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.

Report from single female traveller

Ulrike writes:

About the single female travelling: I travelled a lot within the last years (Middle east, Ghana, Egypt, British Guyana, Japan,….), usually on my own or with friends I met on the road, mostly by hitchhiking (which works really well in Ethiopia too!) and preferably to sites where I could meet people from the country I visited and not other Europeans or Americans. But I have to say, maybe also because I stayed in Ethiopia because I had to (research in Addis Ababa and working in a hospital in Hawassa) I was never that exhausted with a whole country’s chauvinism! And you can easily tell by throwing a rough look on Ethiopian women’s daily life (on average 11 hours work daily) comparing it to the male counterpart (3 hours work daily!!!!) that women are seen more of a gratis working power then as actual people. being white and a woman I suffered some serious depressions from time to time (and usually, even in Egypt, I am taking those things in a tough manner), questioning my flight schedule, thinking about coming home earlier. I usually can’t walk a long a street without some young man rapping about my booty or whatsover, and in the daily life it makes work really really difficult if noone takes you serious, but everyone wants to take you out for coffee and more. The other issue (more interesting to travellers then to working expats) is the kids throwing stone – I’m a person who doesn’t like prohibitions and things like “don’t do this on yourself, it’s not good!” I usually run once daily, and I mostly kept on doing this in Ethiopia, with the result that in Hawassa I was stoned DAILY while I was running at the part of the lake behind the referal hospital along some villages. Behaviour which was supported by the parents who quite didn’t understand that sports pants don’t have pockets to hide any money inside. Same around Harar, as I mentioned, even in Addis Ababa where I lived (Alem Bank) and in Arba Minch as well.