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Ethiopia is the second-most populous country in Africa (after Nigeria) and is the oldest nation within borders bearing some resemblance to those that existed 500 years ago. In the Horn of Africa region, it is bordered by Eritrea to the north (which seceded from Ethiopia in 1991 after a long and bloody war of independence), Djibouti to the northeast, Somaliland and Somalia to the east, Kenya to the south, and Sudan and South Sudan to the west. Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa and the second-oldest official Christian nation in the world after Armenia. Ethiopia is also the place of the first Hijra (615 CE) in Islamic history where the Christian king of Ethiopia accepted Muslim refugees from Mecca sent by the prophet Mohamed. (less...) (more...)
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Ethiopia is one of the oldest independent nations in the world. It has long been an intersection between the civilizations of North Africa, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. Unique among African countries, Ethiopia was never colonized, maintaining its independence throughout the Scramble for Africa onward, except for five years (1936–41) when it was under Italian military occupation. During this period, the Italians occupied only a few key cities and major routes, and faced continuing native resistance until they were finally defeated during the Second World War by a joint Ethiopian-British alliance. Ethiopia has long been a member of international organizations: it became a member of the League of Nations, signed the Declaration by United Nations in 1942, founded the UN headquarters in Africa, was one of the 51 original members of the UN, and is the headquarters for, and one of the founding members of, the former Organisation of African Unity and the current African Union.
Ethiopia was historically called Abyssinia, which is related to Habesha, the native name for the inhabitants. In some countries, Ethiopia is still called by names cognate with "Abyssinia", eg, Turkish Habesistan, meaning land of the Habesha people. The English name "Ethiopia" is thought to be derived from the Greek word Αἰθιοπία Aithiopia, from Αἰθίοψ Aithiops "an Ethiopian", derived from Greek terms meaning "of burnt (αιθ-) visage (ὄψ)". However, this etymology is disputed, since the Book of Aksum, a Ge'ez chronicle first composed in the 15th century, states that the name is derived from 'Ityopp'is, a son (unmentioned in the Bible) of Cush, son of Ham, who according to legend founded the city of Axum.
The predominant climate type is tropical monsoon, with wide topographic-induced variation. As a highland country, Ethiopia has a climate which is generally considerably cooler than other regions at similar proximity to the Equator. Most of the country's major cities are located at elevations of around 2,000-2,500m (6,600-8,200 ft) above sea level, including historic capitals such as Gondar and Axum.
Addis Ababa, the modern capital, is situated in the foothills of Mount Entoto at an elevation of around 2,400m (8,000 ft), and experiences a healthy and pleasant climate year-round. With fairly uniform year-round temperatures, the seasons in Addis Ababa are largely defined by rainfall, with a dry season Oct-Feb, a light rainy season Mar-May, and a heavy rainy season Jun-Sep. The average annual rainfall is around 1200mm (47 in). There are 7h of sunshine per day on average, 60% of the daytime hours. The dry season is the sunniest time of year, though even at the height of the rainy season in July and August there are usually several hours of bright sunshine a day.
The average annual temperature in Addis Ababa is 16°C (61°F), with daily highs averaging 20-25°C (68-77°F) throughout the year, and overnight lows averaging 5-10°C (41-50°F). A light jacket is recommended for evenings, though many Ethiopians dress conservatively and wear a light jacket even during the day.
Most major cities and tourist sites lie at a similar elevation to Addis Ababa and have comparable climates, though in lower lying regions, particularly in the east of the country, the climate can be significantly hotter and drier. The town of Dallol, in the Danakil Depression in the east, has the world's highest average annual temperature of 34°C (93°F).
- Tribal region safari in the Lower Omo Valley
- Trekking in Dodolla, Bale Siemien Mountains National Park
- Bird watching in Rift Valley lakes
- See the gelada ("baboons") at Debre Sina near Addis Ababa
- White water rafting in the Omo River
- Attend a traditional coffee ceremony.
- Visit an azmari bet (azmari bar) to listen to azmari musicians and singers.
Injera is ubiquitous in Ethiopia. It is a spongy, tangy-tasting bread made from the grain teff, which grows in the highlands of Ethiopia. It looks and feels akin to a crepe or pancake. It's eaten with wot (or wat), traditional stews made with spices and meat or legumes. Popular wats are doro (chicken) wat, yebeg (lamb) wat and asa (fish) wat.
The injera sits directly on a large round plate or tray and is covered with wat placed symmetrically around a central item. The various wats are eaten with other pieces of injera, which are served on a side plate. Injera is eaten with the right hand - rip a large piece of injera from the side plate and use it to scoop up one of the flavours of wat on the main platter. Eating with the left hand is considered disrespectful, as it is the hand traditionally used for personal hygiene and is thus considered unclean. Another popular injera dish is firfir: fried, shredded injera. It can be served with or without meat or with all sorts of veggies.
If you prefer vegetarian foods, try the shiro wat, which is an oily bean stew served with injera. Shiro is common on Ethiopian "fasting days", in which devout Ethiopians eat an essentially vegetarian diet.
One of Ethiopia's most famous dishes is tibbs or tibs, spicy beef or lamb fried in butter (nitre kibbeh). Tibs comes in several styles, most commonly "chikina tibs", fried in a sauce with berbere spice, onions, bell peppers, and tomato; and zil-zil tibs, a more deep fried breaded version served with tangy sauces. Equally as famous is kitfo, minced meat spiced with chilli. You can have it raw (the locally preferred way, but there's a risk of getting parasites), leb-leb (lightly cooked) or fully cooked. It comes with a local cheese ayeb and a spinach. In the Harar region, you can find kitfo derivatives including camel meat. Many restaurants that serve kitfo include it in their name (e.g. Sami Kitfo, Mesob Kitfo, etc.) but typically serve a wider selection than just raw meat.
For the pickier visitor, almost every place in Ethiopia also serves spaghetti (thanks to the short lived Italian occupation) - but not as Italians would know it. Italian restaurants are common, as are so-called "American style pizza and burger" places that have little in common with American pizzas and burgers. There is continued demand for more American style dining in Ethiopia from, not only expats, but from Ethiopians as well. There are restaurants like the Country Kitchen (not the chain) that serves American style fried chicken and wings run by an American-born-and-raised Ethiopian. Good pizza can be had at Metro Pizza at the Dagim Millenium Hotel. The restaurant at Addis Guest House run by an American raised Ethiopian named Yonas serves a good selection of western foods including great French toast for breakfast. It is worth the trip just to meet Yonas who may be the best tour guide you can find in the city. "Kaldi's Coffee House" are all over the city. They are largely Starbucks knockoffs, but they do it well. Great coffee, good pastries, and very good ice cream. You will find westerners or western raised Ethiopians everywhere in the capital and they all are very helpful.
Common spices include berbere, Ethiopia's natural spice which includes fenugreek; mittmitta, another piquant spice; and rosemary, which is used in almost all meat in the country. Most local meats are of poor quality and are stringy and tough even when cooked perfectly. Luxury hotels and restaurants will often import their meat from Kenya, which is much higher quality.
Ethiopia is the historical origin of the coffee bean, and its coffee is among the best in the world. Coffee is traditionally served in a formal ceremony that involves drinking a minimum of three cups of coffee and eating popcorn. It is a special honour or mark of respect to be invited into somebody's home for the ceremony. Ethiopians tend to drink their coffee either freshly brewed and black, very strong, with the grounds still inside; or as a macchiato, Ethiopia's popular form of coffee.
In preparation for the ceremony the coffee beans are roasted in a flat pan over charcoal. The beans are then ground using pestle and mortar. The coffee is brewed with water in a clay coffee pot and is considered ready when it starts to boil. Coffee in Ethiopia is served black with sugar; some ethnic groups may add butter or salt to the coffee but will generally not do so with foreigners. Beware, after drinking coffee in Ethiopia, you will find yourself always disappointed with the quality of coffee when you return home. In Ethiopia the coffee is so fresh as it is usually roasted the same day as it is consumed. You will dream about coffee for weeks after leaving Ethiopia.
Tej is a honey wine, similar to mead, that is frequently drunk in bars, in particular, in a tej beit (tej bar). It strongly resembles mead in flavour though it typically has a local leaf added to it during brewing that gives it a strong medicinal flavour that may be off putting. It is considered manly to consume this beverage.
A variety of Ethiopian beers are available, all of which are quite drinkable. Many breweries that were formerly owned by the Ethiopian government are now owned by Western beverage companies like Heineken (Harar beer) and Diageo (Meta beer). The nationally ubiquitous beer is St. George, or "Giorgis" named after the patron saint of Ethiopia, which is a light lager similar to American beers that has been brewed in Addis Ababa since 1922. Ethiopian breweries rival many microbreweries in the west and most beers are sold for under USD1.
Ethiopian wines, both red and white, exist but are generally considered undrinkable by foreigners.
Local currency is the Ethiopian birr (ETB), which is one of the more stable African currencies. In Sep 2013, €1 was 25 birr, GBP1 was 30 birr, and USD1 was 19 birr. There are 100 santim to the birr and coins of 1, 5, 10, 25 and 50 santim circulate, together with a one birr coin. Banknotes come in values of 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 birr.
You're not supposed to import nor export more than 100 birr. Usually hotel and car rental bills must be paid in cash.
There are ATMs in all bigger cities. Dashen Bank is your best bet for finding an ATM; then Commercial Bank of Ethiopia and Wegagan Bank. Visa is the most accepted brand; few places accept other cards such as MasterCard. Don't expect foreign Cirrus or Plus cards to work. The ATMs are not always reliable, so have a back-up plan for cash when away from Addis Ababa.
Opportunities to use credit cards (Visa and MasterCard) are increasing in Addis Ababa, but remain rare elsewhere.
Any commercial bank in Ethiopia can exchange cash. The rates are the same everywhere and are set by the central bank daily. There are hundreds of commercial bank branches in Addis, including in the Sheraton and Hilton hotels, and in the corner of the baggage claim hall at the airport. Most cities and towns that tourists visit will have at least one commercial bank, except for villages in the Omo valley. Many hotels will convert US dollars to birr at the front desk. Because of forgeries in circulation, banks might not accept US dollar notes printed before 2002, or torn or very worn notes. It is illegal to change money on the black market and the rates aren't much better than what you get from the banks. It is essentially impossible to exchange the birr outside of Ethiopia due to currency controls, and it is illegal to remove more than 200 birr from the country without permission.
US dollars, euros or pounds sterling are the best currencies to carry, in that order. You may find it best to keep most of your cash in your home currency and take out what you need daily. Additionally, since ATM machines dispense money in birr, it may be easier to simply withdraw money from the ATM as needed. Prices are extremely low in Ethiopia and a US dollar will go a long way.
Banks no longer accept travellers cheques.
In cities like Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa (little accepted in Dire Dawa, not like Addis) the US dollar is mostly accepted. In some shops in Addis Ababa the prices will be written in birr and USD. Some ATMs in Addis Ababa give out both US dollars and birr. Most hotels in Addis Ababa accept US dollars. All airports in Ethiopia accept US dollars.
You cannot obtain US dollars in Ethiopia through legal means unless you have a flight ticket to leave the country. This means that if you need dollars (e.g. to get a Djibouti visa) and don't have a flight ticket to leave Ethiopia you will need to either change money on the black market or ensure that you have enough US dollars on you.
Ethiopia is relatively cheap for tourists, compared to other African countries.
To stay at a 5 star hotel in Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa, Nazret, Bahir Dar, Gondar and Awasa costs on average 1,500 birr per night.
Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa and Adama/Nazret have the most expensive prices in the country. For example a 32 inch (81cm) LCD TV costs around 15,000 birr. Food is also expensive if you buy it in those city's centres.
You need about 400 birr per day for hotel, fuel, food, lodging and transport. In Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa you can need 600 birr per day.
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Ethiopia on Wikivoyage.
Cities in Ethiopia
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Gondar is a royal and ancient historical city of Ethiopia. It was the home of many emperors and princesses who led the country from the 12th century to the last decade of the 20th century, including Emperor Suseneos, Emperor Fasiledes, Empress Mentwab, Iyasu I, Tewodros II and Empress Taitu.
- Fasil Ghebbi
- Debre Birhan Selassie Church
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Lalibela is a rural town of 15,000 people in a stunning setting at an elevation of 2,600 m (8,500 ft) in the midst of the Lasta mountains in the eastern highlands of Northern Ethiopia. Its unique and remarkable monolithic churches hewn from living rock, most built more than 900 years ago, are one of ... (read more)
- Bet Maryam
- Bet Emmanuel
- Bete Giyorgis
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- Hora Lake Recreation Area
- Debre Zeyit Market
- Debre Zeyit Mosque
Points of Interest in Ethiopia
- Huge obelisks in Axum
- Historic routes, churches and mosques Lalibela, Axum, Gondar, Harar
- Volcanic lake Danakil Depression and Erta Ale
- Rift Valley lakes Wonchi crater lake, Langano, Tana
- National Parks such as Menengesha
- Many beautiful churches in Addis Ababa
- Rock-hewn churches in Lalibela
- Castles in Gondar
- Northern historic circuit. A loop from Addis Ababa to Lake Tana, to Gondar, then Axum, and Lalibela, and back to Addis, although the circuit can be done in the opposite direction as well. Destinations are affordable and reachable by domestic airlines but you may want to consider taking the long and gruelling bus journey from Addis to Bahir Dar to experience the awe inspiring and switch-backing descent from the highlands deep down into the gorge of the Blue Nile and back up again and for the abundant wildlife you'll see on this stretch of the "road", which in many places is unsurfaced and on some stretches is still being bulldozed into shape (Oct 2013) with the route constantly changing and delays while blasting tales place and rock slips are cleared.
Meskel Square - Addis Ababa
Bet Maryam - Lalibela
Northern Stelae Field - Axum
Fasil Ghebbi - Gondar
Blue Nile Falls - Bahar Dar
Lake Chamo - Arba Minch
Hora Lake Recreation Area - Debre Zeyit
Mekele University - Mek'ele
Bale Mountains National Park - Goba
ECA Conference Center - Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa Stadium - Addis Ababa
Medhane Alem Church - Addis Ababa
Bet Emmanuel - Lalibela
Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion - Axum
Addis Ababa National Archives and Library - Addis Ababa
Bete Giyorgis - Lalibela
Lake Tana - Bahar Dar
St. George\'s Cathedral - Addis Ababa
Holy Trinity Cathedral - Addis Ababa
National Museum of Ethiopia - Addis Ababa