Information & Facts
The highest capital in the world, Addis Ababa's elevation
moderates monthly temperatures, and being situated on the equator,
the temperatures are very constant throughout the year. Addis has a
subtropical highland climate that is generally mild and pleasant
with average temperatures of 25 °C (77°F).
There is a large and efficient network of blue and white
minibuses that cover the city which are easy to hail from the side
of the road. The cost ranges from 0.70 Br for short trips, to 1.55
Br or more for a longer trip. It is worth having an Ethiopian guide
with you if it is your first time using these taxis. Small blue
coloured taxis are more expensive. They range from 10 Br for a very
short journey, to about 35 Br for a cross-town trek. Negotiation is
the norm and you often have to press quite hard to get a bargain as
a foreigner. They can be contracted for a full day, just negotiate.
Walking is still the preferred and more sensible method of
transport around this city though beggars can be bothersome. The
road names are few and often don't match the ones written on maps,
so it is best to navigate by using landmarks. Car hire can be
organised through international agencies in Addis Ababa and a full
valid international licence is required and the licence from
country of origin must be endorsed locally. Drivers must be a
minimum of 18 years old. Churchill Avenue is the main thoroughfare
and shopping street in Addis Ababa. Vehicle travel outside the city
after dark can be risky. Autobus Terra, near Mercato, is where most
of the national buses arrive and depart and is the main bus
terminal. The only working railway line runs between Addis Ababa
and Djibouti, via Dire Dawa and Harar. Travellers should be
prepared for occasional delays.
There are a few havens of peace and familiarity for children and
their parents. Chief among these are the Hilton and the Sheraton
which both have swimming pools that non-guests can use for a fee.
The food is also good there, although expensive. Kids also tend to
enjoy the Addis Ababa museum with its stuffed animals and various
curiosities. Some children will find Mercato to be a fascinating
and exciting experience; others will loathe its chaos and
congestion. In fact, much the same can be said for the whole of
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.
Addis is the perfect place to buy some emblematic souvenirs of
your stay in Ethiopia. Top of your shopping list is likely to be a
pack of Ethiopian coffee beans, preferably vacuum sealed to
preserve their freshness. Decorative metalwork, in the form of
crosses, and painted religious artworks on carved wooden boards are
also popular. Filigreed silver and gold jewellery is also a great
Other good buys are woven blankets and cloth, 17th century
silver Marie Therese Thaler coins, and items bearing the image of
Haile Selassie and the distinctive Rastafarian colours. If buying
what you believe to be an antique ensure you obtain a clearance
certificate from the vendor as Bole customs are always on lookout
for smugglers of Ethiopian heritage items.
The most popular place to shop is the Merkato, which is an
essential tourist experience although not for the fainthearted.
This is a chaotic, thrilling flea market with a diverse range of
both goods and people, including a fair number of shifty
characters. All prices are negotiable. Another shopping area is
Churchill Road, above the main post office on the right.
If bargaining is not your thing, and you don't mind being
overcharged a bit, do your souvenir shopping in the boutiques at
the Hilton and the Sheraton, where high quality examples of the
classic Ethiopian souvenirs can be bought without the crush and
fuss of the more typical shopping experience in Merkato. The shops
at Bole Airport are decent too, but are only open when an
international flight is departing.
Visit the Former Women Fuelwood Carriers Project for good
quality souvenirs like woven hand shawls in support of a good
cause. Similarly the alert Handicraft Shop makes sells beautiful
embroidery in support of the Berhan Taye Leprosy Disabled Persons
Work Group. Check out Sabahar, near the Salem nurses college, which
makes extraordinary silk scarves. There are also some great
bookshops in Addis. Try The African Bookshop for great second-hand
reads, The Mega Book Shop for the most eclectic range of literature
you'll ever find, and Ethiopian Trading Enterprises for fantastic
and cheap postcards.
Before burning all your remaining birr on a shopping spree
remember that luggage is carefully weighed at the airport with
hefty surcharges for those going over the specified limits of 44
pounds (20kg) for check-in luggage and 15 pounds (7kg) for hand
A note on finding your way around in Addis: a good taxi driver
is a better option than a detailed map or GPS as street names
change name/direction quite often. If your driver can double up as
a guide and negotiator for your trip into Merkato, so much the
There is plenty to see and do in Addis Ababa - but the journey
to the attractions is frequently more interesting than the sights
themselves. This is particularly the case should you choose to walk
the city and navigate your way to the main museums and buildings
yourself. It is probably a good idea to hire a taxi driver for a
daily fee and have him drive you around.
You are likely to be offered seats at an alleged 'cultural show'
which takes place at a backstreet restaurant or venue. Refuse these
offers - they are the opening bid in a classic scam that ends with
a thorough fleecing of their tourist victims. If you do wish to see
traditional dancing and music simply dine at any decent and
reputable restaurant where such attractions are provided free.
As for Addis Ababa's mainstream attractions, don't miss paying
Lucy a visit at the National Museum, doing a bit of shopping at the
Merkato - largest market in Africa, and seeing the wonderful
cultural artefacts in the Ethnological Museum and relics of the
early city in the Addis Ababa Museum. Its also worth keeping your
eyes open for the numerous concrete Soviet statues and buildings
that dot the city. The most overrated attraction in town is the Zoo
- avoid it unless drawn to macabre sights.
There is a good tourist information booth off Meskel Square if
you need some impartial advice or want a reliable tour guide.
Local time is GMT +3.