Information on getting to Ethiopia, getting around, vaccinations, visas and money in Ethiopia
Ethiopia’s national airline, Ethiopian Airlines is arguably one of the best in Africa. International services are reliable with good seat pitch, whilst domestic flights are serviced by a brand new fleet of twin props. Ethiopian flies direct from London, Frankfurt, Paris and Rome in Europe. The flight takes around 8 hours. Great deals can be had if you book your international flight direct with Ethiopian with your domestic Ethiopian flights – you will need to call them to get these fairs.
Because of the state of the roads, the distances involved and the quality of the alternative (flying) most short term visitors use internal flights in Ethiopia. There are reliable daily flights between most of the stops on the Northern Circuit (Addis, Gondar, Lalibella, Axum, Bahir Dar).
If you have more time, or delight in the joys of overland travel, there are loads of options on the road. Local bus services are super cheap, regular and exceedingly uncomfortable. They’ll certainly give you a story to tell. Alternatively Skybus offer a reliable upmarket coach service from Addis Abbaba to Gonder, Jimma, Bahir Dar, Awassa, Harrer and Dire Dawa. Schedules and prices are available at http://www.skybusethiopia.com/site/schdule.html
Many tours include transportation in private vehicles. These tend to be 4wds because the roads are mostly dusty, bumpy affairs.
The Ethiopian Tourist Board proudly promotes their slogan “13 months of sunshine” to anyone who will listen, but they are not far off the mark. The rainy season in the North is in July and August, but whilst that might stop you attempting a multi day trek in the Simien Mountains, it won’t really affect you if you are planning on touring the Northern Historical route. The best time to visit the North is in Autumn, after the rains when the mountains are full of lush green and the views are unimpeded by haze.
The rains in the South are in April, May and October which make the roads in the Lower Omo Valley impassable, so you’ll need to avoid these if you’re planning on an adventure down here.
Nationals of most Western countries can get a Visa on arrival at Bole International Airport. It currently costs US$20 and is valid for a stay of up to one month. Visas can be extended for up to three months in Addis Ababa.
Bir is the currency in Ethiopia, although some hotels and major companies also accept US dollars. There are a growing number of ATMs in the country but not all work with international debit cards, so it is wise to bring US dollars to the country and exchange them on arrival (it is not possible to get hold of Birr outside Ethiopia). It can also be difficult to exchange Birr when you leave the country so budget accordingly.
For up to date vaccination information, please visit the UK NHS travel advice website. As a general rule, most of the usual vaccinations are required for Ethiopia e.g. diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, hepatitis A, typhoid and yellow fever. Some doctors also recommend tuberculosis, meningococcal meningitis, hepatitis B, rabies and cholera.
A yellow fever vaccination certificate is also required if you are coming from areas with risk of yellow fever transmission.
There is conflicting advice about Malaria in Ethiopia. The official NHS line is that “Malaria precautions are essential in all areas below 2000m, all year round. There is no risk in Addis Ababa.” This means in theory that if you are headed on the Northern Circuit and / or trekking in the Simien Mountains it won’t be necessary as you are in most cases above 2000m. Exceptions being if you plan on heading to Bahir Dar. Having said that the NHS malaria map for Ethiopia somewhat contradicts the previous statement showing the vast majority of the country at risk. Best advice is to speak to a travel clinic