Ethiopia - Abbey Travel, Ireland



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Welcome to Ethiopia


First time visitors 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 people leaves a lasting impression to challenge the misleading stereotype of a land stricken by years of drought and famine.

Brimming with contrasts and extremes, Ethiopia beckons visitors to explore from the tops of its highlands, where mountains soar over 14,100 feet (4,300 metres), to the depths of the Danakil Depression situated below sea level; to discover Abyssinian culture and traditions that date back over 3,000 years; to experience ancient Islamic folklore, as well as the fascinating rituals and sacred ceremonies of the Ethiopian Orthodox 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, meaning 'New Flower' in Amharic, is home to the more modern problems of urban migration, where homeless people roam the streets in search of food, money and 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; and 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, however, is undoubtedly the 13th-century rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, among the most incredible man-made structures in the world, revered and renowned among Ethiopians and foreigners alike and the venue for some of the most famous religious festivals in Ethiopia. Taking 24 years to complete, the 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, and providing fantastic hiking opportunities and a variety of wildlife. Bahar Dar, 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, as well as the Blue Nile Falls, or 'Smoke of Fire', which are the most impressive falls in northern Africa.

Ethiopia is set among a contrasting environment of natural beauty and the signs of poverty, where lakes, mountains and wildlife reserves compete for attention with the poor and hungry. Ethiopia is used to being overlooked as a tourist destination, but the country's unique attractions are slowly taking pride of place in North East Africa, and 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.

Information & Facts


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.


There are three main seasons in Ethiopia, with temperatures depending on the altitude. The lowlands are generally hot and humid, with cooler temperatures in the Ethiopian Highlands. The dry season runs from October to May and is the most pleasant time to visit, while June to September is the rainy season.


The international dialling code for Ethiopia is +251. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0027 for South Africa). The area code for Addis Ababa is (0)1. Telephone, fax and postal facilities are available in most main towns. IDD is available. There are Internet cafes in Addis Ababa and Internet services may be available in upmarket hotels in other areas. A GSM 900 network is provided, but coverage is limited to Addis Ababa and a few other parts of the country.


The Ethiopian Highlands 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 2008 the year is 2000/2001 in Ethiopia. There is a six-hour difference between Ethiopian time and Western time, so 3am in Western time will be 9am Ethiopian time (add six hours to the time). 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.

Duty Free

Travellers to Ethiopia over the age of 18 years 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 Br10.

Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Three-pin plugs are used. Even in Addis, electricity supply is irregular and blackouts are common.

Travellers to Ethiopia are recommended to have hepatitis A and cholera vaccines, as there have been recent outbreaks of these diseases. Malaria is prevalent in the low lands (below 6,562ft/2,000m) and altitude sickness may affect travellers to the highland areas such as Addis Ababa. Bilharzia is present in the majority of lakes in Ethiopia and travellers are advised to drink boiled or bottled water, as waterborne diseases are prevalent. Medical facilities are poor outside of Addis Ababa, where hospitals are available but medical supplies are erratic; visitors should bring their own regular medications with them and arrange comprehensive medical insurance before travel.

Amharic is the official language, although over 80 local languages are also spoken. English and Arabic are widely spoken as well as some French and Italian.

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 Visa

Foreign visitors to Ethiopia may obtain a visa on arrival. For tourist visas, the fees are as follows: USD 20 (one month, single-entry); USD 30 (three months, multiple-entry); USD 40 (six months, multiple-entry). Work visas are also obtainable, but are probably best organised in advance. Note that 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. A yellow fever vaccination ceritificate is required to enter Ethiopia, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area. NOTE: 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.


Visitors are cautioned to avoid all public demonstrations and 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 (20km) of the Eritrean border in the Tigray and Afar regions (military zones), should be avoided due to violent unrest and an 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. There have been several recent explosions in Jijiga. Overland travel to Sudan or Kenya is dangerous due to armed bandits, and should only be attempted in a convoy. There is a high threat from local terrorism in the country, and although not directed at foreigners, visitors need to be cautious in public places. Flooding often affects Ethiopia between June and September each year, killing hundreds of people in flash floods in low-lying areas.

Local time is GMT +3.

Tourist hotels and restaurants usually add a 10% service charge to the bill. Otherwise tipping is fairly common, but only small amounts are customary.

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