Travelling in Ethiopia

Location

Ethiopia is located in northeastern Africa, between latitudes 4 and 18 north. It is a ruggedly mountainous country, covering 1,251,282 km. Kenya, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Djibouti surround it.

Capital

The capital city is Addis Ababa, and Ethiopia is made up of 9 federal regions. Moreover, Addis is the unofficial capital city of Africa.

Climate

Ethiopia has two main seasons, the dry season from October though to May, and the rainy season from June to September. However, in the southwestern part of the country, the rainy season is from March to May. Temperatures will depend on altitude.

Airport

Bole Airport, only 7 km from the center of Addis Ababa, is Ethiopia’s main airport with international links to most parts of the world. Most tourist sites can also be reached by domestic flights.

Airport Tax

There is an airport tax of US$ 20 for all international departures, and 10 Ethiopian Birr for all domestic flights.

Entry Requirements

A valid passport and a visa are required for all foreign visitors, except for citizens of Kenya, Djibouti, Sudan and Eritrea. Visas may be obtained by application to the nearest Ethiopian diplomatic mission, by applying to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Addis Ababa or for some nationalities, visas are available on arrival. Everyone thinking of travelling to Ethiopia needs to check the rules for their nationality.

Customs

Personal effects are admitted free, and a duty-free allowance of one litre of alcohol, 200 cigarettes and ½ litter of perfume is permitted. Video cameras, computers and major electrical items should be declared on arrival.

Photography

While the scenic beauty of Ethiopia makes it a photographer’s paradise, photographs should not be taken of military or strategic buildings including airports. Before photographing any person, religious festival or rural homestead, it is courteous to ask permission. While film is readily available in most towns, we recommend that visitors bring plenty of film with them. Commercial photographers require a permit from the ministry of information. Certain tourist sites charge for video photography.

Currency

The Ethiopian Birr is the national Currency and, while visitors may bring in as foreign currency as they wish. However, it should be declared on arrival to ensure there is no confusion when they depart. Credit cards are not widely accepted outside the major establishments in the cities. US traveler’s checks are recommended.

Language

With its distinctive alphabets, Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia. The second official language, English, is very well understood in most hotels and major towns. Italian, Arabic and French are also widely understood.

Medical Facilities

All visitors must be in possession of valid vaccination certificates against yellow fever, and vaccinations against hepatitis and cholera are recommended. Malaria precautions should be taken before visiting the lowlands.

Electricity

Electrical supply is generally 220 volts 50 cycles AC. Same plug as in the UK and/or Dubai.

Time

Ethiopia is 3 hours ahead of GMT. However, apart from using the Julian calendar, Ethiopia reckons the day in two 12-hour cycles (as in much of East Africa). Therefore, midday could be 6 o’clock.

What to wear

Tourists need to have light cotton clothing with sunglasses and a hat in the warm lowlands, while in the highlands medium-weight clothing, cap, gloves and warm jacket are appropriate. During the rainy season a light raincoat and umbrella are essential, and a sweater is best for chilly evenings. The sun can be very strong in high altitudes, so a strong sunscreen is important.

Traditional courtesies

A handshake greeting is normal, with a pleasant discussion on personal matters before getting down to business. The offer of tea or coffee is normal, and time is not that important. Smoking is not popular amongst traditional people, or in front of priests. Shoes are often taken off on entering churches, and always on entering mosques.