Travel to Ethiopia: Everything you need to know (2020)

travel to Ethiopia

From visiting the most epic Christian sites to meeting ancient tribes with animistic beliefs, and from roaming around the thickest jungle to crossing the most inhospitable desert; traveling in Ethiopia is the most diverse African experience and this travel guide contains everything you need to know about it

I seriously thought that Ethiopia was a touristic, well-known country in the West but, when I came back from my trip, I was surprised to find out that many people had absolutely no clue about it, like they didn’t even know about its geographical location.

The truth is that traveling can be extremely subjective and, while Ethiopia may be a relatively touristic country as per Against the Compass standards – meaning that this is one of the most visited countries I talk about in this blog – compared to other average destinations, it is a real off the beaten track destination.

Anyways.

Little is known about this African country and, when people ask me what it is like to travel in Ethiopia, I always begin the conversation with the following:

The main reason to visit Ethiopia is that it is an exceptionally diverse experience.

On the one hand, the cultural diversity is huge. In Ethiopia alone, you have 80 distinct ethnic groups who speak more than 80 languages and practice different religions, from different branches of Christianity to Islam and animistic beliefs.

On the other hand, this is a historically rich country and the one with the most impressive historical and archeological sites in sub-Saharan Africa, once the capital of the Aksumite Empire – one of the most powerful ancient empires in the continent that ruled for more than 800 years – and home to endless jaw-dropping millennial rock-hewn churches and European-like medieval castles.

Furthermore, contrary to any Western cliché, Ethiopia is also a land of natural contrasts, composed of fertile tropical forests in the south and vast flat deserts in the east, the Danakil Depression being home to lava pools and the hottest settlement in the world. In the north, Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile and Simien Mountains is one of the very few places in Africa with regular snowfall, the highest peak being at 4500m.

And by the way, the scenery in Ethiopia is unconditionally hair-raising, a real blessing to your eyeballs.

And if that wasn’t enough, Ethiopia was recently rebranded the Land of Origins by the Ministry of Tourism because these lands are the origin of humankind – where the oldest hominid was found – the first place to ever produce coffee and they practice one of the rawest and most ancient ways of Christianity.

Trust me, after traveling to so many countries, I am rarely impressed but still, Ethiopia definitely wowed me.

This guide contains everything you need to know to travel to Ethiopia (literally, everything), from how to get a visa to getting in, top experiences, cultural facts, budget and loads of personal travel tips.

travel tips Ethiopia


In this Ethiopia travel guide you will find:

Visa
Getting in

Best time to visit
Travel insurance
Top experiences
Books on Ethiopia
Cultural facts

Food
Money, budget & costs
Is it safe?
Solo female travel
Internet
Moving around
Where to stay
Resources

reasons to visit Ethiopia
Hanging out in a shallow lake, somewhere in the Afar Depression


How to get a visa for Ethiopia

How to get an e-visa for Ethiopia

Everybody needs a visa for Ethiopia but today, pretty much any nationality can get a tourist e-visa.

And you can easily apply through the official website.

Make sure you do it through the above URL because there are many non-official websites which, even though they do issue valid visas, charge much more money.

Typically, there are 2 types of tourist e-visa:

  • 30-day visa, which costs 52USD
  • 90-day visa, which costs 72USD

And it takes up to 3 days to process. Mine took less than 24 hours.

It’s a very easy process which has absolutely no secret and very little requirements.

evisa Ethiopia
The official portal for the Ethiopia e-visa


Is the Ethiopian e-visa valid at land borders?

Officially, the tourist e-visa is only valid for those entering via Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa.

My trip to Ethiopia was part of a 3-month journey through the Horn of Africa, traveling from Eritrea to Djibouti, Somaliland and then entering Ethiopia overland, so I intended to apply for it at the embassy in Djibouti.

However, once I got there, they told me that they had run out of visa stickers and that they would not receive more after a couple of weeks at least.

Then, I tried my luck in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland but, unfortunately they weren’t issuing visas anymore, so I was in a situation in which, according to the official information, the only thing I could do was booking a flight from Hargeisa to Addis Ababa, which kind of sucked.

However, I contacted a few travelers who said that in Africa, anything can happen and proof of that is that they managed to travel to Ethiopia overland with an e-visa, so I decided to try my luck as well and successfully managed to cross the border from Somaliland, no questions asked.

Ethiopian Visa extensions

Recently, they introduced the possibility of extending your stay in Ethiopia.

However, you should only use this service in case of extreme urgency.

If, for example, you are traveling around Ethiopia for 1 month but at the time of applying, you don’t know whether you will stay an extra couple of days, just get the 3-month visa, as it only costs an additional 20USD.

The visa extension is expensive. If you applied for the 30-day visa which costs 52USD, and then you want to extend it for 15 additional days – which is the minimum – then you will have to pay an additional 102USD, so 154USD in total, assuming this is the first time you apply.

Here you can find more information about it.

Visa on arrival for Ethiopia

If you don’t have time to apply for an e-visa because your flight to Addis Ababa is less than 3 days ahead, you can also get a VOA at Bole International Airport.

Otherwise, I don’t see any good reason why you should get a VOA instead of an e-visa.

How to apply for an Ethiopian tourist visa via embassy

The only reason for applying for your Ethiopia tourist visa at the embassy is because you are entering overland and don’t want to risk a potential denial because you are only in possession of an e-visa.

You can find Ethiopian embassies and consulates in many cities across Europe and North America. Just contact your nearest one to ask about the process, which tends to be very easy.


How to get to Ethiopia

How to travel to Ethiopia by plane

Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa is one of the most transited airports in the African continent.

I had actually been there twice even before visiting Ethiopia, as Addis Ababa is a common stop for many flights going to other African destinations and the Middle East.

The main airline operating in the country is Ethiopian Airlines, a modern company that flies all over the world, including to and from the American continent.

Moreover, there are many other international airlines that fly to Addis. I actually flew out of the country with Emirates.

Remember that, if you fly in with Ethiopian Airlines, you get a 50% discount on all domestic flights. Check the how to move around section of this post for more information.


How to travel to Ethiopia overland

Ethiopia shares a border with so many countries :

Traveling to Ethiopia from Sudan

Completely open to foreigners. There are regular minivans running from a Sudanese city named Qadarif to the border, and the border formalities are not very complicated.

Read my Sudan travel guide.

Traveling to Ethiopia from Djibouti

An easy border to cross from a bureaucratic point of view but difficult from a logistic point of view, as you need to cross the desert on a 4×4.

Moreover, an esier option would be taking the train that goes from Addis to Djibouti City, but it is a bit unreliable. For more information, check the moving around section.

Traveling to Ethiopia from Kenya

Crossing from the Kenyan town named Moyale should be a simple process.

Traveling to Ethiopia from South Sudan

Not possible. You would have to go through the jungle and go across the most dangerous part of South Sudan, so forget it. There are daily flights connecting both countries though.

Traveling to Ethiopia from Eritrea

This border is closed for foreigners and more often than not, also for locals. The only way of traveling between both countries is by flying in, from Asmara to Addis.

Read my Eritrea travel guide.

Traveling to Ethiopia from Somalia

The one I used. As you may know (or not), Somalia is divided into two regions, actual Somalia and Somaliland.

You can travel to Ethiopia from Somaliland, using the border near the city of Harar. It was very easy and quick to cross. There are normal roads and plenty of public transportation.

Read my Somaliland travel guide

Somaliland Ethiopia border crossing
No man’s land, the border crossing between Somaliland and Ethiopia


Best time to visit Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a big country composed of several geographical regions, each having a different optimal season to visit, so it’s a bit difficult to guess the ideal time to come.

Rainy season

Typically, most travelers avoid the rainy season running from mid-June to mid-September, especially because the northern highlands is where it rains the most, the region with the highest concentration of popular destinations, including Gonder, Axum, Tigray churches, Simien Mountains and Lalibela.

In the south, however, which includes the famous Omo Valley, the rainy season runs from March to June, and it’s highly advisable to avoid these months, for the simple reason that the remotest villages, which are only accessible along muddy roads, will be unreachable.

Hammar tribe
In February, the weather in the Omo Valley was great, and the landscape was beautifully green


November to January is high season

The weather is ideal and, up to January, the landscapes are beautifully green still. Expect to find big crowds and high prices though.

February and March is a good time too

As the weather is pleasant and most crowds are gone but the main downside is that it is already dry season, so the northern landscapes won’t be as pretty. I visited Ethiopia from February 1st to mid-March.

backpacking Ethiopia
In March, the mountains are drier, but they are equally epic and it’s a great time to go backpacking in Ethiopia

Therefore, in order to avoid the crowds and still get pretty landscapes, I believe that mid-September and October would be the best time to go backpacking in Ethiopia.

However, bear in mind that the Danakil Depression, one of the country’s highlights, is also one of the hottest places on Earth, and September and October’s heat will be unbearable; it is advised to visit here from mid-November to February.

And last, you may also want to organize your visit so you come during one of their most important cultural festivals:

  • Genna – Ethiopian Christmas that takes places on January 7th
  • Timkat – Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christian celebration that takes place on January 20th
  • Meskel – Ethiopian religious holiday that takes places at the end of September

As you can see, telling you the right time is a bit tricky!

The Danakil Depression is a real desert, with an average year temperature of 40ºC, so you may want to avoid the summer months.


Travel insurance for Ethiopia

Ethiopia is an adventurous region, so make sure to choose a proper backpacking insurance that covers adventure activities such as trekking and stuff like that. For that, I recommend:

World Nomads

It covers the largest number of adventure activities, even in the basic plan.

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR QUOTE

True Traveller (only for Europeans)

Perfect for backpackers and high adventure coverage, but you need to select the adventure package once you get the basic quote.

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR QUOTE

If you aren’t planning to do any trekking, I also recommend those 2 (their basic plan) or any company from this list.

backpacking in Ethiopia
When backpacking in Ethiopia, you must do some trekking in the Simien Mountains


Top experiences in your trip to Ethiopia

Trekking among tens of thousands of baboons

A rugged, mountain range composed of insanely vertiginous cliffs and several peaks above 4000 meters and inhabited by, literally, thousands and thousands of an endemic species of baboon, trekking the Simien Mountains is one of the highlights of any trip to Ethiopia.

Read my experience trekking in the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia

There are many monkeys in Simien


Visiting the hottest (inhabited) place on Earth

Danakil is a vast depression popularly known for being one of the most inhospitable places on Earth, an arid, unwelcoming land filled with volcanoes and insane geological formations, colors and absolutely crazy landscapes, inhabited by a distinct ethnic group named Afar.

Read my experience visiting the Danakil Depression

Danakil Depression


Exploring ancient churches built over cliffs

Ethiopia was one of the first countries to adopt Christianity and its churches are not only some of the most ancient churches in the world, but they have been carved out from rocks located in the most unbelievable and vertiginous locations, and what is even more incredible is that they are still as functional as they used to be 1200 years ago.

This is Abuna Yemata church, built at the edge or a massive cliff, in Tigray region


Feeding wild hyenas with your mouth

In the eastern city of Harar, there is a man who has dedicated every day of his life to feeding hyenas. Those hyenas aren’t domestic but they are free, live in the wild and everyday, at around 6-7pm, a bunch of them come nearby his house to get feed some fresh, raw meet. It is possible to assist the peculiar ceremony and feed them with your own mouth.

Ethiopia hyena feeding
Feeding a real wild hyena, in Harar is one of the main reasons to travel to Ethiopia


Assisting an actual bull-jumping ceremony

A traditional ceremony celebrated by the Hamar tribe (one of the many tribes in the Omo Valley) in which a young boy jumps naked over 10 bulls in order to prove that he is ready to be married.

Before the actual ceremony, there is a party in which people from all the nearby settlements gather to drink, dance and do some other cultural stuff.

Read my experience visiting the Omo Valley on a budget

Attending at a bull-jumping ceremony in the Omo Valley


Best books for planning your trip to Ethiopia

If you don’t have one yet, remember to get a Kindle for your journey, so you don’t have to carry along all your books!
CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS

Ethiopia travel guide by Bradt

This is the Ethiopian Bible, definitely, the best book guide available for Ethiopia, and probably, the most complete book Bradt has ever written. A complete travel guide filled with endless insights, cultural facts and history. A must-have.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK PRICES


Ethiopia travel guide by Lonely Planet

It is not as complete as Bradt’s but it’s not that bad, it’s easier to read and they have a special chapter dedicated to the tiny, neighboring country of Djibouti.

CLICK HERE TO CHECK PRICES


Facts about the country, the people and religion

10 Facts about Ethiopia as a country

1 – The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia – It is a landlocked country in the Horn of Africa, one of the largest countries in the continent and with a population of 108,000,000.

2 – The capital of Ethiopia – The capital is Addis Ababa, often referred as the political capital of Africa, as this is the African Union Headquarters and has a strong political and diplomatic influence in all the continent.

3 – It’s a very poor country as per Western Standards – Nearly 50% of their total GDP is based on agriculture, mainly coffee. It is however, one of the most powerful and influential countries in Africa. A curious fact is that I met many Somalis from Somaliland and Eritreans whose short-term objective was migrating to Ethiopia and getting an Ethiopian passport, which is apparently better than other African passports.

4 – It’s never been colonized – Italy tried to take it over twice, at the end of the 19th century and in 1936, but they were defeated so, along with Liberia, Ethiopia is the only African country which has never been colonized, one of the reasons why it is so unique and barely has any foreign influence.

5 – Ethiopia has close ties with Eritrea – Neighboring Eritrea is Ethiopia’s little brother, a country with practically the same culture. They have the same food, religion and share a big bunch of ethnic groups. The dominant ethnic group in Eritrea are the Tigrinya, which also turn out to be one of the most influential groups also in Ethiopia, inhabiting the Tigray region, the most touristic destination in Ethiopia. Moreover, they used to be the same country until 1991. For more information, read my Eritrea travel guide.

This is Asmara, the capital of Eritrea. In Eritrea, they practice the same branch of Christianity and people also wear the same white robes when they go to church

6 – They are 6 hours ahead of anyone – The funniest fact about Ethiopia is that their time is different than ours, but they are 6 hours ahead. This means that if someone from Ethiopia tells you to meet at 18h, you need to be there at 12h. Well-educated people from Addis Ababa will talk to you in rest-of-the-world-time, so will those in the countryside who are used to dealing with tourists. But the rest of the country will not and, more often than not, if you ask them: are you talking in Ethiopian time, or faranji time? they will not know what you are talking about. You are likely to meet many travelers who missed a certain bus because of this particular fact.

7 – Ethiopia is the origin of mankind – Lucy, the oldest and most complete hominid ever discovered, dating back from more than 3 million years ago, was found in Ethiopia, in the Afar Depression.

8 – Ethiopia is an ethnic Federal state – Given the ethnic complexity, in 1994, Ethiopia was divided into 9 separate autonomous regions, each one ruled by one of the largest and most influential ethnic groups.

9 – Ethiopia was once one of the most powerful Empires – The Aksumite Empire, whose center was in today’s Tigray region and Eritrea and which ruled from 80BC to 825AD, was one of the most important empires in the Ancient World, along with Rome, Persia, and China.

10 – This is former Abyssinia – A few hundred years after the fall of the Aksumite Empire, there was a man who claimed to be a direct descendent from the last Aksumite King and managed to establish a feudalist state that lasted until 1974, when the famous Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown and modern Ethiopia started to develop.

This is Lalibela


9 Facts about Ethiopians and their language

1 – There are two types of Ethiopian – On the one hand, you meet lovely, kind-hearted people who are always willing to help, or simply have a chat with you. And on the other hand, there are the people who try to rip you off continuously. During your Ethiopian trip, you will be meeting both types all the time and, by experience, you will be able to differentiate them easily.

(But most people are good 😉 )

Faranji, hey you, you you, faranji, you!
Something I found extremely irritating (and most travelers do as well) is that, when you get into a new city or place, many people will start yelling: hey you, faranji, faranji, come here, come here! This also can happen with people you bump into in the street. In response, something very funny you can do is looking at them and say: hey you, habesha, habesha, come here, come here! Habesha means local, or Ethiopian, so you are basically telling them the same thing. Because they don’t expect such a reply from a faranji, in most occasions they will freeze, while others will laugh and probably shake your hand, turning an annoying person into a pleasant one.

2 – There are 80 distinct ethnic groups – The major groups being Oromo, Amhara, Tigray, Sidamo and Somali, which make up nearly 80% of the total population.

reasons to travel to Ethiopia
Mursi people, the tribe whose women wear plates in their lips

3 – The rest of the groups are minorities – And 45 of them live in a region named Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s region, the vast majority being tribal people.

how to visit Ethiopia
This woman belongs to an ethnic group named Banna

4 – Amharic is the official language – The lingua franca, the one used by the Government and the one used by the dominant ethnic group, the Amhara people, is Amharic.

5 – It comes from Ge’ez – Which is the language spoken in Ancient Axum and is still used today by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

6 – The alphabet is so cool – It’s called a syllable alphabet.

7 – But more than 80 languages are spoken – Or 70, depending on the source. Each ethnic group has a distinct language.

8 – And not everybody speaks Amharic – Especially in the tribal areas. It’s funny to think that, if certain tribal people from the south travel to Addis Ababa, they would feel more foreign and different than you do. You would certainly be more able to speak to the people than them.

9 – English is just OK – Not everybody speaks good English but in most towns, it is enough to get by.

A Hammar woman dancing during a traditional local celebration


6 Facts about religion in Ethiopia

1 – Ethiopia was the second state to officially adopt Christianity – After Armenia, in 330AD.

2 – Many Ethiopians belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church – Around 44% of the total population.

3 – They have a very raw way of practicing Christianity – Scholars claim that Christianity evolved directly from Judaism but, while it kept evolving to other forms of Christianity such as Catholicism or Protestantism, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church didn’t, hence it is one of the earliest forms of Christianity that clearly has some Judaic influences.

Ethiopia people
A local priest, somewhere around Lalibela

4 – People in white robes – If you see locals in traditional white robes is because they went to Church on that day. On Sunday, you will see wearing them more than usual.

5 – There are Catholics and Protestants too – Around 20%, and they mainly live in the south.

6 – Muslims make up one third of the total population – Differently to what most travelers who have already been to Ethiopia believe, more than 30% of Ethiopians are Muslim, and many foreign people don’t notice them because they inhabit regions that don’t receive many tourists, Ethiopian Somalia for example.

how to travel to Ethiopia
A Christian Orthodox priest, in his monastery, somewhere in Tigray region


Ethiopian food and drinks

I have a love and hate relationship with the food in Ethiopia.

On the one hand, traditional food is healthy, mainly composed of stewed vegetables and a protein bread named injera.

On the other hand, despite the unbelievable geographical and cultural diversity, there isn’t much food variety across the country.

Anyways, injera is the cornerstone of any Ethiopian meal, a flat bread made from a local grain named tef. It is sour and has a peculiar crêpe texture and, basically, an average Ethiopian eats injera 3 times a day.

Some travelers don’t like it at all. I did like it but after 6 weeks of traveling in Ethiopia, I got particularly sick of it.

Fasting days in Ethiopia
Ethiopians are very religious and besides the 40 days of Lent, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church also recognizes every Wednesday and Friday as fasting days, meaning that most restaurants will only serve vegetarian dishes.

This is lake fish wrapped in injera bread. It was one of the best local meals I had in the country


Most popular food in Ethiopia

Beyanet

This is the most available and traditional dish, consisting of different kinds of stewed vegetables and curries that vary from restaurant to restaurant, but typically being spinach, potatoes, carrots and lentils.

It is very cheap, usually less than a $1, and this is what most Ethiopians eat each and every day.

Ethiopian food
This is beyanet


Tibs

Also very traditional but not as available as beyanet because this is meat-based, usually goat or sheep, hence more expensive, and many Ethiopians can’t afford to eat meat every day.

Tibs is roasted meat with beriberi, a chilly powder sauce, served, of course, along with injera.

Shiro wat

This was my favorite dish, the Ethiopian hummus, I would say. Shiro is chickpea paste mixed with onions, garlic and bean flour. Energetic, healthy and delicious.

Shiro Tegamino

Same as shiro wat but much, much thicker and what I liked about it is that, for some reason, it was always served with normal bread, instead of injera.

Doro Wat

This was a pretty fancy dish, typically available in expensive restaurants and consisting of a chicken stew cooked in a complex gravy.

Kita fir fir

Kita fir fir is injera with spices and chilli and it’s typically eaten for breakfast. I didn’t like really like it because it’s 95% just injera.

By the way, for breakfast, besides kita fir fir and its different varieties, ful is also very easy to find, which is small beans in tomato sauce and garlic. In the south, you may get some really tasty avocado as well.

Ethiopian breakfast
Ethiopian breakfast: avocado, ful and eggs


Western food in Ethiopia

Many restaurants will serve pasta, pizza and burgers but don’t expect much of it.

In Addis Ababa, however, you can find good international food. Expensive as per Ethiopian standards, but good.

Pizza with cheese, tuna, chocolate and strawberries
One day in Mekele, we went to one of the fanciest restaurants in town, a Western-style café typically frequented by the upper Ethiopian class. I ordered a pizza, one that was called calazori, just because it had tuna in it but, to my surprise, they brought me kind of a crêpe covered with chocolate and strawberries. No, I didn’t order this, but I ordered a calazori pizza. He opened the crêpe, which was made of pizza bread, to show me that the actual pizza ingredients were inside. By default, I don’t like chocolate, but that mix was disgusting anyways, so I told her to just change it for a normal pizza without chocolate. Anyways, my point is that, outside of Addis Ababa, don’t have big expectations of Western food.

Beer in Ethiopia

Beer is a big deal in Ethiopia and they have a lot of brands.

The best part is that Ethiopian beer is so cheap, one bottle never costing more than 17 birr in local places, which is less than 50 cents.

Ethiopia beer
Enjoying a Habesha beer in a very fancy place in Addis Ababa


Coffee in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is coffee’s birthplace and, today, it is a very important part of their economy and exports.

Traditional style coffee is called buna and pretty much on any corner all around the country, you will see a lady preparing it in a clay pot named a jebena, and serving it in small cups. It’s good, and so cheap, around 5 birr (like 15 cents), but they may charge you double in touristic areas.

buna Ethiopia
Traditional coffee stall
Ethiopian coffee
Sometimes, they add some coffee grains inside your cup to eat them like candy


Backpacking in Ethiopia: need to know about money, budget & costs

In Ethiopia, they use the Ethiopian Birr (ETB) and, approximately:

1USD = 36.79ETB

Something I remember is that Ethiopian bank notes are some of the dirtiest I have ever seen, to the extent that when I got back home and finally touched some clean ones, it was a real reverse cultural shock.

Always have some hand sanitizer handy with you. In fact, in Ethiopia I got a small eye infection and I suspect it was because of rubbing my eye after touching some of those notes.

Black market rate in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, there is a black market rate, which can be up to 20% higher than the bank rate.

This means that, at the bank, if the exchange rate is 36, in the black market you can get it for 45, sometimes even more.

That’s why, in order to take advantage of this rate, it is recommended to come to Ethiopia with all your money in cash.

It may not seem much but if you keep exchanging your money at the black market rate and, let’s say, your budget is $1000, at the end of the trip you basically save around $200.

There is black market all over the country but in Addis Ababa you will get the best rate, especially near Meskel Square. Just ask around where can you exchange your foreign currency.

However, bear in mind that, at first, they will tell you a very shitty rate, so remember to bargain, and never accept a lower rate than 15-20% extra of the original value.

When I was traveling in Ethiopia, the official exchange rate was 30 so, in the black market, 40 was already a very good rate. The money dealer gave me an initial rate of 32, then 35, then 37 and, when I decided to leave, we agreed on 39.

ATMs in Ethiopia

In big cities, you can find ATMs, no problem, and they always accepted my foreign credit card. Sometimes they run out of cash though.

Nonetheless, remember that when withdrawing money, you will always get the bank rate.

Faranji and habesha price

In Ethiopia, there is a dual pricing, like I had never seen before: faranji and habesha.

Faranji means foreigner and habesha local.

In restaurants for example, food and drinks in the English menu may cost up to 3 times the habesha price and, if you believe you can grab the local menu and point out any meal marked with the original price, then you are wrong because they will always charge you the faranji price.

Moving around by local bus is also very frustrating because you know they will charge you double, or triple if they can, and negotiating is always a pain because you need to get angry, or even yelling at them, something they don’t usually expect.

I found this extremely frustrating and one of the worst things about traveling in Ethiopia.

And if you think, however, that this is how things work in their culture, I think you are wrong because I talked about this subject with many Ethiopians and they also agreed that it isn’t the right way to treat foreign tourists.

I can understand they charge double in touristic places but why do you have to pay a faranji price if you take the local bus or eat in a local restaurant?

Independent travel in Ethiopia. How much does it cost?

Traveling in Ethiopia on a backpacking budget is cheap and below is a list of the price of the most typical things.

How much does food & drink cost in Ethiopia?

Please note that, in very touristic areas such as Lalibela, paying these amounts can be very challenging but those are the prices assuming you pay the local price, so take it as a base reference.

  • Vegetarian local meal like beyanet or shiro: 30 to 50 birr
  • Non-vegetarian local meal like tibs: 50-70 birr
  • Meal in a nice restaurant: main dishes from 100 birr
  • Beer: 15-20 birr
  • 1kg of pretty much any fruit (mango, avocado, etc): 30 birr
  • Local coffee (buna): 5 birr
  • Coffee (machiato, espresso): 15 birr
  • 2l mineral water plastic bottle: 15 birr

How much does accommodation cost in Ethiopia?

  • Local hotels (creepy ones): 100 birr
  • Nice, decent accommodation: 300-600 birr
  • Mid-range hotels: from 700 birr

How much does transportation cost in Ethiopia?

  • Short local bus ride: 20 to 40 birr
  • Long distance bus ticket (Addis Ababa to Gonder): 300 birr
  • Domestic flight: $50-$100 one-way
  • Local shared taxi (Lalibela to Mekele): 600 birr (This will highly depend on your negotiations skills. For example, two tourists who were traveling in the same car paid 1500 birr).

How much does a tour cost in Ethiopia?

  • Danakil Depression 2-day tour: $250
  • Omo Valley: $100-$150 a day
  • Simien Mountains 3-day trek: $170
  • Entrance fee to Lalibela: $50

Average daily budget for backpacking in Ethiopia (independent travel)

Assuming you don’t take any domestic flights and travel by local bus, the minimum a budget backpacker will spend is:

$35-40 a day

best travel guide to Ethiopia
Lalibela is truly amazing but the entrance fee is $50


Is it safe to travel to Ethiopia?

That’s a complicated question.

Overall, I feel Ethiopia is a safe country to visit, but let’s go by parts.

Pickpocketing is real

Not bluffing, if you are not careful, you are likely to be pickpocketed in Ethiopia.

I have only been pickpocketed in two countries: in Mexico, and in Ethiopia.

Actually, in Ethiopia it happened to me twice, in 2 different areas of Tigray region. On one occasion they stole my brand-new GoPro, and on the second time they took my wallet with my credit card in it.

This can happen anywhere but in here chances are way higher, so be careful of your belongings.

I strongly recommend you get a money belt!
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE!

By the way, in big cities, especially in Addis Ababa, never walk alone at night. Your physical integrity is unlikely to be threatened but there is a high chance of being mugged.

That’s why, it is highly recommended to visit Ethiopia with proper travel insurance and for that, World Nomads gives you anti-theft coverage.
CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR QUOTE

Terrorism in Ethiopia

According to the FCO, the Ethiopian travel advice is that you should avoid the Somali province and the area or Gambella, which borders a conflict area of South Sudan.

There is an existing terrorism threat in Ethiopia but it is limited to the Ethiopian Somalia region, the province that borders Somalia.

Since I traveled to Ethiopia from Somaliland by land, I did cross that region and you could really feel the tension and threat I am talking about.

The security measures were insane. Every X km, there was a police checkpoint in which everybody from the bus had to get off and the police would check every single bag, one by one. It was very annoying.

Outside of Ethiopian Somalia, however, I never had or saw any issue.

Danakil Depression

You may have heard that Danakil Depression comes with its own issues and for that, I recommend you read my travel guide.

In the Danakil Depression, armed escorts are a must


Solo female travel in Ethiopia

Here’s the deal.

I traveled in Ethiopia as a solo man, so I can’t really speak for women, but I’ll just give you a small summary of what some kick-ass female travelers told me.

Most women said that Ethiopia was safe but the level of verbal harassment was insane, to the extent that some claim they’ll never go back to Ethiopia.

Many local men believe Western girls are easy and you may have to deal with occasional sex offers and creepy compliments. In fact, I was once with a girl from London and witnessed how a very disgusting man would just stare at her and do some creepy movements with his tongue.

Despite being predominantly a Christian country, Ethiopia is a conservative, patriarchal society in which men tend to be sexist.

Nevertheless, all women said that harassment was always verbal and, other than that, they had great fun in Ethiopia.

If you are female traveler who has been to Ethiopia and wants to write a guest post for Against the Compass, please get in touch.

Here you can see more solo female travel articles.

Local interactions with women is very normal when backpacking in Ethiopia


Internet & mobile in Ethiopia

Wi-Fi is really, really bad all over the country.

Even when hotel owners try to sell you the beautiful idea that their hotel prices include Wi-Fi and breakfast, just assume that most likely, Wi-Fi won’t work and, if it does, it’s terribly slow.

If you want to connect to the internet, you must get a SIM Card and telecommunications in Ethiopia is a monopoly controlled by Ethio Telecom.

Their mobile internet isn’t the fastest ever but it’s decent and if, like me, you have to work online while on the road, it’s good enough for creating a hotspot and do regular browsing.

It wasn’t very expensive but it wasn’t cheap at all as per Ethiopian standards.


Transportation tips: how to travel around Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a big country and as such, moving around can prove challenging. Here are some travel tips:

Traveling around Ethiopia by coach (long-distance bus)

From Addis Ababa, you can always take a long distance bus to major destinations such as Arba Minch, Harar, Gonder or Meskel. Most buses are quite comfortable, some more than others; it doesn’t depend on the company but on the type of bus.

Selam for example, good reputable company.

Buses leave from Meskel Square and typically, they all leave at 4am, which is very annoying but given the long distances, it does make sense.

Book your tickets one or two days before. Unfortunately, you can’t book them online but you need to go to Meskel Square itself, where all company stalls are.

There is a way of booking them over the phone, but it’s a real headache.

Basically, you need to call the bus company and tell them which coach you want to take. They will give you a bank account number in which you need to deposit the respective amount. For that, you need to go to the bank but, when I got there, it was so crowded and such a mess that I thought it would be easier to take a taxi to the square.

Ethiopia travel tip: At Meskel Square, you will be approached by local men who claim they work for a specific bus company, saying they can take you to the respective office. Well, they don’t actually work for the company but they want to get a tip for helping you book your ticket, so just ignore them.

Traveling around Ethiopia by local bus

If you are backpacking in Ethiopia on a budget, you will take the local bus.

Taking the local bus in Ethiopia isn’t very different from other developing countries, but just bear in mind that distances here are huge. I personally got really tired and decided not to take any during the last 2 weeks of my trip.

Moreover, you will always have to battle to get a decent price, which will never be great because they always end up saying that you have to pay extra for the luggage, which is completely bullshit.

In the end, they always win.

Traveling around Ethiopia by plane

If you are not on backpacking on a budget, I recommend you take a few domestic flights.

From Addis, there are direct flights connecting any major touristic city, including Lalibela, Gonder, Axum, Harar and even the Omo Valley.

There are direct flights between secondary cities too but maybe not everyday and, worst case scenario, you will have to make quick layover in Addis.

Traveling around Ethiopia by air will save you a lot of time and energy.

All flight are operated by Ethiopian Airlines, a modern, reliable company, and any one-way flight ticket averages $100.

One of the best travel tips for Ethiopia is that, If you fly in with Ethiopian Airlines, you get a 50% discount in all domestic flights and, if you only have a few weeks to travel in Ethiopia, you may want to get 1 or 2 at least. However, I didn’t fly in with Ethiopian Airlines but, when I booked my domestic flight via their website, there was a tick box which you could mark claiming you actually did fly with them, so the discount was applied anyways. At the check-in counter, no questions were asked. Nonetheless, I just checked their website, and the tick box is gone (it comes and goes) so in that case, if you still want to get your discount, most people book their tickets directly at the Ethiopian Airlines office, which you can find everywhere.

Most domestic flights are made in these small planes


Traveling around Ethiopia by train

There is one train line connecting Addis Ababa with Djibouti country via Dire Dawa (the closest big city to Harar). It runs every other day, one day towards Addis Ababa and one day towards Djibouti.

A one-way ticket from Dire Dawa to Addis Ababa costs 600 birr (price for foreigners).

The train has been built by the Chinese and it’s funny that, at every station, you see Chinese people telling Ethiopian employees what to do.

Traveling by train is always great but I will never catch the Ethiopian train again, for the following reasons:

  • It’s very unreliable. We stopped for around 3 hours due to a bus breakdown. Also, the day I was supposed to catch it, the train never arrived because of another breakdown, so had to wait for one additional day.
  • The train station is very far away from the city. Good luck negotiating the price of a taxi ride. When I arrived in Addis, they wanted to charge me 500 birr, and I ended up paying 300.
  • Very long queues for getting in and out, as the authorities check each and every bag and, since they don’t have x-ray machines, they basically make everyone empty their bags.
  • The train itself isn’t very comfortable, plus they don’t sell any food, only sodas.
  • It’s an extremely busy train with loads of kids roaming around.


Accommodation: where to stay in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is well-sorted for hotels, some of them being very good value for money options.

You can check them all on booking.com.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE BEST HOTELS IN ETHIOPIA

Most hotels owners will ask you to pay in USD but, as I told you in the money section, better to exchange those USD in the black market, get 20% extra, and then pay your hotel in birr.

Creepy hotels – When I was passing through a city, I had to stay on 1 or 2 occasions in one of those creepy hotels which are OK for 6 hours and cost less than 4USD. They are all over the country

Backpacking Hostels – You can find some in Addis Ababa and also in cities like Gonder.

Guest Houses, nicer hotels – Decent accommodation costs from 400 to 600 birr for a double room, and you can find them everywhere, all over the country.

Mid-range hotels – There is also a wide range of relatively good hotels, all of them starting at 900 birr or so.

visit Ethiopia
Guest houses in the city of Harar are so cool


More resources for traveling in Ethiopia

Useful websites for more Ethiopia travel tips

All Addis Around – For everything related to events, restaurants and bars in the capital.

Migrationology – For anything related to Ethiopian food.

Check some of my Ethiopia travel guides:

If you are traveling around the Horn of Africa, check these neighboring countries:

If you are interested in traveling in the Middle East, check:

Best places to visit in the Middle East
Where in the Middle East is safe?

And here you can check all my content to the Middle East

This Ethiopia travel blog was a long one, a post in which I put so much effort, and time! I hope you find it useful and if you have any question or suggestion, leave a comment in the ”comments” section.

Ethiopia travel guide

Disclosure: As a traveler, I use all the companies I recommend and you should know that, if you buy any service through any of these links, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These small earnings help me to improve and create more content for Against the Compass. I really appreciate your support :)

Start planning and booking your trip

For booking accommodation

Use Booking.com for hotels and guesthouses

Check on Hostelworld for for backpacker hostels

For travel insurance (with COVID-19 coverage), I recommend:

1 – IATI Insurance (5% discount) – Cheapest travel insurance and for travelers above 70

2 – True Traveller – Best backpacking insurance (only Europeans)

 

For all your travel gear

Trekking equipment, books, etc, check on Amazon

If you want to know all the companies I use to plan my trips, check my travel resources page

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