Ethiopia Travel Guide
Ethiopia has the distinction of being the only country in Africa that was never colonized during Europe’s Age of Exploration. As a result, they have managed to retain much of their culture, making this place one of the most fascinating travel destinations in the world.
Unfortunately, the tragic famine that afflicted this country in the 1980s damaged its international reputation. When Ethiopia is mentioned in casual conversation, it is the first thing that many foreigners think about.
A proud nation with a rich history and culture, as well as a diverse geography that will impress nature lovers, those that visit Ethiopia will become evangelists when they speak about their trip to their friends and family upon their return home.
Currency: Ethiopian Birrs
Languages: Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya Guaragigna, Somali, Arabic, English
What To Do
Begin your trip to Ethiopia on a sombre note by visiting the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum. Located in the capital of Addis Ababa, this volunteer-run institution chronicles the troubling times when Ethiopia’s former communist regime killed upwards of a half a million people that dared to oppose their government.
The exhibits display the torture implements that were used to extract information from victims, as well as more graphic artifacts such as blood-soaked clothes, skulls and bones, and countless photographs of those murdered by the Derg regime.
While you can experience this museum on your own, we advise that you hire a guide, as they have first-hand experience with this horrible period in Ethiopia’s history. Don’t forget to leave a donation on your way out, as this museum is run without the assistance of the government.
When you have had your fill of Addis Ababa, check out the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela. Recognized by UNESCO due to their historical relevance to Christianity in North Africa, it is a sight that will humble even the most ardent atheist.
In the late 12th and early 13th century, the king of Lalibela claimed that God spoke to him in a dream: he was instructed to construct a New Jerusalem in Ethiopia. The Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela were the end result of this divine inspiration; there are 11 of them in total, but if you only have a limited amount of time in the country, make sure that you visit St. George’s Church first.
Cut directly out of the mountain where it was built, this cathedral was carved in the shape of a giant stone cross, creating a church that is unlike any other that you’ll find on Earth.
Next, make your way to Fasil Ghebbi, which is situated a short distance from Gondar. The remains of a fortified city that was built in the 17th century, there is much to see within the grounds of this UNESCO world heritage site.
Consisting of a castle, a palace, horse stables, a library, a banqueting hall, and three churches, you will need at least a couple of hours to cover everything that you will find here. Given the fact that this site is spread out over 17 acres, it makes sense to hire a tuk-tuk driver, as this will save your legs from a great deal of discomfort later in the day.
Ethiopia is home to some of Africa’s most diverse geography. Some of its highest mountains can be found within the bounds of Simien Mountains National Park, with Ras Dashan topping out at almost 15,000 feet above sea level.
Keep your eyes open for the Ethiopian wolf and the Walia Ibex, both of which are endangered species. The latter animal is a goat species that is endemic to this park, meaning that it can be found nowhere else on Earth.
Additionally, the gelada baboon and caracal (a species of wild cat) also inhabit this reserve, so keep your binoculars and your camera at the ready at all times.
While it is located in a part of Ethiopia that has experienced security issues in the past, travelers with a greater appetite for risk may want to consider visiting the Danakil Depression. Situated at an intersection point between three tectonic plates in the Horn of Africa, it is one of the hottest and lowest places on Earth, and it is also home to some of its most alien-like terrain.
Formed by the pulling apart of Asia and Africa, volcanic eruptions of magma and the formation of minerals such as sulfur and basalt have created a landscape that is equal parts inhospitable and breathtaking.
Be sure to take your camera and more than one empty memory card, but also remember to hydrate on a regular basis, as temperatures here routinely push 50 degrees Celsius during the hottest times of the year.
What to Eat
Don’t leave Ethiopia without trying Injera. Widely considered to be its national dish, it is a flatbread created from sourdough that is used as a starch staple, a utensil, and a plate, all in one package.
The other dishes found in a typical Ethiopian meal are served on top of the Injera, and diners will use pieces of this bread to scoop up the other parts of the meal. Quite innovative, as it largely eliminates the need to do dishes!
As far as side dishes go, Wat is one of the most popular foods that you will find on top of a slab of Injera. Wat is a curry that can be made with meats such as lamb, beef, and chicken, or with vegetables only.
Flavored with a spice mixture known as berbere, as well as clarified butter, it is a hearty meal that you will come back for on more than one occasion during your time in Ethiopia.
Tibs is another meal that you will want to try during your time in this country. It is a grilled meat dish that is sautéed along with vegetables. It can vary greatly in serving size, heat, and composition depending on which region in Ethiopia you have this meal. Often served to people as a show of respect, it is a dish that is typically reserved for special occasions.