Last December / January, my Ethiopian girlfriend and I made a great trip with public transport overland from Nekemte to Fort Portal, Uganda using a little-known route through Bonga and Jinka (see map below). We started in Nekemte because I still had a work meeting there. In my opinion, the Ijoo International Hotel provides better value rooms and service nowadays than the Farmland Hotel and for a comfortable stay I would stay in Ijoo.
From there we traveled via Bedele (coffee and breakfast at Menata Hotel, probably the best one in town) to Jimma and then from there to Bonga, where we stayed in the neat KDA Guesthouse, still going strong. Unfortunately the Bonga International Coffee Museum has still not been opened yet.
After 2 nights Bonga, the most adventurous part of our trip began. We identified a road between Bonga and Jinka, which I initially hadn’t even found on Google Maps. This road can be partly done by public transport, but for the largest part needs to be done with personal 4WD or by renting an Isuzu truck, like we did. The first stage can be done by public bus from Bonga to a town called Ch’iri about 25 kms south-west of Bonga, which takes about 1 hour on a rough road. From there, another bus can be taken to a smaller town called Dishi, which is about 22 kms further south and another 1 hour drive (see also attached screenshot). On a Sunday (the day that we traveled), this bus can bring people a few kms further south to the Sunday Angella Market.
In Dishi we rented an Isuzu truck (4000 ETB). First, we had to wait for about 3 hours at Angella market, which made that we had to travel partly in the evening unfortunately. Still, we left Angella market around 4.30 PM and traveled further south, from the highlands of Kaffa to the lowlands of South Omo. This is a rough road that is mostly traveled by government vehicles and a few investor farmers in cotton and sesame that can be found about 40 kms south of Dishi. From there it is not far to a very small settlement called Neda, where there is a police station from which we had to take a police officer, as there had been skirmishes further south around the Kuraz Sugar mill (, a few weeks before, in which several people were killed in revenge killings. There was no escaping this and it cost us 1000 ETB extra.
From Neda we traveled another 2,5 hours, over very rough roads full of rocks and traversing an non-tourist savanna park, to the barracks of the Kuraz Sugar mill (not the actual sugar mill, which is 30 kms further south; see second attachment), where we stayed for the night. The next morning, a ride of about 30 minutes over a paved road, crossing the Omo River, brought us to the town of Hana, capital of Salamago Woreda, South-Omo Zone. Hana is also the capital of the Bodi, the Omo tribe that is famous for their ‘fattest man’ competition’; some tour operators even send groups here.
From Hana, buses depart several times daily (at least 2 in the morning already) to Jinka, which is still a 3.5 hour drive on a rough road with a serious climb in the end to the mid-altitude town of Jinka. In Jinka, the Haven Drop Restaurant has unfortunately closed.
The road from Jinka to Karat-Konso is still very good; in Konso town nothing seems changed in comparison with 3 years earlier. Important to note is the direct bus early morning from Konso to Moyale (make sure to be at the bus station at 5 AM for a seat) via Yabelo; the Konso – Yabelo road is also paved now for at least half the route. In total, the trip from Konso to Moyale does not take longer than 7 hours including breakfast pit stop.
On the Ethiopian side of Moyale the Koket Borena is still the best hotel choice, but I would recommend everyone to cross the border and stay in the Al Yusra Hotel, which is more hygienic, probably better quality and much more fun anyway; you have reached the hiplife spheres of the real Sub-Sahara Africa! The cultural change when crossing the border is significant and therefore I highly recommend it; not because I don’t like Ethiopian culture, but because stepping into a different cultural world is just fun.