a valid International Driving Licence, which can obtained by exchanging your local licence at the Transport and Communications office on Asmara Road in Addis Ababa. Visitors can recover their original licences a day or so prior to departure. Those with their own vehicles will require a permit from the Ministry of Transport and Communications. Driving is on the right.
There are no set taxi prices. All fares are subject to negotiation, therefore it is a good idea to agree on a price before starting a journey.
The top two 5 star hotels - The Hilton and the Sheraton - are situated in Addis Ababa along with several other tourist class hotels. Outside of Addis Ababa the standards vary immensely with the Hotels in the north being generally better than the hotels in the south. Overall, rooms are very clean and comfortable with en suite toilet and shower. For more information view the section on Hotels.
Food and Restaurants
The Ethiopian national dish consists of injera, a flat, circular pancake made of fermented dough. Various side dishes of meat, pulses and vegetables along with sauces which are generally spiced are also served with injera. The injera is either topped with these side servings or it can be torn off and used to pick up the sauces and fillings.
In Ethiopia it is traditional to eat with the right hand and water for washing one's hands is usually brought to the table before the dish is served.
Restaurant prices vary from area to area. The cheapest ones starting at around 3 birr per head. More expensive restaurants range from 25 to 35 birr per head and this often includes national music and dancing. In private restaurants such as the Hilton and the Sheraton where non-Ethiopian dishes are served, visitors can expect to pay considerably more.
Most hotels and restaurants have a service charge, however depending on the size of the bill visitors might want to leave a small tip of one or two birr.
Ethiopia uses 220 volts and 50Hz. It is best to bring your own round, two-prong adapter and transformer if necessary.
Medical facilities are limited but of favourable standard. Tourists and non-citizens should go to private hospitals and clinics. Contact your Embassy for referral to a recommended doctor. Air rescue services are available.
Health and Health Precautions
We advise that you talk to your GP, practice nurse or travel health clinic about any immunisations you may need at least two months before travelling. Immunisation against the following is recommended: Hepatitis A and B, Tetanus, Typhoid and Polio.
A certificate of vaccination for yellow fever is no longer mandatory. Malaria can also be a big problem in Ethiopia so before leaving consult your doctor for a prescription for both chloroquine and paludrine. Insect repellent cream or spray are also extremely useful for mosquito bites.
The average temperature is about 25°C and in the lower lying areas such as Awash, Omo and Mago parks it can be considerably higher. Visitors coming from cooler climates are advised to use protection against the sun.
Due to an increase in the number of reported cases of AIDS visitors are advised to take the necessary precautions in the event of any planned or unplanned sexual encounters.
Ethiopia is three hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Time remains constant throughout the year, so there is no putting clocks forward or back one hour. The Ethiopian clock is calculated in a manner similar to many equatorial countries, where day and night are always the same length; counting starts at Western 6:00am and 6:00pm. Western 7:00am therefore is 1:00am Ethiopian time, 12noon western is 6am Ethiopian and so on.
Being so close to the Equator, there is an almost constant twelve hours of daylight. In Addis Ababa, the sunrise starts around 06.30 and sets at 18:45.
Useful Books and Guides
- Bradt Guide to Ethiopia, 4th Edition, Philip Briggs, Published November 2005, ISBN: 1 84162 128 5 - £15.99
- The Lonely Planet Guide to Ethiopia and Eritrea, 2nd Edition, Frances Linzee Gordon et al, Published November 2003, ISBN: 1740592905 - £15.99
- The Lonely Planet Ethiopian Amharic Phrasebook, 2nd Edition, Cath Snow & Tilahun Kebede, Published March 2002 ISBN: 174059133X - £4.50
- The Spectrum Guide to Ethiopia, Interlink Publishing Group,Barbara Lawrence Balletto, Mohamed Amin, Duncan Willets & Alastair Matheson. Revised and Update Edition June 2000, ISBN: 156656350X or ISBN 1 874041 68 7 - £25.00
Other books you might be interested in
- The Blue Nile, Alan Moorhead, Harpercollins, ISBN 0060907762
- The Collins Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa, John George Williams, Norman Arlott, Stephen Greene Press, ISBN: 0828906610
- Chains of Heaven: An Ethiopian Romance, Philip Marsden, HarperCollins, Nov 2005, ISBN: 0007173474
More detailed information can be in the About Ethiopia section of this website.