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!)

Gondar hotels

Elena, Teresa & Jaime write

We are a group of three travelling in the north area of Ethiopia!! We arrived yesterday night at Gondar & started looking for a good hotel to spend the night! We visited the Hibret Hotel (in the Bradt guide), but they treat to cheat as asking for 600 birr for a small twin dirty room! Afterwards we visited the Merkuriaw Alemaya Hotel, it still has very good prices (120\150 birr), not so good looking nor so clean, but not bad for the price.

Finally, by chance, we found the Michael Hotel (near to the L-Shape hotel). This hotel really merits your attention!!! Is really really clean, good looking, with white clean sheets and a well equipped bathroom with hot water and hydromassage shower and this twin room cost on ly 300 birr!!!! As we are three we are paying 350 birr for sharing the room, also because one of the beds is big enough. The staff is really friendly and they have free WiFi in all the floors!!

Our experience was so good, that we decided to Michael Hotel to your readers!

Detailed Gondar, Debark and Simien updates

Many thanks to Mulu Gelaye of Mulu Ethiopia Tours (www.muluethiopiatours.com or www.ethiopiasimientours.com) for the following updates:

Gondar

Entrance fee for the castle is now 200 birr per person. Optional guide fee is 350 birr per day
Some new recommended hotels:
1. Sona Hotel, open on October 2013
– Bedrooms SGL 9, DBL 2, Twin 5, TRP 1(total 17)
And have wifi Acess and price single ETB 280 and Twin/Double: 330 birr
2. Hotel Jasemin
– 27 bedrooms, it’s price 100-200 birr for Ethiopian & 160-250 foreigner
And have Internet cafe and have jenerator.
3. Hotel unique landscape
– conference hall for 200-300
– DSTV, Generator, pool bar and barber shop.
Debark
There are now three banks that give ATM service.
Also there is now a Simien Mountain Village Tour? You will see the following:
1. Hair dressing
2. Black smith
3. Coffee ceremony( it is definitely cultural)
4. injera beaking and how to make local beer.
To see more information you can visit their Facebook made by (JICA) www.facebook.com/discoversimien.com
Simien Mountains
The new fee structure is as follows:
1. Enterancefee for foreign 90 birr plus 10 birr for camping per day.
2. Guide fees, 1-5 person 300birr
                        6-10 >>. 350 birr
                         11-20 >>, 450 birr
                          > 21>>, 700 birr which is they will take 2 guides
3. Game scout.   150 birr per day
4. Cook, 1-3 person – 300 birr
               4-10 person- 450 birr
                > 11 person – 600 birr
5. Mule, 120 birr per day per mule and mule man also 120 birr per day per.