Ethiopia is safe. It is peaceful. With 100 million people, it has among the largest and youngest populations in Africa. It’s one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
Ethiopia sports landscapes found nowhere else; she offers healthy and delicious cuisines that connect to a deep and proud history. Credited with the origins of man, Ethiopia is the cradle of humanity.
If you haven’t considered visiting, you should. Here are some ideas.
When visiting Ethiopia, you will start in Addis Ababa. Introduce yourself to Ethiopia’s diversity and culture simply by satisfying your hunger in its capital city.
First, grab a coffee. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. Head to the Piazza district and visit Tomoca (TO.MO.CA) Coffee, the city’s oldest coffee shop which opened in 1953. Order a macchiato, to be enjoyed standing at the counter. Though Ethiopia’s highest quality coffee is exported, you can pick up a bag of Harar beans for home. Staying at the Radisson Blu hotel? There’s a Tomoca cafe with comfy seating right off the lobby.
But my expat friends swear by Galani Coffee. Maybe it’s all about the high-quality coffee. Or maybe it’s the cool industrial vibe, the local artist displays and cultural events hosted in their space. Or maybe, it’s their many flavors of gelato.
But let’s get to the Ethiopian favorites– injera, shiro, and (my personal favorite) tibs. The best way to try sample Ethiopian cuisine? Do the 4-5 hour food walking tour with Go Addis. Experience a coffee ceremony, and try all of your soon-to-be Ethiopian culinary favorites. Go Addis founders Eliza and Xavier are so good that Anthony Bourdain consulted them when shooting a 2015 Parts Unknown episode in Ethiopia.
Still have extra energy for urban exploration? Visit world-famous “Lucy” at the National Museum of Ethiopia. Visit Merkato, the largest open air market in Africa (best explored with a local guide, Go Addis has a Sunrise Market Tour). In the market for a high-quality Ethiopian leather coat or bag? Visit the shops around the existing Addis Ababa stadium. For $100 US, I bought a custom-made black leather jacket that I picked up before my outbound flight. Finally, don’t miss taking in some Ethiopian jazz. The Ghion Hotel offers a classic jazz venue, or choose among many options on the ThisIsAddis.com list.
The Great Up North
Ethiopia isn’t known for its accessible roads, reliable power or speedy wifi. But it does have the top airline in all of Africa. Ethiopian Airlines‘ flights are reliable and inexpensive–especially if you book your short internal flights while in-country, and travel to Ethiopia on a Star Alliance partner.
Among African nations, Ethiopia is unique. It is untainted by colonization. It preserved a distinct form of Orthodox Christianity. You’ll still find pageantry in urban areas around traditional holidays like Meskel (September 26-27); you’ll see it in everyday dress and traditions when in the countryside.
Breathe in this history as you explore northern Ethiopia’s three main kingdoms– Axum is one of the oldest empires in all of Africa; Lalibela is the site of pilgrimage to famed 12-13th century rock-carved churches; Gondar‘s royal legacy gives it the title “Camelot of Africa.”
And if hiking is your thing, don’t miss trekking in Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains. For lodging, choose 12-room Limalimo Lodge, a shining example of how a focus on conservation, community and sustainability make all the difference.
For a completely different hiking experience, explore the rock hewn churches in the Gheralta region of Tigray. In one day, I climbed to Maryam Konkor & Daniel Konkor and Abune Yemata Guh. While both are hearty hikes, the latter is not for the faint of heart. Near the top, you’ll be instructed to remove your shoes for several stories of free climbing (I recommend asking your guide to bring a harness and rope). Either choose to overnight in Ethiopia’s second largest city of Mek’ele or more locally at the Gheralta Lodge or the Korkor Lodge.
My favorite part of Ethiopia? The Danakil Depression. Located in the Afar region of northeast Ethiopia near the Eritrean border, it will feel other-worldly; scientists study Danakil to understand life beyond earth. Danakil is among the hottest, lowest, most inhospitable places on the planet.
You’ll spend hours driving makeshift roads in a Toyota Land Cruiser. At some point, your vehicle will probably falter. In these conditions, you’ll want to trust your expedition team. I used World Sun Tours Ethiopia, appreciating amazing staff and purposely smaller group sizes.
In Dallol, you’ll stand in the crater of a below sea level volcano, amidst bubbling acid pools of eye-popping color and deposits of salt, sulfer and other minerals. In the dark of night, you will climb Erta Ale, the world’s lowest and oldest continuously active lava lake. At midnight, you’ll stand in a mesmerizing trance overlooking its rim, periodically jolted by a sulferic gust. You’ll sleep for a few hours under the stars on a simple cushion, before waking pre-dawn to hike back down the mountain. You will marvel that nomadic Afar people live here. You will be grateful that you are not among them.