Ethiopia – Practical Information

Shopkeeper - Jinka, Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Shopkeeper – Jinka, Omo Valley, Ethiopia

Before you go: A number of nationalities can obtain a visa on arrival at Bole International Airport only. If you are crossing via land, you will need to obtain your visa in advance. Please note the common practice of travelling from Somaliland to Ethiopia by land is no longer possible unless you have a visa prior. As from December 2013, you cannot obtain an Ethiopian visa in Hargeisa.

Some areas on Ethiopia are at risk of malaria, so you may want to bring the necessary medication. Also bring repellent to keep insects and flies at bay, and not just from mosquitoes. In the Mago National Park the tsetse fly can also be found.

When I first visited Ethiopia in 2008 there were only two ATMs in the country. Now, they are a common sight, even in regional towns. However, they only dispense small quantities of money, so bring some clean US dollars with you. In early 2014 I found that Wegagaen Bank had the most reliable ATMs. Dashen Bank allows you to obtain a cash advance on your credit card, but for an additional fee. Changing Ethiopian Birr back to US Dollars is not that easy, so don’t withdraw too much cash.

Accommodation: Accommodation options are steadily improving in Ethiopia. Nowadays, wifi can be found in many places which is a tremendous bonus. Cheaper options are still available, but be careful as the cheapest of these places may rent by the hour. Addis Ababa has a myriad options, but my preferred choice is the Kenenisa Hotel . Though more expensive and plush than my usual accommodation, this is the best value for money in the city.

Food: Eating in Ethiopia is an absolute delight. Using the staple of a injeera, a sour, spongy flat bread, is mixed with all manner of food. My personal favourite is the mashed bean dish called shiro. However, be aware that Ethiopian food can be very spicy, due to a paste called berbere. At its most potent, it is hotter than any curry I ate during three months of travel in India. If you have a delicate palate, be aware that your eating options in terms of local cuisine will be limited. If this occurs, pastas with mild sauces are available everywhere.

Transport: The transport system is another area where massive strides have been made. Road transport is the cheapest but the least comfortable and potential the least safe. It is illegal for buses to travel at night, so any long distance is likely to be covered in more than one day. If you can afford it, it is far better to fly Ethiopian Airlines who have upgraded their fleet of planes. However, fares for foreigners tripled in late 2013, but if you fly into the country with Ethiopian Airlines, it entitles you to a solid discount on the regional network. If needing to purchase Ethiopian Airlines tickets in Addis Ababa, the most comfortable place to do so is the Hilton Hotel. If travelling to Danakil or the Lower Omo Valley, public transport is almost nil, so you will need to organise you own vehicle.

Prices: There is definitely a foreigner rate on everything in Ethiopia – from hotels, transport, food, and admission fees. With the exception of admission fees and items such as printed menus, be prepared to haggle on everything and strive to get the local price. Try to find the cost of transport (such as taxis) from locals so you know what figure to aim for.

Time: One should note that Ethiopian time is six hours different from what is termed International or European time. Ethiopians set their clocks to twelve o’clock at six in the morning and the evening. This can cause confusion with timetables and meeting people. Thus, if an Ethiopian says that they will meet you at three o’clock during the day, that could either mean three in the afternoon or at nine in the morning! Ensure you know which clock you are referring to. However, all flights in Ethiopia are set to International time.