What is tourism like in Ethiopia?

What is tourism like in Ethiopia?

The Truth about Travel in Ethiopia

Now it should be said that Ethiopia requires a bit of an effort on the part of the average traveler.

While there are some very beautiful hotels and lodges in Ethiopia, not all of the accommodations are what most Westerners would consider to be luxurious.

So if you are not adverse to roughing it a little bit then they all are adequate for the weary adventure traveler.

And traveling thru Ethiopia…is either done overland by car or by plane – usually a combination of both.

So you will have travel almost everyday, some distance by car on unpaved roads in order to cover all the parts of Ethiopia that are the most interesting.

You will also need to be able to do at least some walking/hiking at higher altitudes. But we will make sure that your tour is tailored to your abilities in this regard.

So as you can see, we believe that a tour of Ethiopia is worth the trouble because it is the most overlooked but fascinating country in East Africa.

We invite you to browse the rest of our FAQs and discover more about the beauty and history of Ethiopia.

Why visit Ethiopia?

“Why on earth would anyone want to go to Ethiopia?”

Yes, we know you might have heard over the years about famine, war, and general lawlessness in Ethiopia, right?

Here’s some things for you to consider about all those old, outdated news stories:

Ethiopia is not in a state of famine – in our trip in December 2018, we saw no food shortages of any kind. We had plenty to eat and drink. And we saw a lot of food being serving in local restaurants and sold at local markets.

Ethiopia is not at war – There is a peace treaty w. Eritrea. And you can even see Eritrean cars on the roads. It’s pretty safe to travel all over.

Ethiopia is not dangerous – There is some petty crime in Addis Ababa, although less than in most large American cities, but Ethiopia can be considered quite safe for tourists and violent crime is rare.

In fact, Ethiopia has worked hard to overcome the negative perceptions it has been labeled with over the past decades and it is steadily gaining a reputation as one of the most varied and fascinating destinations to visit in East Africa.

Today there are 54 separate countries on the continent of Africa. Of all these countries, Ethiopia is the only one that was never colonized. This alone makes Ethiopia unique among all the nations of Africa.

But that is not the only thing that makes Ethiopia the most interesting tourist destination in Africa.

7 Great Reasons to Visit Ethiopia

Rock-hewn Churches of Lalibela

Did you know that the Christian faith was established in Ethiopia in the Fourth Century AD? 

Today, tourists can easily visit Lalibela’s rock-hewn churches. These the 11 ancient monolithic temples are each carved out of solid piece of stone.

Axum – Main stelae field

Ancient City of Axum

The city of of Axum is the home of several ancient  stelae (columns). Axum is one of Ethiopia’s nine UNESCO World Heritage sites. These world-famous historical sites have been selected as being important to the entire world, not just a single nation or country.

The Blue Nile Falls

In addition, Ethiopia is arguably one the most beautiful countries in East Africa. While much of Africa is not particularly know for their scenic mountains, Ethiopia has some of the dramatic landscapes on the continent. The Blue Nile Falls is a waterfall on the Blue Nile river which eventually travels north to merge with the While Nile to form the famous Nile river.

The Danakil Depression

In addition, there is also the exciting Danakil Depression, a wild and remote area, the junction of three tectonic plates.

The Danakil Depression is one of the hottest and lowest places on Earth and is also the area where the skeleton of ‘Lucy’ was found. ‘Lucy’ is a collection of fossilized bones of a female hominid – an early human ancestor – who lived in Ethiopia 3.2 million years ago.

There are expeditions available to those folks who are fascinated by deserts, volcanoes and archaeological sites.

Hiking in the Simien Mountains

We understand that most people come to Africa to see animals in the wild.

So if  you are only interested in catching a glimpse of one of the so-called “Big 5” animals (lions, rhino, elephants, etc.) then you should look at tours elsewhere

If going on a “big game safari” is important to you then Ethiopia is not the place for you.

However there are plenty of wildlife species that can only be seen in Ethiopia.

For example, the Gelada monkey.

The Gelada monkey, also called the “bleeding-heart monkey” or the gelada “baboon” is a species of ancient primate found only in the northern Ethiopian Highlands.

You can get up choose to hundreds of Gelada or “bleeding heart” monkeys in the Simien Mountain National Park.


Bird watching (Birding)

Now hands-down Ethiopia is probably the one of best places in Africa to go bird watching.

There is an overabundance of endemic birds to be found. Often they are very tame, so they are easy to approach, photograph and study.

Ethiopia also has a kaleidoscope of cultures and century old traditions that combine to produce a fascinating and intriguing travel adventure.

Ethiopian Food

Last but not least is the traditional Ethiopian food. 

Ethiopian food is very spicy. It is both full of flavor AND heat. This is due to their use of Ethiopian Berbere (pronounced bare-BARE-ee) a unique chili pepper and a spice blend that Ethiopians have used for centuries to give their dishes an extra kick.

Most Ethiopian dishes are based on beans, lentils, greens, Injera (a sourdough flatbread), cheeses, meat and of course coffee!


So if you are interested in 

  • History and archaeological sites,
  • Volcanoes and deserts,
  • Photographing stunning scenery and diverse cultures,
  • Bird watching and seeing endemic wildlife (found only in Ethiopia), 
  • Or Camping, hiking, trekking and even fly fishing,

Then Ethiopia is just the right place for you to visit.

The Truth about Traveling in Ethiopia 

Ethiopia requires a bit of an effort on the part of the traveler. 

While there are some very beautiful hotels and eco-lodges in Ethiopia, not all of the accommodations are what most Westerners would consider to be luxurious.

So if you are not averse to roughing it a little bit then they all are adequate for the weary traveler.

And traveling thru Ethiopia is overland by car or by air. Often a combination of both.

So you will need to travel some distance almost everyday on unpaved roads in order to cover all the parts of Ethiopia that are the most interesting.

You will also need to be able to do at least some walking/hiking at higher altitudes. But we will make sure that your tour is tailored to your abilities in this regard.

But you will be surprised to find that an Ethiopia tour is a lot less expensive than a luxury safari in other parts of Africa.

So as you can see, we believe that a tour of Ethiopia is worth the trouble because it is the most interesting country in East Africa.

Ethiopia has much more to offer than most people realize…What to know more? Ask us anything.

Can I go on a photo safari?

Photo Safari in Ethiopia

Photo Safari in Ethiopia?

We understand that when most people say they want to go on a photo safari they mean they have come to Africa to see big game animals in the wild.

The so-called “Big 5” animals (lions, rhino, elephants, etc.) are typically found in Kenya and in Tanzania.

So if you are only interested in photographing one of these species and going on a “safari” is important to you then Ethiopia is not the best place for you.

Now that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to photograph some very interesting wildlife in Ethiopia such as 860 species of birds and 10 species of mammals only found in Ethiopia.


Bird Watching

In fact, Ethiopia literally is a bird-watchers paradise. Ethiopia is the  has everything from eagles to flamingos. With roughly 800 known species of birds – found no where else in the world, this is the place to capture some great shots.

During our trip, Pat and I noticed all the stunningly beautiful birds. Ethiopia is probably one of the top places in Africa for birding (bird-watching).


Wildlife Watching

Besides birds, Ethiopia has lots of other interesting and unique animals such as the Gelada Monkeys, Ethiopian Oryx, Hyenas, Hippos and Crocodiles.

These are just a few of the animals, frequently seen by sharp-eyed nature lovers. Now if you have the time and the inclination, you can take a wildlife expedition and try to catch a glimpse and a photo of these endemic Ethiopian animals below.

Top 10  Animals – Unique to Ethiopia

  • Bale Mountain Vervet
  • Black Lion (rarely seen – feared cloose to extinction)
  • Ethiopian Wolf (rare)
  • Gelada Monkeys
  • Menilik Bushbucks
  • Mountain Nyala
  • Somali Wild Donkey
  • Swanyne’s Hartebeeste
  • Walia Ibex
  • Yellow Fronted Parrot

What should I bring?

What should I bring - Ethiopia travel

Practical Tips & Advice on What to Bring 


Clothing – What to Wear in Ethiopia

For most travelers to Ethiopia, you should pack lightweight clothes in natural fabrics such as cotton, linen, bamboo or hemp – clothing that will keep you cool, yet is durable.

Casual, comfortable clothes are the the main thing to keep in mind. Avoid dark clothes like black or navy blue. Stick to neural colors like whites, tans, khaki, etc. You should dress down rather than up.

But please remember Ethiopians are conservative dressers, and it is appreciated when you wear clothing that covers you at least from your shoulders to your knees.

For travel at higher altitudes, pack a lightweight jacket or long-sleeved top to keep you warm in the early mornings or late evenings. Day time temperatures are very pleasant but nights and early mornings can be freezing!

Not to mention, long pants and long-sleeved tops will help protect you from the harsh daytime sun and act as a barrier against mosquitoes at night.

Don’t worry about packing a lot of clothes because laundry service is available in most hotels. This is where natural fabric clothing comes in handy, since they are easier to wash and quick to dry.

A good pair of walking shoes or low hiking boots are recommended even if you don’t plan to go for any serious hikes. Pathways and trails around many historical sites are rocky and uneven.

Bring a money belt. A money belt is a small, zippered fabric pouch on an elastic strap that fastens around your waist, under your clothing.

You might like to carry a small folding umbrella which is handy in case of rain and sun. Light rain gear is advisable and essential in rainy season (June- September), although you often will find shelter to let the shower pass.

If you travel in malaria infected area, an extra mosquito net might come handy in some lodges or hotels.

Although in most hotels clean sheets are offered, some people prefer to travel with a personal sleep sack or a sleeping bag liner.

Toilet paper is often missing and a small pack of camping/travel toilet paper comes in handy if you have to use a ‘bush’ toilet.

Sunglasses with a ball cap or a hat with a wide brim and high factor sunscreen are advisable to protect against (very strong!) sunlight. Remember to drink a lot of water too.

A good compact flashlight is useful to have in case of the power cuts but it is also very helpful to find your way around at night (no street lamps in remote areas) and it helps to get a better view in and around some of the unlighted churches and historical sites.

If you are a light-sleeper you might want to bring earplugs. If your hotel is in the neighborhood of an Ethiopian Orthodox Church, prayers may start very early morning and last for several hours.

As wake up calls are not available everywhere, you better bring a small, wind-up alarm clock, if you decide to leave your mobile phone at home.


Recommended Gear

  • Bring a money belt or neck pouch. Use it to stash away the stuff you cannot afford to “loose”
  • A lightweight day-pack or fanny pack,
  • Lockable, soft-sided luggage,
  • Your cell or smart phone (for calls/video/camera/alarm),
  • Phone charger, and 2 pin Euro-style plug adapters,
  • Camera, spare batteries/charger, Memory cards,
  • Earplugs (for light sleepers),
  • Small, folding umbrella or rain gear,
  • A mosquito net (for open windows),
  • Compact flashlights with spare batteries,
  • Sunglasses and hat,
  • Don’t forget to bring a pair of binoculars. Even a small pair stashed away in your day-pack will be appreciated when bird or wildlife watching.


Special Notes for For Nature Lovers: Bird Watchers, Hikers, & Wildlife Photographers

When you book a trekking tour or bird watching trip, please bring only soft-sided bags as your luggage will be transported by mules, and luggage with sharp corners and stiff sides are hard on the animals.

Most trekking tours are done at higher altitude (Simien Mountains/ Bale Mountains/ Lalibela), so make sure you wear warm clothing or carry extra layers you can add on as the air gets cooler.

We recommend that you bring your own sleeping bag. And as most campsite facilities are often very basic, it is also a good to bring wet baby wipes or camping toilet paper.

Most people prefer to wear more sturdy hiking boots with ankle support while out hiking on more remote trails. If you are comfortable with a (Nordic style) walking stick you should bring one or two along as well.

For visitors to Erta Ale volcano, a good headlamp is advisable for the hike in the dark. Also, for Erta Ale, a scarf or handkerchief comes handy to cover your mouth and nose for obnoxious fumes and it is better not to wear open shoes and shorts once you reach the crater rim, as the young lava crumbles easily and is razor sharp.

Outside Addis it is difficult to find the special photographic or hiking/camping gear you might need, so it is better to bring these items with you from your home country.

Last but not least, please bring a first aid kit.


First Aid Kit

There are private clinics in most major towns but in general the standards of treatment are limited. So don’t forget to bring a simple first aid kit, which could include:

  • Bandages (Multiple sizes, gauze, and adhesive tape)
  • Antiseptic cream,
  • Preferred antacids, motion-sickness,
  • Preferred painkillers,
  • Anti-histamine tablets for allergies,
  • Anti-itch gel/cream for insect bites,
  • Moleskin for blisters,
  • Anti-diarrhea tablets (e.g. containing loperamide),
  • Sunscreen (SPF 15 or greater) with UVA and UVB protection,
  • Insect repellent.


Personal Packing List

While pharmacies carry a range of medicines but we recommend that you bring your required medicines with you, which may include:

  • Spare Glasses/Contact lenses & Eye drops,
  • Sunburn treatment (the sun is strong),
  • Travel toilet paper,
  • Preferred feminine products (if needed),
  • Prescriptions medicines,
  • Copies of all prescriptions,
  • Medical alert bracelet or necklace,
  • Diabetes testing supplies.

The following items may require a letter from your doctor on official letterhead/stationary or a copy of your prescription:

  • Needles or syringes (for diabetes, for example),
  • Insulin vials,
  • Insulin auto-injectors,
  • Epinephrine auto-injectors (EpiPens),
  • Inhalers.

Yes, we know many minimalists, feel this is way too much “stuff” to bring on an adventure tour. Keep in mind It is just a suggested packing list. 

You can bring as little on this list as you want… although our tour partner, strongly recommends the first aid supplies and personal travel kit. 

No one wants to spend the last days of their Ethiopian adventure, stumbling around, virtually blind because they lost their glasses!