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Useful Information

Do
Go trekking in Bale Mountains, and Simen Mountains National Parks. While getting the glimpse of the Red Fox is a fortunate experience in the mountains, they offer one of the most spectacular landscapes, beautiful vistas and a thrilling experience of trekking at above 4000m. As you can see from the picutre on top of this page, trekking over the Geralta mountains’ range allows you to watch one of the most spectacular landscapes in Africa. Enjoy bird watching at the Rift Valley lakes and white water rafting on the Omo River. See the Azmari-bet(traditional dance) in Bahir Dar, Dessie and other cities; attend the traditional coffee ceremony.

A tour around Southern Ethiopia will allow you to experience the lifestyles of ancient tribes and local nature. In Arba Minch, you can take a boat trip on Lake Chamo and see the crocs, hippos and pelicans and visit the 40 natural springs. Cross the bridge of the god (a natural bridge dividing two lakes) to the local savannah and stand amongst the zebras. Close by Arba Minch, you can visit the mountain villages of Dorze and Chencha where you can visit the traditional markets, visit the homes of potters and weavers and enjoy treks through the pleasant green countryside. Arba Minch is also the gateway to Omo Valley where you can visit local tribes and see their local ways of life, for example, attend the traditional bull jumping ceremony with the Hamer tribe.


Buy
The official currency is the Ethiopian birr (ETB). You are only supposed to import and export 100 birr. Cash transaction is still the norm, although credit cards (Visa & Mastercard) are becoming more widely accepted in mid & high-level hotels and service providers such as travel agency. Vendors’ credit card machined do not work most of the time so you’ll need to pay cash instead.

€1 = ~25 birr and USD1 = ~20 birr as of January 2015. Coins are available in 1, 5, 10, 25, 50-cents and 1-birr denominations, and banknotes come in values of 1, 5, 10, 50, and 100 birr.

If you have Visa or MasterCard-affiliated debit card you are able to withdraw cash from most ATMs around the country (max withdrawl is 4,000birr). Plus-network connected cards are only accepted at Wegagaen Bank’s ATMs. ATMs are available in most places tourists visit (except the Simien Mountains) however Visa-connected cards remain the most easily accepted cards.
Foreign exchange

Any major bank branch in Ethiopia can change foreign currency into Ethiopian Birr. The rates are the same everywhere. There are dozens of commercial banks in Addis, including in the Sheraton and Hilton hotels, and in the corner of the baggage claim hall at the airport. Most cities and towns that tourists visit will have at least one commercial bank, except for villages in the Omo valley. US dollars, euros, or British pounds are the best currencies to carry.

It is illegal to change money on the black market although the rates are about 10% better than what you can get from the banks (USD1 = 23 birr Jan 2015).

In cities like Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa (little accepted in Dire Dawa, not like Addis) the US dollar is mostly accepted. In some shops in Addis Ababa the prices will be written in ETB+US$. Some ATMs in Addis Ababa give out both U.S. dollars and birr. Most hotels in Addis Ababa accept US dollars. All airports in Ethiopia accept US dollars.

You cannot obtain US dollars in Ethiopia through legal means unless you have a flight ticket to leave the country. This means that if you need dollars (e.g. to get a Djibouti visa) and don’t have a flight ticket to leave Ethiopia you will need to either change money on the black market or ensure that you have enough US dollars on you.

If you change money officially, it’s imperative to keep all the exchange slips in case you want to re-convert any left-over Birr back into foreign currency. However, bear in mind that changing money back into foreign hard currency is not easy and you need to go to a branch of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopian in a major city.

As Birr has the tendency to be devaluated over time, change/withdraw from ATM what you need on a regular basis instead of change a large stash of cash.
Costs

Ethiopia is relatively cheap for tourists, compared to other African countries.
Hotel room prices indication: Luxury USD 150+, mid-range USD 40-120, budget 10-30 USD

Food and Drinks

Price    Food/Drink
6 ETB    Cup of coffee
8-12 ETB    Soft drink: Coca Cola, Fanta, Sprite, 7 Up, Mirinda or Pepsi, Malt beer
15-25 ETB    Juice
15-20 ETB    Dessert
20-30 ETB    Breakfast
70 ETB    Coffee, 1 kilogram
50 ETB    half kilogram of local organic honey
60-100 ETB    Pizza, hamburger, fish ‘n chips
50 ETB    Asian or African restaurant
20-30 ETB    Injera with all kind of wot
50 ETB    Spaghetti with tomato stew or coleslaw (“vegetable”)
80-200 ETB    Cake
150 ETB plus    the most elegant and luxury restaurants
Eat

Injera is Ethiopia's national dish. It is a spongy, tangy-tasting sourdough made from the grain teff, which grows in the highlands of Ethiopia. It is baked in the form of giant thin pancakes, then often rolled up and sliced to hand-sized portions. It is eaten with wot (or wat), traditional stews made with spices and meat or legumes. Some popular wats are doro (chicken) wat, yebeg (lamb) wat and asa (fish) wat. Most dishes are somewhat spicy, but still very enjoyable for western travellers. At the same time probably the long cooking times of stews will leave you with minimal food-related problems compared to other low developed countries.

The injera sits directly on a large round plate or tray and is covered with wat placed symmetrically around a central item. The various wats are eaten with other pieces of injera, which are served on a side plate or come free of charge once you finished the non vegetable covered injera on the main plate. Injera is eaten with the right hand - rip a large piece of injera and use it to pick up one of the various flavours of wat on the main platter.

Do not eat with your left hand! In Ethiopia food is a respected gift from God and eating with your left hand is a sign of disrespect.

Another popular injera dish is firfir: fried, shredded injera. It can be served with or without meat or with all sorts of veggies.

If you prefer vegetarian food, try the shiro wat, which is a chick-pea based stew served with injera. Most times you have to specifically ask for vegetarian options as it doesn't come with most of the combinations since Ethiopians prefer meat. When a vegetarian is having trouble communicating his/her dietary needs, a good strategy is to ask for "fasting food," a concept that is nearly universally understood.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church mandates a large number of "fast days" during the year - officially more than 180 days annually, including a 56 day fast during the Orthodox Lent. During these periods, the observant are required to eat no animal products, only vegan food. In large tourist restaurants in Addis and in predominately Muslim areas, you will find the fasting period has no impact on the food available to you. But in smaller restaurants, including in tourist venues like Lalibela and Axum, a tourist will be handed an English language menu full of chicken and meat options - but when attempting to order those items, will be told they are not available, and given the option of "fasting food." The result will be a very tasty injera plate with 3-6 vegetable and legume wats, including lentils, spinach/greens and similar items. While this can be frustrating to carnivores, and the be served the same "fasting food" for days on end can become tiresome, it makes Ethiopia much more vegetarian friendly. For those that require gluten-free dietary the teff-based and therefore gluten-free injera will make you love the country.

Another popular dish is tibbs or tibs, spicy beef fried in butter. It can be either really bad (burnt to a crisp and resembling petrified wood) or juicy and delicious in more fancy restaurants. (The Holiday Hotel in Addis serves delicious tibbs).

Kitfo is minced meat, spiced with chili. You can have it raw (the locally preferred way, but there's a risk of getting tape worm), leb-leb (lightly cooked) or fully cooked. It comes with a local cheese ayeb and a spinach.

For the pickier traveler, almost every place in Ethiopia also serves spaghetti (thanks to the short lived Italian occupation). In nice restaurants in Addis you can find excellent spaghetti and lasagna (try the Blue Tops or Top View restaurants), and in the more peripheral places you will usually find it overcooked with bland tomato paste as sauce. (Ethiopians - especially in smaller towns - will often turn the bowl of spaghetti on top of a plate of injera and wats, and use injera to scoop up both the spaghetti and the spicy stews.)
Drink

The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 18.

The coffee ceremony involves drinking a minimum of three cups of coffee and eating popcorn. It is a special honour, or mark of respect to be invited into somebody's home for the coffee ceremony.

In preparation for the ceremony the coffee beans are roasted in a flat pan over charcoal. The beans are then ground using pestle and mortar. The coffee is brewed with water in a clay coffee pot and is considered ready when it starts to boil. Coffee in Ethiopia is served black with sugar.

Tej is a honey wine, similar to mead, that is frequently drunk in bars, in particular, in a tejbeit (tej bar).

A variety of Ethiopian beers are available, all of which are quite drinkable; also Ethiopian wines, both red and white, which would not win any prizes but are drinkable.

Sleep
There is a wide range of accommodation in Ethiopia. There is a luxurious Sheraton hotel in Addis Ababa. You can also find a “hotel” that is nothing more than a small room with a tiny bed, and no running water, in the border town of Moyale.

Staying in tourist areas generally results in a broader range of choices, but watch out for tourist prices. It is acceptable to bargain with the hotel owner, for they usually tend to charge you “faranji” (foreigner) prices at first, which are often twenty times the local rate. You won’t be able to bargain down to local prices (close to nothing) but you can bargain down a lot. This is not true at the government run “Ghion” chain, and the fancier private chains as well, where prices for foreigners are fixed. (Bekale Mola, for example).

Addis: Addis is full of cheap hotels. Most tourists stay in the piazza area, where there are many hotels ranging from very cheap to moderately cheap. Except for the cheapest, most of them have running hot water, and are fairly clean. Park Hotel starts at 20 birr a single and 30 birr a double. Two big ones are Taitu hotel and Wutma hotel.

The two biggest hotels in Addis are the Sheraton, referred to by expats as “The Sheza”, and the Hilton. Both are enormous and very expensive. Both have swimming pools, good restaurants, souvenir shops and bakeries: the rooms are comfortable. If you cannot afford these two hotels, visit them and chat up the expats (especially at lunch time when they take their break by the pool) and if your accommodation needs to be improved, they might be able to help out. You might also catch a glimpse of a rich or famous celebrity or high powered world politician, who is in Addis to do some charity work or to deal with some sort of African politics.

To escape from the busy capital, many foreign residents escape now in the weekend to Debre Zeit, at only 50km. With 7 crater lakes and a nice climate, by which you can sit outside, day and night, the whole year, Debre Zeit gets the place to be. The new highway from the Addis will link Debre Zeit in 25 minutes. Most scenic are Babogaya Lake and the Green crater Lake. At Babogaya Lake, Viewpoint Lodge offers an amazing view, very good value, and the lake water is used for swimming by many people. Green crater lake, behind the militairy airport, offers a deep hole of 150m, in which you can go down.

Outside Addis

In the north, in every city (Axum, Lalibella, Bahir Dar, Gondar) one can find hotels, from overpriced ones such as the government-run Ghion chain hotels to cheaper ones. Smaller places on the major roads offer cheap places if you do not mind the most basic rooms. A tourist town like Debark that serves for trekking the Simien Mountains also offers a range of rooms, with the most popular being the Simien Park Hotel (25/30 birr), where you could also pitch a tent for 20. It meets the normal standards for food, electricity, water, cleanliness and hygiene.

In the south, all the cities (Shashemane, Wondo Genet, Awasa, Arba Minch, Jinka…) have decent, cheap hotels. The most basic rooms start at 15 birr for a single and 20 birr for a double. Many of them don’t have hot water and electricity all hours of the day, so you should schedule time for a shower in advance. There are also three fairly expensive resort hotels on the shore of Lake Langano. In the smaller villages in and around the Omo valley (Weyto, Turmi, Key Afar, Dimeka, Konso, etc.) there are usually few (very basic) or no hotels, but if you are travelling through the valley to see the tribes, there is always a campground or a restaurant that offers beds. If you camp out at one of these villages, you should hire a guard to watch over your stuff overnight.

Work
Ethiopia has one of the lowest unemployment rates in Africa. The unemployment rate is 5% (2005). [3] Notice that the average income is about 120 US-dollar/month per inhabitant.

The country’s economy is based on agriculture. 69% of the people lead an agrarian lifestyle (CCO). However, in the big cities, especially in Addis-Ababa,

There is a high demand of IT professionals.

Many start-up companies search for individuals with computer networking and consulting backgrounds.

Addis-Ababa has the highest number of NGOs in Africa, and possibly among all third world countries. They are famous for providing generous salaries to their employees.

Many expatriates work in NGOs and small start-up IT companies.

Compared with other African cities, Addis-Ababa has a high number of big, medium and small sized computer training schools, and governmental and private learning institutions. Many students who attend hope to obtain an IT or consulting job, in the very scarce job market of the city.

There are many opportunities to volunteer in and around Addis Ababa. Organizations such as Love Volunteers [4] and Projects Abroad [5] offer a range of volunteer projects including teaching English, caring for children and healthcare.

Safety

Crime/violence    Low: Alcohol-related violence, petty theft
HIV/AIDS    Low:
2-3 % of the adult population or 1 in 50 infected
Authorities/corruption    Low – Middle: Security guards might be rude
Transportation    Low – Middle:
Wild animal crossings everywhere; bad roads
Health    Middle:
Flea, tick and mosquito bites
Nature    Low

Ethiopia is a relatively low-crime country compared to Kenya, South Africa and some other countries in Africa.Avoid traveling to the eastern part of the country beyond the city of Harar. Somali separatist groups occasionally launch guerilla attacks. Most expats who go there are US military personnel actively training the Ethiopian army’s anti-terrorism unit. Many others are Chinese, Indian or Malaysian representatives of oil companies, who have been targeted in major guerilla attacks resulting in dozens of casualties.

Armed insurgent groups operate in the Oromiya and Afar regions.

Organized crime and gang violence are very unusual in most parts of the country. However, in the border areas of Sudan (Gambella Region) and Kenya, there are reports indicating occurrences of banditry. Avoid these areas.

Though Ethiopia has a secular government, the people are very religious. The two dominant religions (the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Islam) strongly influence day-to-day life. Due to their influence the government implements certain rules and laws that could appear unsettling to westerners.

Compared to other African countries, robbery is not a major problem in the cities and towns. However, travelers are advised to look after their belongings. Travelers should be cautious at all times when traveling on roads in Ethiopia. There have been reports of highway robbery, including carjacking, by armed bandits outside urban areas. Some incidents have been accompanied by violence. Travelers are cautioned to limit road travel outside major towns or cities to daylight hours and travel in convoys, if possible.

Travellers with vehicles and cyclists may often be the target of stoning by local youths when driving in rural areas.

Outside of Addis, you will likely encounter many children who will approach you and ask for money. The greeting “Hello money” is a common one. A typical scam is to ask you to purchase a dictionary for their school, which the overpriced tourist shops just happen to carry for $50 each – this is a scam. You may feel awful to ignore these kids (especially those who grew up in the West and remember the 1990’s famine post-Derg). Many will tell stories about coming from the countryside and having to pay their own schooling, or not having shoes. While they are undoubtedly poor, these are lies to try to trick you into giving them money that they can spend on buying a material good instead of life necessity.

If a child tries one of these schemes on you, do not hesitate to politely tell them that you cannot give them any money since it will just encourage them to tell lies instead of growing up to be an honorable person. Ethiopia is a socialized state where almost all of the basic necessities of life are provided. For sure the children who approach you are poor, but they do have free education, housing, clothing, and meals; typically they are just looking for a way to make some extra money to buy a football jersey or some other material good to show off to their friends. The adults on the other hand are very kind and friendly, and frown upon this behavior from their own kids but cannot stop it.

After being denied money, children will typically ask for a donation of clothing with a very sad puppy-dog face (unless you are wearing a football jersey, they will ask straight up if they can have this – not out of need, but materialistic desire). There are conflicting opinions on whether to give even clothing: one faction believes that bringing your old clothing donations from home are a win-win, since going to a good cause. The other faction believes that this only encourages children to keep begging instead of leading an honest life, and they would only take your shirt and sell it in the market for money to buy a material good (football jerseys are especially the hot item among kids). One thing you can be sure to donate without any negative repercussion is food.

Prostitution is legal, but be careful not go in places that are brothels. Brothels are illegal, and there are the possibility of police raids. Do not interact with prostitutes that are below the legal age of consent, punishments are severe. Also be aware of those with HIV/AIDS, even though in Ethiopia, it is a small risk.

Health & Attitude

Be careful of the food you eat, and don't stay in the sun too long. If you get sick, go to one of the big private hospitals, eg. Korean, Hayat, St Gabriels. Do not drink tap water. Bottled water for drinking is available almost everywhere in small, medium and big bottles. Addis tap water is better than in many other cities, but even the hotels generally recommend that guests do not drink it, nor eat salads or other uncooked food that is commonly washed in tap water. However, do make sure you drink enough water, especially when the weather is hot. Consult a doctor before going to Ethiopia and stock up on prescription drugs you require.

The risk of malaria is low in the capital and the highlands, but high in the lake regions and lowlands. Doxycycline for malaria prevention is cheap in Addis. Respect Ethiopians are very proud of their culture, identity, and country. Avoid criticizing their cultural lifestyle, especially their brand of Christianity (Oriental Orthodox). Avoid all contentious religious discussion, or you may risk all good will and hospitality you could have been afforded. Rather than argue about the merits of Orthodoxy or Islam, it's best to ask friends to explain their customs, festivals and beliefs and to listen with respect. The Ethiopians' relationship with the westerners is generally free of racial animosity.

However, there is considerable suspicion and even xenophobia toward foreigners in the countryside. Ethiopians can be short-fused if they feel they are not treated as equals. If a woman is with a man, ask the man's permission to talk to her beforehand. For a man to avoid eye contact with a woman is considered a sign of respect. If you're a foreign woman and are in public with a man, don't be upset if Ethiopian men address all questions to him. They will do this not to slight you but to show respect. This will be the case on public transport and in restaurants. Likewise, if you are a foreign man, maintaining a formal distance from women will be seen as good manners. It is very important that you remove your shoes when entering a home.


Talk
Amharic is the first official language of Ethiopia. The language is a Semitic language related to Hebrew, Arabic and Maltese, and if you know any of these languages you’ll recognize some cognates. In all parts of the country everyone speaks Amharic to some extent, no matter what their first language may be. The language is written in the Ge’ez script.

English is the primary foreign language taught in schools, and is medium of secondary school education. In big cities, most people under 40 speak some English. In rural areas, find local school children to translate for you for a fee that could be next to nothing. Ethiopians have a distinct way of speaking English. Because it is heavily accented, it might be a bit difficult to understand it at the beginning. However, when you get used to the way they pronounce some English words, it will become fairly understandable.

Up north in Tigray, Tigrinya is the primary language, and it’s also written in Ge’ez. However, Amharic is widely understood.

In the middle regions, Oromo is widely spoken. Oromo language uses a Latin alphabet.

Communication
Telephone
The country code for calling Ethiopia is 251. The Ethiopian dialing plan changed on 17 September 2005, such that the two-digit city code changed to three digits (or, from outside the country, one to two digits) and six-digit telephone numbers changed to seven digits. The city code for Addis Ababa, as of 17 Sep 2005, is 011 (or 11 from outside Ethiopia).

Mobile
Ethiopia uses GSM (as in Europe/Africa), operated by Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) and limited 3G. Currently there is decent coverage around the big cities such as Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Adama, Bahir Dar, Awasa, Harar, Dese, Gonder, Mekele, and Nekemete. It is expanding into small cities. For all travellers, having a mobile phone is a must. It is cheap and easily available.

There are only few stores that rent SIM cards: you can rent a SIM card and phone inside the Addis Ababa Sheraton hotel but is it very expensive. Your best option is to a rent a SIM card and mobile phone from a local store. You can also buy a SIM card from many local stores (try anywhere that sells phones). You will have to give the seller a copy of your passport ID page, 2 passport style pictures, and 40 birr (as of 20/03/2010). You’ll have to sign an agreement that you will not commit any crimes with your phone. All local stores will have calling cards you can purchase to call internationally. Other places to rent SIM cards or phones include ArifMobile which offers additional services with their SIMs.

Roaming charges are very steep. For a short visit, your best option for mobile access is to rent a SIM card with a phone. While roaming arrangements are said to be in place in practice you may find it impossible to get a connection that works reliably, or at all.

Internet
There are numerous internet cafes in Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Nazret, Bahir Dar, Gonder, Awasa and other cities. In Addis Ababa, connection speeds are more than adequate for performing tasks such as checking e-mail most of the time. A typical internet cafe will have a dozen computers using one broadband (usually starts from 128kbps) connection. Ethiopia’s international connection is unstable: On bad days, even a broadband connection will only deliver dial-up speed, because the whole country’s traffic is running via an undersized backup satellite connection.

To use the internet costs between 25-35 Ethiopian cents/per min in the bigger cities but outside the cities it usually costs more than 1 birr/per minutes.

Most of the computers have USB, so maybe you’ll be interested in using a portable e-mail program (like Thunderbird portable) from an usb-stick. Take care of computer viruses! Most computers or flash disks in use are infected.

Outside of bigger towns, it is harder to find a working Internet connection and the charge per minute is often much higher than in bigger towns.

Ethiopia is currently in the process of deploying an internet filter, to access blocked sites, use a VPN or use the free, open-source TOR Project. Following an international outcry, a new law that appeared to ban the use of Skype and other VOIP services has been replaced. Personal use of VoIP services such as Skype has been legalised as of July 2012.
Mail

Ethiopia has one of the most efficient postal services in Africa. Many attribute this success to the extensive network of Ethiopian Airlines. However, mail does not get delivered to your address. You are required to buy a post office box. Once you get a post office box, the flow of your mail will be consistent. Post cards to Europe are at 2 birr; North America 5 birr. (2007)

Get in touch

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Around Bole International Airport
Daset Building,1st Floor #14

+251116508383 +251116508464

+251926141414 +251966487070

+251116509424

P.O.Box 1842/1250

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