Ethiopian Mountains near Lalibela
Ethiopia is a landlocked country sandwiched between East Africa and North Africa. It is the second most populated nation in Africa and tenth largest by size. Ethiopia has never been colonized allowing for a unique culture and preserved traditions.
Discovered in northern Ethiopia, “Lucy”, the oldest known human remains, are believed to date back 3.5 million years. Ethiopia is one of the oldest independent nations in the World, and has much to offer in terms of nature, culture, and food.
In Ethiopia natural beauty runs wild, as the East African Rift system rips through this country, forming beautiful mountains, high plateaus, and highly active volcanoes. Major sights include the rock hewn Churches in Lalibela and Tigray, the impressive Simien Mountains, the tribes in Omo Valley, and the street hyenas in Harar.
Important Travel Tips:
A one month Visa is available upon arrival when flying into Addis Ababa for $50 if you are a resident of Europe, USA, Korea, China, and several other countries.
For the latest information, please refer to the Ethiopian Embassy website.
The main language in Ethiopia is Amharic, yet many tribal languages also exist (Tigrinya, Oromo, Afar). Many speak English, as it is taught in schools across Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian Birr is the national currency. For tours, some companies also price in USD. At the time of writing in October 2016:
$1 = 22.3 Birr
€1 = 24.9 Birr
Ethiopia is a good place to visit on a budget. However, the country is large and transportation takes time unless you fly, so having the proper amount of time is crucial. A budget of $20 – $40/day can easily get you by in Ethiopia. The biggest variable are the tours and trekking options. Some of the main highlights can get expensive:
Danakil Depression Tour ($350-400)
Omo Valley Tour ($600)
Simien mountain trekking ($160)
Lalibela mountain trekking ($75)
Lalibela churches ($50)
If you are flying at least one leg into Ethiopia on an Ethiopian Airlines flight, you will qualify for reduced fares on domestic flights. Domestic flights with reduced fares cost between $50 – $90 per flight. Book at an Ethiopian Airlines office on arrival or call a local branch.
Clean and basic accommodation in Addis for a double room starts at 450 Birr ($20) up to 800 Birr ($36). Outside of Addis, rooms are considerably cheaper, with basic hotels including wifi and hot water from 300 Birr ($13) for a double room.
Note: Bedbugs and bed fleas are a common issue in Ethiopia and something to be aware of when staying at budget hotels.
Food is one of the several highlights of Ethiopia. Injera, a slightly fermented, sour and sponge pancake-like bread, is at the heart of every meal. It is served with an assortment of spicy and flavorful vegetarian or meat options. Every Wednesday and Friday are fasting days when vegetarian/vegan cuisine is available. Coffee is exceptional and a huge part of the social scene and culture in Ethiopia. Typical costs are:
Main food dishes cost between 30 Birr and 50 Birr at local restaurants (~$1.25 – $2.50)
Coffee costs between 5 Birr and 8 Birr (~$0.30)
Beer is widely available from 14 Birr (~$0.60)
2016 – 2017 Travel Advisory
During the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics, runner Feyisa Lilesa from Ethiopia garnered international attention. When he crossed the finish line, he made a public stance, using his arms to mark an X above his head to protest against the Ethiopian government. As a result, there has been political unrest and several protests that have turned violent. For the latest information, check your home country’s travel advisories.
Top Places to Visit
The capital city is a major hub in Africa and the likely point of entry and exit into Ethiopia. Fill up on injera and hit the major sights; checking out the Red Terror Museum, St. George Church, the Piazza, and the Merkato. Keep in mind, Addis has a major pickpocketing issue. Leave valuables at your hotel, especially when visiting populated areas such as the Piazza and Merkato.
Stay: The Bole street area is newer and closer to the airport. It is much safer and cleaner than Piazza with less harassment from the locals. Stay at Mr. Martins (MM) Cozy Place, where en suite singles are $20 and doubles are $30 or Abel Pension a few blocks away has ensuite rooms with wifi for 500 Birr.
Lalibela is in a beautiful mountainous region in northern Ethiopia. Thousands of Coptic Christians pilgrimage here to visit the 900 year old rock hewn churches. Ethiopia has some of the oldest churches in the world, dating back to the fourth century. During the 12th century, Muslim conquests in the Holy Land pushed out Christianity. Lalibela took its place, earning the nickname New Jerusalem.
No stop to Ethiopia can be complete without visiting this devout and religious place. However, the churches are not the only draw in Lalibela. After a full day or two visiting the 11 rock hewn churches, head out for a community hike to Abuna Yosef mountain. This three day hike starts in Lalibela, and ventures into the mountains to small villages staying two nights in a traditional mud hut.
Stay: Ashiton Hotel has rooms with wifi and hot water for 300 / 400 Birr single/double
Read more about the Lalibela churches and community hike to Abuna Yosef.
The Danakil Depression is in the northeast corner of Ethiopia, not far from Eritrea. This region is one of the harshest in the world. In one of the lowest elevations (-400 feet / -125 m) this place also is one of the hottest on earth. Due to three tectonic plates meeting at this spot, is has sights unlike almost anywhere else on earth. Take a tour to the Danakil with the major stops at the Dallol sulfur springs, watch camel caravan’s to and from the salt lake, and hike up Erta Ale volcano to witness one of only five active lava lakes in the world.
Stay: LK Pension in Mekele has clean rooms with ensuite for 300 Birr and shared bath for 200 Birr.
Read more about the Danakil Depression tour here.
The Tigray region, the northernmost of Ethiopia, has been a formidable and large part of Ethiopia’s storied past. Many activities are in the Tigray region, requiring a stop for a few days. Hit the mountains and go on a hike to a cluster of rock hewn Churches in Wukro and/or Hawzien. Visit the storied past and ruins of Yeha. Climb up a cliff face with assistance of a monk to one of the most famous monasteries, Debre Damo (only men are allowed). Check out the tombs, obelisks and of course, the current location of the Ark of the Covenant in the city of Aksum.
Hawzien – Vision Hotel has rooms and wifi for 300 Birr
Wukro – Hewan Pension has basic rooms for 250 Birr
Mekele – LK Pension has clean rooms with ensuite for 300 Birr and shared bath for 200 Birr
Aksum – Unlike what many tourists and lonely planet says, do not stay at Africa Hotel. There is a history of bed bugs and it seems to have come up again in late 2016. Stay nearby at The Ark Hotel instead, with rooms from 250 Birr
Read more about the Tigray rock hewn churches here.
Other Areas of Ethiopia to Explore
Head to Gondar and the Simien Mountains for a multi-day trek into vast wilderness and craggy peaks surrounded by lush green valleys. After hiking for several days, check out the castles of Gondar.
Visit this UNESCO World Heritage City to enjoy a different experience from the rest of Ethiopia. Harar, a walled city, is predominately Muslim, and home to many mosques, markets and lively vendors. A walk through the small alleyways will take you back in time. Also check out the city hyenas and a long-standing tradition where you can feed meat to the Hyenas yourself.
In the southern part of Ethiopia, the Omo Valley is home to many Ethiopian tribes, known for their eclectic piercings, tattoos and body paintings. Believed to some of the most fascinating tribes left in Africa, this also has become a major tourist destination. Inflated prices (tours upwards of $600 per person) and additional costs for photography of each person are often reasons some skip this region all together. However, you will get a cultural experience that is nearly lost in all of Africa.
Sample 3-week Itinerary
Spend 1-2 Days in Addis Ababa
Trek the Simien Mountains for 5 days with a stop in Gondar
Explore the ruins and tombs in Aksum for 1 day
Spend 2 days in Tigray hiking up to rock hewn churches
Go on a 4 day tour to the Danakil Depression
Spend 4 days in Lalibela exploring the Churches and a community hike
Feed Hyenas and shop the bazaars in Harar for 2 days
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