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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).
Domestic flights are very reasonably priced especially so when booked together with an international ticket with Ethiopian Airlines. If you have already booked your international tickets with Ethiopian Airlines and want to add domestic segments to it, you should be able to do so with your ticketing agent, or we can do so on your behalf locally in Ethiopia at the discounted domestic rates.
The state of roads is fast improving in Ethiopia thanks to massive investment from China. In the North, when flying around, we use local transport options which are limited to minivans or old model 4WDs. In the South we always use new model 4WDs as the roads aren't as good.
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.
Birr 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
On paper Kenya’s coast is an enticing prospect. Warm Pacific water, miles upon miles of sandy beaches and a Swahili rich cultural heritage. The perfect top and tail to a safari holiday you’d think. The reality unfortunately, rarely lives up to expectation, as miles upon miles of beach boy plagued beaches are backed by large bland resorts with the charm and grace of a warthog. Despite this, there are real diamonds in the rough, places good enough to compete with the best.
By far and away the gem of the Kenyan Coast is Lamu. A wonderful archipelago offering protected beaches and a UNESCO World Heritage town to explore. Lamu Town itself is a melting pot of rich aromas, crumbling colonial buildings and narrow winding streets with an overwhelmingly laid back charm. Just 5 minutes away by speed boat, the village of Shela and Manda Island offer desert island bliss, beach-side bandas, blissful sunsets and solitude. Lamu is more expensive to get to than further South, but the journey is worthwhile.
Lamu boasts a wealth of good accommodation, and if you willing to splash some cash, there is no shortage of options, but for fantastic value without cutting corners it is hard to beat the Robinson Crusoe-esque Diamond Beach Village on Manda Island and the cool colonial charm of Fatuma’s Tower in Shela. Both come in around the $100 per room mark. Other’s to look out for include the higher end but not up itself Kipungani Explorer and Kijani Hotel in Shela.
Further South, the highlights get more and more sporadic. Your entry point to the South and Central Coast is likely to be Mombasa. Mombasa itself is worth a visit if you have time (at least the old town) but a stay at the nearby coastal resorts is to be avoided wherever possible by anyone with a semblance of independent spirit left in them.
Working North to South, Che Shale is a simple, stylish, trendy, yet pleasingly affordable option near Malindi. Situated on a vast deserted beach, the place is a favourite of Kite surfers world-wide, but don’t let that put you off. Prices are again around the $100 per room mark.
Nearbye, Mida eco camp between Watamu and Malindi is a very simple but charming eco camp set amidst the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Mida Creek. Prices are exceedingly affordable at around $30 per room. The place is run with real heart and there’s plenty to do from exploring the mangrove boardwalks and wildlife to learning a bit of Giriami drumming and dancing.
Most tourists who don’t get sucked into the Mombasa resorts head to Diani Beach. It is still way over developed with a real beach boy problem. If you do stay, then the Diani Marine resort is a diving specialist resort that also serves as a great mid-range spot. Backpackers should head straight to Stilts Backpaka’s which according to the Rough Guide to Kenya Editor Richard Trillo, is still “the only real backpackers on the coast”.
For clients interested in combining their safari or Mount Kenya trek with a spot of R&R on the beach, Tourdust can arrange extensions at any of the above recommended accommodation. We can also arrange stays at Mombasa Resorts, just don’t be surprised if we try very hard to persuade you out of it.
There are so many excellent articles and blog posts each month that it's impossible to keep track of all. In an attempt to capture the best of the travel web in one single place we will be looking for the best posts each month and recognising them in a special round-up post. Here we feature the top posts of May 2011 in three categories:
There are of course many contenders for these prestigious titles, which are selected in an entirely subjective and unaccountable manner. If you have a post that you would like us to consider for the June awards just send us the link to the post via Twitter (@Tourdust) or in the comments box below. So on to the winning posts:
Best Adventure Travel Post
Central Asia Travel: A Beginner's Guide by Uncornered Market
Despite offering some of the world's most dramatic landscapes and most intriguing historical sites Central Asia remains off the radar for many travellers. This post by Daniel Noll from Uncornered Market provides an excellent overview of the region, highlighting the different aspects of culture and the natural and man-made attractions that reward those who make the journey to this region. Daniel's pictures are pretty stunning too.
Skydiving: My First 60 Second Freefall by Abigail King
I have never jumped out of a plane and don't suppose I ever will. I'm grateful therefore for someone who can tell the story of their skydiving adventure so well that I can almost feel I was there, hurtling through the air and armed I'm sure with a look of terror. Step forward Abigail King who, on a recent blog trip to Costa Brava, had her first such experience.
Her description paints a vivid picture of those moments before and after falling from the plane; so good that I feel as though I've done it myself. And if that's not enough there's an excellent set of photos too.
Of course not every trip goes to plan and for those of us who survive the odd near miss on our travels these incidents often become the stories on which we dine out for many years to come. This exciting tale by Brendan Van Son tells of his narrow escape when he had to dodge bullets to reach the bus station in Managua for an early morning departure.
Night Market in Luang Prabang by Barbara Weibel
Barbara seems to have been travelling forever through SE Asia, and this photo really caught my eye. I love the bright colours and sharp contrasts; even with the blurring effect the picture captures the lively but very relaxed atmosphere of the Luang Prabang night market.
Accessible in about 2 1/2 hours by plane from the UK and serviced by direct flights with the likes of Easyjet, BA & Wizzair, getting to Dubrovnik, in Croatia couldn't be easier. Whether you are going for a city break, or passing through on the way to visit elsewhere in the country, this guide of things to do in Dubrovnik has been put together to help you make the most of your time there.
A walk around the ancient city walls is an absolute must do when you visit Dubrovnik. Stretching 2 - 3km, the ramparts are all in excellent condition and give fantastic views across the terracotta rooftops and out to the sea beyond. Depending on how fast you walk, it will take you 1 - 2 hours to walk around the full perimeter. Our advice, take your time and savour the experience. There are plenty of places to stop along the way to buy water or ice cream. Beware, though, your ticket does not allow multiple entries to the walls.
The Dubrovnik municipality used to be run from the Rector's Palace, with a new Governor installed every month. Now, the Palace hosts a collection of historical objects. Visitors can see the old courtroom, prison cells and (faded) state rooms. On the ground floor there is an interesting photography exhibition that makes the visit worthwhile. A collection of photos from the 1991 city siege gives a real flavour of what the city went through during the bombardment.
Dating back to the 15th Century, it is worth visiting the Dominican Monastery for the cloisters, which offer a cool respite from the heat of the day. Gothic arches surround a peaceful courtyard filled with orange trees and palms, with a well in the centre. It's worth taking a seat in the courtyard - there aren't many places in Dubrovnik where you can sit back and watch the world go by which aren't selling food and drink. Even if the building itself leaves you cold, you will be sure to amuse yourself with the large groups of cruise ship tourists who descend every 15 minutes in their droves like a swarm of locusts, take a few snaps and then depart as quickly as they came.
Dating from the early 1300's this monastery also has beautiful Romanesque cloisters which are worth a visit. Although hit them at the peak time and they are rammed full of tourists. Try visiting early / late for a more peaceful visit.
There are many eateries around and you won't be short of an opportunity to find something to eat. For the most part, restaurants are dominated by the pizza category, but there are also some places selling fresh fish, there is even a brand new sushi & oyster bar in town. Probably the best pizza joint is Mea Culpa, popular with locals and tourists alike. Situated on one of the streets parallel to the Stradrun, it is a great place for people watching. The pizzas are generous.
If you are after a romantic setting, you can't do better than the Buza Bar. Notoriously difficult to find, this bar is popular with locals as well as tourists. It is perched on the side of a cliff and leads down to its own rocky bay where you can swim from. Accessed through the city walls, there is no running water, so drinks are of the bottled variety, but you don't come here for the gourmet, you come for the views and proximity to the sea.
The large cruise ships bring tourists in their droves to Durbovnik. This is a good thing for Croatia's economy, so it shouldn't be lamented too much, but there is no denying that the hoards of large groups can detract from the charm of the historic old town. They come to land and do a whilrwindtour of the sites and leave again the late afternoon. Your best bet of avoiding the congestion is to visit the most popular sights early morning or later in the afternoon and to explore the quieter parts of the town, or enjoy a long, lingering lunch, during the 'rush hour'.
Like any touristy European city, prices here are not cheap. That said, portion sizes are generous and when you're sitting al fresco in a medievel town, you don't mind so much! Expect to pay around £10 for breakfast, £12 - £15 for a main meal with a soft drink. Beers will set you back around £2 for a small draught and a bottle of wine comes in around £8 - £10.
There is some fantastic hiking to be done in the foothills and mountains in the Konavle Region south of the city. If peaks are your thing, you can climb Mount Srdj, which is 412m high. To reach the summit, you follow a winding pathway (the Serpentina) to the top for some fantastic panoramic views.
The Elaphite islands, a cluster of islands north of Dubrovnik, offer a delightful opportunity to sample the more leisurely pace of life, away from the crowds. Easily accessible by ferry, they make a great day trip or multi-night stay.
A relatively new activity to the area, sea kayaking is a fantastic way to explore the coastline and get away from the mainstream tourist trails. There are only a few operators offering tours by kayak and only one of them is locally owned and operated. Tours range from a few hours, where you kayak directly from Dubrovnik to get a feel for the city and coastline from the sea, to multi-day tours based out in the Elaphite Islands.
Trekking in the Simien Mountains is possible at any time of year, however some times are better than others. If you can choose, always opt for September to November. After the summer rains, the landscape is vivid green, the paths are less dusty and the far reaching views undisturbed by haze. December through April is perfectly fine, with loads of sunshine, you are just going to struggle to get picture perfect shots with the hazy views. The rains fall in June, July and August, which tends to stop most visitors, although interestingly enough this time of the year is very popular with the Spanish.
Thanks to the altitude, the temperatures tend to be comfortably warm and sunny in the day with plenty of breeze to keep things cool and cold at night. It is always wise to bring a good three or four season sleeping bag. The locals will always be able to provide something, but you can guarantee it won’t be as warm or clean as your own.
It does tend to get very busy in ethiopia (with hotels booking up and pricing higher rates) during the wonderful religious festivals so if you aren't interested in these you might want to time your trip to Ethiopia to avoid Jan 19-20 (Timkat), Sep 27-28 (Meskel) and Christmas.