ETHIOPIA TRAVEL TIPS

Traveler Visa

All visitors, except Kenya and Djibouti nationals, are required to obtain entry visas. Visa applications may be obtained at Ethiopia’s diplomatic missions overseas. However, nationals of 36 countries listed below are now allowed to receive their tourist visas upon their arrival at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, and at the airport in Dire Dawa. The visa fee is dependent of the type of visa requested (tourist, business, journalitst, etc.). The latest fees for tourist visa-upon-arrival is US $40 for 30 days and US $60 for 60 days. The procedure is relatively quick and painless; just look for a door with a sign “Visa” on the left hand before the immigration counters at Bole airport.

Nationals of the following countries can get up to three months tourist visas upon their arrival at Bole Internaltional Airport: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea (south Korea), Russian Federation, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom, and United States of America.

If you are planning to enter Ethiopia by land, you should obtain a tourist visa in advance from your local Ethiopian Embassy.

Travelers are advised to check latest travel policy and additional information from Ethiopia Embassy websites.

Health and Immunizations

Immunizations

Several vaccinations are highly recommended when traveling to Ethiopia, they include:

  • Yellow Fever
  • Typhoid
  • Hepatitis A
  • Diphtheria
  • Meningococcal
  • Covid-19

It is also recommended that you are up to date with your polio and tetanus vaccinations. Make sure you start getting your vaccinations at least 8 weeks before you travel. Consult your doctor before your trip for the type of vaccination you may need based on your health status and latest health news in the area.

Malaria

Malaria is transmitted by mosquitos bites. There is a risk of catching malaria in many parts of Ethiopia, especially at the low land areas that lie below 2000 meters  elevation. So while the Highlands and Addis Ababa are considered low-risk areas for malaria, you still have to be careful and take precautions.

Ethiopia is home to the chloroquine-resistant strain of malaria as well as the dangerous falciparum strain. Make sure your doctor or travel clinic knows you are traveling to Ethiopia so you get the right anti-malarial medication.

Prevention of malaria involves protecting yourself against mosquito bites and taking antimalarial medicines. To prevent mosquito bites, follow these guidelines:

  • Stay inside when it is dark outside, preferably in a screened or air-conditioned room.
  • Wear protective clothing (long pants and long-sleeved shirts).
  • Use insect repellent with DEET (N,N diethylmetatoluamide).
  • Use bed nets (mosquito netting) sprayed with or soaked in an insecticide such as permethrin or deltamethrin.
  • Use flying-insect spray indoors around sleeping areas.
  • Avoid areas where malaria and mosquitoes are present if you are at higher risk (for example, if you are pregnant, very young, or very old).

High Altitude

Addis Ababa and Ethiopia’s highlands you will be visiting are at high elevations. High altitude can affect healthy individuals in a number of ways including: dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, fatigue and headaches.

Time and calendar

Ethiopia uses the Ethiopian calendar, which dates back to the Coptic calendar 25 BC, and never adopted the Julian or Gregorian reforms. One Ethiopian year consists of twelve months, each lasting thirty days, plus a thirteenth month of five or six days (hence the “Thirteen Months of Sunshine” tourism slogan). The Ethiopian new year begins on September 11 or 12 during leap year (in the Gregorian calendar), and has accumulated 7-8 years lag behind the Gregorian calendar: thus, for the first eight months of , the year will be according to the Ethiopian calendar. On 11 September , Ethiopia celebrates New Year’s Day (Enkutatesh) for .

In Ethiopia, the 12-hour clock cycles do not begin at midnight and noon, but instead are offset six hours. Thus, Ethiopians refer to midnight (or noon) as 6 o’clock.

Daylight: Being relatively close to the Equator, there is an almost constant twelve hours of daylight. In Addis Ababa, the sunrise and sunset starts at around 06:30 and 18:45 respectively.

Ethiopian Calendar

Ethiopian calendar is based on the Coptic calendar with a leap day every four years. Ethiopia has twelve months with 30 days each and a thirteenth month called Pagume with five or six days depending on the year.

The interactive Ethiopian calendar below provides the monthly calendar, both in Ethiopian and European dates count, and also shows Ethiopian public holidays.

Download the monthly Ethiopian/European calendar with beautiful cover picture. You can replace it with your own cover picture if you like and then download it to your device or send it to printer directly

Public Holidays (2018)

  • January 07 : Ethiopian Christmas (Gena)
  • January 19 : Timket (Epiphany)
  • March 01 : Victory of Adowa
  • April 06 : Ethiopian Good Friday
  • April 08 : Ethiopian Easter (Fasika)
  • May 01 : Labour Day
  • May 05 : Patriots Victory Day
  • May 28 : Downfall of the Dergue (Derg Downfall Day)
  • September 11 : Ethiopian New Year (Enkutatash)
  • September 27 : Finding of the True Cross (Meskel)

Other public holidays include the following Muslim holidays which are timed according to local sightings of various phases of the moon and therefore the dates changes from year to year.

  • December 11 : Mawlid al-Nabi (Birth of the Prophet)
  • July 07 : Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan)
  • September 02 : Eid-al Adha (Arafat)

Ethiopia Festivals and Holidays

Ethiopia Public Holidays- 2013 Ethiopia Calendar (2020/2021)

DateHoliday Name
11-SepEnkutatash (Ethiopian New Year)
27-SepMeskel (Finding of the True Cross)
29-DecEthiopian Christmas (Genna)
19-JanEpiphany (Timiket)
1-MarAdwa Victory Day
30-AprEthiopian Good Friday (Siklet)
2-MayEthiopian Easter Sunday (Fasika)
1-MayInternational Labor Day (May Day)
5-MayPatriots’ Day
28-MayDerg Downfall Day (National Day)

Other public holidays include the following Muslim holidays which are timed according to local sightings of various phases of the moon and therefore the dates changes from year to year.

  • October 28 : Mawlid al-Nabi (Birth of the Prophet)
  • May 12 : Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan)
  • July 18 : Eid-al Adha (Arafat)

January 7 – Genna (Ethiopian Christmas)

Genna is Ethiopian Christmas, and coincides with other Orthodox Christmas celebrations around the world.  The feast marks the end of the 40-day fasting period of Advent.  On Christmas Eve, the faithful participate in church services through the night before celebrating with family and friends on Christmas day.

Lalibela is the most popular place to celebrate Genna, as thousands of pilgrims flock to the holy city for this celebration.

 January 19 (January 20 during leap year) – Timket (Epiphany)

The Ethiopian celebration of Timket (also known as Epiphany), is a symbolic reenactment of the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by John the Baptist.  For Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, it serves as a renewal of their baptismal vows.

Timket is a two-day festival, starting the day before, when the church tabot (replica of the Ark of the Covenant) is taken from the church to a nearby location, usually near a body of water.  This is representative of Jesus coming to the River Jordan.  The tabot spends the night in this location while the priests and other faithful hold a eve through the night.  In the morning the water is blessed and is then sprinkled on the gatherers (or they may chose to bathe in the water), renewing their baptismal vows.  Long parades then carry the tabot back home to the church while the revelers sing and dance.

Gondar is a popular place to witness Timket, as the Bath of Fasilidas provides a stunning backdrop for the festivities. Lalibela is another popular location, as is Addis Ababa, where it is held at the Jan Meda fairgrounds.

April 8 – Fasika (Orthodox Easter)

Fasika is Ethiopian Easter and is celebrated in conjunction with Orthodox Easter celebrations around the world.  Fasika is the most important holiday in the Ethiopian Orthodox calendar and follows a long 55-day fast, where no meat or dairy products are consumed.  Strict followers generally consume one meal of vegetables and lentils during this time.  Church services are attended on the eve before the holiday, where revelers participate in a colorful service lit with candles.  The following day, families and friends celebrate Fasika with special feasts that mark the end of the long fast.  Doro wat, a spicy chicken stew, is the most traditional food served in all households. Celebrations continue for the following week, with an unofficial “second Fasika” the following weekend.

Axum has a colorful procession for Palm Sunday (known as Hosanna), the week before Fasika which is well worth a visit.  Like most holidays, the celebration takes place the night before the actually holiday (Saturday night).

September 11 (September 12 during leap year) – Ethiopian New Year (Enkutatash)

Enkutatash, which means “Gift of Jewels” is the celebration of the Ethiopian New Year.  Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, which consists of 13 months – 12 months each with 30 days and a final month with 5 days (6 days in leap year).  The Julian calendar is 7 years and 8 months behind the Gregorian calendar, which is used throughout most of the Western world.

Enkutatash happens to come near the end of a long rainy season, coloring the green landscapes with bright yellow flowers (called the Meskel Flower, or adei abeba in Amharic) and giving great reason to celebrate the new harvest. Torches of dry wood are burned in front of houses on New Year’s Eve.  On New Year’s Day, girls dressed in new clothes go door-to-door singing songs.  Families and friends celebrate together with large feasts.

September 27 (September 28 during leap year) – Meskel (Finding of the True Cross)

Meskel (Finding of the True Cross), is the celebration of the finding of remnants of the actual cross on which Jesus was crucified.  The word “meskel” means “cross” in Amharic.  According to Christian tradition, St. Eleni (Empress Helena) discovered the hiding place of three crosses used at the crucifixion of Jesus.  In her dream, Eleni was told she should make a bonfire; the direction of the smoke would tell her the exact location of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified.  She followed the directions from her dream, and the smoke landed exactly where the cross was buried.

Meskel celebrations begin the night before with large bonfires topped with a cross and decorated with meskel flowers. The bonfire preparations are blessed and burned while revelers sing and dance around the fire, locally called demera.  It is believed that the direction of the smoke will predict the future for the year to come.  After the demera has burnt out, the faithful mark crosses on their foreheads with the ash.

The biggest Meskel celebration is in Addis Ababa, held in the centrally-located Meskel Square.  Gondar, Axum and Lalibela are also good locations to celebrate this festival.  Probably the most exuberant celebrations take place in the region of the Gurage people, southwest from Addis.

Best Areas to Explore

  • Addis Ababa
  • The Northern circuit: Bahir dar, Gondar, Simiene Mountains, Axum, Lalibela, the rock churches of Tigray,Danakil
  • The Southern Circuit: Hawasa, Omo Valley, Rift Valley Lakes,Bale Mountain
  • The East: Dire Dawa, Harar,Awash

When to Travel to Ethiopia

The best time to go to Ethiopia depends on what you are planning to do when you get there. Ethiopia is “the land of 13 months of sunshine”, with a rainy season from June to September. The predominant climate type is tropical monsoon, with wide topographic-induced variation. As a highland country, Ethiopia has a climate which is generally considerably cooler than other regions at similar proximity to the Equator. Most of the country’s major cities are located at elevations of around 2,000 – 2,500 metres above sea level, including historic capitals such as Gondar and Axum, and Addis Ababa – the highest capital city in Africa at 2,400 meters .

Ethiopia has three different climate zones according to elevation:

  • Kolla (Tropical zone) – is below 1830 meters in elevation and has an average annual temperature of about 27°C   with annual rainfall about 510 millimeters. The Danakil Depression (Danakil Desert) is about 125 meters below sea level and the hottest region in Ethiopia where the temperature risess up to 50 degree Celsius.
  • Woina dega (Subtropical zone) – includes the highlands areas of 1830 – 2440 meters in elevation has an average annual temperature of about 22°C   with annual rainfall between 510 and 1530 millimeters.
  • Dega (Cool zone) – is above 2440 meters in elevation with an average annual temperature of about 16°C   with annual rainfall between 1270 and 1280 millimeters.

The average annual temperature in Addis Ababa is 16°C , with daily maximum temperatures averaging 20 – 25°C  throughout the year, and overnight lows averaging 5 – 10°C . A light jacket is recommended for the evenings, though many Ethiopians prefer to dress conservatively and will wear a light jacket even during the day.

Safety

For the most part traveling in Ethiopia is safe, but you should take the same precautions as you would traveling in any African country.

Basic safety rules for travelers to Ethiopia

  • Make a copy of your passport and keep it in your luggage or somewhere safe.
  • Don’t walk on your own at night in Addis Ababa and other major tourist towns.
  • Avoid travel at night.
  • Watch out for pickpockets at crowded places, especially when shopping at Mercato area in Addis Ababa
  • Don’t wear jewelry (if you wear, make sure it is not easy to see by bystanders).
  • Don’t carry too much cash with you. Take basic precaution to avoid bystander noticing you are carrying significan money with you.
  • Wear a money belt that fits under your cloths.
  • Don’t carry a lot of camera equipment or expensive items, especially in the major cities.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

  • Hoya Ethiopia Tour and Travel answers to some of the most commonly asked questions by visitors to Ethiopia.
  • When is the best time to travel in Ethiopia?
  • Travelers can visit Ethiopia any time of the year, as it is considered a year-round destination. Variations in climate are widely due to the dramatically diverse landscape. Snow can be seen in the Bale Mountains, where the Danakil Depression can reach temperatures of 49 degree Celsius. The main rain season starts from June upto end of September in most of the country .In southern Ethiopia, the main rain season period runs April to July and the second (small) rain season falls end of September to beginning of December.
  • What are the tour guides like?
  • Our tour leader accompanies you throughout your tour, or a local guide will escort you on shorter extension trips. The leader speaks English, is well trained, and works in conjunction with local guides throughout your trip. Our tour leader treats our travellers like friends, showing visitors both the major highlights and the local treasures.
  • Is there much Malaria in Ethiopia?
  • Malaria exists in some but not all parts of Ethiopia. In places where the altitude is very high it is uncommon whereas in the lowlands and tropical areas it is common. Any tourist coming for a short time should avoid risk and take the necessary precautions. Please consult your doctor for advice on vaccinations and anti-malarials before travelling.
  • Is tipping appropriate?
  • There is no obligation to make a tip. We believe that people need to be paid a realistic wage, and excessive tips work against that. Excessive tips can spoil the person receiving and be against the work culture. In spite of that small appropriate tips to guides or drivers are welcome.
  • What currency should I bring?
  • Local payments at restaurants, shops etc will be paid in the local currency. The local currency is the Ethiopian birr (ETB), made up of 100 cents. Birr notes are available in denominations of 5, 10, 50,100 and 200.Visitors may import an unlimited amount of foreign currency USD, Euro or Pound sterling which should be declared on arrival to the customs authorities on the appropriate blue-coloured form.Foreign currency may only be exchanged at authorized banks and hotels and a receipt must be obtained. Pounds are as good as Dollars & Euros in banks. The currency declaration form must be held as this will be required by customs on departure.Visitors may change back any excess Ethiopian birr to cash at the exchange form you must bring with you all receipts for exchange transactions.

     

  • Should I bring cash or Traveller’s checks? Are ATMs available? 
  • Credit cards (Visa & sometimes MasterCard) are accepted in major hotels and some malls in Addis Ababa only and are not readily used or accepted outside of larger tourist areas. Ethiopia is predominantly a cash-based society outside of the larger urban areas. Most well-established hotels, and a few bank ATMs will accept cards. Travelers should check with their card company before they travel to inquire about any per-day maximum limitations. Plan to bring exchange to enough local cash with you for the majority of your trip. Traveller’s checks are not typically used.
  • Are mobile networks and internet access widely available in Ethiopia? Can I use my cell phone?
  • Depending on your provider, some mobile phones will receive a signal in some towns and safari camps near larger towns when using the local provider. You should contact your phone carrier to find out if your phone will work properly. Another option is to buy a local SIM card once you are in Addis Ababa if you do have an unlocked phone. It is advised to also double check your international calling rates with your provider. Services for making international phone calls are widely available in tourist areas. Many hotels do offer a communal Wi-Fi signal, however keep in mind the internet connection is slower than what you are used to at home.
  • Do I need to purchase travel insurance before travelling in Ethiopia?
  • All passengers are required to purchase travel insurance before they start their trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is the main essential and necessary part of every journey. Many insurance companies will not cover you for countries, or parts of a country, that your home government has issued a travel warning for.In Ethiopia many border regions and parts of the south can often fall under this category – check before travelling.
  • Are there any dangerous areas for my safety and security?
  • Ethiopia is relatively safe to travel in compared to many African cities. However, pick pockets do operate in some places in Addis. In crowds there is also a chance of bag snatching or pick pocket but this is not common and some basic precautions should mean you have a good trip with no major problems.A money belt or safe pocket is a good idea, with only daily spending money in your outside pocket or wallet.
  • Are there any items I am not allowed to take out of the country?
  • Visitors may export souvenirs, although some articles (such as animal skin and antiques) require an export permit.
  • How tough is trekking in the Ethiopian highlands?
  • Most of the short treks can be done by people with a general level of fitness. If you want to do a trek for more than 4 or 5 days then we would advise it only for people who are used to long distance trekking. The altitude in the highlands can reach above 4000 meters so it’s important to try and acclimatise yourself for a few days before beginning the trek.
  • How concerned should I be about the altitude?
  • Depending on the trip you are choosing in Ethiopia, you may need to consult with your doctor if you will be at a high altitude for one or more days. Those with high blood pressure or other similar illness will need to obtain a doctor’s approval to travel on certain high-altitude tours in Ethiopia. Your doctor should also be able to instruct you regarding precautionary altitude medications.
  • What’s the best mode of transportation to travel around Ethiopia?
  • In Ethiopia a variety of transport is used from public buses, to trains, pack animals, to private taxis and your own two feet! Internal flights may be used to cut down on travel time. Ethiopian Airlines has a great network of domestic flights to all the major tourist destinations. If you fly into the country on Ethiopian Airlines, you then qualify for a discount on the price.Each tour itinerary page has a description of the transportation included on that tour.
  • What kind of food will I get in Ethiopia?
  • In Addis Ababa, you can get pretty much any type of food in the world. There are Italian, Indian, Chinese and a host of other ethnic food restaurants to choose from. Of course there are also plenty of Ethiopian food options as well! The main staple food of Ethiopia is pancake style bread called Injera. It is made from a grain called ‘Teff’ and is very healthy.  Injera is eaten with your hands and usually comes with a sauce and a meat or vegetable depending on the day of the week and time of year.Many Ethiopians are orthodox Christian and follow strict fasting guidelines that may restrict them to vegetables wat or a thick stew only for a time.
  • Vegetarian food is available in Addis and the destinations you will be heading to offer a wide selection of tasty and delicious foods both for vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
  • The coffee ceremony is also an important part of daily life. This process involves about an hour-long ceremony where coffee is roasted, ground, and brewed by hand and served up to three times together.
  • Do tour rates include international flights?
  • Tour rates do not include international flights. We find that it is usually less expensive for travellers to book these separately and this also allows you the flexibility to choose the schedule and routing that is most convenient for you. You can purchase international flights on your own.
  • How far in advance should I book a tour?
    You can request your tour at any time and generally the earlier you book, the better. Further, we usually recommend that you wait to book your international flights until after your tour is confirmed. The sooner that we arrange your tour, the sooner that you can take advantage of accommodations and  flight deals as they become available. We are often able to accommodate last minute travellers as well, so give us a call or notice and we will do our best! For last minute requests, it helps to be flexible and organized. Your first choice hotel may not be available for your schedule, but we can recommend some similar options that would be equally interesting!
  • What should I pack?
    You must be careful what to pack, as international flights restrict luggage weight to 20 kg and domestic flights restrict the total of your hand baggage and luggage to only 15 kg, so you need to pack light. Relaxed clothing is best, as is cotton. Layers are advised particularly if you will be trekking at high altitudes where the night time temperatures can drop significantly, or if you intend to visit the Danakil Depression which can reach temperatures of 49 degree Celsius. It is best to bring 3-4 outfits and use the readily available laundry services at most hotels. Underwear however should be packed for your entire time, as due to local traditions, laundry service may not be offered for these garments. Clothing that covers most of your body is also best, to help protect from the sun as well as mosquitoes. Comfortable walking shoes are also a must.