Our recommendation to visit Ethiopia
Holidays to Ethiopia
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I loved Ethiopia, although it is a challenging travel destination which will open your eyes and teach you a lot about different cultures. It was more of an experience than a holiday and I liked that we fit in so many sights into a short time.
Ethiopia Travel advice
Events and festivals in Ethiopia
Many of the popular festivals in Ethiopia have ceremonial connotations. After all, it is a country that maintains its traditions intact, because the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has never been colonised.
Seventy per cent of the population is Christian, among them are Orthodox, Protestants and Catholics. Twenty nine per cent are Muslims, and only one per cent preserve the traditional beliefs. Nonetheless, a large part of the Ethiopian population follows Rastafarianism or the Rastafari Movement.
But let’s take a deeper look at the popular festivals in Ethiopia, when they are celebrated and what they consist of, so that you can start taking notes about them.
January - Genna or Orthodox Christmas
During the month of January, Ethiopia celebrates the Genna or Orthodox Christmas on the 7th of January. For this celebration, Ethiopians fast for the whole of the previous day in order to prepare their body and spirit for the celebration. On the 7th of January they dress in the shamma, which is a traditional white dress with coloured stripes, and they attend church.
On this day, the families get together to share traditional Christmas food which consists of a meat and vegetable stew, and they drink tej (a fermented honey drink) or tella (maize beer).
February - Festival of Sacrifice or Eid ul Adha
The Ethiopian event which stands out in February is the Festival of Sacrifice, or Eid ul Adha. This is a Muslim celebration that commemorates the moment in which Abraham decided to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God.
The celebration includes the sacrifice of an animal, normally a sheep or cow. The animal offering is prepared, prayers are said in the mosques and people wear their best clothes.
March - Battle of Adowa or Y’adowa B’al
March is the month when the battle of Adowa, or Y’adowa B’al is celebrated. This is when Italy signed the Treaty of Addis Ababa through which the independence of Ethiopia (which was then known as Abyssinia) took place. As in all festivities celebrating the day of national independence, Ethiopians carry out commemorative activities throughout the country.
April - Orthodox Easter Monday
In April there are two main festivals: The Orthodox Easter Monday on the 12th and the Coptic Holy Friday on the 25th. Each of these festivals corresponds to a different religion, and because of this, they are celebrated in different locations.
May - Mulud
During the month of May, more specifically the 2nd of May, Muslim Ethiopians celebrate Mulud. This date commemorates the anniversary of the birth of the Prophet. For this reason, it is a religious celebration.
The 5th of May on the other hand, celebrates the day of Patriots, or Arbegnoch Qen. This event commemorates the moment in which the Italian Forces surrendered and the Ethiopian Emperor returned to power once again.
Summer months: June, July and August
During the summer in Ethiopia, depending on the locality, you can attend different ceremonies and traditional festivities.
In July, for example, Buhe is celebrated. This is the oldest festival in Ethiopia, where children are the protagonists. They make whips the previous night and go from door to door asking for bread or pasta. In the meantime, they sing, dance and strike their whips against the soil with force. As night falls, fires are lit and the festivities continue around the fires.
During the month of August, in the north of the country, the Ashenda, or Assumption of Mary, is celebrated. This time, the protagonists are the young women and girls. At this festival, the girls adorn themselves with jewellery and sing, dance and take part in games. Drums form part of this celebration, and donations collected from their performances are taken to their churches.
September - Festival Meskel
The Meskel Festival takes place on the 27th of September. During this festival Ethiopians adorned in brightly-coloured clothing burn a cross made of flowers. The festival commemorates the revelation of Queen Helena who, according to tradition, was the person who found the cross of Jesus Christ.
Ethiopians prepare a cross made of coloured daisies and twigs, which they carry in a procession. Once the end of the procession is reached they make an enormous fire around the cross and they burn it. It is, without doubt, a festival which you won’t see anywhere else in the world. During this same month, another very popular Ethiopian festival is celebrated, the Ethiopian New Year.
Rest of the year
One of the most traditional popular festivals of Ethiopia, which you shouldn’t miss, is the Bula Ukuli, or passage into adulthood for the young males. In this festival, the youths jump over livestock as a way of reinforcing their social status and showing they are available for marriage.
The Donga, or Surma Lucha Stick, is another celebration with very distant origins, during which the young men of the tribe face each other in ferocious battles. After the harvest, the young men compete to demonstrate their masculinity and to acquire a wife.
As you can see, Ethiopia is a melting pot of festivities, due to the mix of cultures and religions. When you prepare your journey to this fantastic country, don’t forget to keep a few days to get to know its most characteristic traditions and popular festivals.GO TO EVENTS
Food in Ethiopia
When you are getting ready for your trip, you probably consider the question of what to eat in Ethiopia. This country has world-renowned traditional gastronomy, moreover, you could say that Ethiopian food is in fashion.
When we’re talking about Ethiopian gastronomy, inevitably we have to mention its star dish: injera. This traditional food consists of various starters and dishes of vegetable and meat, which are served in injera (a long, thin bread)
Of all the typical Ethiopian dishes, injera is the best known, this flatbread is similar to a crepe. It is prepared with teff, a cereal which is grown in the country, once the dough is made it is left to ferment for three days and then it is transferred to an earthenware dish which has been previously heated. Meat or vegetable stew seasoned with spices are placed on top of this crepe. This traditional dish from Ethiopian cooking is eaten with the hands.
It should be noted that in traditional Ethiopian cooking, pork is not used. Both the Muslim population and the Orthodox church do not allow the eating of pork, so you should bear that in mind when it comes to eating in Ethiopia.
This dish from Ethiopian gastronomy is a substitute for the previous injera, although it is only made in a few places. For the stew which accompanies the dabo, vegetables and pulses are used, which are cooked on a base of flavoured butter known as niter kebbeh.
As with injera, it is a dish eaten with the hands, so it is custom to place a bowl of water and soap on the table.
This typical Ethiopian dish is a minced beef stew with spices, served with a boiled egg and spicy sauce. The meat is used to make this speciality is beef, chicken, lamb, goat and sometimes fish. The chosen meat is cooked with pulses and vegetables along with chopped onion, hot paprika, chilli and clove.
Wat is also served in the traditional injera and therefore should also be eaten with the hands.
This Ethiopian speciality is a dish based on chopped raw meat which is heated in a frying pan with a little bit of butter and rosemary. Before frying the meat, it is left to marinade in chilli and other spices, and is accompanied by injera, vegetables and soft cheese.
This dish is different from the previous ones in that it is served in a clay pot, cutlery isn't usually used with this either, but it is a unique and special dish that you simply must try in Ethiopia.
It is a dish of sautéed vegetables with meat which is served with salad on a plate, on this occasion injera isn’t used. The main meat of this dish is beef, and its preparation is simple and quick. To sauté, their traditional flavoured butter is used instead of oil.
Not everything involves meat in Ethiopia, during the time of Ramadan and Lent, Ethiopians don’t eat meat. This is the time when Shiro is made, a vegetarian dish which consists of a chickpea or lentil stew. Onion, garlic and ground ginger are added to the stew.
There is a version which is spreadable, which is like hummus but with a spicier flavour.
The Ethiopian villages located close to Lake Tana make this typical dish of Ethiopian gastronomy made of fried fish and rice. It is served with a sweet-and-sour sauce made of tomato and ground chilli and sometimes is accompanied with vegetables.
The fish, as well as being delicious, is usually grilled, although there are also fish soups. The soups have the uniqueness of being extremely spicy, so be careful if you want to try it.
To end a good Ethiopian meal, what is better than a dessert accompanied by a good and tasty drink. Next, we’ll tell you about honey bread and the most traditional drinks of this country.
Yemarina Yewotet Dabo
Another speciality to eat in Ethiopia is this typical Ethiopian dish. It is a honey bread which looks like a mix between cake and bread. The name is so long because yemarina means honey; yewotet is milk and dabo is bread, so if we wanted to literally translate it, it would be: honey milk bread.
It is the drink par excellence of Ethiopia, this sweet flavoured alcoholic drink is made from a mixture of water and honey. The result of the mixture is flavoured with powdered leaves of gesho (flavouring from the hawthorn family).
Tej is served in a vase-shaped vessel which is called berele and which helps in its distillation, It would be good to try artisan tej instead of going to try it in a tej bets (tej house).
As well as the traditional tej, Ethiopians have another star drink made from teff and sorghum. It is also an alcoholic drink which is sold in many bars in the country.
To complete the information about what to eat in Ethiopia, we can tell you that the best thing to drink is a good Ethiopian coffee, known as one of the most valued in the world. With this you can end your journey with a palate which is satisfied and full of flavours.GO TO GASTRONOMY
Shopping in Ethiopia
Before knowing what to buy in Ethiopia, you have to bear in mind that this African country stands out for its handicrafts. Wood, materials, ceramics, wickerwork, leather, metalwork and jewellery are some of the typical Ethiopian products that you will be able to take away with you.
On your trip to Ethiopia it will be almost impossible not to stop in a shop or market to see the local crafts. But as well as handicrafts, the star product of the country is coffee, which is considered one of the best in the world.
Ethiopia produces an average of 250 thousand tonnes of coffee each year, of which most is exported. Within this production, there are three varieties: Arabica, Robusta and Arabica-Robusta. In addition, they produce as much using the wet method, as the dry depends on the area of the country.
The history of coffee in Ethiopia dates back to the 19th century when a goat herder discovered some coffee beans. From this moment, coffee became more and more important in Ethiopian culture, to the point of there being a coffee ceremony. Just like the Japanese with tea, when it comes to drinking a cup of coffee in Ethiopia, they celebrate it with a coffee ceremony.
Make the most of your trip to go to one of these ceremonies and taste the three types of coffee from the strongest to the mildest. And whilst you're there, don’t miss the chance to buy a good sample of coffee as a souvenir of Ethiopia.
Shema is a cotton material measuring 90 centimetres which is used to make traditional dress for Ethiopian women. Making a dress with this material can take up to three weeks. They are bright in colour and there are finishes that range from the simplest to the most elegant.
A good souvenir of Ethiopia could be buying one of these pieces of material to make your own quilt, or as a cushion cover, or even a wall hanging.
Wickerwork rises to the category of Art in Ethiopia, after coffee it is one of the best-known typical Ethiopian products. The colour and designs will make it difficult to choose between them. The Mesob, for example, is used to serve the typical dish of Ethiopia (injera) and is the top selling product.
Wickerwork is often embroidered with brightly coloured wool, something that is attractive to tourists. Without a doubt, it will look great in any part of the home as a souvenir of Ethiopia.
Throughout Africa, the use of decorations and jewellery is closely related to culture, religion and customs. Both men and women enjoy wearing beautiful beaded necklaces, bangles and headdresses.
To make the jewellery fish bones are used, as well as feathers, wood and silver. Ethiopians are skilled metalsmiths, so it is one of the things to buy in Ethiopia, and it isn’t unusual to find true works of art in jewellery. You can take home high quality necklaces, bracelets and bangles made totally by hand.
Wood is a widely used material throughout Africa to make figures that represent animals, humans and Gods. In Ethiopia of course, you can find excellent samples of wood carving.
In general, the figures have religious or magical significance and are usually used as charms. What better typical Ethiopian product than a wooden figure that brings you good luck. Another option is one of the many wooden warrior masks or masks of protective Gods for the home. Whatever you choose, you’ll no doubt get it right, the work it takes to carve them is worthy of appreciation.
If you like music, this country will surprise you in many ways. Its musical instruments are collector’s items, the Krar for example, is a six-stringed lyre with a hypnotic sound. Within the family of wind instruments you have the Washint, which is a flute made of bamboo, or the Holdudwa (made of animal horn).
But if one thing characterises the whole of Africa is undoubtedly percussion and it is exactly the same in Ethiopia. Drums such as the Kebero, Nagarit or Atamo are typical of Ethiopian traditions and are used in religious ceremonies.
And if you still don’t know what to buy in Ethiopia, another option is to buy something tasty from its rich gastronomy. You can buy fermented teff flour, or a bag of berbere (mixture of spices). And to go with it, don’t forget to buy a bottle of tej, Ethiopian mead that will remind you of your trip.
Now you can make your list of preferences and get ready to visit the markets in Ethiopia. You will definitely come back with lots of Ethiopian souvenirs that you will love.GO TO SHOPPING
Ethiopia tourist attractions
More information about Ethiopia
Thought to be the ‘cradle of human civilisation’, Ethiopia is a landlocked nation in the Horn of Africa. Famed for its ancient dynasties, traditional tribes and historic relics of the past, such as the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia holidays should be at the top of the list for all who want to uncover the origins and history of modern civilisation.
As the most populous landlocked country in the world, Ethiopia shares borders with Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Kenya. The vibrant capital of Addis Ababa has gained a great reputation for its trendy music and gastronomic scene, and as being the home of ‘Lucy’, the remains of the earliest human ancestor ever discovered, who now resides in the National Museum. Historic cities such as Gondor and Axum tempt travellers to step back in time through the ages, with ancient obelisks and imposing castles in a variety of architectural styles.
On the other hand, the vast Omo Valley is the cultural centre of Ethiopia, home to a number of different tribes and rural communities. A trip to Ethiopia and the Omo Valley brings you into direct contact with distinct and authentic tribes, allowing an insight into the traditions and lifestyles of the people who can trace their ancestors to these ancient lands. Untouched landscapes can be found between the vibrant cities and charming villages, whilst the imposing Simien Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop for adventures in the north of the country.
History of Ethiopia
The wonders of the past are at the heart of any trip to Ethiopia, and relics of the nations rich heritage can be found through the country. Ethiopia is considered to be the region from which modern humans originated, and the oldest humanoid ancestor, ‘Lucy’, can be found in the capital, having been discovered in 1974 near the village of Hadar. A system of governance, resembling a monarchy, was established in Ethiopia as early as the 2nd millennium BC and remained as such for most of the country’s history.
Famously, Ethiopia retained its independence throughout the centuries, and unlike many other African nations, did not succumb to European colonisation during the ‘Scamble for Africa’. Instead, Ethiopia’s history is characterised by great kingdoms and dynasties, such as the mighty Kingdom of Axum, considered, during the early centuries, to be one of the four great powers of the world!
Today, if you visit the city of Axum during a Ethiopia tour package, you can explore the reign of this great empire and see relics such as the towering Obelisk of Axum, a 24-metre obelisk, believed to have been used as a burial marker. Other ancient relics, such as the 11 rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, also remain well preserved. These iconic churches were constructed in the 11th-century by King Lalibela of the Zagwe dynasty.
The dynasty that most shaped modern-day Ethiopia was the Solomon dynasty, who ruled for over 700 years. Under this dynasty, Ethiopia made contact with European powers during the Middle Ages, and despite the help of Portuguese during the Abyssinian-Adal war, Europeans were eventually expelled from the country when the monarchy deemed they posed a threat to the stability of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Visitors on a holiday to Ethiopia might remember the days of Emperor Haile Selassie, who’s reign characterised much of the 20th-century. During this tumultuous period, Italian forces invaded and occupied Ethiopia between 1936 and 1941, forcing Haile Sellasie to address the League of Nations, appealing for help to stop the invasion of his nation. British forces reacted by pushing out Italian fascists and the Anglo-Ethiopian Agreement of 1944 sealed Ethiopia’s sovereignty.
In the later 20th-century the 1974 military, Soviet-backed coup dethroned Emperor Selassie and established a one-party Soviet state. Violent political repression followed, in an era known as the ‘Red Terror’, when an estimated one-third of the population was killed. Democracy was not reinstated in Ethiopia until 1991, following the widespread and devastating famines of the 80s.
Nature in Ethiopia
With landscapes ranging from the valleys and hilltops of the Simien Mountains to the molten Danakil Depression, one of the hottest places on earth, Ethiopia has plenty of unique and endemic wildlife to satisfy safari lovers. 31 endemic species, such as the rare Ethiopian Wolf can be sighted in the country, as well as a rich range of bird species, making an Ethiopian tour a great choice for avid bird-watchers.
Even if your tour of Ethiopia is focused on the cultural sights, you’ll still be astounded by the natural beauty of the country outside of the vast urban sprawl of the capital. The Blue Nile Falls, known as the ‘great smoke’ is one of the most famous natural attractions, whose mighty 45 metre high waterfalls serve the important purpose of isolating Lake Tana from the rest of the River Nile, encouraging unique wildlife in Lake Tana itself.
This huge lake is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve with distinct fish and bird species such as pelicans and softshell turtles. A different landscape altogether, the Bale Mountains, in the highlands of southeast Ethiopia, is home to picturesque alpine scenery and rich animal life, including the elusive Ethiopian wolf and unique plants and flora.
Culture in Ethiopia
Ethiopian culture is highly diverse and one of the major reasons for the country’s popularity as a travel destination. More than 80 different ethnic groups make up the huge population of over 100 million, who speak around 90 different languages. The most widely spoken are Oromo, Amharic and Somali. Religion has played a major role in the history of Ethiopia and is at the heart of national culture.
There are large Christian and Islamic communities, as well as many followers of traditional beliefs, making it a fascinating destination for discovering the local culture. The region, official named as the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s region, is home to numerous tribes and communities such as the Hamar, Mursi and Sumur people, who live very traditionally, each possessing their own distinct cultural practices that have survived the threat of modernity.
Many tours of the Omo Valley pay homage to these communities and include visits to different villages where travellers can get to know the ways of life of the numerous tribes. In the capital of Addis Ababa, where much of the population live, there is a great up-and-coming music scene, vibrant locals and plenty of trendy bars and restaurants for a slice of modern Ethiopian culture. It’s also the best place to sample the national cuisine, so a must-visit for foodies!
Visit Ethiopia to discover the land where you can trace the origins of mankind, meet distinct tribal communities and watch the sunrise over the mythical Simien Mountains. A trip to Ethiopia is sure to be an eye-opening and soul-stirring experience, no matter the path you choose.
Passport with a minimum of six months validity.
A visa is required to enter the country. E-visa or visa on arrival services are available. For more information visit: https://www.ethioembassy.org.uk/consular-services/visas/tourist-visa/
UTC + 03:00.
Amharic is the official language in Ethiopia, although many tribal languages are spoken in the country such as Oromo and Tigrigna.
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