Country topographic profile
With an area of 1, 112, 000 square kilometers, Ethiopia is as large as
France and Spain combined.
From the north and running down the center are the Abyssinian
highlands, to the west of the chain the land drops to the grasslands of Sudan, to the east
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 (which joins the Nile
in Sudan) the Awash, the Wabe Shebelle, the Omo, and Baro and Birbir.
The current population is about 55 million, making it the third most
populated country in Africa.
The former military regime was overthrown in 1991.
Ethiopia is now a Federal Republic made up of 14 regions, mainly based
on ethnicity. (In southern Ethiopia, 5 regions have combined to form the Southern
The present government was elected in 1995 for a 5-year term.
85% of the population get their livelihood from the land. Coffee (the
word originates from the name of the province Kaffa, in the south west of Ethiopia) provides 65% of foreign currency
The opening up of the economy since the overthrow of the previous
government in 1991 has created more favorable grounds for development of Ethiopia's
Ethiopia is the "water tower" of the region (the Blue Nile
contributes to 85% of the main Nile flow) and plans are now in progress to better exploit
the country’s water resources both to boost agricultural production and for power
Mineral exploration and mining has stepped up in recent years-there
are reserves of natural gas, coal, Gold, copper, tantalum, potash, zinc, iron ore, marble,
precious and semi-precious stones.
The export of livestock, skins and hides (Ethiopia has the largest
domestic livestock population in Africa) oilseeds, pulses and animal feed makes up the
rest of Ethiopia’s foreign currency earnings, with tourism set to make an increasingly
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.
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 Sean.
For travelers 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 elevation, temperature rarely exceed 25c in most of the
country, although in some of the lower lying areas (Awash, Omo and Mago parks) it can get
Pack light clothes for the daytime and 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 is usually uneven and stony.
Trekkers in the Simian and Bale Mountains will need warm clothes,
waterproofs and 3-4 season’s sleeping bags.
A cultural note: Ethiopians are generally modest dressers and
visitors should be sensitive about going underdressed into places of worship. Shoes must
always be removed before entering churches and mosques-for getting around sites like
Lalibela with its many churches airline socks are very useful.
Health and Medical
All visitors should be in possession of valid yellow fever vaccination
certificate. Immunization for Hepatitis A and B, 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. Chloroquine
resistant strains have been identified in some areas 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
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, sun barrier cream (while temperatures are moderate the sun is strong) and anti
diarrhea tablets such as Imodium for emergencies (they will not cure the problem but will
control the symptoms). Generally, visitors should take out standard holiday health
insurance in their home countries.
The Ethiopian national dish consists of injera, a flat,
circular pancake made of fermented dough 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
Vegetarians should try "fasting food" (for devout Ethiopian
Orthodox Christians fast days make up nearly half the year), a colorful spread of Salads,
vegetables and pulses, devoid of all meat and animal products.
One eats national dishes with right hand (water for washing is usually
brought to the table before the food is served), tearing off pieces of injera to pick up
Addis Ababa now boasts of a wide variety of restaurants, and at hotels
in tourist sites European style food such as pasta is always available.
Addis Ababa has two 5 star hotels: the Hilton and the Sheraton-and a
growing number of tourist class hotels.
Standards vary outside the capital (the hotels in the north are
generally better than those in the south), but apart from the Omo and Mago areas where
camping is unavoidable it is generally possible to get relatively clean rooms with en
suite toilet and shower.
Travel by air, road and rail
Ethiopian Airlines operates an extensive (43 airports and an
additional 21 landing strips) and generally efficient and reliable domestic air service,
but cancellations and delays do occur.
Traveling by road allows visitors to experience Ethiopia’s wonderful
scenery, but road conditions are generally poor, and mountainous topography in the north
will cut speed.
The hour flight to Lalibela for example takes nearly two days by
Railway enthusiasts who wish to travel by train from Addis Ababa to
Dire Dawa or on to Djibouti should be prepared for delays and run down carriages.
Ethiopia has recently secured substantial grants for the renovation of
its road and rail network, but improvement will take time.
Visitors should declare all currency in their possession on arrival
and only change at banks and authorized foreign exchange dealers.
The Ethiopian currency is the birr, the rate of which against
the US dollar is fixed in weekly auctions.
(In March 2006 the rate was 8.6
birr to US$1.00, but ask us for the current rate.)
In order to change birr back to dollars on leaving the country,
visitors will be asked to produce bank receipts.
Visas should be obtained in the visitor’s country of residence.
There is a US$20 departure tax for international flights
Electricity: 220 volts
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.
Generally only 100 ASA is available, slide film usually not.
As a matter of courtesy, permission should be sought before
photographing individuals and in many parts of the country, particularly among the Afar
and among the ethnic groups living by the Omo River, people will demand a fee.
In some sites (Blue Nile falls for example) there is a charge for
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 destitute, particularly noticeable in Addis Ababa. Giving to one
often provokes a flood of others and does not really solve the problem. Travel Ethiopia
is happy to facilitate donations to organizations working with the needy and to facilities
like clinics and schools.
Tours Short tours
LINKS to Ethiopia history: