Though Ethiopia’s reputation remains somewhat tarnished by its turbulent history, tourists are returning to the country in increasing numbers, keen to discover its wondrous landscapes, ancient religious sites and fascinating indigenous tribes.
One of the oldest Christian nations in the world, Ethiopia is a multicultural, multifaceted destination where the art of hospitality is alive and well: visitors are typically greeted with a steaming cup of coffee, which was first discovered in this very country.
Most visitors start their Ethiopian odyssey in the sprawling capital, Addis Ababa, a lively city nestling in the lofty Entoto Mountains. Renowned for its ubiquitous cafés, brutalist architecture and awful traffic jams, in Addis Ababa it is not uncommon to see smartly dressed businessmen walking down the same streets as local shepherds.
Few linger long in the Ethiopian capital, choosing instead to head north to Lalibela, a pilgrimage site famed for its ancient churches, which have quite literally been hewn out of a cliff. Lalibela is one of nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ethiopia: other notables include the fairytale castles of Gondar, the walled city of Harar and the mysterious stelae of Aksum.
Ultimately, though, it’s Ethiopia’s epic landscapes that really capture the imagination; from the verdant peaks of the Simien Mountains to the sulphur fumaroles of the Danakil Depression, the scenery could inspire paintings, provoke poetry.
These wild environments sustain ancient tribes such as the Bodi, whose men live on a diet of blood and milk in a bid to become the region’s fattest man, and the Hamer, famous for their dangerous bull-jumping ceremony, which is considered a rite of passage for young men.
Ethiopia has come a long way since the famine of 1984 (which prompted Bob Geldof to write the fundraising hit Do They Know It’s Christmas?), but the country, though culturally rich, remains economically poor. Travelling around it can be hard going, but for those who ride it out, the rewards are immense.
1,104,300 sq km (426,372 sq miles).
102,836,362 (UN estimate 2016).
Head of state:
President Mulatu Teshome Wirtu since 2013.
Head of government:
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn since 2012.
220 volts AC, 50Hz. European-style plugs with two round pins and Italian-style plugs with three round pins in a line are both used.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
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.
There is a general threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate including in places visited by foreigners. You should be vigilant at all times, especially in crowded areas and public places like transport hubs, hotels, restaurants, bars and places of worship and during major gatherings like religious or sporting events.
There was an explosion at the Anwar Mosque in the Merkato area of central Addis Ababa on 11 December 2015.
In October 2013, a bomb in Addis Ababa killed 2 people, and in November 2013, Ethiopian security officials said that they believed that terrorist groups plan to carry out attacks in Addis Ababa and other parts of Ethiopia. Further attacks are likely.
The terrorist group Al-Shabaab, although based in Somalia, poses a threat across the East Africa region. The group continues to link attacks in the region to Ethiopia’s military presence in Somalia as part of an African Union peacekeeping mission, and continues to threaten all countries who have military forces in Somalia.
In the past 4 years, Al Shabaab has claimed responsibility for attacks in Uganda, Djibouti and Kenya. The ultimate aim of Al-Shabaab is to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the wider region, including parts of Ethiopia.
A number of indigenous Ethiopian and ethnic Somali groups which operate in Ethiopia are actively engaged in a militant campaign against the Ethiopian government, with most of their activity centered on the Ogaden region.
There is a threat of kidnapping in Ethiopia’s Somali region, particularly in the eastern areas to which the FCO advise against all travel. You should be vigilant, particularly in towns and cities in the Somali region of Ethiopia, even in areas where the FCO do not advise against all travel. The long-standing policy of the British government is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. The British government considers that paying ransoms and releasing prisoners increases the risk of further hostage taking. The Terrorism Act (2000) also makes payments to terrorists illegal.
There is considered to be a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.