We planned to spend seven full days in Ethiopia and were, how should I put it more mildly, very ambitious. We started in Addis Abeba and of all places of attraction we visited Lalibela (it took us two days to reach it), Erta Ale volcano and Danakil depression (on a three-day tour). After the tour we flew back to Addis; going back there by bus would have cost us another two days, which we didn’t have. My estimation, if you would like to visit also the tribes in the South (Omo Valley) and some beautiful places in the West of this big country, plan at least 15-20 days for your trip and consider flying between the furthest points! By the way, if you came to Ethiopia with Ethiopian Airlines or with a code-sharing flight with them, you can count to the reduction of about 50% off the domestic flights price.
The road is the way
In Ethiopia, if you decide to move around the country with the public transport, you have to adopt the philosophy that not the destination but the way is important and to be cherished. Otherwise you will simply break down after the first hour in the overcrowded public buses without A/C but with broken axis and all your luggage in your lap. However, if you take it easy and in the good case scenario get a window seat, you can enjoy the constantly changing landscape outside.
You will catch a glance of the country life and beautiful small villages, hard-working people and poorly dressed children. You will see countless camels (raise your hand if you have already seen camels in the household – there not so many of you, right?), cows, bulls and cute hairy donkeys graciously crossing the road forcing all cars to stop to let them pass. If you are lucky, you will even see baboons on the higher altitudes.
You will experience the locals riding the bus with you buying a bunch of sugar canes through the window and eating them directly in the bus (delicious!). You will take lunch breaks in remote villages and get a cup of freshly boiled coffee poured up to the rim of the cup from the hands of a local women for less than 0,3 Euro… In total, we spent about 44 hours on the road, 16 of them in the bus and 28 in the minivan or a car. Very long, indeed, but it was 200% worth it!
Here is the itinerary of our seven-day-trip in Ethiopia:
Addia Abeba – Dessie – Lalibela – Mekele – Erta Ale – Dallol – Mekele – Addis Abeba
What expects the one who arrives in Addis Abeba? After coming to the city with a taxi (approximate price for the blue taxis, which stand a bit further from the exit from the arrivals terminal, is 200 – 250 Birr; the yellow taxis will cost you more, but they look more modern, and stand closer), you will probably go for a walk or at least to find something to eat. There the first mixed feelings begin. The amount of the shoeshine boys, begging, handicapped, elderly, poorly dressed women and children is overwhelming. When children between 5 and 11 see a „white“ tourist, the first word they say to you is very often not even „Hi!“ but „Money!“ That’s basically how they start and end the conversation “Mister, gimme meni, gimme meni!“.
At some point in the beginning it can get quickly very overwhelming. Over time you get used to that and become able to clearly differentiate the cases when you give money, or even better, food and to whom and when you just politely pass by. The one who refuses recently bought pastry is probably not as hungry as it seems.
Some of the Addis Ababa’s streets look more like a huge market, with enormous amount of people selling, buying something or simply scavenging on the passersby. Getting through is sometimes challenging, especially after a long flight.
However, here, in the capital, it is very easy to find a nice restaurant to safely enjoy traditional Ethiopian food and culture. Here are some places we have visited and didn’t have any side effects or complaints:
- Yod Abyssinia
- Habesha 2000 http://www.2000habesha.com/
- Canvas Restaurant next to the Addis Ababa University School of Commerce
In the evening, the first two places can get crowded: traditional music is played there and there are dance performances.
On our first day in Addis Abeba, we still didn’t know where we head next. We decided to book a bus ticket to Dessie, which would still give us some flexibility for the next destination.
Frankly speaking, we were not as well prepared and were fairly surprized to realize that all buses to any destinations leave not later than 6 am. So, the next day we woke at 4:30 am to catch our 5:30 am bus to Dessie. The Addis – Dessie ride took 8h and the ticket for the comfortable Ethio Bus cost us the double of the local bus price: 250 Birr.
There is not much to see in Dessie town. However, there I drank the best mango juice (more felt like pureed mangos without addition of water) on this trip in the Golden Gate hotel.
We couldn’t find a bus ticket office in Dessie, so we had to trust the guide book and vague advises from the locals that we have to be around 5:30 am at the bus station in order to catch a bus to Lalibela.
The bus station in Dessie is somewhat hidden behind the houses and is fairly impressive! About 20-30 buses are all picking up the passengers, preparing for departure. We asked for the bus to Lalibela and got two narrow sits above the right wheel of an old minibus. At 5:52 as having heard some inaudible command, almost all buses simultaneously started leaving the station and heading to different directions. The ride was long and exhausting (over 8 hours including a long break in Weldiya), but as we didn’t have another option, we had to live the “enjoy the way” philosophy. The ticket price was 130 Birr.