Ethiopia’s history really is that of humanity. Lucy, the skeletal ancestor to modern mankind, was discovered in the Danakil Depression. From those inauspicious beginnings, Ethiopia grew through kingdoms, dynasties, and empires. By the time of the “Scramble for Africa,” Ethiopia was strong enough to resist Italian attempts at colonization, and became the only African nation that retained independent sovereignty throughout this period. This resistance made Ethiopia a symbol for many African nations during their own struggles for independence, and fostered a pride many Ethiopians feel towards their beloved homeland. During the Cold War, Ethiopia suffered from foreign interventions and internal chaos, resulting in many of the stereotypes so often rehashed in the West. However, those worn-out clichés have little to do with modern Ethiopia; set to become one of the largest economies in Africa, the country is also regarded as the most stable in East Africa. Addis Ababa is a modern city, alive with the entrepreneurship and excitement of new Africa. The capital is home to the African Union, alongside many embassies and offices of the UN, but maybe more exciting to the traveler is the alive-and-well cultural and music scene in the city. People have been journeying to “Addis” for thousands of years, and the city has a metropolitan and international flair few others on the continent can match.
Ethiopia’s landscape is ethereal—falling from the Afro-alpine plateau down to the depths of the Danakil Depression. Varied rivers cut through the country, cleaving cultures and geographies into unique slices unlike anywhere else in the world. Wolves hunt baboons in the Highlands while crocodiles bask in the sun along the Great Lakes of the Rift Valley. Mountains seem to almost change shape, curling into spires and collapsing into craters as they curve through the country. The river valleys harbor tribes that keep millennia-old traditions alive. The north, the south, the east, and the west are all individual and intricate—worthy of exploration unto themselves. Of course, for that very lucky traveler—if the moon and stars and signs all align—she can wake to the sight of sugared snow dusting the Simien Mountains, gracefully tracing ridges and ribs till melting away under the African sun.
But what makes Ethiopia truly special is the people—the mix and match of tribes and ethnicities, languages and cultures. There are more than 80 different ethnic groups within the nation, each with different customs, languages, and traditions. Uniting all this diversity is a sense of pride in Ethiopia, and a willingness to share homes and hearts with the open traveler.
Ethiopia is probably best enjoyed during the earlier stages of the dry season, between October and January, though as a whole the climate is quite pleasant much of the year. Trekking in the mountains is best during September to November, capitalizing on the departing rains and lush landscapes. Transportation grows more difficult during the rainy season (July and August) but there are fewer tourists, changing the dynamic of travel. Holidays and festivals in Ethiopia are spectacular, especially the Timkat and Meskel celebrations (Epiphany and The Finding of the True Cross, respectively) and should be considered in any travel plans.
How to get there?
Visitors to Ethiopia fly into Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. During festivals and high-tourist season, flight prices increase as Ethiopians abroad return to see family and travelers arrive to join in the celebrations. Major carriers fly into Addis, as does Ethiopian Airlines—the major carrier for Ethiopia, with a strong safety record and reliable service.
How much time?
To truly dig deeper into Ethiopia, to get a sense of its wonder and magic, travel needs to be unhurried—uncoupled from the sense of checklists and looming appointments. At least two weeks is necessary to breathe in Ethiopia, though the country can delight for months on end. Our hosted escape reveals as much of Ethiopia as possible in two weeks, establishing friendships and memories that will hopefully last lifetimes.
All visitors, except Kenyan and Djiboutian nationals, need visas to visit Ethiopia. However, nationals from most Western countries can easily get visas upon arrival into Bole International Airport for a cost of US$20. Visas typically last one month, though three month visas can be requested. Sometimes immigration officials may ask to see an onward air ticket, though this is not always the case. Visas are not available at any land border crossing.
How to get around?
Ethiopia’s roads are steadily improving, but may be difficult to negotiate in many parts of the country. As well, different traffic rules and hazards make self-driving in Ethiopia a formidable challenge, and we don’t recommend driving your own car. Our private and set trips are a mix of air travel—much faster than the slow buses and madcap highway travel—and 4WD vehicles with private drivers and guides, who understand the local vagaries of travel within the different regions.
February 21-March 3, 2016
November 27-December 8, 2016
January 8-19, 2017
From $4775 per person in double occupancy based on a group of 10 travelers. Price subject to increase in 2017.
Our Ethiopia Emerging hosted small-group tour partners with the local communities throughout the Central and Southern Rift Valley to showcase their culture and power to shape their world. Guided by our local experts, travelers on this tour will experience the beautiful frenzy of Addis Ababa, the unique wildlife of the Sanetti Plateau, the colorful weavings of the Dorze people and the serenity of a Lake Chamo sunrise while also engaging in the themes of community, culture and conservation as they relate to sustainable tourism development in an emerging nation.