10 things I wish I knew before going to Ethiopia
Ethiopia's unique calendar aside, did you know there are a lot of other things in store for you in Ethiopia than you may have ever sat to think of? If you've never been to Ethiopia, then you are privileged to have come across this article before setting foot there. Here, you will understand both the good and bad tidings the second most populous country in Africa has in store for you.
Far from the unpopular belief that the country is entirely unsafe, there is much to surprise you in this when you land there. What is it that you should be aware of before setting out for a journey to Ethiopia? Let's go through ten of the things you need to find out before you apply for Ethiopia tourist visa and travel to Ethiopia below.
1. Ethiopian Time
Let us start with what you probably already know. The Ethiopians have decided to walk a different path from others by creating their calendar system. The Ethiopian calendar has thirteen months and is seven years behind the Gregorian calendar used with most countries in the world. Traveling to Ethiopia is like traveling back in time when you land there; you will be surprised to see your documents reading seven years behind the year you were in when you left your home country.
If the unique Ethiopian calendar doesn't seem to create an instantaneous effect on your schedule, then maybe their days' timing will. Ethiopians begin their day at sunrise at 6:00 am and not at midnight. While the local people of Ethiopia would strive to refer to time in relation to the normal time system, you should never be complacent to the extent that you forget to ask about flight and bus departure times. Most visitors have missed their flights, buses, and other important schedules due to misinterpretation of the local time there.
2. High-Altitude Related Illnesses
Over 50% of Ethiopia's land is lifted above 1,500 meters above sea level together with the capital city, Addis Ababa, which is 2 355 meters above sea level. If you come from a country with most of its land lying between low to medium heights above sea level, then you will find these high heights a health problem to contend with.
You should expect to be gasping for breath in many places you visit, accompanied by mild headaches, especially when you first land in the country before your body gets acquainted with the altitudes. If you are a physical activity enthusiast, you should hold your horses for at least two days before going entirely physical in these high lands.
3. Flexible Prices
Flexible prices could work either for your benefit or disadvantage. It is always advisable to avoid booking things like rooms, taxis, and tours, among others, in advance before you travel to Ethiopia so that you can have some room for bargaining down the prices to your benefit. Whenever an amount is spelled out for you, and you feel it is somewhat expensive, you can try offering a lower rate, and you will be surprised to get a favorable price. However, when things are not on your side, the prices can also rise to your disadvantage, making you spend much more than the standard rates.
4. Prepare for Extreme Weathers
Since most towns and cities lie in high-altitude areas in Ethiopia, you will have to contend with very hot days and freezing nights. This means you have to pack enough warm clothes for the night and light ones for the day. The extreme weather will also play a crucial part in determining what to do in Ethiopia and when to do it. If you jog mostly in the morning, you will have to delay your jogging until the sun starts popping out for some warmth. Similarly, you will want to avoid late-night errands that expose you to the cold to remain indoors, keeping warm.
5. Discounted Domestic Flights
Those who have used Ethiopian Airlines while flying into Ethiopia will tell you that the services they offer are exquisite. If you haven't used the airlines yet, you have to try them when moving into Ethiopia. The good news is, the airlines extend their top-notch services even within the country to offer domestic flights at a discounted rate. You only get to pay up to 70% of the regular ticket cost when flying within the country. This is a good deal to take, considering it is more comfortable and faster than buses and the price is not anything to compare with the convenience the planes offer.
6. Problems with Communication and Internet
Let's face it! Ethiopia's network is nothing to write home about, and this is even worsened by the fact that the country only depends on the Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation (ETC) as the only internet provider. When you arrive at Bole International Airport, you may expect to get some sim card counters where you can buy a sim card that is convenient for use in Ethiopia, but that is never the case. The airport lacks sim card counters, so you will have to do with high call rates, maybe until you get into the local sim card's interior. Also, the internet is so slow there. Ethiopians still use the 3G system.
Ethiopia is generally safe, and there is nothing much to worry about, especially in the capital city. Outside Addis Ababa, you won't find much nightlife. Areas such as Mekele and Lalibela are safe and have local bars and occasional live music performances at night, where you can visit if you want to get out of the capital's buzz and noise. The rural areas are practically quieter at night and safer, though you are not advised to move around when there are no activities such as music and dance gatherings.
It is safer walking alone during the day than at night. It would help if you considered taking a taxi at night to be sure you will keep yourself from solo attacks that are prone at night. One thing to be cautious about, though, is the rising rate of scams in Addis Ababa. You are likely to come across a group of young men who will invite you to join them in a gathering for a 'free' offer of drink or khat chewing. Some will even offer to guide you around the town without asking for them to help. After you join either group, they will ask you to pay what you owe them, and you may guess what may transpire if you fail to adhere.
8. The Food Options in Ethiopia
The food you get in a new place makes you either love that place or hate it regardless of other factors. Thus, you always have to find out the types of dishes offered somewhere before you visit so that you know if you can cope with the new food or make way with your local delicacies. In Ethiopia, I believe you will love visiting and staying in this country if not for anything but the food. While you may not be a fan of the local delicacy and staple food of the people of Ethiopia known as Injera, you may fall in love with the western food options they offer.
The western food options include spaghetti, salads, chicken burgers, hamburgers, club sandwiches, and tomato soups. Ethiopians brew the best coffee in the world because they are among the few coffee-planting and exporting countries in the world. The coffee you will take in Ethiopia will probably be the best cup you have ever had in your entire life.
If you are a vegetarian, then your stay in Ethiopia will be an easy one. Many Ethiopians are vegetarians, and they are proud of flying the Ethiopian flag high in this culture. The vegetarian lifestyle is also pushed by the Rastafari trend in Ethiopia.
9. The Nagging Children
You will be peacefully going about your errands in Ethiopian cities' streets before you meet the children who will pressure you to give them money. So persuasive are these kids that they rarely leave until you offer them some cash. While some are genuinely in need of help, most of them do it as a habit and for fun. Giving them a stern face and saying NO has worked effectively for most tourists.
10. You will need a Visa
Entering Ethiopia will demand that you provide a visa, a condition that applies to visitors from almost all countries. You can quickly get one at the airport in Addis Ababa or apply for one online. Either way, you will have to part with a fee of $52 for a 30-day visa and $72 for a 90-day one. However, you should get one early in advance to avoid inconveniences at the airport.
You can now go ahead and plan for your trip to Ethiopia as you already know what to expect in this great country. Don't be surprised if you get there and start speaking the Ethiopian language of love once you taste the warm welcome they accord visitors. Get your safari boots ready; Ethiopia is awaiting!
Judith is a Kenya based writer. Writing is her passion. She is the consummate professional with boundless enthusiasm. With a style that is spare and to the point, she delights in presenting facts accurately but also strives to lead readers into unknown worlds, worlds filled with ideas to explore and information to digest. Impossible meets the achievable, as she takes any challenge presented and makes sure that nothing is left to chance.