Addis Ababa is the capital of Ethiopia and the center of administration and commerce for the country, and the hub of the coffee trade that is the country’s principal export. It is also the main entry point for tourists who come to discover to experience the natural beauty and rich culture and history of Ethiopia.
The city lies at an elevation of approximately 2,400 meters, on a plateau at the foothills of Mt Entoto. It is surrounded by hills and mountains, and is positioned in the central part of the country. It is the highest lying capital in Africa and possesses a mild and pleasant climate.
As the seat of the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the city is an important political hub and is often seen as the political capital of the African continent.
However, this diverse and sprawling city is permeated by contrasts and extremes. It is home to over 3 million people of almost 80 different nationalities, several religions and languages. The city itself is a mixture of tradition and modernity, wealth and poverty, where skyscrapers, shopping malls and luxury hotels stand in sharp contrast to the tin and mud huts of its poorest inhabitants. As the capital of one of the poorest countries, Addis Ababa is faced with its fair share of unemployment, petty crime and poverty. But in Ethiopia the sun shines 13 months a year, and quite literally so. They have retained the Georgian Calendar and have 12 regular months plus a 13th shorter one. As a point of interest, they currently (in 2010) count the year as 2002 - 2003.
The country is home to amazing cultural and natural wealth and is deemed the cradle of humanity, where the oldest human remains were discovered. These are now on display in Addis Ababa’s National Museum. The city’s other notable landmarks are the Menelik Square, complete with the statue of Emperor Menelik II, who founded the city in 1887.
The city is also home to the palace of the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, who inspired Rastafarian Bob Marley to write songs of praise for him. The Mercato is a huge open-air market, the largest of its kind in Africa, where almost anything can be bought or sold. The Piazza district retains the Italian colonial ambience and has many Italian restaurants, small cafés and shops.
Ethiopia has rich traditions and folklore. It was one of the first Christian countries in the world, officially adopting Christianity in the 4th century. Today it is home to a large Christian majority, and a third of the population is Muslim.
Addis Ababa has a subtropical highland climate that produces generally mild and pleasant weather. It is characterized by a more or less even temperature year round due to its proximity to the equator. Average high temperatures range from 17 to 22°C and average low range between 11 and 14°C. The warmest months are from February to May. However, due to the city’s high elevation, evenings can be quite chilly.
January average temperature 16 deg Celsius 18 mm rainfall February average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 38 mm rainfall March average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 69 mm rainfall April average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 86 mm rainfall May average temperature 18 deg Celsius, 86 mm rainfall June average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 132 mm rainfall July average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 267 mm rainfall August average temperature 16 deg Celsius, 282 mm rainfall September average temperature 16 deg Celsius, 185 mm rainfall October average temperature 16 deg Celsius, 28 mm rainfall November average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 10 mm rainfall December average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 10 mm rainfall
The city is served by Bole International Airport, the hub of Ethiopian Airlines - the only domestic carrier, and is also served by several international carriers with daily flights to Europe, USA and Asia. It is East Africa’s busiest airport and has two terminals. The airport is located in Bole, 8km southeast of the city.
Taxis can be hired through the NTO kiosk in the airport building. Minibuses are a cheaper alternative and also connect the airport with the city center.
An efficient network of blue and white minibuses plies the streets of the city. They cost from 0.70 Br for short trips, to 1.55 Br for a longer trip and can be easily hailed from the street. The whole experience can be quite chaotic so a novice would find it wise to be accompanied by a local.
The small blue taxis are more expensive than the minibuses. The price ranges from 12 ETB for a very short journey, to about 40 ETB for a cross-town ride. You must negotiate the price in advance; taxis can also be hired for the entire day.
Walking is the best way of getting around the city. Note, however, that streets are generally not signposted; many places can go by two or three different names, so often the names that appear on the maps differ from those in common use. It is probably easier to use landmarks for orientation.
A valid international diver’s license is required to hire a car and the driver must be over 18 years of age. Rentals can be organized via international agencies in the city. Please note that driving outside the city after dark is considered risky.
Lalibela is a stunning area of historical and spiritual importance. The rock-hewn churches are a site of pilgrimage for Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christians. All 11 of these churches were carved in the 10th and 12th centuries from a single piece of granite that starts with the roof at ground level. Today, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was constructed as the New Jerusalem, for those who could visit the Holy Land. The architecture, however, does not mimic Jerusalem but is completely unique. The town is named after King Lalibela who commissioned these unusual churches.
The city is built at the foothills of Mount Entoto, 3,300 meters high. From its top a spectacular panorama of the surrounding area can be seen. The mountain also has historic importance as a residence for Menelik II. This is where he built his palace when he founded Addis Ababa. It is also considered sacred and is home to several monasteries. It was here that the first church in Addis, St. Mary’s, was built in 1885. Often it is referred to as the ‘lung’ of Addis Ababa, because it is overgrown by a thick eucalyptus forest.
One of the principal massifs in the country, the Simien Mountains, is a dramatic jagged landscape comprising of numerous gorges, chasms, precipices and famous sharp pinnacles. The National park is listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the highlights of any Ethiopian tour. The park is located in the North-West of Ethiopia and contains the country’s highest peaks; the tallest is Ras Dashen at 4543m.
It is the hottest and most remote place in the Great Rift Valley system, and Ethiopia’s most astonishing natural wonder. The impressive lunar landscape of the Dunakill Depression, lying in the East African Rift Zone at 120 m below sea level, features numerous mineral springs and sulfur fumaroles. The place used to be part of the Red Sea, and holds kilometers of salt deposits. Due to volcanic activity underneath the salt lake, hot water rises through the layers of salt, forming outlandish shapes made of minerals. The iridescent colors of the landscape are due to sulfur, other minerals and some bacteria. The extraordinary colorful landscape, however, has an extremely hot and inhospitable climate, with temperatures varying between 25 °C in the rainy season, to 48 °C during the dry season. Amazingly, though, the area is home to about 3 million of the nomadic Afar people.
Address: King George VI St, Piazza Open: 8:30 am – 12:30 pm & 1:30 pm – 5:30 pm
The museum encompasses three floors and abounds in ancient relics and archaeological artifacts that give a glimpse into the history of Ethiopia from prehistoric times to the modern day. However, its most iconic exhibit has to be the oldest skeleton of a hominid ever found, nicknamed Lucy. On display is a replica of the 3.5 million years old skeleton found in Ethiopia in the 1970’s. The original, of course, is kept in the museum vaults. Other notable items include artworks from several monasteries, and relics from the reign of Haile Selassie.
Address: Algeria Street, Piazza Open: Mon-Fri 8:00 am -5:00 pm & Sat, Sun 9:00 am -5:00 pm
The museum is located in the former palace of Haile Selassie, set in the beautiful University Gardens. The museum is an exciting place that provides visitors with an understand Ethiopia’s diverse ethnic makeup.
St George Cathedral
Address: Fitawrari Gebeyehu St, Piazza Open: 8:00 am – 9:00 am & 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm
The cathedral was built in 1896 by the Emperor Menelik II to commemorate his victory at Adwa against the invading Italian army, and he is now considered the Ethiopian national saint. The cathedral has a typical octagonal shape; the outer walls are beautifully decorated in mosaics and other artworks, and the interior holds a mesmerizing series of stained glass windows. In addition, it is home to numerous artworks by notable artists, as well as religious paintings, icons, and historic books and parchments. The cathedral also serves as the last resting place of the Emperor Haile Selassie and Empress Menen. It is also possible to attend a service to fully experience the mystical world of Coptic Christianity.
Mercato is a large open-air market, in fact the largest of its kind in all of Africa. It features over 7,000 businesses and covers and area of several square kilometers. The colorful market features all imaginable items and services, from tinkers, tailors, spice and coffee merchants, to camel traders. The aromas, sounds and colors make truly make this bustling market a feast for all the senses. It is a great place to look for souvenirs, but be prepared to bargain hard. Needless to say to be prepared for petty crime as pickpockets operate in the busy areas. Keep cash in a secure and hard to reach pocket.
The staple food of Ethiopian cuisine is injera, a bread-like spongy pancake, which is incidentally gluten-free as it is made from the tef grain. It is used instead of a plate and spoon or fork, and is combined with all sorts of dishes. It usually comes with a side of mashed vegetables, chicken, hard-boiled eggs, bits of fried meat and other treats mounted on the pancake. Another one is then torn in bits and used to scoop the vegetables and meat. Ethiopian cuisine includes a lot of meat, particularly chicken, beef, lamb, and goat.
Addis Ababa has a range of budget eateries. Most government hotels feature restaurants serving Western fare. There are also many privately owned restaurants serving international and local cuisine. For fast food, stop at one of the numerous pastry shops selling mini-pizzas, spicy hamburgers, cakes, biscuits and fruit juices.
Ethiopian restaurants serving traditional fare include Karamara Restaurant and Habesha, both located on Bole Road. For five-star dining and international cuisine head to the Sheraton or Hilton where upscale restaurants serving international brunch and dinner buffets can be found.
The feast of epiphany, celebrated annually on January 19 is the biggest festival of the year. The celebrations are held for 3 days and beginning with colorful processions, followed next morning by masses throughout the country, commemorating Christ's baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist.
Ethiopian New Year (Enkutatash)
Date: September 11 / September 12 on leap years Location: nation-wide celebration
The festival celebrated at the end of the long winter rains commemorates both New Year and the Feast of John the Baptist. In the evening bonfires are lit and people celebrate with singing and dancing. The name of the festival, ‘Enkutatash’ can be translated as ‘gift of jewels’, taken from the story of when the Queen of Sheba, upon her return from a visit at King Solomon in Jerusalem, was welcomed back by her chiefs who took away her treasury of jewels.
Ethiopian Christmas (Genna)
Date: 7 January Location: nation-wide celebration
The festival is celebrated seriously in the church, where the services extend throughout the night, and people visit one church after another. Traditionally, young men would play a game similar to hockey, called genna, on this occasion so it retains the name.
The festival showcases a multi-genre selection of both documentary, short and feature film. It attracts an audience of film lovers, industry professionals and the general public. After each screening a debate is held between audience and the makers of the film.
The Great Ethiopian Run is an annual international 10 km race run in Addis Ababa. It is organized by an NGO (Non Governmental Organization) and was initiated in 2001 to stimulate greater participation in athletic competitions among Ethiopians. Among its leading ambassadors is also veteran Ethiopian long-distance runner Haile Gebrselassie. A few days prior to the main event, several children’s races are held.
The national drink of Ethiopia is called tej – sweet honey wine that is unique to the country. It is brewed from honey and is flavored with leaves of the gesho tree, which gives it a distinctive bitter taste. Recipes vary and the taste of the wine differs from one brewer to the next, as most of it is home-made. The drink is widely available at special bars called tej bet (wine house). Don’t be fooled though, behind the sweet taste hides a high alcohol content. Tela is another traditional Ethiopian drink and is similar to beer. For a delicious and refreshing non alcoholic drink there is the juice called spritz. It is made from the pulp of several fruits, such as avocado, guava, banana, papaya, or mango, served in layers in a glass, eaten with a spoon.
As for nightlife, Addis Ababa has a selection of bars, clubs and cinemas. Many venues are located along the Bole (also called Africa) Road, where there are clubs, bars, live music performances and traditional dance shows. There are many bars and clubs scattered throughout the city. Notables are Kasanchis, Meskal Flower Road, and Micky Leland Street. Venues come to life at around 11 pm, and go on all night.
The Gas light
Located in the luxurious Sheraton Hotel, the club resembles a western disco. It is expected of patrons to be nicely dressed, jeans and sneakers will be somewhat frowned upon.
Address: cnr Ras Desta Damtew & Itegue Taitu Streets
A very popular club with cheap drinks, a lively dance floor and good music, and located in the basement of Ambassador Theatre.
Nice and relaxed place to go dancing.
Address: Concord Avenue
Another very popular club.
Address: Roosevelt Street
The club is located in the Carrera Lodge Hotel, and features live bands at weekends.
Addis culture is a mixture of colonial influences and Ethiopian tradition.
Hager Fikir theatre
Ethiopia’s oldest theatre house is also the oldest indigenous theater in Africa, where modern Ethiopian music and drama were born. Today its program is a mixture of traditional Ethiopian plays and translations of European playwrights such as Shakespeare, Schiller, Ibsen and Molière.
Address: Churchill Rd
The venue stages regular traditional dance and music performances, usually held Thursdays afternoons.
Cinemas mostly screen American, Indian and Arabic films.
Addis Ababa, which means "New Flower" in Amharic, was selected in 1886 as the site of the new capital of the kingdom of Shoa by the powerful ruler Menelik II, on the site of a city called Finfinnie. In 1889 it was made the capital of Ethiopia when Menelik II became the Emperor of Ethiopia.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
During the second Italo-Ethiopian war, Addis was invaded and captured by Italian troops and was made the capital of Italian East Africa in 1936 to 1941, when the city was recaptured by the Western European Allies and returned to Ethiopian rule in the hands of Haile Sellasie. He set out to reestablish the capital to its former status. In the period after World War II, the city experienced rapid growth. In 1963 Haile Sellasie helped to form the Organization of African Unity, with the new headquarters in Addis. In 2002 the organization was dissolved and replaced by the African Union (AU), also has headquartered in the city.
In recent years Ethiopian and Eritrean relations deteriorated to the extent of an armed conflict in 1998, and the borders were closed. However, a peace agreement was signed in 2000. Now the countries’ borders are separated by a 25km buffer zone, patrolled by a UN peace-keeping force.
Ethiopia is a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society, where religion plays an important role. The majority of the population belongs to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; there is also a large Muslim population and a smaller group of followers of ancient Judaism. The Feast of the Epiphany (Timkat) is the country’s largest celebration.
The basis of the social system is the family, including all relatives. A traditional greeting is a handshake with direct eye-contact. It is polite to ask people about their family, health, and job. After a friendship is established, members of the same sex may kiss on the cheek.
Ethiopia is a very poor country so expensive gifts are not usual, thus a very expensive gift may not please so much as embarrass. Welcome gifts for a host are pastries, fruit, or flowers. Ask people before taking their photos. Ask permission before taking photos at religious festivals. Do not take photos of military buildings and airports. Tipping small amounts is quite common. In hotels and restaurants a 10% service charge is already added to the bill.
Ethiopia follows the Julian calendar. The year is divided into 13 months, of which 12 months have 30 days, while the thirteenth month only has five or six days, depending on a leap year. Ethiopia counts the year 2010 as 2002 and 2003.
Women should dress modestly for example, clothes that cover the knee and keep the upper body covered. Men should wear trousers and shirts, rather than, for example, shorts and t-shirts, especially on more formal occasions. Note that homosexuality is illegal in Ethiopia. Remove your shoes before entering a mosque or a church.
Bargaining is acceptable in markets, taxis and horse carts, as well as in hotels. Restaurants and public transportation have fixed prices.
Addis Ababa has a high level of petty crime. Casual theft, pick pocketing and cons are prevalent, especially on and around Bole Airport, Mercato, and Piazza area, but luckily, violent crime is rare. It is highly advisable for visitors to remain in well-lit areas and not carry around large amounts of cash. However, major streets are generally safe at night. Major roads are patrolled by the Federal Police, lesser roads and markets by the city police.
Visitors are advised to stay away from public demonstrations and remain vigilant in crowded areas. Throughout the country but especially in Addis Ababa there is a certain amount of local terrorism, however, it is worth noting that this is not aimed at foreigners.
Travel to the border areas in the Gambella region near the southern Sudanese border, as well as in the region near the Eritrean border is discouraged. The border between Eritrea and Ethiopia is closed. Also, avoid traveling to Somalia by road, or do so only in a convoy. Avoid traveling east of Harar.
Be cautious of scams for example, if approached by ‘friendly English-speaking students’ in the city. They usually invite tourists to spend a day together, have lunch, and at the end of the day charge a ‘guidance’ fee.
A word about health: drink only bottled water and check if the seal is unharmed. Be cautious when eating salads and similar dishes as the vegetables may have been washed in tap water. It is best to stick to peeled fruits and vegetables.
U.S. citizens living or traveling in Ethiopia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State’s travel registration page in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security.