Hotel security in Addis Ababa

Colin writes:

At the end of August I was robbed in my room in a hotel in Bole (Addis Ababa) while out at work. I lost cash, a camera, an e-reader and an iPod, as well as the use of my suitcase, which was forced. The hotel had no safe, and no insurance. The hotel staff took me to the local police station to report the theft, in Chechnya. The officer who dealt with my case observed that I had no proof that the items had been stolen, the presumption being that I had stolen them from myself, in addition to ruining my own suitcase. There was clearly no question of my being able to make an insurance claim, in the absence of any police report. Better make sure your hotel has a safe, and use it.

Trip report from a female traveller

Carrie writes:
I just got back from three weeks in Ethiopia using the 7th edition of the Bradt guide. The guidebook was invaluable and I couldn’t have done the trip (solo, without a guide) without it. There were just a couple of things I wanted to update you on:

Women travellers: As a 27-year-old American woman traveling alone,  I experienced  quite a bit of harassment, mostly from teenage boys. It was mostly verbal, but a few times I found myself encircled by groups of boys who got a little physical. There were also many cafes/restaurants that I didn’t feel comfortable eating in because it would have been very conspicuous that I was the only woman there. (I was almost always the only woman eating alone in cafes and restaurants, but there was a difference between places where that didn’t seem like a big deal and places where I was sure I’d face an endless stream of romantic proposals if I sat down there.)

A little more disconcertingly, in Harar, I was followed around for 20-30 minutes on two separate occasions by older men. Both times they followed me into shops and one of them even followed me into a restaurant. Appealing to other Ethiopians just got me laughed at. Dressing in long skirts and loose shirts did not make a difference. Taking a guide, and latching on to locals I felt I could trust, seemed to solve the problem.

Getting around: I heard nothing but bad things about Skybus when I was there. I bought a ticket from them at one point and they tried to tell me it was Skybus when they actually sold me a ticket for Golden Bus. (I returned the ticket.) I ended up taking Selam Bus whenever traveling by bus, and despite leaving later and driving more conservatively, it always arrived earlier than the Skybus/Golden Bus.

Addis Ababa:

I contacted Mr. Martin’s Cozy Place in advance for an airport pickup (I arrived at 1 am). They sent a taxi for me, but the taxi took me to the wrong hotel (in the same area) and told me it was Mr. Martin’s. When I questioned him, the driver refused to help me find Mr. Martin’s. The other hotel staff (I still don’t know where I actually stayed) also refused to help. And since it was dark and the other hotel wasn’t significantly more expensive, I gave up. The taxi driver also charged me more than I had agreed with Mr. Martin’s staff and refused to give me change. I didn’t realize I was right around the corner from Mr. Martin’s until the next day, when it was light enough out to see the sign.

By contrast, Taitu took a walk-in booking from me for two weeks in advance and gave me the exact room they had shown me. They had the most helpful staff I experienced in Ethiopia as well.

Kiyab Cafe in Piassa area: You mention it has snacks, juices, etc. but it also had a full breakfast menu and the food was outstanding.

Since you recommend several hotels and restaurants in the Atlas Junction area, it would have been helpful to see minibus stops there too. It was easy to get to Piassa but I had a hard time communicating with people where I was trying to get back to from Piassa.

I had no trouble with pickpockets or any safety-related issues in Addis. I felt 100% safe walking around with my camera and a backpack at all hours. No one ever tried anything on me. I did carry my backpack in front of me instead of on my back and I wore skirts with no pockets, so I might have just not looked like an easy enough target.

Danakil:

WorldSun Ethiopia Tours seems like one of the more popular agencies for Danakil trips, and cheaper than ETT. I originally booked with them but the rest of the group backed out so they put me on the ETT trip for the same price. Despite not traveling with them, I found their service to be above and beyond.

The Danakil trips, across all tour agencies, were all stopping for a night in the highland village of Abala in between Dallol and Erta Ale. Not sure if that’s just because it was August and it was so hot in the desert, or if this is a permanent change. It definitely made the Danakil trip more bearable–a toilet and bucket showers made a huge difference.

Mekele:

I couldn’t find the Tigrai Tourism office anywhere on the street it was mapped on. Not sure if it’s moved or closed, or if it was just unsignposted. I didn’t ask anyone.

Atse Yohannes Hotel: Now charging 500 birr for a room, and they wouldn’t budge on price. There are definitely better-value options (Moringa and Lalibela Guesthouse) available. Their breakfast was terrible.

Beefmin Garden: I totally agree with your review. Great restaurant and had some of the best wifi I found in Ethiopia.

Getting to the Lachi bus station: it was difficult to figure out where the minibuses to Lachi left from–and most locals didn’t seem to know (one put me on a minibus going to the wrong place!). Would have been helpful to have the minibus station on the map.

Wukro:

I couldn’t find the Tigrai Tourism office here either.

The museum is now open and was one of the more informative museums I visited in Ethiopia. Lots of English signage and supplemental materials and the staff was happy to answer questions.

Ersayem Restaurant: Signed in English from the main road, but the restaurant itself is signed only in Amharic. They didn’t have a menu and it was a fasting day, so the only options were fasting food or spaghetti, and the server at first assumed I wanted spaghetti without asking. We cleared that up and they had fantastic food–and it was 30 birr for a huge meal with an Ambo! Best-value food I found in Ethiopia.

Hawzien:

There are all-day (or at least until mid-afternoon) minibuses running directly from both Wukro and Mekele now. And going to Adigrat, I was able to pick up a direct minibus (without having to change at Frewenyi) at around 9 am after only a 5 minute wait for it to fill up.

It’s possible to take a bajaj to Megab and do Abuna Yemata as a straightforward and easy day trip from Hawzien. No need to take a guide from Mekele or Axum or book expensive private transport, you can sort it out on the spot.

Gheralta Lodge was as amazing as everybody says–the food, the rooms, the location, the service, everything. Dinner is a flat 250 birr for the full menu, no a la carte option. It was about 75% vegetarian-friendly.

Axum:

The bus from Adigrat to Axum was one of the worst trips I’ve been on anywhere in the world. The driver was going 140 km/hour up and down switchbacks and he clearly didn’t have control. At one point we almost skidded off a cliff. Buses everywhere else in Ethiopia were fine, just this one leg was horrible.

AB Traditional Bar and Restaurant: Did not have live music the Saturday night I was there. Food was exceptional, but options were limited–they only had beef or lamb tibs and some Italian dishes available the night I was there.

National Yared Juice House: This was one of the more conspicuously all-male cafes I encountered. I definitely would not have felt comfortable there. Over the three days I was in Axum, I got cat-called every time I walked by by the people sitting there.

Lalibela:

Villa Lalibela: Great place to stay, with a super-friendly staff. They include breakfast with the room now but it’s very basic–just bread, jam and coffee. My one complaint is location. That cluster of hotels at the bottom of the hill is far from most of the restaurants/cafes/etc. It’s a very dark walk back after dinner that requires walking by a bunch of bars and pool halls that seem to be where all the obnoxious teenage boys congregate. Normally I would’ve just eaten at a hotel restaurant closer by, but the only one with an open restaurant when I was there (it was pretty devoid of tourists) was Jerusalem Hotel.

I’d suggest that other women traveling alone stay at Red Rocks or Asheton–better and more central location that you could have your choice of dinner spots from without worrying about the walk back. (To be clear, I’m sure it wasn’t actually unsafe–it just isn’t much fun to have boys following you and whistling at you/throwing stones at you when you ignore them when you know you won’t even see a street light for a mile.)

Ben Abeba: Great food, great service, great views. Totally agree with your review except the dessert menu was limited to fruit salad the day I was there. But it was a delicious fruit salad.

John Lodge: This was much more mediocre. Their local dishes were mostly unavailable when I was there and the only veggie-friendly option was spaghetti. They also said juices were unavailable even though I saw other people ordering them.

Dire Dawa:

African Village was as good as you made it out to be. The owner took the parrot out of the cage at night and moved it somewhere where it was much less disruptive. Only complaint is the wifi didn’t work well, but in a pinch there are plenty of internet cafes around.

Harar:

Rowda Waber Guesthouse: This was my favorite accommodation in Ethiopia. The breakfast was as good as you made it out to be. The staff was great. Booking through Hailu (who was also a fantastic guide) went smoothly. It would have been nice to know that none of the guesthouses are signposted, so you really do either have to get picked up from the bus station or ask a lot of people to find them. The one downside was an aspirant guide who was hanging around trying to get me to hire him. I stayed firm with wanting to use Hailu instead, and eventually he backed down.

Fresh Touch has moved and it’s now almost immediately outside Harar Gate. It no longer has wifi.

Cozi Pizzeria does not seem to be there anymore. There is another restaurant in its place but some locals said it wasn’t good.

The military base across from the Ras Hotel has a really nice bar with beautiful garden seating. I went with Ethiopian friends and I’m not sure if foreigners could get in alone, though. And they’re strict about no cameras (I put mine in my bag and agreed not to take it out after a ten-minute argument about leaving it at the entrance).

I would suggest including the place in the main square in the old city that makes the chapati pancakes in your food recommendations (coming from Harar Gate, it’s outside on the ground floor of that big building on the left). 30 birr for a 2-egg pancake with veggies etc., delicious, and one of the most popular spots in town among locals.

There is also a lady who sells great veggie samosas (choice of potato or lentil). She sets up around 6 pm outside Central Cafe. 4 samosas ran me 8 birr.

The hyena feeding site has moved. It’s now about 5 km outside the walled city. (I didn’t go to the old sites to verify that they’re no longer there, but I did ask several locals and four different guides and they all said it’s been moved.) Costs 150 birr in a bajaj round-trip (the unofficial guides will tell you 200) plus 100 to pay the hyena man. The site was pretty quiet at 7:30 pm when we arrived but the hyena man eventually got 3 hyenas to come.

That’s all I’ve got–thanks again for the great guidebook! Ethiopia was the trip of a lifetime and the relatively small hassles and frustrations were totally eclipsed by the friendliness of the people and the fascinating history and natural sights.

Detailed July/August 2016 trip report

Greg writes:

Chapter 3 – Practical Information

In the section “red tape” I suggest specifying that Visas on Arrival are not issued at Dire Dawa airport, notwithstanding daily flights from Djibouti. Tourists arriving from Djibouti must either obtain their visa in advance from the Ethiopian embassy in Djibouti city or fly directly to Bole airport.

In the section “getting around”, I found your characterization of the Ethiopian Airlines travel experience to be accurate. However, in booking several flights with Ethiopian during the course of my stay I found considerable disparities in the application of policies, procedures and pricing – as well as general helpfulness – depending on who I was dealing with (i.e. Ethiopian Airlines call centre, Airline ticket offices in various cities and independent travel agencies). I also found considerable variability in security measures at various airports, with Axum having by far the most stringent checks, related presumably to the widespread peddling of ancient Axumite coins in this region.

Chapter 5 – Addis Ababa

In the section “Getting there and away“, I think you understate the number of international flights at terminal 1. As far as I can make out most if not all destinations in the Gulf are served by terminal 1, and by extension any other destinations involving a Gulf-based airline (e.g. Qatar). We personally found this to be problematic as we travelled to Ethiopia from Canada on Qatar, and our hotel shuttle driver was waiting for us at terminal 2 based on the assumption that this would be where he could find us.

While I generally found your review of Zeist Lodge (page 151) to be accurate, your characterization of its breakfast as one of the best in the country is overstated in my opinion. While admittedly I only stayed there one night, I found the breakfast to be middling in terms of quality and the staff stingy with refills and extras (e.g. jam or butter for the toast provided).

On your map of the city centre and Piazza on pages 154-55, please note that the Ethiopian Airline office in Piazza has moved from the location on Cunningham Street indicated on the map to Churchill Avenue at Wawel (i.e. in the Eliana Hotel complex) at the south-west corner of the intersection. Also, I suggest you consider adding a review of Eliana Hotel in your guide; I stayed in this relatively new hotel two nights in July 2016 and I was impressed with the quality of the rooms, the good breakfast and friendly service.

On your map of Bole on pages 158-59, I suggest you add a reference to the post office located on Olympia Circle, between Africa Avenue and Gabon Street. Also, the location indicated on the map for the Jewel of India Restaurant appears wrong. It is not on Gabon Street but rather a street which runs parallel to it.

Under Art Galleries and Installations on page 168, Netsa Art Village no longer exists. I spoke with the coordinator in August 2016 and I was told that it closed down about a year ago after the park authorities indicated that they did not wish to renew the Art Village’s lease.

In your description of Piazza on page 174, you may wish to add a similar warning to the one you indicate for Merkato with respect to pickpocketing. My wife and I were targeted four to five times in the area over a span of just two days. Although none of the attempts was successful, it would certainly be advisable for visitors to stay alert at all times.

I would suggest you add Downtown Café and Restaurant to your Piazza-area restaurant listings (pages 161-162). It is located on the east side of Churchill Avenue just north of Eliana Hotel and it is very good. Popular with young Ethiopians and stylishly appointed, it serves both Ethiopian and Italian dishes, along with excellent fruit juice. A mushroom pizza costs 99 birr; fresh juice 26 birr.

Chapter 6 – Around Addis Ababa

Under your entry for the Kuriftu Resort on page 185, please note that “facials” are not offered in the spa, only manicures and massages.

Under your description of Adadi Maryam (page 197), the entry fee is now USD5 (100 birr), up from the US3 indicated in the guide. Also, there is a typo on the 3rd line of the final paragraph on page 197: “excavation” should be replaced with “expedition”.

As for the Tiya stelae field, the entry is now USD6.50 (130 birr) rather than USD6 indicated.

Chapter 7 – Western Amhara

In your introduction to Bahir Dar (page 227), you suggest that hassle has lessened in recent years. While I do know how bad it was in the past, the degree of hassle here was the greatest of any town or city I visited in Ethiopia. While one of our most unpleasant experiences was at the bus station – where an aggressive gang of touts was very unpleasant to deal with in their attempts to get us on “their” minibus to Gonder (and we heard from another couple who had a similar experience), we found there was generally a high degree of street harassment (e.g. aggressive begging, pushing tours, etc), particularly in the evening near the lake and in downtown.

With respect to the information provided on the Blue Nile Falls (page 238-239), we were charged an admission fee of USD5 (100 birr) per person, not USD2.50 as you indicate. With respect to guides, we found there was considerable pressure at the ticket office and at the trailhead to take one, but once we had run this gauntlet the hassles on the trail itself were low-key and unobtrusive (i.e. young children selling curios, people wanting to hold an umbrella for you, etc). Visiting in late July the Falls were very impressive, although the path was quite muddy and slippery. I would also note that the road is currently being upgraded, and consequently it is a long, bumpy trip from Bahir Dar at present.

With respect to Gondar hotels (page 262), we stayed several nights at the Taye Belay and I was impressed by the helpfulness and flexibility of the staff. I would highly recommend this hotel on this basis alone, notwithstanding the rather crummy breakfast on offer. I was less impressed with the Lodge de Chateau. We looked into staying here based on positive reviews from another tourist, but I was not impressive by the manager’s lack of flexibility regarding low season pricing and the rooms seemed dark and poorly appointed, certainly much worse value for money than the Taye Belay, where we were paying under USD50 for three people in a top notch room.

With respect to Gondar restaurants (page 263-264) your review of Four Sisters is right on the mark. However, I was very disappointed with Habesha Coffee. In addition to unfriendly staff, we wait ages for the fruit juices we ordered, they got the order wrong and it seemed as though they had failed to clean the blender as there was a strong taste of banana in what was supposed to be mango juice.

In your map of Gondar (page 261), the placement of Ras Gimb appears wrong. You may want to double check, but I believe it should be placed further to the North, i.e. close to the Oil Libya gas station.

With respect to Fasil Ghebbi (page 266), while the admission fee remains USD10, the woman working in the ticket office was the most blatantly corrupt ticket seller of any museum or historic site we encountered during our trip. Not only was it very difficult to get her to produce a receipt but she also attempted to short-change as well.

With respect to Kuskuam, which we were very impressed with, I would simply note that the cost of a bajaj was about USD3 from the city centre.

Chapter 8 – Eastern Amhara

Under “tourist information” for Lalibela on page 323, it appears that the tourism office is no longer at the location indicated. I was told it is located within the church ticket office.

With respect to Lalibela restaurants (page 327) please note that the Holy Land Restaurant has closed. A seemingly new and very nicely appointed restaurant/cafe is the XO, located in the Lalibela cultural centre. They serve Ethiopian and western food as well as a good selection of drinks.

In your description of Bet Gebriel-Rafael, please note that the “rickety wooden walkway” has been replaced by a solid concrete bridge.

Chapter 9 – Tigrai

Under Axum’s “getting there and away” section on page 345, you may wish to mention that the security checks at the airport are by far the most stringent we experienced anywhere in the country – including international departures from Bole airport in Addis. It appears the focus is on searching travellers for Axumite coins and other antiquities.

While there is a fine-looking tourism office near the big fig tree/piazza, it was locked up throughout our stay in Axum.

 

Under Axum hotels (page 347), the phone number for Yeha Hotel is wrong. The correct number is 0347-752377. We stayed at Yeha Hotel for two nights and I agree with your assessment: beautiful grounds and setting overlooking the town, but both the rooms and the hotel generally are in need of refurbishment, plus the television in our room wasn’t working, breakfast was very poor and staff came across as entirely unhelpful and clueless. On the positive side, the restaurant terrace is very pleasant and we enjoyed watching the monkeys cavorting in nearb trees and bushes.

In your map of Axum (page 348) I noted two errors in your map. Ethiopian Airlines is no longer at the location indicated near Sol Internet. It has now moved several blocks to the east on the north side of the street near the Ark Hotel. Also, B-Life Nightclub is at the east end rather than the west end of the block, i.e. diagonally across the intersection from Atse Kaleb.

Under “other practicalities” in Axum on page 350 you may wish to add a reference a laundry. Located on a side-street south-west of the Dashen bank, its phone number is 0922-163539/0914-492931

Chapter 11 – Harar and the Far East

Under Dire Dawa hotels, we stayed at the Samrat and we were quite disappointed. Even taking into account the lower standards that one comes to expect in Ethiopian hotels, the Samrat was truly dire. In addition to exceedingly unfriendly and unhelpful staff, the breakfast was awful (everything was cold and barely edible), the pool was closed and our room was barely acceptable. The only positive was the Bollywood Restauran, which was quite good.

On your map of Dire Dawa on page 437 you show a bridge crossing the Dechatu river near the Coca-Cola bottling plant. This bridge does not in fact exist.

Under “what to see and do” in Dire Dawa on page 439, I visited what you describe as the site of the “new railway museum currently being established” and was told by the coordinator that its establishment is now doubtful due to the loss of government support for the venture. That being said, entering the gate to the south-west of the old train station you will find a train wagon set up for the train yards’ official tour guide, a long-time railway employee who speaks good English and French. She offers extensive tours of the site, including visits to the old roundhouse, workshops, etc. There is no set admission fee but a tip is expected.

Under “where to eat and drink” in Harar on page 449, I find you are overly positive about Hirut Restaurant. While the setting is certainly nice, the food is on par with other options (e.g. Fresh Touch) and we found the service to be poor, and it didn’t help that the waitress disappeared when it was time to bring us the change from our bill.

Under “other practicalities” in Harar on page 449, you may wish to consider adding what I believe may be the town’s only travel agent, which sells Ethiopian Airline tickets, etc. It is called Sofi Travel Service (tel 0911-029602 / 0256-664422) and it is located on the south side of the main street between the Ras Hotel and Cozi Pizzeria. I bought airline tickets from Dire Dawa to Addis here, and the woman running the agency was quite helpful.

Under the “hyena men of Harar” (page 453), it may be worth pointing out that at least one imitator has sprung up beyond the two hyena men based at the traditional feeding sites near Felana and Erer gates respectively. On our first evening in Harar we made our own way to the “Christian” feeding site, but arriving at about 6:30pm there was no one about and we left just before 7pm. Finding out later that that the feeding does not actually start until after 7pm (i.e. nightfall) the next day we opted to make arrangements with a bajaj driver to take us to one of the sites. After leaving the old city through the Erer gate he took us to a rural spot about 1km south-east of the “Islamic” feeding site where a man who claimed to be the son of the original hyena man was charging 100 birr per person, which we negotiated down to 250 birr for three people. Two other parties of tourists later showed up with their guides in tow. While I expect the experience was not dissimilar to what we would have had at one of the traditional sites (i.e. about 6-8 hyenas came around and tourists who wanted to feed a hyena with meat on a stick could do so), I was initially quite concerned that we were being scammed.

Under your entry for the Rimbaud museum, you indicate the entry fee as USD1. The entry fee seems to have risen to USD2.

I found your overview of Babile Elephant Sanctuary (page 457-458) to be very helpful. However, you may wish to consider adding the following details. Given that spotting any elephants generally requires hiking through the bush, it is important for visitors to come appropriate dressed (i.e. thick trousers and closed shoes), given the large number of cacti and other thorn-bearing plants about. Also, I was surprised by the extent of human encroachment on the Sanctuary, with quite a few people and many camels and cows grazing, which apparently has served to push the elephants into more remote areas. Notwithstanding the timing of our visit in early August it took us 3-4 hours of searching before we came upon a group of three elephants. In addition to the cost of the car, driver and guide – which in our case cost us 3,000 birr, we also had to pay an entry fee to the park (100 birr per person) and 200 birr for the scout (there were three of us on the visit). Finally, those any locals who help to locate an elephant expect a tip. In our case it was a group of children, to whom we paid 50 birr at the suggestion of the scout

Nordic Medical Centre, Addis Ababa

Therese writes:

The Nordic Medical Centre is Norwegian run and staffed by both international and Ethiopian doctors and nurses. They are open 24/7 and operate an ambulance services – also with trained ambulance staff, which is not always the case here. In addition, they have teamed up with a flight operator, and using a network of airstrips this means that you can be medivaced from many parts of Ethiopia using an air ambulance. Apart from all the emergency medical services, they have a range of family medical services. Here’s a link: http://www.nordicmedicalcentre.com/services/

Addis Light Rail

Zac writes:

The light rail is a quick and very cheap way to get around Addis Ababa. There are two lines (one is north-south, one is east-west) which intersect along Ras Mekonen Avenue.

Every station will have a bilingual Amharic-English map, however they aren’t overlaid on a map of the city, so it can be difficult to find your bearings. One alternative is to use OpenStreetMap, which includes the stations and the tracks. For tourists, the most important stops will probably be:

  • Menelik II Square, which is around the corner from St George’s Cathedral in Piazza. It’s the only underground station in the network, so look for escalators.
  • Autobus Tera, which is the main bus station and adjacent to Markato. It’s pronounced “Atobistera”, and using the English pronunciation like I did at first will result in confusion.
  • Stadium, named after Addis Ababa stadium but also the main station at Meskel Square. This station serves both lines; St. Estifanos station is also next to Meskel Square but it only serves the much less useful [for tourists] east-west line.

Tickets cost 2 to 6 birr depending on how far you are going. To buy a ticket, look for an orange booth with people lined up out the front. There are no signs, and sometimes the booths can be confusingly far away from the stations themselves, even around the corner. But no matter what, the booths will always be in the line of sight from the station, and once you know what they look like they will be easier to spot. There are no light rail conductors, and you cannot buy a ticket on board or on the platforms. There will occasionally be police officers posted at stations to check everyone’s tickets, but they seem disinterested in checking foreigners’ tickets. You can purchase single and return tickets, but beyond this they are not reusable.

On board a voiceover will remind you not to bring cattle and fowl into the carriages, while a promotional video for the Chinese company that built the network plays on repeat.

 

For more of Zac’s posts about Ethiopia, see https://new-faces-new-places.com

 

 

Excellent Ethiopia travel blog

 

https://new-faces-new-places.com is a great new blog with detailed stories and pictures based on the author Zac’s trip to Ethiopia from December 2015 to February 2016. It includes posts on Addis Ababa and Harar, and Zac hopes to add to add Lalibela, Awra Amba, Bahir Dar, Gondar, Simien Mountains, Axum, the Tigray Churches/Hawzien, Mekele and the Danakil Depression in the near future.

 

Go Addis Tours

Addis Eats, recommended in the 7th edition of the Bradt Guide, has changed its name to Go Addis!
Founder Eliza Richman explains: “We started as a company focused on food but thanks to our customers, fans, guides, local partners and our vision for creating something much bigger, we quickly grew to offer city tours, market tours, wine and beer tastings, trip planning and more. It’s been a few years coming, but we’ve outgrown the name Addis Eats and are excited to continue as Go Addis.”
For more details see http://goaddistours.com