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.

Arrival at Bole Terminal 2

AddisAdvisor writes:

Because of recent events in Paris and elsewhere, Bole Airport is protected by more Federal Police than ever before. And meet-and-greeters are NOT allowed into Terminal 2 unless they have a special permit from the Ministry of Tourism, which they wear around their neck…

So:

a. If you are being met by personal friends, or unofficial solo guides, they will probably meet you outside in the car park as described in point d below. If you are being met by the representative of a hotel or tour company, or an official guide, check in advance whether they will wait inside or outside the building.

b. Try to have a local mobile phone number to call.

c. If inside, your meeter will be sat or near a metal barrier that is in front of you as you emerge from the secure area/baggage hall/customs.

d. If  outside, they will be at the foot of the central steps. i.e. the building has a rectangular outdoor car park outside running its full length. This car park is below the level of the building. Come out of the building and turn left. Soon you see an outside set of about 20 steps on your right that lead down into the car park. Greeters will be at the foot of these steps hopefully with their or your name….At the top of steps you can turn right down a long ramp that allows you to push a luggage trolley down. The ramp delivers you to the front of the yellow taxi queue where you go left back along a pavement to reach the foot of the steps and the crowd of greeters!!

e. IF you are unsure of where you are being met, and/or phoning someone, the best place to wait is at the Yellow Spot cafe just to left of where you exit secure area into public area.

f. BE AWARE that once you go out of the building it is difficult to get back in……

g. If you arrive after dark all this still applies/. The car park is very well lit up

NOTE Please do not let this put you off . Ethiopia is one of the safest nations in the world and Ethiopia’s intelligence systems and security forces are second to none.

Detailed trip report Jul-Sep 2014

Charlotte writes:

I was in Ethiopia for 2 and a half months for research from mid July 2014 – end September 2014, but also did some travelling. I did a lot in public transport, for which information is sometimes scarce so I have added some info here, though it is usually quite easy to get information by asking around a bit. Note that the prices that I have put here is what I was charged in Summer 2014, however prices are variable depending e.g. on market days, type of bus taken for transport, prices also vary for peak/off peak seasons, e.g. for hotels , I was there in the off-season.

 

GENERAL INFORMATION

Sky bus

Their office on Meskel square in Addis does exist but is hard to find, and we found the man bad tempered and unhelpful…maybe it just wasn’t his day…and told us that there were no tickets left on the bus, however we went to the office at Itegue Taitu hotel in Piassa and the lady was very helpful and got us tickets for the bus we wanted.

Took Skybus from Addis – Hawassa and back, a good bus service that leaves on time and is a good price, though there is constantly noise from film/music/standup comedy that they play for the whole bus, so earplugs are worthwhile if you want some quiet. For toilet breaks, the bus just stops on the side of the road somewhere quiet. Also receive a small snack & drink.

They are also very flexible, we had almost illegible tickets (through water destruction) for a Friday, we had tried changing the date, however no-one was around in the Hawasa office and on the phone they just told us to turn up at the busstop at 6am on the Sunday, the day we wanted to leave. After we explained the situation, they accepted our ruined tickets for the wrong day and allowed us to travel! Great!

 

Selam bus

I took it from Bahir Dar – Addis, same comments as Sky bus.

 

Theft

Generally speaking, if you are careful, there should not be a problem, but there are the odd people that will try to take things from you. In 10 weeks, only 2 attempts were made to take my things (luckily both failed!). In Addis a group of boys distracted me on one side while one of them puts their hands into your pockets on the other side. Even so I continued to keep e.g. phone in my pocket throughout my travels, but I was careful. In minibuses & public transport, if you have bags with you, keep an eye on them (or if you travel with big bags/rucksacks, just avoid keeping important things in them, or if you must, then put them in the least accessible places). I had a small rucksack that I had put by my feet in a minibus, and later caught a man’s hand in it! Luckily I had tied up the inside opening well and he couldn’t access anything, but it is better to keep smaller bags on your lap.

Another friend had his phone stolen by a group of men in a bajaj, clearly they were working together with the driver. He only realised after.

 

Other

– Tea and coffee in local places almost always comes automatically with sugar already in the drink, although some places more used to foreigners will put sugar aside.

– In hotels, if you like hot showers, one of the 1st things you should do is turn the boiler on as it often takes some time for the water to heat up.

– Cappuccinos don’t have coffee – it is hot milk with a little cocoa powder

 

SHASHEMENE AND HAWASSA

Hawassa

I enjoyed Hawassa, it is a nice, clean town, and the lake is beautiful.

Paradise hotel – Great location near to the minibus station, good for early starts. It is a nice place but the bar next door is very (very) loud, but otherwise is good value for money

 

Hawassa to Shashemene and back

10 birr, 20-30min

NOTE – in Shashemene there are 2 bus stations. The minibus from Hawassa goes to the Old bus station

 

 

BALE MOUNTAINS

The rainy season is not the best time to go – we were there in mid-August & it rained every afternoon.

 

Shashemene to Dinsho/Robe and back

100 birr in minibus – if you go to Dinsho, you still must pay the price for Robe. It takes 2h30 from Shashamane – Dinsho.

The buses between Shashamane and Robe arrive and leave from the New bus station.

 

Dinsho 

This is where the Bale Park forest office is, and also where you can get guides. It is at the end of the town (Robe side). It is possible to stay in the Dinsho lodge, but we did not do this as we had heard that it wasn’t great and that it was expensive. From the outside it looks okay so maybe things have changed.

Tuesday is a market day

 

Dinsho – Robe

11 birr in minibus, 20-30min (15 birr on market day)

 

Robe

We decided to stay in Robe instead of Dinsho as a point de depart for the Bale Mountains.

Public transport between Dinsho & Robe is easy, although we once had difficulty getting a minibus back to Robe at 4pm, although that may be due to the market that there was in Dinsho. It can sometimes be easier picking up a minibus on the side of the road instead of from the bus station in Dinsho.

Thursday is a market day in Robe.

– Abdama hotel – 300/night for 2 single beds (they call it a double). It is fairly clean & comfortable, but shower isn’t great (there is hot water, but not much water comes out of showerhead at a time) & they don’t give much toilet paper. Note: They lock the gate so if you must leave before 7am someone must come and open for you. Good location near the bus station.

– Hanni café is nice, as is the Harar bar and restaurant opposite which seems popular for tibs BUT be careful in Robe asking for tibs, as you may be presented instead with a plate of chips!

 

Sanetti plateau

The park management advise against using public transport for the Sanetti plateau, and from experience, I will agree with them, unless you have time or plan it well! Getting there was easy however returning was a problem.

From Robe you must go to Goba (5 birr, minibus, 15 min). Sometimes there can be very long queues so if you are continuing to Sanetti, then it is best to leave early (I would suggest about 7am, as we were there at 9am it was far too late).

From Goba, take a bus direction Dolo Mena, and get off at Sanetti campsite (your guide will know it; 60 birr in a public bus, about 1.5hrs; we had 50birr for luggage). It is standard to pay the price of the whole trip to Dolo Mena. Try to leave as early as possible, it took a long time for our bus to fill up, but I don’t think it was the 1st bus that left.

For the return from Sanetti to Robe/Goba – you must wait on the side of the road and wait for a passing bus/truck/car that is willing to take you. We waited all afternoon once and had nothing, and were forced to spend an extra night on the plateau. The afternoon is a bad time for getting transport here although you may get lucky. It is easier to get transport in the morning, we ended up getting picked up by a truck (we were 3 people, 2 travellers and 1 guide).

 

NORTHERN CIRCUIT (MEKELE-WOLDIA-LALIBELA-BAHIR DAR)

Mekele

Diana hotel – Near the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia. Decent place, but price variable (100birr for a man & woman to share, 150birr for two of the same sex to share). The shower & toilet are shared, but are clean enough.The manager Tesfay is friendly and helpful and can help you out with problems.

Merkeb hotel – We paid 130birr (although according to another couple we met, they paid 100….maybe it was because we were 2 females).Cleanish but I prefered the Diana hotel, which is better for a very similar price, however you can’t beat Merkeb’s location next to the bus station (for southerly destinations), and close to Selam bus stop, particularly useful for early travellers.

 

Mekele to Hawzen & back (via Wukro)

40birr

Take bajaj in Mekele to the Lachi bus station & can get a minibus from there

To return: it is difficult to get a minibus back after 3pm

 

Hawzen

Good base for visiting rock hewn churches (of which Abuna Yemata & Debre Maryam Korkor are definately worth visiting, particularly if you also enjoy hiking a bit, the views are wonderful!). It is also possible to arrange longer hiking trips over several days (or even weeks I think) to less accessible churches.

Gheralta lodge – it is by far the nicest place to stay, and worth it (1300birr/ night for a room with 3 single beds, private bathroom, and includes a great breakfast)

Vision hotel – Recently opened (end of August 2014) and is nice and clean, the manager is friendly and speaks good English. No running water, but this was a problem in the whole village at that particular moment (130birr / room/ night with private bathroom). I am sceptical about how long the hotel will stay in good condition as some material in the bathroom seems a little flimsy.

 

Mekele – Woldia (Weldiya)

I ended up having to take several minibuses to get here, although I think it is possible to get bigger buses directly if you arrive in time at the bus station (big bus leaves at 6am)

Mekele – Mohia: 45birr, about 2hrs

Mohia – Alamata: 20birr, about 1hr

Alamata – Woldia: about30birr, about 2hrs

Woldia is quite a nice but plain small town – I enjoyed climbing one of the hills for a very nice view of the town, although I would have preferred to have headed straight onto Lalibela (unfortunately I missed the last buses)

Jordanos hotel – Clean, nice. Didn’t have hot water but think I was just unlucky with a broken boiler.

 

Woldia – Lalibela and Lalibela – Bahir Dar

Woldia – Gashena then Gashena – Lalibela

 

Buses between these destinations tend to overcharge farenji. On my return trip Gashena – Lalibela I was asked to pay 70 birr, the locals paid 40. On my trip from Gashena to Bahir Dar, I was asked to pay 200birr, negotiated this to 150 birr, however the locals only paid 80birr.

 

Bahir Dar & the Blue Nile Falls

I had heard that a lot of people were disappointed with the Blue Nile Falls because of lack of water (due to a hydropower plant) however I went in mid September at the end of the rainy season and thought that they were really superb.

 

ADDIS ABABA

Minibuses around Addis

Prices are more expensive later at night. It is difficult to get the minibuses after 9.30pm. They don’t tend to overcharge farenji. For some idea of prices:

 

Stadium – Haya Hulet: 4 birr

Haya Hulet – Arat Kilo: 4 birr

Stadium – Global (Kira direction): 6 birr

Arat Kilo – Bole: 3 birr

Arat Kilo – Shiro Meda: 3 birr

Arat Kilo – Piazza: 1.5 birr

Arat Kilo – Meganegna: 3 birr

Arat Kilo – Stadium: 3 birr

Stadium – Kaliti bus station: 10 birr

 

 

BISHOFTU

Many people like this place, I did not. I found the lakes very dirty, with lots of rubbish, except if you are in a lodge or restaurant on the side of the lake, and my travel partner and I got harassed quite a bit.

Kaliti bus station to Bishoftu: 12-15 birr

 

Public transport

– Try to leave in the morning. Often I found buses would leave at 6am, and you would have to arrive earlier to take tickets.

– Make sure you aren’t in a hurry, the buses can sometimes take quite some time to fill up (Often they fill up fairly quickly, but it isn’t always the case)

– Often they will charge you more for luggage (but not always)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hassle in Gondar and Debark

A female reader writes:

At the risk of coming across quite harshly, in 10 years of travelling (except maybe in India), I have never experienced so much hassle as in Gondar and Debark (I am in Aksum now which seems quieter, hoping for the best). I am a single female, and guys in Gondar would constantly wave and shout at me, often from a distance of 25 metres. If i chose to ignore them, since it was a regular occurrence , many would get really angry at me and curse me. When walking alone after sunset and passing cafes or restaurants, guys waved me to their tables and a couple got up to follow me when I ignored it, explaining me how to behave in a foreign country. Conversations with Peace Corps volunteers and a bunch of other travellers confirned this, although I feel being alone in the streets aggravated the problem (and yes, i was dressed modestly).

In Debark, while it was a bit less aggressive, I had men constantly follow me as well, usually until one so-called guide pretended to come to my rescue, explaining how dangerous/annoying the situation was. I never felt seriously threatened though. However, having a few hundred people shout at you in one day, hardly ever accepting the “thanks a lot, i am ok/dont want to…” has certainly tainted my experience. As a consequence, I will head back to Kenya, where people treated me very much with respect and a smile on their faces. Weirdly enough, I found people in Addis Ababa much more friendly and willing to help!

Sorry that turned into quite a story. But I just wish someone had me prepared for this hazzle, apart from the begging children who occasionally try to snatch your bag or the often rude customer service, that, all of which were to be expected, so maybe this is useful to others. Might also be connected to the fact that it is the low season and i have not seen too many other tourists around.

(PS – Sorry for the typos, still getting used to my little keyboard!)

How to deter yelling children… possibly!

John Grinling has sent the following advise about how to avoid the unwanted attention of yelling children. Personally I’m not convinced that the way you dress or behave will do much to encourage or deter this behaviour, but for what it’s worth…

 

Yelling children is a sporadic but undeniable irritant to visitors to Ethiopia. But in order to minimise the hassle, I would stress the need for visitors to apply two basic rules:

1. The blend-in factor: Try to dress and behave like an average
Ethiopian: no shorts for men or women, never ever ever. Always long
trousers or a decent dress. No ridiculous hat and sun glasses, never.
A sober cap or hat, and ordinary sun shades. You are on holidays, but
it doesn’t need to show. No undue bright colors. Everything dull.
Avoid backpacks as much as possible: they identify you immediately as
farangi and tourist. Blend in. If the men wear their shirts outside
their trousers, wear yours the same way…

2. The harm reducing attitude: Don’t react or answer to uncalled
solicitations. Ignore them gently, but as a matter of course, not
showing any irritation or any feeling at all. Do not react. The French
say “Qui répond apond” “Who answers ads on”. Simply, and modestly,
keep on with what you are doing. Heckling will sooner dye off. And if
circumstances permit, if the kids are few and gentle, you can also be
friendly and natural, and engage in some kind of communication. But no
giving birr, no pen, no sweets and especially no holding hands. Unless
some most uncommon circumstances call for it.

Rabies shots in Addis Ababa

Stefan Arts writes:

I got bitten by a probable rabies infected animal when I was in Ethiopia for my master thesis. After quite some stress and some searching I found two locations in Addis Ababa where a proper vaccination against Rabies (when you already have had three shots beforehand) can be given. The first one I found was the Swedish clinic, where two shots of VeroRab would cost 10000 ETB, the second one is at the Ethiopian Health and Nutrition Research Institute near the former St. Paulus Hospital where two shots of RabiVax only costs 650 ETB.

Safety at Koka Dam

Harm Bouta writes:

I would like to add some information regarding the Hippo-pool and crocodile watching near the Koka-Dam close to Adama/Nazret.
This area has recently turned into quite a dangerous area. Last week my family and i have been violently robbed of practically all our belonging (a violent robbery of my bag and a break in in our car whereby all our camping stuff has been stolen). I understood from the police that this area has become very dangerous even for Ethiopians (while at the police station a farmer came in who had been ambushed in the area).
It would be good to add this warning or completely remove the reference to the Hippo-pool as it is currently very likely other people might become victim of these thiefs as well.