Hi, have just returned from a 10 day trip to Ethiopia in November and I wanted to say that I am hooked. We only had time to see a fraction of the country and had to stay at altitude because for medical reasons we needed to avoid malarial areas.
Highlight of the trip for me was Wenchi Crater (outside of Ambo) which is heartachingly beautiful. We had a guide and hired horses to get round, although in hindsight we would have been better off walking as we could have just done it at a slow pace and spent longer in the lush valley. The walk back up from the valley is very steep and dusty and due to the altitude we did struggle, the horses only took us part way up (probably because we are a bit on the fat side!) but we would have made it ok at a very slow pace on our own even though we are quite unfit and unused to the altitude. We paid for the hire and gave the horsemen a tip of 10 birr each on top but they were obviously thinking they would get more from us and were not happy, which sort of spoilt it a bit at the end. Is is hard to know what to give as we are seen as rich foreigners, but we were on a tight budget. My sister who is living in Ethiopia said we should have asked for the tip back if they werent happy and tha t it is a reasonable sum in terms of local salaries. Who knows.
On the way to Ambo we turned off the road to visit Gefersa Reservoir to look for birds, which was mentioned in the guidebook. We had some trouble finding it as it isnt signposted. Once we got there it was fenced off and we tried to find a way in. We met one person at a gate who seemed very bemused anyone would want to visit the place and said we needed to get permits from Addis, I think just to get rid of us. We then found another entrance and the chap there let us in to have a wander along the path. We were then accosted by someone else who escorted us off the premises! I think they take security of the reservoir very seriously so I wouldnt really recommend you try to go there. Although the ‘birder’ amongst us did get to see some endemic bird species so he was happy.
Apart from Wenchi we also went to Debre Libanos which was an interesting church and the compulsory guide was one of the friendliest persons you could meet and was well informed and spoke good English. There are some nice stained glass windows and religious artworks and you are allowed to take photos. There is a fairly short climb up to the cave which to be honest isnt all that to look at but seems religiously very significant for people. We had an armed guard to escort us and not sure why he was armed, but it probably meant we were less hassled by people asking for money along the way. On the drive back up from the church we saw gelada baboons by the side of the road and we got out of the car and watched them for a bit and they did not run away from us. We stopped at the german/ethiopian hotel near the portugese bridge and had excellent Ethiopian food, although my sister said it was very expensive. We also had a look at the rooms and they are great, lovely and cool with large beds and ensuite bathrooms with amazing views over the valley. I would guess at night the stars must be incredible. We couldnt stay there unfortunately as we had to get back to Addis. It isnt cheap but I think it is reasonable value as it is high quality and you pay for the view so I think it is worth it.
On our last day it was the Ethiopian Great Run in Addis. If you want to watch 30 odd thousand people run/walk a 10km race I would recommend it, there is such a good atmosphere. Even better if you can take part but be warned it is very hilly and at altitude as well. Also there is no free water given out as my brother-in-law who was running it found out. He was very pleased to finish in a reasonable time though.
During our time we also managed to walk up to the hills above Addis and see the ruined rock-hewn church. I had to pay 30 birr to the guide but locals get in cheaper. You are also supposed to pay per photo I found out afterwards but he didnt charge us. It was interesting as a ruin but I would also like to visit an intact church. After the church we went and had a picnic on the top of the hill overlooking the city. It was quite a long walk up to the church and hilltop but well worth it for the view. Also it was so peaceful after the noise of the city. I would also recommend the Ethnographical museum at the University in Addis as a good place to visit for several hours. Take some ID like your passport to get in the gate. I didnt have any but luckily I was let in anyway, but they do check. Also at the Museum of Ethiopia they will search your bags on entry.
We stayed at the Yonnas hotel in Addis which was basic, but clean with hot water, and the staff are very helpful and friendly. Double room worked out about 200 birr per night. Be warned that it seems double beds are a bit smaller than our usual sizes so if you are on the large side you may want to stay somewhere with ‘queen’ sized beds which are more like our doubles. Also take ear plugs if you dont want to be woken by the 5am call to prayer, which I thought was great as it made the trip seem more exotic but I realise not everyone would appreciate it. Most serious danger is the traffic and the condition of the vehicles, plus the exhaust fumes and dust would be hard for someone with any sort of breathing difficulty. However generally I felt very safe walking about the main streets and getting line taxis (the blue and white toyota hiace people carriers). There are lots of cafes and shops about and everyone I came across was really helpful even though I only just about managed to say thankyou in amharic and could almost manage some numbers. I felt a bit conspicuous being blond haired and very fair skinned, and I kept very covered up so as not to offend people but also to avoid getting burnt. You do get stared at a bit out of curiousity but it isnt threatening. In summary I had the trip of a lifetime and it has only made me more determined to go back for a longer visit and see more of this amazing country.