Ethiopia OverviewVisitors to Ethiopia are generally amazed by the stunning natural beauty of a country that is also incredibly rich in culture and history. The striking diversity of landscapes, ancient traditions and the people. Ethiopia is used to being overlooked as a tourist destination, but the country's unique attractions are slowly taking pride of place in East Africa, today the oldest independent nation on the continent welcomes visitors to experience her mosaic of ethnicity, a long and proud history and an abundance of stunning scenery.
Ethiopia beckons visitors to explore from the tops of its highlands, where mountains soar over 14000 feet / 4300 metres high, to the depths of the Danakil Depression situated 155 metres / 509 feet below sea level; to discover Abyssinian culture and traditions that date back over 3000 years, to experience ancient Islamic folklore, as well as the fascinating rituals and sacred ceremonies of the Ethiopian Church.
Ethiopia is also described as the Cradle of Humanity, home to the oldest human remains in the world, while at the same time its capital Addis Ababa, New Flower in Amharic, is home to the modern problems of urban migration, where people roam the streets in search a better life.
Northern Ethiopia holds the greatest attraction for visitors as one of the country's richest regions for culture, history and natural splendour. The Historic Route takes in the medieval city of Gondar, with more castles, palaces and churches than any other city in Africa. The ancient capital of the Queen of Sheba and Ethiopia's holiest city, Axum, where the original Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments is said to rest.
Ethiopia's top attraction, is undoubtedly the 13th century rock hewn churches of Lalibela, among the most incredible man made structures in the world, revered among Ethiopians and foreigners alike, the venue for some of the most famous religious festivals in Ethiopia. Astounding rock churches are believed to have been created with the help of angels.
The north also boasts the breathtaking Simien Mountains National Park, encompassing the fourth highest peak on the continent, the park providing fantastic hiking opportunities and a variety of wildlife. Bahar Dar city situated on Lake Tana is popular as a base from which to explore the intriguing monasteries built on the many islands scattered about the Lake Tana, as well as the Blue Nile Falls, which are the most impressive falls in Africa.
Time in Ethiopia
Local time is GMT +3 hours. There is a 3 hours difference between Ethiopian time and Western Europe, London time, so 8 am in Western time will be 11 am in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Three pin plugs are used, electricity supply is irregular and blackouts are common.
Amharic is the official language, although over 80 local languages are also spoken. English and Arabic are widely spoken, as well as French and Italian.
Travellers to Ethiopia are recommended to have hepatitis A and cholera vaccines. Malaria is prevalent in the low lands below 6,562ft / 2000m and altitude sickness may affect travellers to the highland areas. Bilharzia is present in the majority of lakes in Ethiopia and travellers are advised to drink boiled or bottled water. Medical facilities are poor outside of Addis Ababa, visitors should bring their own regular medications with them and arrange comprehensive medical insurance.
Tourist hotels and restaurants usually add a 10% service charge to the bill. Otherwise tipping is fairly common, but only small amounts.
Visitors are cautioned to avoid large crowds, particularly in Addis Ababa, and to keep a low profile in public places. Travel to the Gambella region near the southern Sudanese border, as well as to within 12 miles / 20 km of the Eritrean border in the Tigray and Afar regions, military zones, should be avoided due to unstable security situation. The border between Eritrea and Ethiopia is closed. Travelling to Somalia by road should also be avoided, as well as all travel east of Harar.. Overland travel to Sudan or Kenya is dangerous due to armed bandits, and should only be attempted in a convoy. Visitors need to be cautious in public places.
Ethiopian are mainly Orthodox Christian and restaurants do not serve meat dishes on Wednesdays, Fridays and during Lent. Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar, which consists of 13 months - 12 months of 30 days, the thirteenth month has five or six days, and in 2011 the year is 2003 in Ethiopia. Homosexuality is illegal. Shoes should be removed before entering mosques and churches. Photographs should not be taken of military buildings and airports, and permission should be asked before photographing religious festivals and people.
Lion of Judah
Ethiopia's traditions, recorded and elaborated in a 13th century treatise, "Kebre Negest", assert descent from a retinue of Israelites who returned with the Queen of Sheba from her visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem, by whom she had conceived the Solomonic dynasty's founder, Menelik I.
Flag of Ethiopia
the Flag three traditional colours green, yellow and red date back to Emperor Menelik 1889, were first used in a flag in 1897. The colours of African unity, are seen here on one of the oldest African flags. These colours were used for the flag of the Ethiopian Empire.
Etiquette is very important in Ethiopia, both socially and in business. Formal attire is expected of men and women. Greetings are very important and the shaking of hands is the norm for first meetings. Ethiopians like to establish good relations with one another and personal relationships are the cornerstone of business. English is understood by most businessmen in Addis Ababa, as well as some French and Italian. Ethiopians respect their elders and visitors should show the same courtesy. Business hours are generally 8.30am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday with an hour taken at lunch, but may vary according to individual businesses.
The international dialling code for Ethiopia is +251. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code. The area code for Addis Ababa is (0)1. Telephone, fax and postal facilities are available in most main towns. There are Internet cafes in Addis Ababa and Internet services may be available in upmarket hotels. A GSM 900 network is provided, coverage is limited to Addis Ababa and a few other parts of Ethiopia.
Travellers to Ethiopia do not have to pay customs duty on 100 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 227g of tobacco; 1 litre of alcoholic beverages; 2 bottles or 500ml of perfume; and gifts to the value of Br100.
Currency Currency Converter
The official currency is the Ethiopian Birr (ETB), which is divided into 100 cents. Foreign currency can be exchanged at banks and authorised hotels. Credit cards have limited usage outside of Addis Ababa, and even in the capital they are only accepted by major establishments. Visitors should carry a supply of travellers cheques or hard currency with them, preferably in US dollars. ATMs are sparse, but banks are usually open every day except Sundays from 8am to 11am and 1pm till 4pm.
Passport and Visa
Foreign visitors to Ethiopia may obtain a visa on arrival. For tourist visas, the fees are as follows: US$ 20 one month, single-entry, US$ 30 three months, multiple-entry, US$ 40 six months, multiple-entry. Work visas are also obtainable, the best to organised in advance.
Entry into Ethiopia is only allowed from Addis Ababa International Airport, unless the Government has granted prior permission for another point of entry, and a visa has been pre-organised. It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources. Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice.