November 2014 trip report

Erika writes:
Addis Ababa

 – Abbaba’s Villa in the north of Addis, between the German and French Embassy, is an excellent guesthouse; difficult to reach with minibus (at the beginning), so the cost of a driver (200 Birr one way) adds to the price of the rooms (75 Dollar + 15 % tax, double room). Amazing place, beautiful garden, unique host and owner, extremely helpful and caring. It is a place to read, to write, to relax, to enjoy. Breakfast is included, delicious coffee, lunch and dinner (75 /100 Birr) can be ordered. We had dinner there every night (stayed one week). Fantastic!
– near french embassy: Muya, abyssinian crafts; handmade cotton scarves and blankets in modern colours; salesroom and workshop together.

Hawassa
great waterfront with cafes and fish restaurants. especially on the weekends all the young people go there for dating, reading, talking. We stayed at the United Africa Group Hotel Hawassa in one of the 21 bungalows (1200 Birr). Large rooms, Amazing beds, Mosquito nets. The bungalows are in a Park of old trees, with Monkeys and birds around you. You walk 3 min to the waterfront. Breakfast at the hotel is very bad, just go out to one of the cafes in the neighbourhood

Harar
Travel to Harar with SELAM travelbus. Inexpensive tickets, comfortable travelling, busses on time, luggage is safe, they serve even water and small breakfast. You usually have to book the ticket at least 2 days ahead of the travel to be sure of a seat. We stayed at Anisa Guest House, next to Yemi Mosque in the old town.
She has 6 rooms (400 Birr), so you should make a reservation before you arrive.
It is a clean and quiet house with lots of decoration. You are welcome to spend time in the Harari Room – which is wonderful – to read, have a coffee, let time go by. The old city is full of people taking Chat so it is good to escapethe lethargy of streetlife to a beautiful home.

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

 

General

 

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.

 

 

 

Axum

 

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

 

Shire

 

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

 

Debark

 

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!!!

 

Gondar

 

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.

 

Lalibela

 

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

 

Bishoftu

 

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

 

Awash

 

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.

 

Harar

 

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.

Guide recommendations

Natasha writes:

There are two guides I would like to recommend:
(1) Rufael Fitsum: rufael12@yahoo.com who guides in the Axum and Tigray region (and also took us to Danakil Depression).
(2) Girma Tilahun: girmatour@yahoo.com who is able to arrange trips all over Ethiopia (he is originally from Bale Mountains area) and accompanied us on a 10 day trip from Harer, through Awash and down to the Omo valley region.
Both these guides are fluent in English and demonstrated not just a wealth of information about the sites that we visited with them (delivered in an engaging and contextualised manner), but they also appeared to have excellent relationships with other local guides and hotel owners etc.  Both were excellent at spotting and negotiating photo opportunities
Girma in particular appeared to be well known everywhere we went
Rufael also has a keen interest in birds.
By way of context, we (me and husband in mid thirties) were travelling on a private tour organised.  These two guides were found for us by another agent in Addis who had organised our overall 22 day trip.

Harar trip report

Attila writes:

I just visited Harar in Ethiopia and learnt that visiting hyenas is much more pleasant with a local guide who can also help you with photos. I met some travelers who encountered money-related HASSLE by local (can you guess it?) rasta-related young men trying to overcharge for every possible thing near the beasts. There is a good reliable resident guide at Thewodros hotel as indicated in the excellent Bradt guide book, but I also found a great young guide patroling the streets who is most likely to find you before you find him. I’d like to recommend him, Fajaja, because he’s not pushy at all, he speaks great English and bits of other foreign languages, too, he seemed to have good local knowledge (could be nice for a city tour as well), and he doesn’t give you any hassle about the thank you payment. Actually he didn’t quote me any fee at all, so you can donate and act accordingly. He will be around all the time but in need of call his number is 0920664020. (Final point of irony, he USED to have dreadlocks, but now he’s fine, haha.)

Another comment I’d like to leave is about couple of Harar bars and nightlife in the “new town.” I wouldn’t recommend National Hotel to many faranjis, I visited there several nights and almost every time encountered annoying low-faced hassle, ridiculous attempts on beer prices and other faranji BS. Even though I had collected all my beer bottles on my table, including the one that I had bought for another person there, when it was time to pay, the waiter tried to get double money without showing the receipt, and even when the receipt came there were two extra beers printed.

A good thing to remember in all Ethiopia: you are never supposed to pay unless given the receipt first! Ethiopians love receipts. Even though National is the major disco/club style place in town, it was significantly empty every night, including weekends, and there was only one waiter who didn’t give me hassle.

Nearby Tourist Hotel, however, despite being noisy and very dark, seemed more reliable and I didn’t have problems when it was time to pay.

Then there is another place, open very late, noisy and dark with dodgy waiters and double the amount of (very dodgy-feeling) bar girls than male customers. It’s named Keron-something (the signplate is broken!) and it’s usually packed with tuktuk drivers and street kids patroling in front of the dump. I went there couple of times for a solitary late night beer, first times always hassled with the money but once they got to know my face there were no further overcharging attempts. This is the kind of place you wouldn’t like to show to your mum.

In short, the most common trick is simply to double the real price of your drinks and try to get it without a receipt. Keep your eyes open and numerical info clear, fellow faranjis! Harar is a wonderful town.

Anisa Guesthouse, Harar

Nico Demus writes

There is a new traditional guesthouse in the Jugol (walled town) of Harar that finally challenges the Rawda and Zewda houses and their disagreeable, unfriendly attitudes. Its called the Anisa guesthouse and is located near the Jemi mosque. Anisa is a very friendly, outgoing woman. Call her at 0915330011 or call Hailu, the best local guide in town, at 0913072931. It can sleep up to 4 or 5 comfortably. But if you have a group that doesnt mind the floor, it can sleep up to 7 or 8. Price is something like 150 to 200 birr per person w breakfast.

Kulubi Festival

Marc writes:

I was in Ethiopia in December last year and was so glad to have the Bradt guidebook 6th edition with me–an invaluable resourse of good information. A highlight for me was the Kulubi festival that takes place twice a year (on 26 July and 28 December with the December one being the bigger one allegedly) in the small village of Kulubi (near Dire Dawa/Harar – see p 407-8). It is the biggest pilgrimage in Ethiopia with ca. 100.000 people going there to see the St. Gabriel church, to pray and celebrate. It is a fascinating spectacle and very few tourist go there. I, like most Ethiopians, went there a day early and stayed overnight drinking beer with the locals in some shack to get a very early morning start to pilgrimage to the church at dawn. The whole experience was very unique and compelling. If you’re in Harar at that time when it is happening, it is definitely worth to go there to see an orthodox ceremony that is very spiritual and quite overwhelming.

Lalibela, Harar, Bale, Ziway updates

Terence Baker writes:

1. The biggest talking point in Ethiopia is the huge hike in entrance to Lalibela. I noticed that no one seems to pay people if they are taking their photos any more, and the shoe carriers have disappeared. See my report for GoNOMAD magazine (http://www.gonoma.net/component/content/article/21-features/4818-ethiopia-s-rock-hewn-churches) and please note my comments on the wonderful Lalibela Hudad accommodation option and the “Library Club” scam as you come down from Asheton Maryam;

2. The Cafeteria Ali Bal in Harar is now a bathroom fixtures shop; The Zubeyda Guest House in Harar is cool and interesting but certainly not spotless;

3. The only place in the whole country where the children seemed spiteful, for some maybe threatening, was by Lake Ziway where the hippo boats leave from. I almost clocked one for throwing a stone at the Woodland kingfisher I was looking at through binoculars.

4. We were very lucky to see Ethiopian wolf on the Bale Mountains, and more so to see a Bale monkey (which I photographed) beside the road. It was very misty as we drove down from the Sanetti Plateau towards the Harena Forest, which might have forced this rare monkey farther down.