Fig.1 – Ethiopia Flag


With an area of 430,000 square miles, Ethiopia is as large as France and Spain combined. From the north and running down the center are the Abyssinian highlands, to the west of the chain the land drops to the grasslands of Sudan, to the east the deserts of the Afar and the Red Sea. South of Addis Ababa, the land is dominated by the Rift Valley Lakes. The main rivers are the Blue Nile, the Tekezze which joins the Nile in Sudan) the Awash, the Wabe Shebelle, the Omo, and Baro and Birbir.


Credit: Central Intelligence Agency

Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa and one of the oldest in the world. What are believed to be the oldest remains of a human ancestor ever found, which have been dated as being some five million years old, were discovered in the Awash Valley in Ethiopia.

In 1989, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation front (TPLF) merged with the Amhara and Oromo liberation fronts (EPDM & OPDO) to form the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). In May 1991, the EPRDF forces advanced on Addis Ababa forcing Mengistu to flee to Zimbabwe. In 1991, the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) was set up from the EPRDF and other political parties in the country with an 87 strong Council of Representatives and a transitional constitution. Meanwhile, in May 1991, The Eritrean People’s Liberation front (EPLF), led by Isaias Afworki assumed control of Eritrea after 30 years of struggle and established a provisional government. This ran Eritrea until April 1993 when Eritreans voted for independence in a UN monitored referendum.

In Ethiopia, the President and members of the TGE pledged to oversee the formation of a multi-party democracy. The election for a 548 member constituent assembly was held in June 1994. This assembly adopted the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in December 1994. Elections for the first parliament were held in 1995 and the government was installed in August of that year.


The Amhara are the politically and culturally dominant ethnic group of Ethiopia. They are located primarily in the central highland plateau of Ethiopia and comprise the major population element in the provinces of Begemder and Gojjam and in parts of Shoa and Wallo. In terms of the total Ethiopian population, however, the Amhara are a numerical minority. It is generally estimated that the Amhara, together with the closely related Tigre, constitute about one-third of the total population. Their national clothes are basically white, whether the shawls and light blankets worn over the shoulders by the men or the white dresses and wraps worn by the ladies.

In comparison, there seems to be general agreement that the Oromo people form the largest ethnic component in the country, comprising around 40% of the population. They are a pastoral and agricultural people who live mainly in central and southwestern Ethiopia. The Shankella, a people in the western part of the country from the border of Eritrea to Lake Turkana, constitute about 6% of the population.


Casual wear is suitable for most places, but Ethiopians tend to be fairly formal and conservative in their dress. Private informal entertaining is very common. Some religious houses are not open to women.


Amharic is the official language, although about 80 other native tongues are spoken including Oromo, Somali and Tigrinya. English and Arabic are widely used and some Italian and French is spoken.


Ethiopia is governed under the constitution of 1994, which provides for a president as head of state and a prime minister as head of government. The bicameral Parliament consists of the 108-seat House of Federation, whose members are chosen by state assemblies to serve five-year terms, and the 547-seat House of People’s Representatives, whose members are popularly elected and who in turn elect the president for a six-year term. The prime minister is designated by the party in power following legislative elections. Administratively, the country is divided into nine ethnically based regions and two self-governing administrations (the capital and Dire Dawa).


Standard time zone: UTC/GMT +3. No daylight saving time.


Electricity in Ethiopia is 220 Volts, alternating at 50 cycles per second.

Ethiopia enjoys extremely varied climatic conditions from cool to very cold in the highlands where most of the population inhabits, to one of the hottest places on earth at the Dallol Depression. Most of Ethiopia should enjoy a tropical climate for its proximity to the equator, but due to the fact that most of the country’s land mass stands over 4,920 ft, that is not the case. The climate is broadly divided into three zones:

  • Dega (Cool Zone)-Areas above 8,530 ft where temperatures range from near freezing to 61ºF. This is where most alpine and afro-alpine vegetation occurs.
  • Woyina Dega (Temperate Zone)-Areas between 4,920 ft and 8,530ft, where temperatures range from 61ºF to 86ºF. This is where most of the population lives.
  • Qola (Hot Zone)-Areas below 4,920 ft with both tropical and arid conditions where temperatures range from 81ºF to 122ºF. Bereha is a general term that refers to the extreme form of Qola.

Normally, the rainy season lasts from mid-June to mid-September (longer in the southern highlands), preceded by intermittent showers from February or March; remainder of year is generally dry.

Clothes to Wear:

Pack light clothes for the daytime and jacket or sweater for the evenings, and a good pair of walking shoes even if you are not going trekking – pathways around historic sites are usually uneven and stony.

Trekkers in the Simian and Bale Mountains will need warm clothes, waterproofs and 3-4 seasons’ sleeping bags.


Entry & Exit Requirements:

To avoid possible confusion or delays, travelers are strongly advised to obtain a valid Ethiopian visa at the nearest Ethiopian Embassy prior to arrival. This is a necessary step if you plan to enter Ethiopia by any land port-of-entry. Travelers wishing to enter Ethiopia from Kenya at the land border at Moyale must obtain an Ethiopian visa first. Ethiopian visas are not available at the border crossing point at Moyale or at any other land border in Ethiopia. Ethiopian tourist visas (one month or three month, single entry) may be available to U.S. citizens upon arrival at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa in some cases. The on-arrival visa process is available only at Bole International Airport and is not available at any of the other airports in Ethiopia. The visa fee at Bole International Airport is payable in U.S. dollars.

Travelers whose entry visa expires before they depart Ethiopia must obtain a visa extension through the Main Immigration Office in Addis Ababa and pay a monthly penalty fee of $20 USD per month. Such travelers may also be required to pay a court fine of up to 4000 ETB (USD $300) before being permitted to depart from Ethiopia. Court fees are payable only in U.S. dollars. Travelers are required to pay the penalty fee before they will be able to obtain an exit visa (USD $20) permitting them to leave Ethiopia. Individuals intending to stay in Ethiopia for a prolonged period of time are advised to contact the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington prior to traveling. The Ethiopian Embassy is located at 3506 International Drive NW, Washington, DC 20008. Tel: (202) 364-1200; Fax (202) 587-0195. For the most current visa information, visit the Ethiopian Embassy web site (

U.S. citizens living or traveling in Ethiopia are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate at the Department of State’s travel registration page in order to obtain updated information on local travel and security.  U.S. citizens without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  Registration is important; it allows the State Department to assist U.S. citizens in an emergency.

Embassy Locations:

U.S Embassy for Ethiopia

Entoto Street

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Tel: +251-11 517-4000

Fax: +251-11 124-2435

Embassy of Canada to Ethiopia

Old Airport Area

Nefas Silk Lafto Sub City, Kebeli 04, House No. 122, Addis Ababa,

Tel: +251-11-371-3022

Fax: +251-(0)11-371-3125


Malaria is prevalent in Ethiopia outside of the highland areas. Travelers who become ill with a fever or flu-like illness while traveling in a malaria-risk area and up to one year after returning home should seek prompt medical attention and explain to the health care provider their travel history and which anti-malarials they have been taking. For additional information on malaria, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention malaria web site.

Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Ethiopia. For further information, please consult the CDC’s information on TB.

Ethiopia is a mountainous country and the high altitude may cause health problems, even for healthy travelers. Addis Ababa is the third highest capital city in the world, at an altitude of 8,300 feet. Travelers may experience shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea, headaches and an inability to sleep. Individuals with respiratory (including asthma) or heart conditions should consult with a health care professional before traveling to Ethiopia.

Travelers to Ethiopia should also avoid swimming in any lakes, rivers, or still bodies of water. Most bodies of water have been found to contain parasites.

Ethiopia has had outbreaks of acute watery diarrhea, possible cholera, typhoid, or other bacterial diarrhea in the recent past, and the conditions for reoccurrences continue to exist in both urban and rural settings. Further information on prevention and treatment of cholera and other diarrheal diseases can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Foodborne, Bacterial and Mycotic Diseases webpage.  To avoid such diseases, health professionals strongly recommend:

  • Strict adherence to personal hygiene, hand washing with soap and water before handling or eating food.
  • Eating food that is cooked and served hot.
  • Avoiding fruits and vegetables unless they have been personally peeled and soaked in a bleach-treated solution before eating.
  • Drinking only distilled or bottled water/beverages and using ice made from distilled, boiled or chlorinated water.  This includes avoidance of rinsing toothbrushes with tap water.

Travelers developing voluminous watery diarrhea should start oral rehydration quickly and seek medical care immediately for possible IV rehydration.

Ethiopian authorities are monitoring the possibility of avian influenza following the deaths of poultry and birds; preliminary results have been negative. For additional information on avian flu please visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Avian Influenza web site.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

Banks & Currency:

The Birr is the official currency of Ethiopia. 1 Birr (ETB) = 100 santim. The Ethiopian currency is available in both paper Notes and Coins. Notes are in denominations of -50, -100, -5 and -1. Coins are currently in circulation in Ethiopia in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents.

Foreign currencies and traveller’s checks can be exchanged at banks, bureau de change and airports, railway stations, ports & major hotels in Ethiopia at the official exchange rates. American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted. Check with your credit or debit card company for details of merchant acceptability in Ethiopia. ATM’s are widely available. International traveler’s checks in US Dollars are widely accepted.


The country code for calling Ethiopia is 251.

Cell Phone Usage:

Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.


Food & Drink:

The Ethiopian national dish consists of injera, a flat, circular pancake made of fermented dough on top of which are served different kinds of cooked meats, vegetables and pulses. The sauces are generally spiced with berbere, a blend of herbs and spices (including hot peppers) which gives Ethiopian food its characteristic taste. Vegetarians should try “fasting food” (for devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christians fast days make up nearly half the year), a colorful spread of Salads, vegetables and pulses, devoid of all meat and animal products. Addis Ababa now boasts of a wide variety of restaurants, and at hotels in tourist sites European style food such as pasta is always available.

 The favourite drink of many Ethiopians is bunna (coffee). Bunna is drunk in Ethiopia in a unique and traditional way known as a “coffee ceremony”. First the coffee is roasted, then ground and placed in a Jebena (coffee pot) with boiling water. When ready it is then served to people in little cups, up to three times per ceremony. Other locally produced beverages are tella and tej, which are served and drunk on major religious festivals. Tella and tej are also sold by numerous designated commercial houses all over the country.


All over Ethiopia, you will find so many things to do, see and experience, you may not have enough time to do everything. Ethiopia is full of interesting places, where one can easily pass many hours enjoying the entertainment that can be found in Ethiopia. There are also a wide range of bars, cafes and clubs all over Ethiopia. Addis Ababa and tourist resorts in Ethiopia have some of the most popular clubs in the country. Whatever type of bar or club you are looking for, you will find it in Ethiopia.


Souvenir shoppers in Ethiopia won’t be disappointed. Visitors could while away hours hunting for craftwork, jewellery and clothes to take back home. From the bustling mercato to the main shopping streets of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city has plenty to offer visitors out on a shopping trip. Other large cities and towns in Ethiopia also offer a good selection of small shops to tempt you.


Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.


Tipping is not usually expected – or even accepted – though in tourist areas locals are becoming used to this and a tip of 5-15% is often appreciated. Bargaining for local handicrafts is commonplace.  For drivers we recommend $5-$10 per person per full day. For local tour guides we recommend $5-$10 per person for half day and $10-$15 per person for full day of service.


Laundry service is available at most hotels in the main centers.  Generally you should allow about 24-hours before the item is returned to you, however, some have an emergency service available at an extra charge.


In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.


The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.