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. 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




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.






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




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




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!!!




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.




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




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




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.




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.

Recommendation for Ethiopia Eco Tour & Trek

Rob writes:

I’ve just returned from a fantastic trip in Ethiopia and wanted to share the positive experience we had with Ethiopia Eco Tour & Trek, run by Addis Yimmer We used them for the leg of the trip which included Gondar, the Simien Mountains and onto Axum. I’d contacted Addis before my trip with a suggested itinerary, he then added some suggestions and then arranged everything from there from pick up at Gondar airport to Axum.

I can’t recommend Addis and his company highly enough. Everything was very professional, the support staff he used were excellent and he really understood the important elements of good service. Of particular note was how calm and flexible he was when one of us got sick in the Simien and we had to cut the trek a day short and get off the mountains. He bent over backwards to make sure we were all ok and safe, arranged everything to be brought forward a day (not easy) and also liaised with our guide for the next leg of the trip so he knew we were coming a day early.

A couple of final points – the cook that he uses in the Simien is amazing. The dishes he managed to conjure up from a single camping stove were very impressive and made a massive difference after a long day’s walk! Addis is also a lovely guy, very interesting and knowledgeable and is the type of person that makes me confident that Ethiopia has a great future.

I also wanted to mention something about payment. We paid a deposit before we left via Western Union which allowed Addis’ company to book all the necessary flights and hotels, as well as reserve a car. This is the norm. I know it can seem a bit of a leap of faith to transfer money to someone you’ve never met but bear in mind the world that we now live where feedback is so easy to give and where reputation is so important. There would be no gain for Addis, or the 100s of others in the same position as him, to be anything other than good on their promise.

I’ll try to post a full trip report with a couple of pictures in due course.