Places in Ethiopia

Top events in Ethiopia

September
27

In remembrance of the Byzantine Empress Helena finding the true cross this festival is a colourful celebration of dancing, singing, and music that...

November
24

Ethiopia is renowned for its long-distance runners and this 10km (6 miles) race is a great chance to see some of the big name running stars of...

November
30

This religious festival celebrates the veneration of the Virgin Mary and attracts thousands of pilgrims from all over the country to witness the...

Castle in Ethiopia
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Castle in Ethiopia

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Ethiopia Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

1,104,300 sq km (426,372 sq miles).

Population

93.9 million (2013).

Population density

85 per sq km.

Capital

Addis Ababa.

Government

Federal Republic.

Head of state

President Mulatu Teshome Wirtu since 2013.

Head of government

Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn since 2012.

Electricity

220 volts AC, 50Hz.

Exotic and otherworldly, your first taste of Ethiopia will seem as if you've been dropped down Alice's rabbit hole and entered Wonderland. Whether you've come to see the ancient monasteries of Lake Tana and Tigray, to get lost within the mazy red rock tunnels of Lalibela, or hike across Africa's rooftop surrounded by packs of Gelada baboons, Ethiopia will not disappoint.

Enchanting and bewildering in equal measures - even the way they measure time here is different to the rest of the world - Ethiopia is one of Africa's most interesting countries. Its landscape swoops from the dizzying heights of the jaggedly carved Simien Mountains down to the sulphur fumaroles and lunar-like landscape of the Danakil Depression, 100m (330 ft) below sea level.

It is also one of the continent's greatest cultural destinations. The fascinating tribal world of the Lower Omo Valley is an ethnographer's paradise where age-old animist customs and traditions still play a role in daily life. Even in the cities the ancient rituals of Ethiopia's Orthodox Christian Church govern the routines of many.  

Throughout its long, and often bloody, history, Ethiopia's feuding fiefdoms have risen, flourished and fallen, leaving remnants of their glory still able to be admired today. Gonder has its fairytale-style castles, Aksum its mysterious, mammoth stelae, Lalibela its rock-hewn network of churches, and Harar its Arabian-influenced walled city. There are nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites spread throughout the country, eight of them cultural; denoting the vast number of historic treasures that can be seen.

Although many people come to Ethiopia specifically for its ancient highlights, this country is home to some of Africa's most dramatic scenery and a fair whack of wildlife. Hiking in the Simien Mountains, shadowed by 100-strong troops of Gelada baboons and trekking the Bale Mountains with your eyes peeled for the rare Ethiopian wolf are well-known activities. Still, there are abundant other opportunities to get up-close-and-personal with nature. Crocodile spotting on Lake Chamo will make you wonder who is eyeing up whom. Elephant tracking in Babille will have you holding your breath when you finally find the herd. And helping the Hyena men of Harar feed the slinking packs of hyenas at the city gates on a moonlit night will set the hairs of your neck upright.

Convoluted and at times frustrating, Ethiopia isn't the easiest country to travel in. The poverty of the countryside can be uncomfortably confronting. Some of the dusty and pot-hole ridden road journeys are a lesson in bone-jarring terror themselves (and if you're travelling by bus you'll have to contend with organised-chaos as a day-to-day trial). If you're up for a challenge though, this nation will have no trouble winning you over in the end.  Once you've fallen under the spell of the hypnotic rhythms of priestly chanting during a church service, viewed the Great Rift Valley's deep slash from high above on an escarpment, attempted (and failed) to dance the shoulder-wobbling iskista dance, and finally mastered how to tell the time Ethiopian-style you'll see why this country casts a spell on so many who journey here.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 21 September 2014

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to:

  • within 10 km of the border with Eritrea, with the exception of the main road through Axum and Adigrat, and tourist sites close to the road (e.g. Debre Damo and Yeha)

  • areas off the principal roads/towns within 10 km of the borders with Sudan and Kenya

  • within 10km of the border with South Sudan

  • the Nogob (previously Fik), Jarar (previously Degehabur), Shabelle (previously Gode), Korahe and Dollo (previously Warder) zones of the Somali region.

  • within 100km of the Ethiopian border with Somalia and Kenya in the Afder and Liben zones of Ethiopia’s Somali region

  • the Danakil desert area: north of the Mille-Djibouti and Mille-Chifra roads, and east of the towns of Bere-Ale, Shehet, Didigsala and Chifra

  • the four woredas (districts) (Akobo, Wantawo, Jikawo and Lare) of the Nuer zone and the Jore woreda of the Agnuak zone of the Gambella region

The FCO advise against all but essential travel to

  • Jijiga town

  • Three woredas of the Agnuak zone of the Gambella region that border on South Sudan (Dima, Goge, and Etang) and the Gambella Wildlife Reserve (taking into account the advice against all travel to within 10km of the border with South Sudan)

There is a high threat from terrorism. There are credible reports that Al Shabaab plan, and have the capability, to attack targets in Ethiopia, including western interests. There is a high threat of kidnapping in Ethiopia’s Somali region, particularly in the eastern areas to which the FCO advise against all travel.

Crime levels are low, but you should avoid large gatherings and public demonstrations and be alert to the risk of street crime.

The Ethiopia-Eritrea border remains closed. Several security incidents have taken place along the border. The risk of cross-border tensions remains. There is a threat of kidnapping along the border.

Owning ivory is strictly prohibited in Ethiopia. Anyone caught in possession of ivory can expect to be detained by police.

Around 20,000 British nationals visit Ethiopia every year. Most visits are trouble free.

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

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