Ethiopia is in the GMT+3 hours time Zone. It follows the Julian calendar, which consists of twelve months of 30 days and a 13th month of five or six days.
The Best time to Travel in Ethiopia
This depends on the region you are travelling to. In the main parts of the country, in particular the highlands, the main rainy season runs from June to the end of September, with a short rain period in March. In the Omo- Valley in Southern Ethiopia however, the seasons are different with the main rains from March to June and shorter rains in November.
Climate and Clothing
Because of the elevation, temperatures rarely exceed 25°C in the highland part of the country, although in some of the lower lying areas (Awash, Omo and Mago parks) it can get considerably hotter. Pack light clothes for the day time and a jacket or sweater for the evenings, and a good pair of walking shoes even if you are not going trekking – path ways around historic sites are usually uneven and stony. Trekkers in the Simien and Bale Mountains will need warm clothes and waterproofs. On a cultural note – Ethiopians are generally modest dressers, and visitors should be sensitive about going underdressed (shorts, tank tops and bare backed) especially into places of worship. Shoes must always be removed before entering churches and mosques – for getting around sites like Lalibela with its many churches socks are very useful.
Ethiopia is known to be still one of the safest places in Africa. Violent crimes are very rare. Tourists should be aware of pickpockets in crowded places like markets and it is better not to show off valuables and money. In some overland regions it is recommended not to drive after dawn. In some remote areas, separatist movements have been active in the last years. Those regions are usually not easy to visit, or only with an official authorization.
Due to strict custom regulations, it may cause problems at the airport to carry more than the usual basic electronic devices, especially if they are new. Import Tax payment may be required. Souvenirs imitating historic artifacts have to be approved not original by the National Museum in Addis Ababa, if not they can be confiscated at the airport customs before leaving Ethiopia. Buying receipts have to be saved.
Photo and Video cameras
Professional or high standard video equipment is available to be brought to Ethiopia. An official permission letter can be expensive. In many places small fees are charged for photos taken of people, especially in the southern tribal areas of Ethiopia. Video fees can be very high in national parks and other guarded places.
Ethiopian Religious Festivals
Timket (Epiphany): January 19th
Timket, feast of Epiphany, is perhaps the greatest festival of the year, coming two weeks after Ethiopian Christmas. Timket is a three-day affair beginning on the eve of Timket (January 18th) with dramatic and colorful processions. The following morning, Orthodox Christians commemorate and simulate Christ's baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. The sun shines down from a clear blue sky, and the festival almost always takes place in glorious weather.
Lidet (Ethiopian Christmas): January 7th
Christmas, known as Lidet, is nothing like the Western version of Christmas seen in Western countries. Lidet is considered a very serious celebration involving a mass service that continues through the night. Followers move from one church to another worshipping until the day of Lidet when Orthodox Christians breakfast and enjoy a feast of chicken, sheep and other animals.
Meskel (Finding of the True Cross): September 27th
Ethiopians have celebrated Meskel for over 1600 years. The word actually means "cross" in Amharic, and the feast commemorates the discovery of the cross upon which Jesus was crucified, by the Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great. The original event took place on 19 March 326 AD, but the feast is now celebrated two weeks after Ethiopian New Year’s day in the month of September.
In Addis Ababa, the festival begins with a mass in Meskel Square. Followers bring candles and as the sun goes down, the square is full of light. Finally, a towering pyramid of wood is lit in the center of the square. Torches of tree branches tied up together called chibo are used to light the large bonfire known as the Demera. The smoke of the fire is said to have guided Empress Helena to the True Cross of Jesus. Christians then use the ashes to bless themselves and their family members.
Health and medical information
The possession of a valid Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is not mandatory. Immunization for Hepatitis A and B, Tetanus, Typhoid and Polio is recommended. Malaria: in most of the sites malaria is not a problem because of the high elevation, e.g. Addis Ababa, Axum, Gondar and Lalibela. But it may occur in Bahir Dar at the end of the rainy season and after unseasonable rains. Lowland areas along the Awash River, the Omo Valley, Rift Valley and Gambella are subject to malaria outbreaks. Chloroquine resistant strains have been identified in most areas so you should consult your doctor about the prophylaxis. Alternatively, you can keep mosquitoes and other insects at bay with repellent creams and sprays. Visitors should take a simple first aid pack, which would include: different size plasters, antiseptic cream, anti-histamine cream and/or tablets for insect bites, sunscreen (while temperatures are moderate the sun is strong) and anti-diarrhea tablets such as Imodium for emergencies (they will not cure the problem but will control the symptoms).
The Ethiopian national dish consists of Injera, a flat, circular pancake of fermented dough made from a grain seed called “Tef”, on top of which are served different kinds of cooked meats, vegetables and pulses. The sauces are generally spiced with berbere, a blend of herbs and spices (including hot peppers) that gives Ethiopian food its characteristic taste. Vegetarians should try “fasting food” (for devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christians fasting days make up more than half of the year), a colorful spread of salads, vegetables and pulses, devoid of all meat and animal products. One eats national dishes with the right hand (water for washing is usually brought to the table before the food is served), tearing off pieces of injera to pick up the “toppings”.
Addis Ababa now boasts of a wide variety of restaurants, and at hotels in tourist sites European style food such as pasta is always available. If you are travelling to remote areas, such as the Omo Valley and parts of southern Ethiopia where there are no hotels or lodges, it can be advisable to stock up with tinned and packed food in Addis Ababa.
Sparkling and still mineral water, along with soft drinks, are available throughout the country. There are several brands of Ethiopians beers, wine and spirits. Imported spirits are also widely available. There are homemade alcoholic drinks: Tella (homemade beer) and Tej (wine made from honey)
Addis Ababa has three 5 star hotels and a steadily growing number of tourist class hotels. Outside the capital a variety of good and clean hotels and lodges can be found. Standards vary, but apart from the areas around Omo and Mago national parks, where camping is unavoidable, it is generally possible to get relatively clean rooms with en suite toilet and shower.
Travelling by air and road
Addis Ababa is the only international airport of Ethiopia, but domestic flights by Ethiopian airlines connect most of the regions and bigger town daily or at least twice weekly. For flights to smaller airstrips, charter flights are available. Travelling by road allows visitors to experience Ethiopia’s wonderful scenery. Road conditions are good to all the destinations of major importance. More roads are being asphalted and there will be a good web of well accessible roads in between the next years. Especially to the south, it is still necessary to travel in 4 WD vehicles. The train connection to Dire Dawa and Djibouti is currently out of use.
Money can be exchanged in the airport, in major hotels and in most banks. Exchange requires a passport and the receipts should be kept, as re-exchanging back into foreign currency is difficult otherwise. The Ethiopian currency is the Birr (“Silver” in Amharic), the rate of which is fixed against the US dollar in weekly auctions. VISA and Master card Credit cards are accepted in the main hotels and big shops and enterprises. Few ATMs are available at banks and international hotels.
Any foreigners except those who hold the Kenyan, Tanzanian and Djibouti passport need a visa!!! You can get your visa from the Ethiopian embassies and most nationalities can issue the tourist visa at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa (valid three months, fee currently 20 US$)
Ethiopia uses 220 volts 50 cycles AC.
Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia, and English is widely spoken and understood.
Ethiopia has its own calendar of 13 months: it follows the Julian calendar which is divided into 12 months of 30 days each and a 13th month of five days (or six in leap years) at the end of the year. The time difference is +3 hours from Greenwich Mean Time.