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Ethiopia Guide & Travel Advice

Getting there

Ethiopian Airlines fly direct from London Heathrow to Addis Ababa and is one of the best and largest airlines in Africa. Emirates, Qatar Airways, Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines all offer connecting flights via their respective hubs.

Flying times from UK

Direct flights to Addis Ababa take between 7 and 8 hours from the UK.

Time zone

Ethiopia is +3 hours ahead of GMT.

Visa requirements

British Citizens require a visa to visit Ethiopia and these are issued on arrival in Addis Ababa. You will need to show proof of a return air ticket and further details on the visa requirements will be sent at the time of booking.

Do’s and Don’ts

Ethiopians are very proud of their culture, country and identity so avoid criticising their lifestyle or religion.

Avoid eating with your left hand. Food in Ethiopia is generally eaten without the use of cutlery, and eating with your left hand is considered a sign of disrespect.

For men, avoiding eye-contact with a woman is considered a sign of respect.

If you are a foreign woman in public with a man, do not be surprised if Ethiopian men speak only to your partner – this isn’t meant to upset, but is a sign of respect for you. Equally, if you are a man, maintaining a respectful distance from women will be considered good manners.

Money

The currency of Ethiopia is the Birr (ETB) and it is issued in notes and coins of varying denominations. Foreign currency can be exchanged at any commercial bank, including branches located at larger hotels and at the airports. Exchange of Birr back to foreign currency is only allowed for visitors holding an onward ticket from Ethiopia. It is hard to exchange any Birr outside of Ethiopia. There are ATMs in Addis Ababa – there are few reliable ATMs in rural areas and smaller towns – and outside of the capital credit cards are accepted on a limited basis.

Tipping

Tipping is not expected in Ethiopia but is considered polite if a tip is given in restaurants and bars. There is no fixed amount to leave, but you may find it appropriate to round up a bill for good service. A guideline for tipping your drivers and guides will be advised prior to travel.

Food and drink

Ethiopian food is certainly unique and the cuisine is different from both the food found in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Traditional mealtimes are based around injera, a special bread which is pancake-thin and slightly sour. Food is placed on the injera in lieu of a plate and the bread is then also used in place of cutlery to eat. Wat, a spicy stew made from meat, chicken or vegetables is also a popular dish. Traditional Ethiopian food does not use pork because most Ethiopians are Muslim or Ethiopian Orthodox Christians. In most large towns you will also find restaurants offering Ethiopian versions of Italian food, and in Addis Ababa in particular there are many restaurants serving more international cuisine.

The Ethiopians drink plenty of coffee – the Ethiopian province of Kaffa is said to be the home of coffee and it is traditionally served thick and sweet. Locally produced Ethiopian beer and red and white wines are worth trying, or you could indulge in some Tej (a fermented honey drink), Talla (a barley beer) or even some Kaitaka (pure grain alcohol).

Holidays, festivals and celebrations

The Ethiopian calendar does not use the traditional Gregorian calendar and is eight years behind as there are 13 months to a year. Important holidays include Timket – the annual festival of Ethiopian epiphany on January 6th, Ethiopian Christmas which falls on January 7th, and Ethiopian New Year on September 11th. Dates for religious holidays tend to change as they are timed with the lunar calendar. It is also worth noting that every Wednesday and Friday (and during the 55 days of Orthodox Christian Lent), meat is not eaten by the majority of practising Orthodox Christians. Larger traditional restaurants in major towns and cities often have a 'fasting food' option seven days a week.

Shopping

Shopping in Ethiopia centres of the country’s numerous bustling marketplaces. Addis Ababa’s main market, the merkado, is one of the largest in Africa and an atmospheric place to explore. Most of the art and artefacts found in Addis Ababa reflect the country’s Christian Orthodox tradition with items such as silver crosses or icons commonly found. Aside from this, silver jewellery, basket work and carvings, woollen carpets, amber and coffee are available in most towns.

Suggested reading

Footprint, Rough Guides, Lonely Planet and Bradt have excellent guide books on Ethiopia. There is also a wide range of literature on Ethiopia including:

‘Beneath the Lion's Gaze’, by Maaza Mengiste

‘Cutting for Stone’, by Abraham Verghese

‘Notes from the Hyena’s Belly’, by Nega Mezlekia

‘Greater Ethiopia: The Evolution of a Multi-ethnic Society’, by Donald N. Levine

‘In Ethiopia’, by Bernd Bierbaum

Health

Your doctor is the best person to advise you on staying healthy whilst abroad but current recommended vaccinations are Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Tetanus and Diphtheria. Yellow Fever is compulsory, but only if you have visited an affected Yellow Fever area within 5 days prior to your arrival. In some instances anti-malarial tablets may also be needed. For current information on health advice you may wish to visit the Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) Web Site on www.masta.org. The NHS ‘Fit for Travel’ website (www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk) is also a useful resource.

Travel advice

For current information on Ethiopia the best resource is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) which is a comprehensive resource and updated regularly. We would also recommend visiting the Safer Tourism Foundation website (https://safertourism.org.uk/) before you travel and will be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.

Ethiopia Holiday Ideas

Ethiopia Holiday Review

“This is just a note to thank you for organising a splendid holiday in Ethiopia. We had an excellent time and would recommend the driver, Johnny, as a safe and responsible driver/ guide who had the confidence to adapt the given programme as appropriate.”

SD - Ethiopia - March 2015

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