Any student of history will tell you there’s much more to Ethiopia than drought and famine. One of the world’s earliest Christian nations, Ethiopia’s history goes as far back as humanity itself. Its early Christian history produced the astounding churches of Lalibela, hewn from bedrock in one solid piece – a kind of African Petra. Although getting around can be wearing, mountainous Ethiopia boasts waterfalls and high plateaus, while the multi colored lakes of the Great Rift Valley are a Mecca for birdwatchers. Plus, the locals are friendly, and Ethiopian cuisine has spawned restaurants around the globe. Best of all, thanks to years of bad press, it’s still off the beaten track.
Ethiopia is a unique and secluded country. It has never been colonized by a European power, and as a result the people have retained a strong cultural identity and are renowned for their warmth and hospitality. It possesses some of the most impressive architecture found anywhere, particularly at Lalibela, where the rock-hewn churches have been described as the Eighth Wonder of the World. The landscape is equally memorable and Ethiopia is home to some of the finest mountain scenery in Africa. The Simien Mountains, famed for their volcanic pinnacles, are particularly beautiful. This World Heritage Site is home to the Walia Ibex, Gelada Baboons and the rare Ethiopian Wolf. Festivals in Ethiopia are colorful events with plenty of pageantry, music and dancing.
Ethiopia, as large as France and Spain combined, has an area of 1,112,000 square kilometres. About 65 percent of the land is arable, with 15 percent presently cultivated. From the north and running down the centre are the Abyssinian highlands, to the west of the chain the land drops to the grasslands of Sudan, to the east to the deserts of the Afar. South of Addis Ababa the land is dominated by the Rift Valley Lakes. The main rivers are the Blue Nile, the Tekezze, the Awash, the Wabe Shabele, the Omo, and the Baro.
Ethiopia the country, which is located on the Horn of Africa, 30 N – 150 and 330 E – 480 E Longitude. It has a common boundary with five neighboring countries Eritrea in North, Sudan in west, Kenya and Somalia in South again Somalia and Djibouti in East.
Ethiopia is bisected by the great East Africa Rift Valley system in to three major physiographic regions. These are: The North western Highlands and associated Low Lands, The South eastern highlands and associated low Lands and The Ethiopian rift valley system.
In this country there are many highest peaks especially in the North- western high lands or in Semien massive we get Ras Dashen Mountain which has 4620 Meter highet above sea level. It is the largest peak in the country and 4th in the continent of Africa. On the other hand, we can find a very low land areas in Ethiopia of which Afar depression which has 116 m below sea level is known in the world.
Some scholars and writhers call Ethiopia, is a “water tower of Africa”. Although the country is still not more benefited from its rivers, it possesses many rivers which most of them flow out to the neighboring countries such as Blue Nile , Wabi Shebelle, Tekeze, Awash etc … But Awash is the usable and is included in inland drainage system.
The geographical features as well as the location of a country have a strong influence on her climatic condition. Because of it latitudinal location, Ethiopia enjoys a tropical climate type. It has two major seasons the dry and rain season.
Even if its soil is eroded highly from time to time by different factors. It has fertile and variety of soils such as; the desert soil basaltic soil, crystalline high land soil. There for, having different types of soil and favorable climate condition, Ethiopia that enables to have a large variety of species of wild animals and bird life. it has over 800 hundred birds species among these 21 are endemic like, Abyssinian Long claw, Ankober sirni etc…. and over 270 species of mammals of which 7 are endemic to the country like, Ethiopian Wolf, Walya Ibex, Mountain Niyala etc….. So considering this and others factors people give a nickname for Ethiopia saying, “Country of endemism”.
PopulationEthiopian population is about 73 million of which 89% is rural population and only 11% resided in urban area. So this number ranked her the third largest country in Africa next to Nigeria and Egypt in population.
Ethiopia is today inhabited by 4 ethnic or linguistic families: The semetic, Cushitic, Omotic and Nilotic people. These all together speak 70 -80 languages with over 200 dialects. Amharic is more highly developed than other languages. Thus, it is the most wildly spoken and the official languages of the country. It has its own alphabetic system. Next to Amharic, Oromigna and Tigrigna are wildly spoken in the country
ClimateThere are two seasons: the dry season prevails from October through May; the wet season runs from June to September. Temperatures are determined by altitude, with highlands (including Addis Ababa) rarely exceeding 25º C. In the lowlands it can get considerably hotter exceeding 40ºC, while in the Danakil Depression it can approach 60ºC.
TopographyEthiopia has an elevated central plateau varying in height between 2,000 and 3,000 meters. In the north and centre of the country there are some 25 mountains whose peaks rise over 4,000 meters. The most famous Ethiopian river is the Blue Nile (or Abbay), which runs a distance of 1,450 kilometres from its source in Lake Tana, to join the White Nile at Khartoum.
GovernmentEthiopia is a Federal Democratic Republic made up of 9 regions, mainly based on ethnicity. The present government was reelected in May 2005 for a 5-year term.
EconomyAbout 90 percent of the population earn their living from the land, mainly as subsistence farmers. Agriculture is the backbone of the national economy and the principal exports from this sector are coffee, oil seeds, pulses, flowers, vegetables, sugar and foodstuffs for animals. There is also a thriving livestock sector (Ethiopia has the largest domestic livestock population in Africa), exporting cattle on the hoof and hides and skins.
The export of Cofee, chat, oilseeds, pulses and animal feed makes up the rest of Ethiopia’s foreign currency earnings, with tourism set to make an increasingly important contribution.
The opening up of the economy since the coming of the present government in 1991, has created more favourable grounds for development of Ethiopia’s rich resource base. Ethiopia is the “water tower” of the region (the Blue Nile contributes to 85% of the main Nile flow) and projects are now being implemented to better exploit the country’s water resources both for power generation as well as to boost agricultural production through irrigation schemes. Mineral exploration has stepped up in recent years – there are reserves of oil, natural gas, coal, gold, copper, tantalum, potash, zinc, iron ore, nickel, marble, precious and semi-precious stones. Thermal power generation schemes are already operational in Afar and Oromo Regions.
LanguageEthiopia is a multi-ethnic state with a great variety of languages spoken in the country, of which there are 83 with 200 dialects. The main three languages are Amharic, Tigrigna and Oromigna. English is also widely spoken.
Visa RequirementsVisas are required for all visitors to Ethiopia and can be obtained from Ethiopian diplomatic missions abroad. Except nationals of Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom and United States are now allowed to receive their tourist visas on arrival in Ethiopia at the regular charge. Passengers transiting Ethiopia within 72 hours only for connection purpose, holding confirmed onward booking and entry visa on arrival.
CurrencyThe local currency is the Ethiopian Birr, made up of 100 cents. Visitors may import an unlimited amount of foreign currency, providing declaration of such currency is made to Customs on arrival. Foreign currency may only be changed at authorised banks and hotels. The currency declaration form must be retained as this will be required by Customs on departure. Visitors, however, will be able to change back any excess Ethiopian Birr to foreign currency at the airport before departure. If you do have Ethiopian Birr cash in at the airport, you must, in addition to the currency declaration form, bring with you all receipts for exchange transactions. Credit card acceptance is now growing throughout the country.
Health RequirementsPrior to entry, visitors should be in possession of a valid health certificate for yellow fever. Vaccination against cholera is also required for any person who has visited or transited a cholera-infected area within six days prior to arrival in Ethiopia.
Malaria: lower lying areas of Addis Ababa (around 2000 meters) are now said to be potentially malarial, but essentially the city is malaria free, although non-malarial mosquitoes can be nuisance in some areas at night. For traveling outside Addis Ababa it is advisable to consult travel agencies on malarial protection for specific areas. Also it is always good to take a simple first aid pack. In most of the larger towns there are now private clinics, but these and local pharmacies may be short of drugs and medical supplies. In Addis Ababa there is range of private hospitals and clinics.
Altitude sickness: Addis Ababa lying between 2200-2500 meters above sea level is the third highest capital in the world, and new visitors may experience discomfort until they adjust to the altitude – symptoms can include shortness of breath, fatigue and insomnia.
SecurityEthiopia is generally a safe country, and Addis Ababa a safe capital city, but one should still take the normal precautions, avoiding unfamiliar areas at night and not carrying large sums of money in accessible pockets. It is advisable to beware of pickpockets operating in certain areas, skilled at identifying new arrivals, other than that violent robbery and muggings are rare and generally visitors can tour the city day and night in safety.
Preparing for the trip
Planning – when to go and how to TravelWhen tourists have decided which places they want to visit in Ethiopia – historic route in the north, mountain hiking in the Simiens or Bale Mountains or visit the different ethnic groups in the south – they will need to decide when the best time to travel is.This much depends on their main purpose of travel – for example: it is better to avoid trekking in the national parks during the rainy season – but there are a number of general suggestions to give.
Late September – just after the rainy season – is a very good time for travelling. The country is wonderfully green, there are many beautiful wild flowers and few tourists.
If people are planning a trip to the Omo Valley, they should know that in that area the main rains occur from March to June and the separate month of November. Many parts of that region become impassable during those months.
It is also very interesting for visitors to be present during one of the fascinating festivals, like Meskel in September or Timkat in January. Especially December and January can be considered as ‘high season’ in Ethiopia.
Visitors also need to think about how they want to travel – by road or by air. In the north, Ethiopian airlines has regular and affordable services between the ‘historic route’ highlights: Axum – Lalibela – Bahir Dar – Gondar.
But something can also be said for travelling by road: one sees so much more of the countryside and of the way Ethiopian people live.
South of Addis Ababa, almost all tourist attractions can only be visited by road, by 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Tourist need to consider the following things before making a decision:
• the time they have for the trip: 10 days, two weeks, three weeks
• the budget they can spend: 4 wheel drive travel is more expensive than flying and local transportation
• Which way of travelling they find most interesting and comfortable.
MapsThe traveller likes to know what the destination to visit looks like in order to plan his trip. Maps of Ethiopia can be purchased in the tourists’ country of origin, but also in Ethiopia.
So tourists can get maps in Addis Ababa tourist information centre near to Meskel square or book stores.
Tourist OfficesUnfortunately, there is no Ethiopian Tourist Office in other countries, where potential tourists can go to receive information about Ethiopia.
Many countries have their own national tourist office in the various countries their visitors come from. For promotion-purposes, this is very important. Tourists have a big range of destinations to choose from, so it is important to be visible amongst these ‘competitors’.
The Ethiopian embassies and consulates try to fill the gap, but generally they do little more than just hand out brochures.
Here lies a big task for future tourism professionals to promote Ethiopia abroad!
The Ethiopian Ministry of culture and Tourism in Addis Ababa does make and distribute promotional materials, but these are mostly collected by tourists who are already in the country.
Visas & documents
Passport – all foreign visitors to Ethiopia must have a valid passport.
Visas – A visa is a permit which allows visitors to stay for a certain period of time in a country. Visa regulations vary for different nationalities and they can also change in time. At the time of writing (2004), all visitors except Kenyan and Djiboutian nationals need a visa to come into Ethiopia, but visa regulations are currently being revised.
Nationals of 33 countries can obtain a tourist visa on arrival at Bole International Airport. These include most of Europe, the U.S.A., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. However, this visa has to be arranged and ordered in advance.
Tour Operators are permitted to organise visas on arrival for their groups.
Some travellers may prefer to get a visa in advance from the Ethiopian embassy in their home country. This is because the process upon arrival in the country takes long and many international flights arrive late at night. Furthermore, the visa can only be paid in birr, so people have to change money first.
Presently, Ethiopian law allows multiple-entry visas to be issued only to those visitors who have a business purpose, those working for NGO’s or those working for the government. The exception to this rule are USA citizens: they can benefit from a multiple-entry tourist/business visa valid for up to 24 months.
Tourist visas have a different price for different nationalities (for example: 315 birr for European Union nationals and 140 birr for African nationals) and are valid for 1-3 months.
All tourists are strongly advised to arrange a travel insurance. With a travel insurance, travellers are covered against theft and loss of valuables and also against medical problems. It is an essential part of the preparation of travellers.
People can insure themselves in different ways: cheap – average – expensive.
When travellers do not carry many valuables, they will probably buy a cheap travel insurance, but when a tourist has very expensive photo- or video cameras with him, he might be willing to pay more for his insurance. In the case of theft, he will then get all his money back.
Other documents – international driver’s license, vaccination passport
CustomsEach country, including Ethiopia, has certain custom-procedures. By means of these procedures, it is regulated what products are brought into the country.
All visitors should declare electronic goods, and mobile apparatus. They will be required to show the declaration paper upon departure, in order for them to take back their equipments
In the case of Ethiopia: visitors may be requested to register laptop computers and video-cameras into their passports.
Duty-free import is permitted up to:
- 200 cigarettes, or 50 cigars, or ½ lb of tobacco
- 1 litre of alcoholic beverages
- ½ litre, or two bottles, of perfumes.
- Visitors may export souvenirs with a value not exceeding E. Birr 500, although some
- Articles (such as animal skins and antiques) require an export permit.
Permits – Should tourists buy souvenirs that are (or look) antique, they need a clearance permit from the Department of Inventory and Inspection. This is a department of the Centre for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, based at the National Museum in Addis Ababa.
Many souvenirs can be taken out of the country, except for the following:
- animal and plant fossils, or prehistoric items (stone tools, pottery, bones)
- anything of outstanding anthropological or ethnographical interest
- anything with an ancient inscription on it
- old processional or hand crosses that bear the names of kings or religious leaders, or any currently in use at churches or monasteries
- any item currently serving in churches (manuscripts, books, crosses, etcetera)
- any old wooden items
- coins and paper money not currently in circulation
- wildlife products, for example: ivory, tortoiseshell, leopard skin
- any items of exceptional artistic interest, whether old of modern
- art with outstanding historical value
- any items formerly belonging to the emperor or his family or to Ethiopian nobles.
TimeEthiopia is three hours ahead of GMT: Greenwich Mean Time. Internationally, there is an agreement that ‘time’ starts at a certain meridian on the globe, which goes through England. So when it is 06.00 o’clock in England, one adds 3 hours for Ethiopian time: 09.00 o’clock.
You all know that Ethiopian time is different from ‘western’ time.
Ethiopian time starts counting at daybreak.
Western time starts counting at midnight.
When it is 07.00 o’clock in the morning, western time, it is 01.00 o’clock Ethiopian time.
Another aspect of time is the calendar. In Ethiopia, the Julian calendar is used. In the rest of the world, the Gregorian calendar is used.
When it is 1996 according to the Julian calendar, it is 2004 according to the Gregorian calendar. There is a difference of 7.5 years.
The first day of the Ethiopian new year starts on September 11 (more than halfway the year) of the Gregorian calendar.
The Julian calendar has 12 months of 30 days and a 13th month of 5-6 days.
The Gregorian calendar has 11 months with 30-31 days, and a 12th month, February, with 28-29 days.
The reason for the difference lies in a dispute over the exact date of the birth of Christ.