Country topographic profile
With an area of 1,112,000 square kilometres, Ethiopia is as large as France and Spain combined. From the north and running down the centre are the Abyssinian highlands, to the west of the chain the land drops to the grasslands of Sudan, to the east to the deserts of the Afar and the Red Sea. South of Addis Ababa the land is dominated by the Rift Valley Lakes. The main rivers are the Blue Nile, the Tekezze, the Awash, the Wabe Shabele, the Omo, and the Baro. 80% of the land in Africa over 3000 meters is found in Ethiopia.
The current population is about 100 million, making it the second most populated country in Africa.
Government and recent history
In 1974 the imperial government of Haile Selassie I was overthrown by a group of lower ranking officers from the armed forces. During the following 17 years Ethiopia was wracked by civil wars and state sponsored famines. The military regime – generally known as the Derg – was finally overthrown in May 1991 by a coalition of rebel groups called the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which continues to dominate the government today. Ethiopia is now a Federal Republic made up of 9 regions, based mainly on ethnicity. The present government was re-elected in May 2015 for a 5-year term. Next elections are due in May 2020.
85% of the population get their livelihood from the land. Coffee (the word originates from the name of the province of Kaffa, in the south west of Ethiopia, the birth place of coffee) provides the bulk of foreign currency earnings, although the rise in importance of other products has meant a fall in its share. Ethiopia is the third biggest coffee exporter in the world. The export of oilseeds (Ethiopia is the fourth biggest exporter in the world), pulses, spices, gold, flowers, livestock, skins and hides (Ethiopia has the largest domestic livestock population in Africa), textiles, chat, and animal feed makes up the rest of Ethiopia’s foreign currency earnings, with tourism making an increasingly important contribution – recent figures now put tourism ahead of coffee exports on terms of foreign currency earnings.
The opening up of the economy since the overthrow of the previous government in 1991 has created more favourable grounds for development of Ethiopia’s rich resource base. Ethiopia is the “water tower” of the region (the Blue Nile contributes up to 85% of the main Nile flow) and projects are now being implemented to better exploit the country’s water resources both for power generation (up 500% since 1991, and set to increase by an additional 500% by 2015 – the export of hydro power to neighbouring Djibouti, Kenya and Sudan is underway – and to boost agricultural production through irrigation schemes. Mineral exploration and mining has stepped up in recent years – there are reserves of oil, natural gas, coal, gold, copper, tantalum, potash, zinc, iron ore, nickel, marble, precious and semi-precious stones.
Thermal power generation schemes are already operational in Afar and Oromo Regions. The total geothermal resource potential in Ethiopia is found in the Great Rift Valley and is estimated to be over 5000 MWe, and the Ashegoda wind farm in Tigray, northern Ethiopia, together with the Adama or Nazereth I and II wind farm (the biggest wind farms in Sub Saharan Africa), are generating 528MW. Additional wind farms are planned near Asela, as part of Ethiopia’s push for a green economy.
The late Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, in 2011 laid the foundation stone of what is being called the Grand Renaissance dam, which on completion will generate 6500 MW, making it the 10th biggest dam in the world. The site is on the Blue Nile, in the Beni Shangul Region, some 40 km from the border with Sudan. Other hydro power projects are planned for other places on the Blue Nile, and in Oromia.
When to come
This can depend on where you are going. In most of the country, the main rainy season runs from June to the end of September, with short rains in March. In the Omo and Mago parks however, in Southern Ethiopia, the seasons are different with the main rains from March to June, and shorter rains in November. (However, in a time of changing global weather patterns it is not longer possible to be absolutely definitive about the rains – in recent years unseasonable rains have made sections of the Omo impassable, for example.)
With the upgrading of the airports along the Historic Route (Axum, Lalibela, Gondar and Bahir Dar), it is now possible to visit the north even in the rainy season. For travellers who do not mind waiting out a downpour (usually followed by brilliant sunshine) there are certain rewards – a green countryside full of crops and flowers and the sites largely to yourselves.
Climate and clothing
Because of the elevation, temperatures rarely exceed 250C in most of the country, although in some of the lower lying areas (Awash, the Afar and Somali Regions, Omo and Mago parks, Gambella) it can get considerably hotter.
Pack light clothes for the day time and a jacket or sweater for the evenings, and a good pair of walking shoes even if you are not going trekking – path ways around historic sites are usually uneven and stony. Trekkers in the Simien and Bale Mountains will need warm clothes, water-proofs and 3-4 season sleeping bags. On a cultural note – Ethiopians are generally modest dressers, and visitors should be sensitive about going underdressed (shorts, tank tops and bare backed) into places of worship. Shoes must always be removed before entering churches and mosques.
Health and medical
The possession of a valid Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is no longer mandatory but visitors coming from countries where Yellow Fever has been reported may be asked. (Some countries, such as Australia and Thailand, will ask for a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate if you have visited Ethiopia in the previous 6 months.) Immunisation for Hepatitis A and B, Tetanus, Typhoid and Polio is recommended.
Malaria: in many sites malaria is not a problem because of the elevation – this is true of Axum, Gondar and Lalibela for example, but it can occur in Bahir Dar at the end of the rainy season and after unseasonable rains. Lowland areas along the Awash River, the Omo Valley, Rift Valley and Gambella are subject to malaria outbreaks. Mosquitoes are constantly improving their resistence to the prophylactics on the market, so you should consult your doctor about the prescription. Alternatively, you can keep mosquitoes and other insects at bay with repellent creams and sprays. (Climatic changes and phenomena such as el-Nino has meant the appearance of malaria at unseasonable times, and its spread to areas previously malaria free.)
Visitors should take a simple first aid pack, which would include: different size plasters, antiseptic cream, anti-histamine cream and/or tablets for insect bites, aspirin and/or panadol, sun barrier cream (while temperatures are moderate the sun is strong) and anti-diarrhoea tablets such as Immodium for emergencies (they will not cure the problem but will control the symptoms).
There are private clinics in most towns, and pharmacies are considerably better stocked than in the past.
Generally, visitors should take out standard holiday health insurance in their home countries.
The Ethiopian national dish consists of injera, a flat, circular pancake of fermented dough made from a grain seed called tef, on top of which are served different kinds of cooked meats, vegetables and pulses. The sauces are generally spiced with berbere, a blend of herbs and spices (including hot peppers) which gives Ethiopian food its characteristic taste. Vegetarians should try “fasting food” (for devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christians fast days make up more than half the year), a colourful spread of salads, vegetables and pulses, devoid of all meat and animal products.
One eats national dishes with the right hand (water for washing is usually brought to the table before the food is served), tearing off pieces of injera to pick up the “toppings”.
Addis Ababa now boasts a wide variety of restaurants – you can effectively dine out in every continent of the world – and at hotels in tourist sites European style food such as pasta is always available.
While in Addis Ababa, be sure to visit Road Runner Bar and Restaurant, sister company of Ethiopian Quadrants, for good mood, food and music. All kinds of food is served, including Ethiopian dishes and pizzas. Friday night in particular is “networking night”, when all kinds of contacts can be made. Road Runner is situated next to Demberwa Hospital, Haya Hulet.
If you are travelling to remote areas, such as the Omo Valley and parts of southern Ethiopia, it is advisable to stock up with tinned and packet food in Addis Ababa.
Gassy and still mineral water, along with soft drinks, are now available throughout the country. There are several brands of locally produced beer. Ethiopia produces its own wine and spirits, while imported spirits are also widely available. There are home made alcoholic drinks: tela (home made beer or ale), tej (wine made from honey) and kati kala (distilled liquor from various grains.)
Following a recent hotel starring process, Addis Ababa now has three 5 star hotels – The Capital, The Illili International and the Sheraton (5 star plus) – the popular Hilton Hotel was downgraded to 4 Star. There is a growing number of tourist class hotels. Standards vary outside the capital (there have been marked improvements in recent years), but apart from some areas on the west bank of the Omo and in parts of the Afar Region where camping would be necessary, it is generally possible to get relatively clean rooms with en suite toilet and shower.
Travel by air, road and rail
Railway enthusiasts who wish to travel by train from Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa or on to Djibouti will have to wait until the planned renovation is implemented – passenger service is currently suspended – resumption of rail services has already started.
Visas – Citizens of 32 countries can get visas on arrival (for full list follow this link: www.mfa.gov.et). If you are coming for tourism, the payment is US$50.00 for 30 days and US$60.00 for three months for single entry tourist visa; and US$70.00 for three months and US$80.00 for six month for multiple entry visa. Currently tourist visa to Ethiopia can be obtained through online in the following link from the Ethiopian Immigration and Nationality Affairs (https://www.evisa.gov.et/#/home). Business visas should be applied for in your country of origin.Otherwise, for citizens of countries not on this list, visas must be applied for at the Ethiopian Embassy in your country of origin, or if there is no Ethiopian Embassy in your country, at the nearest country where there is an Ethiopian Embassy. Airlines – the following airlines fly into and out of Ethiopia: China Air, Egypt Air, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, KLM, Kenya Airways, Lufthansa, Saudia, Sudan Airways, Turkish Airlines,Fly Dubai and Yemenia.Internet – internet cafes are now available in most of the larger towns, though connecting and downloading can be extremely slow. This will hopefully change soon, when Ethiopia links up with fibre optic networks.
Unless one is carrying very large sums, it is no longer obligatory for visitors to declare currency in their possession on arrival, but should visitors wish to change money back on departure, it will be necessary to produce receipts from banks and authorised foreign exchange dealers. The Ethiopian currency is the birr, the rate of which against the US dollar is fixed essentially by market demand.
Credit card acceptance is now growing throughout the country, but banks which issue cash withdrawals on cards will only do so to a limit of US$500.00 per day (paid in birr), and this only in Addis Ababa and a few other main cities.
ATMs for Visa and other cards can now be found in some banks, and in some of the main hotels in Addis Ababa, and this service has recently been extended to other main urban centres.
Visa- If you are coming from the countries whose citizens are allowed to get visa on arrival, you can get it by payment based on the purpose you are coming for, if you are coming for tourism purpose the payment is US$40.00 for 30 days and US$60.00 for three month for single entry visa; and US$70.00 for three month and US$80.00 for six month for multiple entry visa.
Airlines – the following airlines fly into and out of Ethiopia: Egypt Air, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, KLM, Kenya Airways, Lufthansa, Saudia, Sudan Airways, Turkish Airlines, Fly Dubai and Yemenia.
Internet – internet cafes are now available in most of the larger towns, though connecting and downloading can be extremely slow. This will hopefully change soon, when Ethiopia links up with fibre optic networks.
Electricity – 220 volts. Plugs are of the round two-pin variety.
Souvenirs – many antiques cannot be exported and may be confiscated if found in airport searches. The National Museum in Addis Ababa can issue a clearance certificate.
Photography – As a matter of courtesy, permission should be sought before photographing individuals and in many parts of the country, particularly among the ethnic groups living by the Omo River, people will demand a fee. In some sites (in the churches and Blue Nile Falls for example) there is a charge for video photography. Visitors with a lot of camera equipment may be asked by airport Customs to get a permit from the Government Communication Affairs Office – Ethiopian Quadrants can assist with this process prior to our clients’ arrival.
Noise and earplugs: Over the last 10 years churches and mosques have installed increasingly powerful loudspeakers. Ethiopian Christian Orthodox ceremonies can start at 0300 and continue for 5 to 6 hours, making it impossible to sleep if your hotel happens to be near a church. Ethiopian Airlines Cloud 9 earplugs are particularly effective.
Beggars and begging – Ethiopia’s recent history of civil wars, famines and population displacement, along with poverty and under development generally, has created large numbers of destitutes, particularly noticeable in Addis Ababa. Giving to one often provokes a flood of others and does not really solve the problem – Ethiopian Quadrants is happy to facilitate donations to indigenous organisations working with the needy and to facilities like clinics and schools.
One of the negative impacts of tourism has been to foster a culture of begging, even among those not particularly in need. Generally, visitors should avoid giving pens, clothes and sweets to children – it is better to provide support to local schools, for example.
Guide booksThe Bradt Guide to Ethiopia
The Lonely Planet Guide to Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti
Collins Birds of East Africa
Where to Watch Birds in Ethiopia, by Claire Spottiswoode, Merid Gabremichael and Julian Francis
Important Bird Areas of Ethiopia – Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society
Collins Flowers and Plants of East Africa
Ethiopian Amharic Phrasebook – Lonely Planet
History, Geology and EconomicsLayers of Time – Paul Henze
A History of Modern Ethiopia – Bahru Zewde
Axum: An African Civilisation of Late Antiquity – Stuart Monroe Hay
The Blue Nile – Alan Morehead
The Sign and the Seal – Graham Hancock
The Survival of Ethiopian Independence – Sven Rubenson
Ethiopian Civilisation – Belay Giday
The Ethiopians – Edward Ullendorf
The Scramble for Africa – Thomas Packenham
Made in Africa-Industrial Policy in Ethiopia- Dr. Arkebe Oqubay
Understanding Ethiopia – Frances M. WilliamsArt booksAfrican Zion: The Sacred Art of Ethiopia
African Ark: People of the Horn
Black Angels: The Art and Spirituality of Ethiopia
Ethiopia Photographed – Richard Pankhurst and Denis Gerard.
Ethiopia Engraved – Richard Pankhurst and Leila Ingrams
Churches of Ethiopia- The Living Churches of an Ancient Kingdom.
Birding reportsAfrican Bird Club
CommunicatingThere is no space here for a definitive glossary – Ethiopia has 83 languages and more than 200dialects! Fortunately, Amharic or Amarigna is widely spoken through the country.Tenastilign – Hello/how are you?