Edition 6 updates

Maarten has sent me the following updates & comments, based on edition 6, so page numbers related to that edition and many of his comments are already incorporated in the 7th edition.

Addis Ababa

Sleeping

Taitu burned down halfway through 2014 and got rebuild. The top floor rooms are much nicer than before. The other rooms though are of generally low quality, and even though cheap not good value for money. Better option in Piaza area is for sure Baro (take the rooms in the front, not in the main building) with a nice little sitting place and fair prices. The neigboring Ankober guest house, next to Baro, is quite overpriced with clean rooms at 600Birr, but with good working Wifi. Small bathrooms with only cold water, pretty noisy hallway all through the night. Across from Baro lies Wutma hotel (small rooms, good option if Baro is fully booked), fair place for breakfast as well.

 

Toronto guest house is not so good located and slightly overpriced. But, clean rooms, excellent service.

 

Addis guest house; excellent service, clean big rooms. Fairly priced. Great pick when you need a little more luxury and are tired of the shoestring options.

 

Eating

Best breakfast and cake (even though ‘cake’ sounds more tempting then can ever be held true wherever in Ethiopia) are available in Oslo cafe on Dej Joto, where you`ll find the best fetira I had in the country (thin cripsy pancakes served with honey or egg, or even both).

 

Beergarden Inn around Edna Mole in Bole area serves excellent though pricy homebrewn bears and fair food. Excellent place if you are eager to watch European soccer matches.

 

China bar actually better then the description in the guide suggested. Ate there several times, fair portions, very fresh food with loads of fresh vegetables.

 

Gati thai disappeared, after many telephone attempts I was told the closed the restaurant.

 

Castelli piazza is very popular, but to my taste highly overrated. Ate there several times, the food is overpriced. The pasta is good, very good indeed. All the meat and fish dishes were poorly cooked. Drinks are expensive. Lovely environment. Definitely not worth all the credit it is getting.

 

Kaldi`s coffee is a nice string of coffee places scattered around Addis. One is on Churchill road with the crossing with Zambia Road. Another is right next to La Parisiene on Ghana Street close to Edna Mall. Excellent coffee`s, Ice cream, good sandwiches.

 

Jewel of India restaurant has moved; it is now at a road parallel to Bole Road, first to the left from Bole road coming to Meskel Flower road. Excellent food, fair prices.

Tomoca gets a lot of credit, and it`s completely all correct. The place to go for the best coffee. Epic!

 

A lovely hideaway is the back garden of the Hilton hotel. Quiet, excellent food (at high prices though). Great place to get away from all the hectic life in Addis.

 

Dashen restaurant has ceased to exist.

 

Not in the guide, definitely should be high ranked for eating farengi food is Island Breeze restaurant. It is situated across from Arada Zone telecom between Arbeynoch and Cunningham (map p146).

 

Shopping

To the left of the Edna Mall is the best supermarket I came across in the whole of Ethiopia. Wide selection of products. Another great supermarket, which also has a wide range of stationary, furniture, cooking utensils, is on Bole road, on the right when going to the airport, just over the river. This whole building has a good collection of shops for practical things.

 

Curio shopping is definitely good at Churchill avenue as mentioned in the guide, but very overpriced. If you have little time to do souvenir shopping, this is definitely the best pick because you will find the full range of available curio. At a fraction of the price you will find the same things at Mercato, and usually sellers are fair and open to negotiation.

 

In the stadium area there are plenty of youngsters trying to steal your stuff. This area is notorious for it, so be aware. Especially around Ambassador theatre, several reports of people ‘accidently’ bumping into tourists, after which their smart phones had disappeared.

The shops around the stadium sell excellent leatherware at good prices.

 

Bookworld on map p. 146 is situated more east, opposite Enrico pastry.

 

Mekele

Hotel Atse Yohannis offers great value for money. Furthermore, it is close to the bus station, and close to the office of Ethio tours and travel, the best agency I came across.

 

Axumite restaurant is populated by horrible staff that is unwilling to service you at all. Furthermore, the food is horrible (tried 2 times, both times very disappointing). Do not go here.

 

Lovely market in Mekele, nice to see the herbs and of course the salt slabs coming in from Dalol/Danakil depression.

 

Hawassa

Circle of life Hotel

Quite a beat-down place. Private doubles 350Birr, more beat-down for 250Birr (also self-contained). The garden makes up for a lot though –you won`t find a more lush environment on ‘the strip’ of Hawassa- as does its lakeside location. Nice food at decent prices, of which most unfortunately is always out of stock. Recently changed management (3 times during the last year) but now serious improvements are being made (WIFI much better quality, rooms much cleaner and maintained), bad staff fired.

New telephone number 0462201318

 

Haile Resort

Easily the most beautiful pick in Hawassa. Pricy, but not overpriced. Beautiful rooms, clean. Spa facilities, shopping and swimming pool, all also available for persons not sleeping over against fair rates (e.g. day at the poolside including showers, soap, towels, 100 Birr). Beautiful bird-viewing and more amenities in the making. Great food.

 

Lakeview hotel

Very good pick. The name does not really offer what you expect, since the view is mostly on a gated piece of dirty land bordering the lake. But the hotel is excellent value (950Birr per 2p room with private luxurious bath room, excellent bed, DSTV). Very good restaurant, very friendly staff. A definite downside is the bad reservation system; you can call in advance, but it happened several times to me that the reservation was non-existent upon arrival. Also once the staff told me they only make reservations one day ahead for single room reservations, since the high rate of no-shows.

 

Eating

The Dolce Vita restaurant is highly overpraised. Around the corner, in the same street as the Lakeview, crossing the road heading to Lewi Resort, is the way much better Italian restaurant Venezia. Funny owner who likes to try his own liquor collection a bit too much, but he`s a very generous and serviceable chap, cooking himself. By far the best pasta`s (and more original than the vegetable or Bolognese you get served everywhere) and drinks. Always serving dishes outside of the meny.

 

On the same street as Dolce Vita is Tropical Burger. Great place, excellent prices, fast service.

 

Lakeside fresh fish is best at the restaurant that has a boat terrace extending into the lake. Here they also serve a very tasty fresh fish soup.

 

Lakeside

At the lakeside many youngsters rent out their motorcycles at fair prices (about 500Birr for a full day including fuel). Hawassa makes a good city from which you can make beautiful trips (e.g. Wondo Genet at 40min motorcycle ride, beautiful road with great sight seeing possibilities).

 

The lakeside has a bad reputation when it comes to youngsters trying to take your money and phone, mind your stuff.

 

 

Shops

The mall opposite to Time Cafe has a good Internet cafe with Wifi available. The bottom floor of the mall has a good supermarket. This is the same mall as where Sky Bus has its office to buy your bus tickets.

 

Shashemene

Even though the description in the guide is fair when it comes to the ambiance in Sashamane lacking, I would say the market in Sashamane is definitely worth a visit, albeit not a special detour. Best place to eat farengi food is for sure Haile hotel (double rooms, self-contained, at 595Birr including breakfast, which is a very fair price. Telephone number 0461101007 / 0930108484 / 0930108485). The banana art gallery is a nice place to find a unique type of art at fair prices. The hustling Rastafarians surrounding the place are quite a hassle though, so you should be prepared for this.

 

Bahir Dar

Blue Nile hotel; decent prices, clean place. In the middle of the red light district though, where in every bar surrounding it you`re being served by prostitutes.

Blue nile falls back and forth, public, choose the right time

 

Tickets for the Selam bus can be bought at the office at the roundabout close to Protection House. The buses leave in front of Ethio Star hotel.

Excellent place to eat is indeed Desset Lodge. Has the most spectacular views of the lake with fair amounts of pelicans surrounding the place.

 

Gondar

A nice place to witness Ethiopian dancing and music is located next to Tana Snack (guide p 218 D3). Many Ethiopians visiting the place.

 

Butajira- Hosaina road

Beautiful to do, fresh tarmac roads that cover most of the track, so very safe. The mentioned sightseeing places in the guide are not all worth it though. The Lake Ara Shetan is fantasticly beautiful, though we had quite some trouble with locals not happy with visiting tourists (rocks, unwanted harassment).

Asano Dengai (p 443) is wholly unimpressive and not worth the visit and trouble to find it. It is indeed decapitated, its single, it`s about 80cm high. Quite unremarkable stele to us.

 

Hosaina

The Canal my House Café & Pension does no longer offer rooms. Edget is a popular pick for farengi`s and was offering rooms to visiting travelling companies when we were visiting here, so we mostly saw farengi`s in stead of any Ethiopians in the place. Yabsera Hotel was beat down, dirty, with no warm water and bad beds. We changed rooms, but the quality was the same. Definitely a place to not visit. Lemme international hotel is indeed mostly visited by aid workers and tour groups, unclear why exactly. The restaurant is quite poor and service there was quite bad during several visits.

 

 

Ajaro Falls

At a vast 120Birr (per person) to enter the sightseeing place, the Ajaro Falls are relatively expensive to visit. That said, they are fantastically beautiful and definitely worth a detour. Very impressive, if you can stand the hassle of locals wanting to guide you, even though the road is signposted very clearly and guiding is definitely not needed.

 

Sodo-Sashamane road

Has recently undergone massive reconstruction, is now a fairly comfortable and more safe road than before; the pot-hole rate is very low currently.

 

Arba Minch

Soma Lodge changed owners, and is now a bit run-down. But, it has the best views over the valley between the lakes, better even then at Swayne`s hotel. No restaurant still, but good breakfast and excellent, serviceable staff. The restaurant of Swayne`s is very good at fair prices and at walking distance.

 

Ethio tours and travel

You pay slightly more for the trip to Danakil (600USD, others about 550USD. Negotiable price though!) but everything but drinks is included. Excellent food, good drivers, good guides. Other agencies I heard about got bad reviews in terms of arrangements and food and accommodation quality. Furthermore we used them for a tailored trip from Mekele to Debark and into the Simien Mountains. The private vehicle trip to Debark set us back 250USD for 2 persons excluding overnight stay.

(Tel. 00251936010968 / 00251936011309 / 00251930071417)

Ticket price increase at Fasil Ghebbi, Gondar

Thanks to Marco of Simien EcoTours for this important update:

The ETOA (Ethiopian Tour Operator Association) has just informed us about an increase in the ticket price to visit the Fasil Ghebbi and associated sites in Gondar as of February 2016 . The current fee of 200 Birr (roughly US$9.50) will increase to 500 Birr (US$24). The new ticket  will be valid for 2 days and covers both the Fasil Ghebbi  and Fasil’s bath, but not churches such as Debre Birhan Selassie or Kuskuam.

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!

Trip report December/January 2014/15

Franka writes:

I would like to share some advise and news from Ethiopia where I spent a couple of weeks between December and January 2015.

Addis Ababa
I would not recommend the Itegue Taitu hotel. The single room was quite dirty and with no hot water.

Gondar
I would recommend Michael Hotel. It is clean, there is a wifi free, hot water and a fair price (300 birr for a room with twin bed)
I would not recommend the tour operator “Siemen_Trekking”, especially to a single traveller women.
Generally speaking, Gondar was the only place in ethiopia, where I didn’t feel safe.

Mekele
I would not recommend the Atse Yohannis Hotel. I spent there two nights, in two different room, and both where not so clean, very old structure. I also had a reservation but they completely ignore it and I had some problem in finding an available room.

ETT Tour Operator is good, altought we had a problem with the car (air conditioning) while we were travelling towards Erta Ale. Be sure the driver will check the air conditioning system before leaving Mekele and always ask for the newest model of jeep (there are more then one).

Lalibela
We had a reservation at Alef Paradise. Altought the reservation was reconfirmed the day before our arrival, when there, there was no room available. Had to change place, stayed in The Villa guesthouse. Very Good accommodation.

Genetics Guest House, Gondar

Ismael writes

In Gondar, I had a bad experience with Genetics Guest House. There were bugs in the bed which bit me over night. Also they introduced me to a fake tour guide, presenting him as an official one. The person in the reception was really sweet and helpful… yet he could not help in being terribly unprofessional. I felt more sorry than upset –but I would not recommend Genetics Guest House.

 

Gondar Ethiopian Hotel and club warning

Alex writes:

I have travelled to 86 countries and feel pretty used to backpacker hassle and scams. But I was surprised at the irritant factors in Gondar given the generally gentle and welcoming Ethiopian character. Two bad experiences to report:

Ethiopian Hotel. Excellent location with a deceptively grand bar from the colonial period masks a hotel which I would avoid at all costs. I awoke at 3am crawling in bed bugs, itching and bleeding into the sheets. As so often, the staff seemed to think that they could get away with a cleaning job, but unless they destroy the mattress and treat the wooden frame where they hide (which they did not seem keen on), bed bugs will be permanent bedfellows. In the morning, there was not the hot water advertised, or in fact any water from a shower. I was led from bathroom to bathroom in a towel until a bucket was found…

Actually more irritating than all this was the manager. I asked to see him so I could pay as the counter was closed for checkout. I suggested that after 2 hours sleep and no water, a discount was in order. He told me that he hadn’t forced me to stay, he didnt give a F*** about bedbugs, and manhandled me down the stairs. There were a bunch of lackies (the kind who charge for directions or to get a seat on a public bus) in the lobby, and I felt seriously outnumbered and in danger. As it happens there was a ‘Tourist Police’ hut opposite the hotel on the roundabout, so I went there and explained that at the very least there was a public health issue at the hotel. I’m not sure how the tourist police are meant to help tourists when they dont speak English! So when the manager came down he had the language advantage and I have no idea what the police understood. The lackies came too and seemed to be on his side, though they told me that the manager is ‘not right in the head’. The manager wanted to publicly reconcile with the tourist, but I have no confidence that anyone will be treated better in the future!

Also I had read in the guide about ‘praise singing’ which I would recommend seeking out in a local club. We couldnt get in to one such, but a doorman took us to ‘his other’, presumably meaning he would get a fee for bringing a faranji to any other. It was basically a very dingy bar with a small band. We enjoyed the singing and tipped all the musicians, but the bill for 30minutes entertainment was irritating if hilarious. Hand written on a scrap of paper it included his drinks, entrance fee (on departure), VAT and service, to an absurd fictional figure. I agreed to pay only the inflated price of beer, which I would advise asking for before drinking! Buyer beware! Half the bar seemed to follow us down the street demanding money, funnily enough almost to the location of the tourist police hut, who are worth putting on your map!

What a palaver….

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!)