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From the medieval city of Lalibela to the peaks of the Simien Mountains, Ethiopia is a joy to explore

Warm and friendly, this is a country where you'll find a unique cultural heritage, as well as some truly awe-inspiring scenery. Christianity has been the main religion here for over a thousand years, and the historical treasures of its legacy are manifold.

Its national parks are alive with fascinating species of wildlife, from the gelada monkeys and ibex of the Simien Mountains, to the Abyssinian wolves of Bale National Park. Add to this over 800 species of birds and more than 20,000 types of butterfly and moth, and any nature enthusiast will be kept busy here!

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital city, brings together an explosion of cultures, languages and peoples from all walks of life. Market traders bring in their wares from far-flung villages, while jet setters flash the cash in glitzy nightclubs. Though many travellers pass through the capital briskly, it's well worth taking a few days to explore.

 

Culture and history

Ethiopia has more than 80 different ethnic groups, each with their own language, traditions and customs. The Oromo, who are believed to have lived in Ethiopia for over a millennium, and the Amhara, are among the largest of these groups.

Religion plays an important role in Ethiopian life with almost half the population belonging to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and a large proportion following the Muslim faith. Ethiopian dress varies from region to region; most women wear a type of dress known as kemis and made from woven cotton, some partially cover themselves with leather, other tribes wear nothing but make-up.

The national dish is a spicy stew called ‘wat’. This is usually served on a traditional flatbread called ‘injera’ made from teff, and is used in the same way as a tortilla - eaten with your right hand. Unsurprisingly, bunna (coffee) is one of the most popular drinks here and locals take great pride in the way the drink is served, often performing a special coffee ceremony.

Ethiopia may well have been the birthplace of all humanity – though this is of course somewhat hard to prove. But after the remains of an upright walking species from 3.2 million years ago were found there in the 1970s, along with several other significant discoveries, Ethiopia certainly has a strong case. From around 2,000 BC it is thought that the region had strong trading links to Arabia and the pharaohs of Egypt and there is much evidence of cultural exchange with these regions, not least the strong presence of the Islamic faith in Ethiopia.

The exact origins of Christianity in Ethiopia are up for discussion, but the religion arrived in around the 4th century AD and has had a profound impact on every aspect of life in the country.

In 1930 the crowning of Prince Ras Tafari as Emperor Haile Selassie led to the burgeoning of a new faith in far-away Jamaica and proved to be a major PR coup. Up until the 1930s Ethiopia was one of the only African nations to avoid colonisation, but this was set to change. Italy occupied neighbouring Eritrea and Somalia, and the temptation to link the two proved too great.

Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935 and the rest of Europe more or less turned a blind eye. Ethiopian resistance was steady throughout the Italian occupation, but unsuccessful. Then, at the onset of World War II, when Italy initially sided with GermanyBritain lent its support to Ethiopia, and in 1941 the emperor and his army marched back into Addis Ababa.

In 1974 a socialist state was declared in Ethiopia, and when Somalia invaded in 1977, the Soviet Union sent back-up. To this day you can still see the incongruous sight of a Russian tank amid the fertile highlands of this unique African country.

Things to do

On our escorted tours of Ethiopia you'll experience all the highlights of the country, travelling from the capital to the countryside and back again. Take a city tour and delve into the markets of Addis Ababa, stay in tranquil resort hotels in the lakeside city of Bahir Dar and explore the fascinating ancient fortress city of Fasil Ghebbi, near Gondar.

On our solo traveller tour you'll travel in a small group getting to know the landscapes and the wildlife of Ethiopia, as well as its cities and historical gems. Marvel at the rock-hewn cave churches in Lalibela, gaze at the Blue Nile Falls and enjoy the hospitality of the locals as you chat over a cup of coffee brewed with those award-winning Ethiopian beans.

Flight time

It takes approximately eight hours to fly to Ethiopia – enough time to watch a couple of good films!

Currency

Ethiopian Birr -

The official currency unit in Ethiopia is the Ethiopian birr, divided into 100 cents. Currency can be exchanged at the airport on arrival or within the capital Addis Ababa.

ATMs are only available in larger cities. Credit cards are only accepted at a few outlets in Addis Ababa and currency advances against a credit card are not normally possible. It is illegal to carry more than 200 birr when entering or leaving Ethiopia.

Passports and visas

Visit GOV.UK for more advice on passports and visas.

Timezone

Ethiopia is three hours ahead of GMT.

Electricity

Plugs are either round 2-pin or round 3-pin. Mains voltage is usually 220 volts AC (50 Hz).

Language

Amharic - The official national language is Amharic, but there are around 77 variations spoken throughout Ethiopia. You’re only likely to hear English spoken in Addis Ababa, but that is still quite rare!

Tipping

A service charge may be added to your bill in larger establishments, but a tip is usually discretionary and much appreciated. Most services are provided with the expectation of a small tip.

Climate

Due to vast altitude differences between highland and lowland areas Ethiopia experiences a range of temperatures.

Between January and March you can expect clear, sunny days with an average temperature of around 25°C. The rainy season, which falls between April and September, brings soaring temperatures and humid conditions. Rainfall increases between May and August, sometimes resulting in the closure of roads in the low-lying areas. August is the wettest and hottest month with temperatures reaching 45°C.

In the highlands temperatures are much more moderate but rainfall is still persistent. Nighttime temperatures in the highlands often drop to 5°C during November and December.

Health

As health information can change at any time, we’d advise you to consult your GP at least 12 weeks before departure.

Country-specific information and advice on possible health risks is also published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre, and The British Foreign and Commonwealth Travel Advice Unit provides important health and safety information for British nationals travelling abroad.

Population and size

With a population of around 96,633,500, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world and is also Africa’s 10th largest country. It sits in Eastern Africa and is bordered by Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya and Somalia.

There are vast altitude differences within Ethiopia with depressions that fall below -125 metres and areas that rise above 4,600 metres, which causes a variety of weather conditions.

Smoking

Although smoking has recently been banned in most public places, the ban is not enforced so smoking is still commonplace in certain places.



Climate