Trip report (useful South Omo info) Jan-Mar 2016

Bryan & Judy Pready write

First part (days 1 to 16, to Gonder) pre­booked through Tesfa Tours http://www.tesfatours.com/ ; after that independent travel, mainly using local buses.

A selection of our photos can be seen here:­

https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B1pd3zAKtirpZGJ6S2tTVjNrLVE&usp=sharing

12 17 Jan Axum Ye Yared Zema Hotel: Stellae
13 18 Jan Axum Ye Yared Zema Hotel. Stellae and church.
14 19 Jan Gondar Flight to Gondar: Fasil Lodge; visited castle. Procession in afternoon. Tesfa guide: Tamerat
15 20 Jan Gondar Fasil Lodge; Timket celebrations from very early morning
16 21 Jan Gondar Fasil Lodge; planning our own itinerary
17 22 Jan Bahir Dahr Minibus to Bahir Dahr. Blue Nile Hotel, booked via

Booking.com (USD35 inc breakfast).

18 23 Jan Bahir Dahr Blue Nile Hotel: Boat trip to islands, peninsula and monasteries.
19 24 Jan Bahir Dahr B&B The Annexe; (USD45 inc breakfast) This B&B only has 3 rooms and is often fully booked. Quiet residential area. Originally was holiday home of Swiss­Ethiopian family, who live in Lausanne. Bookings by email are handled by them in Switzerland and the B&B is run by family members who live in Bahir Dahr. Attractive garden with lots of birds. Excellent breakfasts.
20 25 Jan Bahir Dahr B&B The Annexe: Blue Nile Falls
21 26 Jan Bahir Dahr B&B The Annexe. Walked to Derg Memorial, saw hippos in river near bridge. In Bahir Dahr, we enjoyed several good fish meals at the Lakeshore Resort. Good food, excellent location and pleasant service.
22 27 Jan Lalibela Minibus (ETB300 each), then shared 4×4 (ETB300), to Lalibela. Lalibela Hotel booked via Booking.com (USD37 inc breakfast)
23 28 Jan Lalibela Lalibela Hotel; rock churches
24 29 Jan Lalibela Lalibela Hotel; more rock churches
25 30 Jan Lalibela Lalibela Hotel; mule ride to St Mary’s Church (arranged through hotel) Manager of Lalibela Hotel, Indie, was very helpful with advice, arranging mule ride, and helping to get a very good deal for our Danakil trip.
26 31 Jan Makele Private transfer to Makele, arranged through ETT as part of Danakil package. Yohannes Hotel  ETT Manager in Makele, Abeba, is very efficient, pleasant and helpful.

 

27 1 Feb Erte Ale ETT Tour: Makele ­­ Dodom ­­ Erte Ale volcano (camp) Large group with only one guide and an assistant. Not impressed with guide on trek to volcano; he went off quite fast, leaving lots of stragglers behind. On the other hand, drivers and police escort were pleasant and helpful. Volcano was impressive ­­ well worth it.
28 2 Feb Abaala Dodom ­­ Abaala (ETT guesthouse)
29 3 Feb Hamdela Abaala ­­ Behthale ­­ Hamedela (camp): Salt lake at sunset.
30 4 Feb Makele Ragad (Asebo) mine ­­ Dallol, Lake Assal (Absolutely stunning landscapes; can’t imagine there is anywhere else on earth quite like this) ­­ Makele, Yohannes Hotel
32 5 Feb Addis Free transfer to airport by ETT. Flight to Addis; Zeist Lodge. Aladin Restaurant ­­ went because we could walk there from Zeist Lodge but not impressed.
32 6 Feb Addis Zeist Lodge: La Mandoline Restaurant ­­ certainly the best restaurant we visited in Ethiopia. Decided to visit again.
33 7 Feb Addis Zeist Lodge Booked bus to Bale Robe for following day from Mercato, assisted by taxi driver, without whom we’d have never found the right place to buy the ticket.
34 8 Feb Bale Robe Early morning bus to Bale Robe. Got on wrong bus at Mercato but then helped by another passenger to find the right one; not easy in complete darkness. Bekele Molla Hotel. Moved after 1 night. Hotel very run down. Broken furniture, no running water, smelly bathroom. (ETB 250, breakfast not included)
35 9 Feb Bale Robe Siko Mendo Hotel. Clean, modern 3­storey hotel, hot water shower. Dusty because of airport construction traffic using dirt road in front of hotel. (ETB 400, including breakfast.)  Walking tour with guide from National Park HQ, Abubakar Adem mountain nyala, reedbuck and warthog. No alcohol at hotel so went to restaurant near roundabout where we received a warm welcome, good traditional food and cold beer.
36 10

Feb

Bale Robe Siko Mende Hotel. Tour with minibus and NP guide, Abubeker Adem, to Sanetti Plateau and beyond. Ethiopian wolves and colobus monkeys.
37 11

Feb

Hawassa Minibus and bus, via Shashemene to Hawassa, Lake View Hotel. First night in first floor room above bar. Very noisy until late so moved to second floor on other side of hotel; much quieter. Large, comfortable rooms with pleasant balconies.

 

38 12

Feb

Hawassa Lake View Hotel Explored along lakeside
39 13

Feb

Hawassa Lake View Hotel: Fish market (ETB 40 entrance, ETB 100 guide, separate receipts issued by fishermen’s and

guides’ associations)

40 14

Feb

Hawassa Lake View Hotel: Eating:­ Dolce Vita didn’t impress, most items on the menu weren’t available. Venezia: went

twice, first time good but the second time the boss messed up our order and then tried to blame the kitchen staff! “What a Burger” ­­ good new burger place, run by a young Ethiopian who has lived in the USA. New Italian

ice cream place, also started serving pasta on the day we left, diagonally across from Dolce Vita.

41 15

Feb

Dilla Bus to Dilla: Delight Hotel
42 16

Feb

Dilla Delight Hotel Prehistoric rock carvings and villages, Wechemo district, tour by bus and on foot with local guide, Abrahalign Mengesha, from Gedeo Zone tourism office.
43 17

Feb

Dilla Delight Hotel Quiet day, after minor injury previous evening for which I received treatment at Unity Medium Clinic, a short walk from the hotel.
44 18

Feb

Dilla Delight Hotel Stellae; tour by bus and on foot with

Abrahalign Mengesha.

45 19

Feb

Yabello Bus to Yabello. Tried Green Hotel (now “Pension”) but only rooms with shared showers and toilet so went across road to Yabello Hawi Hotel (ETB300 en­suite with

“instant” shower) Evening meals at Yabello Motel.

46 20

Feb

Yabello Yabello Hawi Hotel
47 21

Feb

Konso Bus to Konso. Not easy to find, doesn’t go from bus station. Were told it left every day at 8 a.m. so went at

7:30. Bus eventually came at 9:15 and finally left Yabello at 11:15. New Konso Edget Hotel (No restaurant; ate at Konso Edget Hotel. No internet cafe and no WiFi, used internet cafe at Konso Development Association)

48 22

Feb

Konso New Konso Edget Hotel: Museum, local market and visit to Konso village without official guide. We were invited in and guided round by a local man who teaches physics in a local secondary school, a really good experience.

 

49 23

Feb

Konso New Konso Edget Hotel. Tour to local villages by bajaj with guide from Konso Tourism Office but wasn’t as good as yesterday’s unofficial guide.
50 24

Feb

Arbore Tour by minibus to south, with local guide Bereket Tekel. Walked to see fishing. Camped in village (tent, mattresses and bedding hired from community) Camping ETB200 per person, plus ETB100 for guard.
51 25

Feb

Turmi Mango community camp site (Tent and bedding provided by guide) Camping ETB150 per person. Hamer village visit on foot from camp site with local guide, Oïta, at sunset.  Excellent visit; relaxed; welcomed into homes.
52 26

Feb

Turmi Omerate in morning by minibus. Visited Sambura village (Dasenach). Expensive for very short visit! (ETB 1300 in total) and not very interesting. Afternoon; tried to see bull­jumping in village near Turmi. Saw preliminaries but ceremony rained off by heavy thunderstorm. Mango community camp site. Had to wade across river which had been completely dry when we left.  Used double bedroom, with en­suite shower because our tent had been flattened by the thunderstorm! Very impressed with Mango ­­ it’s well looked after and the people there are extremely

helpful and welcoming.

53 27

Feb

Konso Original plan had been to go to Jinka but we decided to spend the morning drying out our clothes and around the the camp site before returning to Konso. Kanta Lodge (No power or water at New Edget Hotel)
54 28

Feb

Arba Minch Zebib Pension Recommended by our guide, Bereket Tekel. An excellent choice. Weather was warm, so we chose a room in the block facing the courtyard, which had a window at the front and door onto a small balcony at the back, rather than in the block behind, where rooms only have a door and window at the front. (BTB700) Lunch at Tourist Hotel ­ pleasant gardens, including tame dik­dik, cold draught beer. Evening meal at Swayne’s Lodge ­­ not good, fish cooked to cinder.
55 29

Feb

Arba Minch Zebib Pension Boat tour full day (ETB2500 for two, inc NP entry, boat, guide, bajaj, scout)  Hippos, crocs, zebra, gazelles, baboons, fish eagles, pelicans, goliath heron. Evening to Paradise Lodge by bajaj (road tarmaced all the way now) in search of working ATM. Place very quiet, beautiful views from restaurant terrace.

 

56 1 Mar Arba Minch Zebib Pension Dorze by bus (ETB20) Met by local guide, Freo (he’d been tipped off by phone that two farangi were coming!) who made sure that we got off at the right place. Very interesting tour, especially seeing how false banana is prepared and eaten, Bajaj to market at Chencha. Late lunch back at Tourist Hotel. Better evening meal at Swaynes, possibly because they had a group staying..
57 2 Mar Arba Minch Zebib Pension Sunrise then breakfast at Swaynes, while watching a family of baboons and three warthogs. Bekele Mola for lunch and dinner, which has better terrace, food and service than Swayne’s. More popular with locals.
58 3 Mar Ziway 6 a.m. bus to Shashemene, then minibus. Haile Resort
59 4 Mar Ziway Haile Resort Lake trip to island. Interesting village but church closed because priest away for bishop’s funeral.
60 5 Mar Ziway Haile Resort Good lunch, with bottle of Rift Valley Merlot at the winery restaurant.
61 6 Mar Ziway Haile Resort Another lazy day, sorting travel and bookings, and another lunch at the winery restaurant.
62 7 Mar Addis Minibus to Addis; left without being full! Long delay because of accident involving 3 trucks. Ye­Afoli International Hotel New hotel (opened late in 2015). Went here on recommendation of Zeist Lodge, because they were full. Good value; booked USD75 room though Booking.com and were upgraded to a larger USD100 room. Good location ­­ nearer to Bole Road than Zeist Lodge. Large, comfortable, well­equipped room and bathroom. Only place in Ethiopia where we saw kettle, cups and teabags provided,
63 8 Mar Harar Free transfer from hotel to Selam bus to Harar. Winta

Hotel (Tried to book Harar Ras Hotel by phone but was

told it was full) Further from walled town but very pleasant atmosphere at this family­run hotel. The Manager, Daniel Berhe, is very helpful. Excellent breakfasts; most evening meals at Harar Ras

64 9 Mar Harar Winta Hotel Tour of walled city on foot with local guide, Solomon. Feeding Hyenas after sunset.
65 10

Mar

Harar Winta Hotel Trip in Peugeot 404 taxi to camel market at

Babile, “valley of marvels” and Koromi village.

66 11

Mar

Harar Winta Hotel Explored more of old town. Offered beers on house by Daniel when he saw us playing Scrabble downstairs.

 

67 12

Mar

Addis Selam bus to Addis. Lunch stop: thought we’d ordered pasta but got roast chicken and chips. Really excellent! Shame we didn’t have time to properly relax and enjoy it! Ye­Afoli International Hotel  Same room, at same price as previous visit. La Mandoline restaurant for birthday treat.
68 13

Mar

Addis Ye­Afoli International Hotel Cathedral museum (good), then went to Ethnographic Museum but was closed for refurbishment; not sure for how long.
69 14

Mar

Addis Ye­Afoli International Hotel Red Martyrs Museum, interesting ­­ reminded us of Cambodia, then shopping for gifts. Hotel restaurant is good ­­ appears to be used by locals as well as hotel guests. Talked to hotel owner, who is also its architect about the hotel and some of the ideas he’s got from working in other countries.
70 15

Mar

Free transfer from hotel to airport. Return flight to London

Notes

Buses

We used local buses and minibuses most of the time. Information in the Bradt guide is generally accurate and helpful, though it was useful to check out the detail the day before, and to buy tickets, where possible for early morning departures, which tend to leave soon after dawn. Later in the day, they generally wait until they are full before leaving. Unlike in some other countries, there never seemed to be any competition between buses going to the same destination; one would fill up and leave, and then another would take over. Some towns (e.g. Shashemene) have more than one bus station, and, in one place, Yabello, the bus didn’t leave from the “bus station” that is marked on the map in the Bradt guide (a yard next to the stadium).

Because buses only leave when they are full it is often extremely difficult to board a bus anywhere along its route. Buses are not allowed to carry standing passengers, a rule that is enforced by traffic police who lurk along the main roads. It is noticeable that buses do pile on extra passengers once they turn off onto side roads where the drivers know that there is little chance of being caught.

Road accidents are common, though we didn’t see any involving buses. We did see the aftermath of a head­on collision between a minibus and a truck, which must have been fatal for the front seat passengers of the minibus.

Bus stations are usually very large yards which appear disorganised but the buses or minibuses for each destination gather in the same spot. We found it useful to check this out the day before, when we weren’t burdened with our bags. Young men often hang around bus stations, offering their services as porters, guides and “seat bookers”. We usually declined their offers but, once or twice we did use them to track down a ticket office or help us find the right bus.

Local guides

We used a lot of local guides along the way, starting with the young lad who showed the the area around Gheralta Lodge. He was the son of two of the Lodge staff and knew the area and its people very well. Just the sort of guide we like ­­ not necessarily an expert but someone who is interested in local wildlife, able to introduce you to local people, show you how they live, point out interesting sights and respond to your questions.

Most of the guides that we found were good. Some were able to organise longer trips and transport. The best of these was Bereket Tekel who we used for our trip to the south from Konso. He came to find us at our hotel, having been tipped of by the receptionist, and we must admit that we were, at first, quite wary. There’s no mention in the Bradt guide of being able to arrange such a trip from Konso and the lack of an internet connection there meant we had no other way of checking out what he was telling us.

Having mulled it over for a couple of days while we visited the villages around Konso, we accepted his proposal and are very glad we did. We had an enjoyable time travelling by minibus, and walking and camping in the villages. Bereket, the driver, Yaziallam, and his assistant, Tesfalla, made a great team and the local guide in Turmi from the Hamar community, OÏta, was also excellent.

Finding local guides isn’t usually a problem, though deciding whether to use them can be. In some places, you have no option, and in these places you don’t have a choice either, you take whoever’s turn it is. This was the case in Omorate, where we had our worst

experience. The guy showed no real interest, he just wanted to do it as quickly as possible. He didn’t respond to any of our questions. The whole thing was very expensive but I doubt if much of the money went to either the villagers or the boatmen. We expressed our concerns to Bereket but he obviously felt powerless to do anything about it.

Museums

Of the museums that we visited, we enjoyed:

●   The Ethnological Museum in Addis. We’d hoped to go back for a second visit but we were told it was closed for refurbishment.

●   The National Museum in Addis ­­ basement is excellent, rest is hardly worth looking at.

●   Red Terror Museum in Addis ­­ brought back memories of Phnom Penh and the

Khmer Rouge.

●   The Cathedral Museum in Addis ­­ perhaps the best display of church artifacts that we saw.

●   The museum in Lalibela which is part of the the community centre, just along the road from the Lalibela Hotel. Two large rooms, the first about the churches, based on recent archeological work. The second is a very good ethnological museum. It’s unfortunate that this museum appears to get few visitors; it really is worth visiting.

●   The museum at Ura Kidane Mehret monastery on the Zege peninsula in Lake Tana

has a very good display of church artifacts.

●   Konso museum, across the road from the Kanta Lodge. Again, this museum doesn’t appear to be on the main tourist trail; plenty stay at the Kanta Lodge but I didn’t see anyone walking across there or even being brought over in their 4x4s.

Finally, the one we wouldn’t recommend is the church museum in Axum. Dismal. Dusty objects behind dirty glass, including a lot of ancient books but you can only look at their covers. And it’s more expensive and most other museums.

ATMs and money

Ethiopia has a good network of ATMs. The only town where we didn’t see one was Yabello but we weren’t really looking. Biggest network is Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) followed by Dashen Bank, both of which allow you to withdraw ETB4,000. For some others e.g. NIB, Awash, the limit is ETB2,000. Some banks, e.g. Abyssinia, don’t accept foreign cards.

Machines can be found outside some of the major (usually expensive!) hotels and afew tourist attractions, e.g. Lalibela churches, Addis Ethnological Museum.

You can withdraw money from bank branches using a foreign card. Dashen charges a fee of 2.5% for this service but at CBE it’s free. Two advantages of withdrawing money in branches are that you can take out a larger amount (up to the limit set by your own bank) and you can ask for the money in smaller denominations than the ETB100 notes that you usually get from ATMs. We did this in Konso before heading off to the South.

You can’t rely on ATMs working all the time so it is wise to always have enough money for the next few days. Occasionally bank branches may also be out of action because of power cuts or problems with phone connections. There appear to be times, at the end of each month, when CBE branches are besieged by large numbers of students and government employees trying to withdraw money.

About Us

We are in our late sixties. This is the fifth long winter trip that we’ve done since we retired. The previous ones were in Indochina, India and Latin America.

Changing Ethiopian Birr to US dollars

Nicola Carroll writes:

I wanted to write and let other travellers know that changing Ethiopian Birr back to US dollars in Addis is currently an absolute nightmare and was in my experience impossible through official channels. I spent two days trying to change money and public banks, private banks, all the major hotels, fx exchange at the airport and other branches all refused to sell me dollars, kenyan schillings or indeed any foreign currency. As Ethiopian Birr is not a convertible currency and cannot be changed outside of the country, in my experience this effectively meant foreign exchange in Addis was one way only. The black market rate quoted to me was 25 Birr to the Dollar so in the end, I approached other travellers in the arrivals hall of Bole International Airport and changed US$300 that way. While this may not affect all travellers (e.g. those who are carefully winding down their funds of local currency by spending toward the end of their trip), it was a problem for me as I was travelling on to Hargeisa, Somaliland where there were no reliable working ATMs and I needed to bring hard currency into Somaliland with me.. While I was aware that Ethiopia was experiencing a high rate of inflation, I did not anticipate that FX would be such a problem on a par with Zimbabwe! Banks and businesses in Addis seem to be hoarding dollars to counteract inflation and I was told that a lot of money can be made by hotels, etc selling dollars to local businessmen.

March 2015 trip report

E&M writes:

This is a great resource that I so appreciated when I was researching our trip to Ethiopia. We spent 33 days in this amazingly beautiful country (Dec/Jan 15), and wanted to add my notes in the hopes it might help others.

Trans National Airlines (TNA) We did not fly w Ethiopian Airlines, so TNA was great for us. We flew on it twice $50 each way from Bahir Dar. The first flight saved us the 9 hour bus ride from Addis. The 2nd flight we drove from Lalibela to Bahir Dar and then flew from there back to Addis, saving us the 2 day bus ride from Lalibela. Make sure you confirm flight times, as our information was a 12pm flight, so a 5am departure from Lalibela to ensure we would get there on time. The actual flight time was 3pm.

Addis – Lots of construction, but when the light rail is finished it will be so much easier to get around the city. We were not there long enough to get a grasp of the buses and the taxis never seemed willing to go below 150 birr, so we did a lot of walking. The Caravan is a great place to stay for $50-60 US per night, and includes free airport shuttle. Fairly centrally located with great restaurants nearby, plus the hotel restaurant is quite good, too. The employees are great, each time we returned we felt like we were meeting old friends again. Addis Eats Walking Tour – great food tour that highlights 3 restaurants, 2 coffee shops and a juice bar. We did it on one of our last days in Ethiopia and wondered if it was worth the $s. It definitely is! We had a great time, and enjoyed the best Injero and Tibbs.

Ethio Travel andTours – Great company and great experience with them. We met with them the first day after exchanging emails earlier, spent @ 2hr firming up our itinerary. We only booked 2 tours with them – 4 day Simien trek and The Danakil, both were excellent. They offered great logistical suggestions, such as the TNA flights which saved us time and money. Several times we called them on our trip to arrange transport and we found them responsive and helpful.

Other suggestions ETT recommended included – starting the Simien trek at the waterfall and then hiking the first day to Gich. This allowed an extra night at Chenek, which we preferred over spending the first night at Sankabar. Also, scheduling a vehicle at Chenek and driving to Axum, rather than going back to Gondar. The drive to Axum is long with many switchbacks, but stunning scenery. After hiking in the Simiens, the drive allows you to look back up into the Mtns on this drive. We found everyone we dealt with at ETT professional and helpful.

ATMs – prior to arrival this was the most conflicting information. Perhaps we were just very lucky, but we never had a problem getting birr from the ATMs. We used them in Addis, Bahir Dar, Gondar, Axum, and Mekele. There was a 4000 birr max per transaction, but we could do multiple transactions. At the time of our ETT booking (Dec 5, 2014) they were not able to accept credit card payment. But they drove us to the Hilton in Addis and were able to get the birr for payment.

Bahir Dar – we really liked this pleasant tree lined city bordering Lake Tana. We only stayed 2 nights since we had committed to the Simien trek, but definitely would have stayed longer. Stayed at B&B The Annex – a small 4 room B&B with a beautiful little courtyard in the center where we ate breakfast and enjoyed the birds. A great restaurant on the South Shore of the lake, can not remember the name, but also had @ 100 beautiful pelicans nearby.

Gondar – enjoyed the castles. Three Girls restaurant – delicious food.

Simiens – Our understanding – the guides are randomly assigned by the Park Headquarters. We were very lucky to have Davey Yohannes assigned as our guide, and would recommend him. http://www.ambarasethiopiatours.com We are not clear whether you can request a specific guide ahead of time. This is a beautiful trek. Itinerary suggestions above. It is definitely cold, proper gear is essential. Mid Dec we woke up to ice/frost. We were traveling for too long to carry our own gear, but it would be a consideration for another time.

Axum – Africa House is a decent place to stay. Had our best spitz across the street from the Africa House.The small Archeological museum (at the Stella site) is nicely done, with very knowledgeable staff.

Loved the Tigray area – especially the Geralta Lodge. Well worth the splurge!

Mekele – probably the only non interesting town for us, but perhaps it was due to just spending 4 days in the Danakil. Atse Yohannes – upgrade and request the balcony – its old and tired, but ok for a quick stop before and after The Danakil and convenient to the ETT office in Mekele.

The Danakil – GO! It is amazing!!

Lalibela – lots already written – the churches are amazing. We had read lots of warnings on the hassle from the children. Someone has been working very hard to change that image – we were greeted with “welcome to Lailabela’. Yes, they would join you walking, but they did not hassle us.

Harar – a long 9 hour bus ride, stumbling into town at the edge of the massive market, arriving at a dumpy ‘recommend’ hotel (The Belayneh) that did not have water, and pretty filthy … The next morning, stumbling around in the old city, trying to locate the Cultural guesthouses. Finally asked someone and Sherif took us to the unmarked gray door – Zubeyda – to walk into a lovely courtroom with 3 rooms. It changed the entire dynamic of the city. Spent the next 2 days touring with Sherif, the camel market, the spice market, the cloth merchants. Highly recommend a guide to really enjoy the city. Just negotiate the daily charge ahead of time.

Ok, so that is a long post. Hope you find it helpful. We truly enjoyed our trip and definitely hope to return!

Travellers cheques & ATMs

Christine writes:

I just returned from Ethiopia and want to pass on this information regarding traveller’s cheques. Traveller’s cheques are no longer cashable in Ethiopia. I had used them 5 years ago without any problems. Even banks outside Addis were able to cash them for me. However on this trip I was told that banks have not been cashing them for about 2 years. I was able to get cash advances on VISA at banks in Addis. I did not try to use ATMs outside the capital and I only used them inside banks in Addis. I was a bit leary of the ATMs outside banks. A friend was using one when the power went out and his card was stuck in the machine.

Exchanging Ethiopian birr

A US traveller has written to point out that Ethiopian Birr are essentially worthless outside of Ethiopia!

They say “When we arrived at the airport in Addis Ababa, we converted several hundred U.S. dollars to Birr. When we arrived at the airport to leave, we tried to convert our remaining Birr back to U.S. dollars. The currency exchange office at the airport told us that we could not convert more that the equivalent of $150.00 per person from Birr back into dollars. When we originally converted our U.S. dollars to Birr, the currency exchange office did not tell us about this limit. When we got home, we couldn’t find any place in the Washington, D.C. area that would convert Birr to U.S. dollars.”

The same would be true in most places outside of Ethiopia, so the moral of the story is not to change too much currency when you first arrive. Bear in mind if you change too little money, it is now easy to change more money at almost any bank, or to draw local currency from ATMs using a Visa card.

American Express travellers’ cheques

Michelle writes:

Amex Travellers Cheques now not accepted in any Ethiopian Bank (Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, Dashen Bank, also tried others in Addis). Evidently in about June 2013, a number of counterfeit Amex Travellers tendered by travellers to major Ethiopian Banks.  The counterfeit cheques were not honoured by Amex.  We were told that “the problem has never been resolved”.  Aside from this hitch all was good and our local guides and friends went the extra mile to help out.

Trip report Dec/Jan 2013/4

Matthew Birt writes:

I enjoyed reading and made good use of everyone else’s information, so I thought I ought to contribute:

 

Dec/Jan 2014

Travelled solo, independently using local transport

 

Bradt Guidebook excellent

 

General

 

Generally felt very safe and welcome

Quite a lot of hassle from kids, beggars, tourist touts, blokes in the street – quite consistent, but not that persistant and certainly not threatening in any way. Groups of kids are a right royal pain in the ____ .

 

Transport pretty good. People always really helpful – and I always got to where I was heading, even if I’m not sure how. Roads generally good and traffic free – all the driver has to worry about are the people standing in the middle of it and the aimlessly wandering livestock

Cheap tuk-tuks just about everywhere – seem to have replaced garis in most places

Mobile phone coverage generally good – cheap and quick to get sim (need photocopy of passport and photo)

 

Everything seemed very inexpensive – accomm, transport, food, etc

Easy to change cash in banks/airport

ATMs in a lot of places – Dashen and Commercial Bank worked for me

 

Forgotten how noisy Africa is, especially at night – or at least it was where I slept. Every night. My top tip – take the finest ear plugs money can buy. As well as eye drops (for the dust) and lip balm (for the sun).

 

Budget hotels – apart from in Harar – always provided towel, toilet paper and soap.

 

Weather – always sunny and hot during day – 25-30 C. No rain. In some towns, pretty cold early morning and night and required two fleeces (e.g. Debark, Debre Birhan, Abese Teferi)

 

Bole Airport

 

Arrived 2am, and stayed in there until morning flight to Axum. Felt safe, although pretty cold. Nowhere nice to sleep, try and get into domestic terminal departures asap where there are comfortable loungers.

 

 

 

Axum

 

Hotel reps waiting at airport with free transport

Africa House – fine – 175B en suite single

Thought Tsion Maryam complex at 200B a rip-off, considering much of it closed and under refurbishment

Really enjoyed walk out to Debre Liqanos Monastry

 

Shire

 

Africa Hotel – fine – 150B – adjacent restaurant good but noisy at night

Nice just to be in a normal town, without the tourist ‘nonsense’

Good to walk out of town into countryside to see ‘real’ Ethiopia

 

Debark

 

Bus from Shire didn’t leave until after 7, even though told to be there at 5. Awful road. Wonderful Simien scenery for 10 hours or so!

Simien Park Hotel – good – 250B en suite single

Unique Landscape next door also looked good, but slightly more expensive.

If not trekking, negotiate hard and get a number of quotes for your day trip into the national park – tourist touts, argh!!!

 

Gondar

 

Queen Taitu Pension – 200B en suite single. Poor. No hot water, etc. Noisy.

Moved to  Belegez Pension, 200B, water still a problem, but quieter and nicer courtyard

Four Sisters Restaurant – great food and fantastic dancing. Before I left I didn’t think some contrived dance show for tourists would be a highlight of my trip. But it was. Go and see for yourself.

 

As solo, negotiated guide fee down to 100B (rather than 200) for castle complex

 

Kosoye also a highlight. Easy to get to (30-40 mins north of Gondar). Had a very nice breakfast at Befikir Ecolodge, which is visible from main road. Staff super friendly. Then great walk down into valley. Scout cost 100B, and worth every penny. Tough going.  Highly recommended.

 

Bahir Dar

 

Wudie Pension –  nice big room – 200B.

Ghion looked really run down to me, although good spot for meeting fellow tourists.

Tread carefully with the tourist touts in town. Both half day trips to the lake monastries and waterfall were shambolic and a rip-off. Average price paid seemed to be 200B/person, but I’m sure you can get for less. Get itinerary and any additional costs written down. You have been warned! Good for meeting other (equally hacked-off) tourists though!

Lucky with Blue Nile Falls – water was flowing – and another highlight.

 

Lalibela

 

There for Christmas, so very busy and accomm prices x2 or x3 normal rate

Hotel Lalibela, been refurbished and now rather swish. $45/double en suite

Private Roha – very basic, but felt safe – 400B/twin shared facilities

Recommend Unique Restarant opposite Asheton – cheap and good fun

Walk up to Asheton Maryam good, although hard

 

Used local guide  – Zewudu Melak – +251 (0) 913636414 – for churches – nice guy – only ‘guide’ I used that I can recommend

 

Lake Hayk

 

Logo Hayk Lodge (I think, maybe name changed, not sure)

This place could probably be very peaceful and relaxing, but not on Christmas Day with a huge party going on!

230B/hut ensuite for okayish room (150B if you’re Ethiopian!)

 

Debre Birhan

 

Akalu Hotel – reasonable place – 100B for ensuite

Really nice restaurant at Eva Hotel

 

Bishoftu

 

Alaf Hotel – bit noisy and water issues – 170B en suite. Great view of lake

 

Awash

 

Buffet D’Auoache – 150B/room – pretty nice and peaceful place. Dusty, nondescript town though

 

Managed to find a ‘guide’ to get me into Awash National Park by asking around at hotels. Hired a good minibus and driver for 1000B for the day (6am-6pm). Really enjoyed the reserve, it’s not the Serengeti, but saw quite a lot of game. Waterfalls fab. Awash Falls Lodge looked nice and was a good spot for lunch

 

Abese Teferi

 

Kebsch Int Lodge – decent room – 150B en suite; good restaurant attached

 

Got 6am bus direct to Kuni, found ‘guide’ quickly albeit using sign language and pointing to pictures in my Bradt Guide and visited Kuni Muktar Mountain Nyala Sanctuary. Not sure about ‘30-45 mins walk to river’. I got taken 2 hours up a bloody mountain, then 2 hours back down it. Not my ideal start to the day at 7 am. Fantastic though. Saw plenty of (skittish) nyala, warthogs, reedbuck and hyena.

 

Harar

 

Everyone I met moaned about the hotels in this place – except for those in the cultural guesthouses. The only town where I found that hotels were full

Trawfik Sharif Hotel – bit grim – bucket shower – 150B

Tewodros – 160B ensuite – okayish – despite stinking communal bathrooms at entrance

Belayneh – only offering doubles for 300B and water issues

Heritage Plaza looked more run down and mismanaged than guidebook suggests

Harar Ras – looked best bet – been refurbished – cheapest room 230B – good restaurant serving absolutely wonderful pizzas

Fresh Touch Restaurant – good, but expensive (for Ethiopia)

Hyena feeding cost me 100B – the greatest concentration of tourists I saw in one place throughout my 4 weeks in the country

 

Addis Ababa

 

Almaz Pension – 200B shared bathroom – clean, friendly, quiet, safe

Yod Abyssinia – good fun, if expensive – don’t go alone, sit at the front and be of above average height, otherwise you are liable to get dragged up on stage to dance – much to the amusement of the local crowd. This can lead to embarrassing flashbacks.

 

Have a good trip.