“Our Personal Ethiopia Travel Experiences”
“Steve & Pat – Our Personal Touring Experiences”
In December, 2018, Steve and Pat traveled to Ethiopia. This was the first time for Pat but the second time for Steve. Below are some of their impressions, experiences and tour highlights traveling around one of Africa’s most beautiful and interesting countries.
What was it like to travel to Ethiopia? How long did it take?
Getting there was pretty easy. We flew to IAD (Dulles) and then non-stop to Ethiopia in around 12 hours. Coming back was a little longer, flying west always is slower. Plus we made a 1-hour stop in Togo on the way.
Which airline did you use?
We used Ethiopian Airlines. Strangely enough, they give a nice discount on their domestic flights if you use their national airline at least 1 way.
Was it hard to get a visa?
Getting a visa is VERY easy. You can do it all online and it costs $52. You just need a head-shot or full face photo of yourself.
What was the tour operators like? What was your local guides and/or driver like?
The tour operator and driver was very efficient and there were no complaints. Everything was pretty much as advertised.
Now the quality of the local guides varies.
Sometimes their English was not great. Other times it was okay to pretty good. Speaking English is a problem in Ethiopia since it was the only African country that was never colonized.
Because there is no tradition of speaking English in everyday life, many Ethiopians who study English learn it from teachers whose own English is not all that good.
In addition, they have an unusual system for providing local guides.
Each tourist site or region has its own guide association and travelers are obligated to use whatever local guide is assigned to them.
This means that the quality of the guides can vary greatly from one place to another. For the most part, they can be termed adequate if not really great.
How long was the tour you took?
We took a 16-day custom tour which included both north and south Ethiopia. Primarily, we saw historical sites, the rock-hewn churches, local festivals and tribal ceremonies, along with some wildlife watching.
What places did you visit?
The North and South parts of Ethiopia are like really two separate countries.
The South, which is generally referred to as South Omo is very rural, almost primitive in certain places.
This area is called the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region and is where tribal people like the Mursi and the Hamer are living more or less as they have for hundreds of years.
In South Omo. the people still paint their bodies, put large disks in their lips and perform various ceremonies such as bull jumping, which can be witnessed by tourists. But photographs are “pay-per-click”.
On the other hand, the North is the most visited part of Ethiopia. It has been mainly Christian Orthodox, since the 4th Century AD, and has many ancient churches and other monuments and sites of interest.
Is Ethiopia just a dusty desert?
No. But it does have have an extreme desert region in the Northeast.
There you can experience the Danakil Depression, named one of the cruelest (hottest, driest) places on earth. And you can also explore the Erta Ale volcano and see several hot springs.
For the most part, however, Ethiopia is stunningly beautiful, with green mountains, vast lakes, lots of unique wildlife, rivers and of course the Blue Nile Falls.
We think it is probably the most scenic country in Africa.
Most of the North lies at 7,000-10,000 feet in altitude. There is a constant panorama of mountain scenery, although some of the dirt roads to get to the best views are a little on the rough side.
What kind of animals did you see while in Ethiopia?
We saw a lot of Gelada monkeys and were able to walk among them in Simien Nat’l Park. We also saw a few hippos and crocodiles in Lake Tana.
Some people are lucky enough to spot oryx and Walia Ibex, but this is not guaranteed. In general, tourists whose main aim is to see a lot of big game animals (lions, elephants, etc) in the wild are not advised to go to Ethiopia.
There are also other unique wildlife like the The Ethiopian Wolf, Swanyne’s Hartebeeste, Menilik Bushbucks.
These animals are very rare and seldom found outside of the Bale Mountain Natl Park, so we didn’t get a chance to see them, because we didn’t go to that park.
But what Ethiopia is really famous for is bird watching! There are over 800 endemic bird species (only found in Ethiopia). We did see lots, and lots of exotic-looking and beautiful birds.
Did you visit any of the national parks? If so, which ones?
There are about 20 national parks in Ethiopia, and we only had a chance to visit only four.
We visited Simien Nat’l Park, where we saw fabulous scenery and tons of Gelada monkeys.
Bahir Dar Blue Nile River Millennium Park where we went a boat cruise on Lake Tana and then checked out the famous Blue Nile river waterfall.
Steve has also been to Awash Nat’l Park which is easily visited from the capital, Addis Ababa. You can see a lot of oryx, there.
How did you get around in Ethiopia?
We traveled all over in a very well-maintained Toyota Land Cruiser with our driver and a local guide.
Is Ethiopia dangerous to visit due to crime?
Not very. We were warned about pickpockets but did not encounter any threats.
Is there armed conflict, a war in Ethiopia?
Ethiopia is no longer at war. President Abiy signed a peace treaty w. Eritrea this year (early 2018) and you can now see Eritrean cars on the roads. It’s pretty safe to travel all over.
Is Ethiopia a Islamic country?
It has a Muslim minority population in the East but it is a majority Orthodox Christian country.
Yes — Christianity. The Kingdom of Aksum, now known as Ethiopia and Eritrea, was one of the first Christian countries in the world, having officially adopted Christianity in the 4th century.
Today, nearly 50 percent of Ethiopians identify as Orthodox Christians, while 34 percent are Muslim and 19 percent are Protestant.
Is there still a food shortage in Ethiopia?
No. But you’ll notice that there’s no pork or shellfish of any kind served in Ethiopian restaurants.
This is due in part to the major religions that have influenced the country over thousands of years: Judaism, Islam and Orthodox Christianity.
But don’t worry about famines or food shortages, we saw some good-sized platters of food being served.
What was the food like?
Ethiopian cuisine is best suited for those with a more adventurous palate than us. We didn’t really care for the food all that much – it was very spicy.
We stuck to Western foods pretty much the whole trip. But Pat and I both thought the soups were really good, though.
Is Ethiopia really the birthplace of coffee? Was the coffee better than normal?
The Kaffa Province is considered the birthplace of coffee. The coffee is very good in Ethiopia. Ask your driver/guide if you can witness a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
Can you drink alcohol while there?
Yes, no problems. Ethiopians are very proud of their local beers and wine.
Are there dress codes for women?
No. But Ethiopia is still a conservative country, so you are encouraged to wear clothing that covers your shoulders to knees.
Can unmarried couples travel together?
Did you go to the Danakil Depression?
We did not go. It is supposed to be very scenic and we were told tours can be arranged.
Did you visit the Hadar site where the “Lucy” fossils were found?
No. It was somewhat out of the way on our tour, but it can be visited if someone wants to go.
What do you think were the most fun or interesting things to do in Ethiopia?
- Visiting the troops of Gelada monkeys in the Simien Mountain National Park
- Visiting the different tribal cultures of in the South Omo Valley region
- Exploring the rock-hewn churches and other historical architecture sites in the North
Ethiopia, the most fascinating country in Africa?
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