The Complete Ethiopia Backpacking Guide: Routes, Cost, and Suggestions

Ethiopia isn’t a place for novice backpackers. Yet, you’ll be compensated with some life-changing experiences if you choose to travel throughout this stunning African nation, the second most populous country on the continent. Explore the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, participate in the annual Timkat festival’s chanting and dance, eat “injera” with your bus companions, or hike the breathtaking Simien Mountains. Ethiopian dance is a must-see. Anyone may and will find something to like in Ethiopia!

This unbiased travel guide mostly concentrates on Addis Ababa and Northern Ethiopia.

Preparations for Backpack Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a safe and simple location to backpack, but you might want to pack and double-check a few things before you leave.

What to Pack Exactly for Ethiopia

  • Sleeping bag or liner. A thin sheet and no blankets. Such a sleeping bag will fulfill your needs.
  • A warm outfit (but only if you travel in wintertime). Once the sun set, it becomes bitterly cold after being warm during the day. It was really cold at night in the Simien Mountains, for example.
  • Yellow fever certificate along with your immunization status.
  • American currency, i.e. US dollars. Ethiopia only has a small number of operational ATMs. The Commercial Bank of Ethiopia and Dashen bank are the most trustworthy financial institutions. It’s advised to have a sizable emergency cash reserve, though.
  • Antibiotics, a kit to treat travel-related diarrhea, and a satellite phone. A satellite phone may seem fancy, but you can see how it would come in handy if you’re traveling for a while through more remote regions of the planet. Particularly if you drive your own car. It appears that satellite phones are reasonably priced these days. Calls can cost only $1 per minute to any part of the world if you choose a 1-month contract. Better deal than roaming.

Related Read: Ethiopian Traditional Food: Should You Try It?

Specific Actions to Take Prior to Visiting Ethiopia

  • Master a little Amharic (native dialect). You’ll undoubtedly pick up some Amharic while traveling, but you can think about starting with the fundamentals while you’re still at home. It’s simple and helpful.
  • See your government’s most recent travel advice for Ethiopia.
  • Install a VPN. Social media platforms are occasionally restricted in Ethiopia. A VPN has its benefits.
  • Install the maps.me program. The information on the map of Ethiopia is useful.
  • Get a visa for Ethiopia. If you first land in Sudan, you can obtain your Ethiopian visa there. It will arrive on the same day. You should be able to obtain a visa upon arrival if you enter through an airport (check if this is the case for your country).
  • You might wish to get travel insurance, specific immunizations, and antimalarial medications (consult with the tropical healthcare clinic in your area of residence).
  • Practice shoulder-bumping each other if you travel with friends. In the 1990s, independence fighters used to shake hands and bump shoulders, but this greeting is still common today.

What Period of Year Is Best for Travel to Ethiopia?

The dry season, which lasts from October to June, is the finest time to travel to Ethiopia backpacking. The ideal time to go trekking is also this.

Ethiopia Entrance from Sudan

We propose spending the night in Sudan’s Gedaref and beginning your border crossing there. Even if you set off shortly after sunrise, it will take you a while, and you’ll reach Gonder just before dusk. The border between Ethiopia and Sudan is quite plain. You’ll need to visit several buildings for luggage inspections and your stamp before you can get across the bridge and board a bus headed in the direction of Gonder.

Here are a couple of pieces of advice: Arrive early to make sure you can board a minibus to Gonder from the Ethiopian border. Don’t stay overnight at Gedaref. We’ve heard that at night things can get a little scary there.

Secondly, you might be asked to bring some clothing or other items into Gonder from the Sudanese border. That’s because it’s permitted to bring in a total of three items only in your baggage, as far as we’ve learned. You’ll probably only encounter a couple of checkpoints en route to Gonder.

Defining “Faranji Time”

Ethiopian time is somewhat ambiguous. Generally speaking, international/Faranji time at 06.00 AM (sunrise) corresponds to Ethiopian time at 12.00 AM. Hence, if you arrive at 8.00 AM, an Ethiopian clock will read 2.00 AM. Remember to extra verify the time if you make contact with someone.

SIM Card and Internet Purchase in Ethiopia

Purchasing a SIM card: Go to one of Ethio Telecom’s headquarters to get a SIM card. You’ll only need to register your phone and provide copies of your passport and visa. The SIM card costs a little (about 30 ETB, which is 0.60 USD).

Unfortunately, the government blocks access to the mobile Internet during times of political disturbance, which happens frequently. WiFi: It occasionally works and occasionally it doesn’t. All in all, don’t rely that much on the Internet for keeping in touch with loved ones back home, surfing the web before you get to sleep, or checking what your favorite sports team did that day and whether or not your betting slip placed on any of the online bookies at Bookmaker-Expert.com has brought you winning.

The Issue of Safety in Ethiopia

Ethiopia is fairly safe to backpack through. Nonetheless, there are several things to be aware of:

  • Ask locals and always check the most recent official travel advice.
  • Political upheaval is frequent. With the exception of a few additional traffic restrictions and Internet access issues, this normally has no impact on tourists.
  • Children will occasionally hurl rocks at foreigners, which might cause severe accidents. If you ride a motorcycle this might result in crashing and potentially forcing you to return home. We heard that it might happen that you get hit while just strolling down the street. Rock-throwing isn’t something that happens all the time, but it’s definitely something to watch out for.
  • Watch out for losing your wallet or phone in the Piazza district of Addis Ababa, which is notorious for minor crimes against foreigners.
  • There have been kidnappings and murders of tourists during the Danakil Depression. Make an informed choice regarding whether to go or not to go by asking around.

Traveling as a Female

You won’t have significant issues traveling alone as a solo female. However, if you walk down the streets at 10:30–11:00 PM, random guys might approach you and bother you. They won’t necessarily mean any harm, but we’d advise against walking alone this late because you’re at a disadvantage and there are frequently intoxicated males nearby (unlike in Sudan, where they aren’t allowed to drink). In general, try to return to your accommodation before 9:00 PM, or walk with a male friend if you can. 

Please be aware that some Ethiopian sacred sites aren’t open to women.

Traveling Alone

In Ethiopia, there are some solo travelers, but not many. In the country, there are many inexpensive guesthouses to pick from, so people are dispersed. Guesthouses can be an excellent way to meet other travelers. 

A nice approach to meeting other travelers is to sign up for a tour (like Danakil or Simien).

Ethiopia’s Transportation System

In Ethiopia, getting about can be difficult because:

  • Sometimes, buses are completely booked in advance. Planning should certainly be your strong suit as a traveler if you want to avoid this.
  • There are animals on the roads and roadways through the highlands are terrible and challenging, so getting from point A to point B takes a really, really, really long time.
  • Several locations require a transfer to be reached, however, there are occasionally no afternoon buses, necessitating an overnight stay.
  • Minibuses and large buses can be rather uncomfortable and exhausting when they are overloaded (for example, 22 passengers in a 14-seater bus), even if this is all part of the trip.

If you travel during the Timkat season, public transportation is extremely busy.

Tips for using Ethiopia’s public transportation systems:

  • Arrive early at the (mini)bus station. The majority of buses depart in the morning (6:00 AM or similar). Ask your guesthouse if reservations must be made the day before.
  • Be prepared for some exciting, crowded rides with lots of pauses (especially with a minibus).
  • Large towns may have multiple bus stops, so be sure you get to the right one.
  • Some (mini)bus drivers might attempt to swindle you. They charge a surcharge for your bags or simply charge you more for your ticket.
  • In general, the large buses are swift and pleasant. Water, refreshments, and movies are frequently offered by bus operators like Selam and Sky bus.
  • You might use tuk-tuks (bajaj) throughout towns; don’t forget to bargain.

Extra advice: Booking tours through ETT may occasionally include transportation between cities in a personal Landcruiser, which is twice as rapid as a municipal (mini)bus.

Ethiopia’s Accommodations

There are numerous low-cost lodging alternatives in Northern Ethiopia that cater to both travelers and local tourists. Although we believe you might locate one in Addis Ababa, it’s difficult to come across any “typical hostels” with a dorm and common area. In general, reservations aren’t essential. As we’ve indicated, we’d suggest packing a sleeping bag or liner. Bed bugs can bug you in Ethiopia.

  • Couch-surfing.
  • Camping. 
  • Affordable hotels (between 10 USD and 15 USD each night for a private room).

Where to Reside in Ethiopia?

Recommended lodgings:

  • Addis Ababa: You’ll like the Baro hotel but many dislike the renowned Itegue Taigu hotel.
  • Gonder: The Alliance hotel and the L-shape hotel were both satisfactory.
  • Aksum: Kaleb Hotel and its gorgeous courtyard.
  • Bahir Dar: Manuhie Backpackers Lodge is highly recommended. It’s an excellent location to meet other travelers.
  • Mekele: There are many choices.
  • Lalibela: You’ll enjoy your stay at the Red Rock, especially if you get a room with a view.

Ethiopia Backpacking Costs and Budget

What does it cost to travel by backpack in Ethiopia? You’ll average less than 50 USD each day in spending. This, for instance, includes two reasonably priced visits to the Danakil Depression and Simien Mountains. 

Here are some additional suggestions for managing expenses and a budget in Ethiopia:

  • Bus or taxi tariffs might need to be negotiated. Some drivers will charge you more if you’re non-native (particularly in tourist areas).
  • Don’t reserve your tours in advance. If you book from somewhere outside Ethiopia, you’ll get the most expensive price; if you book from within Ethiopia, you’ll pay a regular fee; and if you simply book on the spot, you’ll pay the lowest price. For instance, on the night of the departure, book your Danakil excursion from, say, Mekele or wherever you reside in Ethiopia at the moment.
  • There’s also a black market where prices are marginally lower than those found there.
  • ATMs are only found in major cities and aren’t that reliable. Always keep some additional cash on hand. In my experience, Dashen bank ATMs were remarkably dependable.

Points to Note When Backpacking Ethiopia

  • The Simien Mountains feature breathtakingly jagged peaks, vast valleys, waterfalls, and fascinating species like Gelada monkeys and mountain goats.
  • The hottest spots on earth and an absolutely unforgettable experience are the Erte-Ala volcano and the Danakil Depression.
  • The amazing rock-hewn cathedrals in Lalibela’s underground chapels, which some people believe were constructed by angels.
  • Among the most stunning religious festivals on earth is the Timkat festival.
  • The beautiful Gondar Castle is a castle in a medieval European style.
  • The National Museum in Addis Ababa houses the remains of “Lucy”, an ancestor who lived 3.2 million years ago.

Ethiopian Cuisine, Beverages, and Communication

Apparently, one of the best cuisines in the world is Ethiopian. If you’re backpacking, you’ll only try a modest food variety because you’ll primarily eat on the street and at cheap restaurants. Ethiopian cuisine is designed to be shared, so if you’re dining alone, you’ll frequently be invited to join someone else’s table.

  • Ethiopia is known for its signature bread, “injera”, which is manufactured from the “teff” grain. Almost all Ethiopian foods are served with injera, which is essentially a pancake that’s eaten with your hands.
  • One of your favorite recipes will surely be “shiro wat”, which is made of chickpeas, garlic, and butter.
  • The breakfast dish, the Ethiopian “ful”, is really excellent. Brown beans make up the majority of it, but you can also add salad, an egg, or cheese.
  • Coffee originated in Ethiopia, and Ethiopian coffee is well-known worldwide. A “coffee lady” will serve you freshly brewed coffee in a clay pot. It frequently comes with popcorn.

Always use your right hand when you’re eating.

People who can speak basic English—or fluent English in tourist areas—can be found in (Northern) Ethiopia.

If You Do Not Have Much Backpacking Experience, Should You Travel to Ethiopia?

For new or novice trekkers, we wouldn’t advise visiting Ethiopia. Even seasoned travelers in Africa find Ethiopia to be a difficult and unforgiving nation to travel through. Although we’ve heard of a lot of friendliness while traveling, reports of unwelcoming behavior toward outsiders have also been made. 

Having some prior experience in Africa is undoubtedly beneficial. Moreover, Ethiopian facilities sometimes lack essential amenities. Ethiopia might sometimes feel a little lonely if you’re traveling alone. Nonetheless, if you’re enthusiastic about traveling, don’t hesitate to visit it (by getting informed about everything in advance).

Ethical Travel to Ethiopia

  • Save your resources. Some confessed to us that using cold water showers made it quite simple to avoid wasting water.
  • Some Ethiopians object to having their pictures taken. Always get permission before doing anything.
  • Put your money to local use. Ethiopia’s local ownership of the majority of enterprises makes this very simple.
  • When visiting religious sites or events, act and dress modestly. Avoid taking photos during events (like the Timkat ceremony).

If there’s anything in our Ethiopia travel guide that you feel is lacking or if you have any questions regarding backpacking in Ethiopia, kindly let us know in a comment below.

Last Updated on April 25, 2023

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