Last year, my husband and I spent three weeks travelling around Ethiopia. Associated by many people with drought and famine, it’s being touted as an emerging destination, with new luxury lodges opening in the spectacular Bale and Simien Mountains and an increasing number of tour operators such as Scott Dunn adding the country to their portfolios. Lonely Planet, meanwhile, named Ethiopia as one of the top 10 countries to visit in 2017.
We absolutely loved Ethiopia’s diverse landscapes and its people, but found trip planning more tricky than usual. So, we’ve made some notes and recommendations that will hopefully help you if you’re keen to explore this epic country.
We did most of our research using the Bradt Ethiopia guide by Philip Briggs – a great resource and very detailed. We also used the update website that Philip runs, which was handy for updated info, traveller advice and trip reports.
We bought our return flights from Dubai to Addis with Fly Dubai for less than AED1,400 (US$380) per person and got a visa on arrival – a painless process that cost US$50 pp, however e-visas are apparently now available for some countries.
We originally planned to hire a guide and 4WD to do a private three-week tour covering the Northern historic route and then going to the Bale Mountains in southeast Ethiopia. However, after receiving a few quotes from tour operators – the cheapest coming in at £1,600 pp travelling by mini-van and staying in mid-range hotels – we decided to travel independently using a mixture of internal flights and mini-buses. We skipped Bale Mountains but went to the stunning Simien Mountains and did a coffee tour of the south with Escape Tours.
We booked our internal flights with Ethio Travel and Tours (ETT), a well-established local operator in Addis. I’d read mixed reviews about ETT, but we didn’t have any issues and found them to be responsive and professional. We got quotes via email before we arrived in Addis and then went to their office at Nega City Mall to pay for the tickets. Three flights (Addis-Bahir Dar, Gondar-Lalibela, Lalibela-Addis) cost US$420 for the two of us.
Local mini-buses are super cheap and a bit of an adventure. Ask a hotel staff member to take you to the bus station and get you onto a bus (Gondar bus station is particularly wild – not threatening, but very chaotic with touts trying to steer you onto their bus); the bus will then wait until it’s full before leaving. Keep in mind that our version of full is different to the local view and the driver will pick-up and drop-off people along the way. Still, I really enjoyed the experience for short trips (2-3hrs) and the locals were intrigued to see faranjis travelling by mini-bus.
We booked our accommodation in advance direct with the hotels or via the booking website Jovago.
Day 1 – Addis
Day 2 – Addis
Day 3 – Bahir Dar (1hr flight from Addis)
Day 4 – Bahir Dar
Day 5 – Gondar (3hrs by mini-bus from Bahir Dar)
Day 6 – Gondar
Day 7 – Simien Mountains (2-3hrs by mini-bus to Debark, then 10-min bajaj ride to Limalimo Lodge)
Day 8 – Simien Mountains
Day 9 – Simien Mountains
Day 10 – Gondar (2-3hrs by mini-bus from Debark; stayed an extra day here as we had an early flight to Lalibela the following day)
Day 11 – Lalibela (30min flight from Gondar)
Day 12 – Lalibela
Day 13 – Lalibela
Day 14 – Addis (1hr flight from Lalibela)
We then did a four-day coffee tour of South Ethiopia with Girum from Escape Tours:
Day 1 – Awassa
Day 2 – Yirgalem village staying at Aregash Lodge
Day 3 – Yirgacheffe
Day 4 – Ziway to visit the Castel Winery
Eating and drinking in Addis