Ethiopia is a historic land: its people date back at least 5,000 years, and Ethiopia is even mentioned in the Bible. Thousands of years of change and development have resulted in a diverse blend of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Modern Ethiopia is home to more than 80 ethnic groups, each with its own customs, traditions and language. The Oromo are the largest ethnic group, and are joined by the Semites, Cushites and Nilotes.The Amhara and Tigreans are the largest language groups – the reason why Amharic is the official language of Ethiopia – and are of Semitic origin.
Religion has a major influence on Ethiopian life. Ethiopia embraced Christianity in the 4th century, long before Europe converted. Today, almost half of all Ethiopians belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which has developed strong traditions, many of which are influenced by Judaism. The next largest religious group is Islam.
Ethiopian culture is rich and varied. One of the nation's major points of pride is Ethiopian literature, which is heavily influenced by ancient Greek literature and Hebrew religious texts. The national dish of Ethiopia is a spicy stew called wat, which is traditionally served with injera, a type of sponge pancake. Wat may contain any number of ingredients, including chicken, lamb, beef, spicy split peas, lentils, and vegetables.
Several international airlines fly into Ethiopia's major airports, from points throughout Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. Additionally, visitors already on the African continent can enter Ethiopia via rail, which connects Addis Ababa to Djibouti. An all-weather road links Kenya, from the border town of Moyale, to Addis Ababa.
Air travel is the preferred method of arrival, as rail and road are slower and may be unsafe; cars must travel in convoys as a safety precaution. Ethiopia's road conditions are also poor, thus a two-hour flight can take three days by road. Note that travel to the regions of Tigray and Afar is discouraged, as these areas are considered unsafe.
All visitors, except those from Kenya or Djibouti, require a visa to enter Ethiopia. Additionally, note that in order to enter the country, your passport must be valid for a minimum of six months from your date of arrival. These requirements are subject to change, and should be verified prior to travel.
Ethiopia's hotel industry has begun to boom, and today's offerings range from budget inns to luxurious international chains. Generally speaking, prices are favourable for the country's top hotels. Ethiopia tours patronize hotels that meet Western standards for service and amenities.
The fastest, easiest and most convenient method of travel within Ethiopia is via regional air and charter flights. Most Ethiopia tours choose to fly, as local flights connect more than 40 towns and cities at reasonable prices. History buffs will enjoy the Historic Route Service, which flies tourists to ancient sites throughout the nation.
Bus service is slow and not up to Western standards. Added to that, the road network is poor: most roads are gravel, and are passable only in dry weather. Rail service connects Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa, but delays are frequent and trains are often crowded.
In Addis Abba, taxis are a popular way to get around. Taxis are blue and white, and may provide shared rides. Minibuses also offer taxi service. Always negotiate taxi fare before the journey begins. Ethiopia rental cars are available, although driving is not recommended due to road conditions. If you plan to drive and will stay for more than a month, you must apply for an Ethiopian driving permit.
Before traveling to Ethiopia, verify that your regular health insurance covers travel to Ethiopia. If not, purchase a travel heath insurance policy. You should also purchase travel insurance that includes emergency evacuation.
Ethiopia's varied topography experiences diverse weather. In the most general terms, the wet season (kremt) lasts from mid-June through September, and a drier climate prevails the rest of the year. There are three climate zones in Ethiopia:
Degga: This is the highest altitude climate and is cool year-round. Temperatures can dip below freezing in the winter.
Weina Degga: Situated on a large plateau, this zone enjoys a temperate climate with temperatures from 15º to 20º C (59-70ºF).
Kolla: The lowest zone, temperatures here are warm to hot year-round. The Dnakil Depression, one of the hottest places in the world, is found in here.
After you book an Ethiopia tour, make an appointment with your doctor. You should be current on all regular vaccinations: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio, and the flu shot. You should also discuss recommended vaccines, which include hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, meningitis, and rabies. Malaria prevention is recommended, and if necessary, you should take measures to protect yourself from STIs like HIV-AIDS.
Health officials also recommend getting vaccinated against yellow fever before traveling to Ethiopia. Note that if you will be traveling to a yellow fever-infected area before entering Ethiopia, you are required to show your international certificate of vaccination. Citizens of certain non-endemic countries, such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and some European nations, may be exempt from this requirement.
Be aware that some Ethiopian lakes and rivers are infected with schistosomiasis (bilharzia). You should not swim or paddle in freshwater, with the exception of chlorinated swimming pools at reputable hotels. If you have a medical condition or severe allergies, wear a medical alert bracelet. Major hospitals, pharmacies (chemists) and medical facilities are located in major cities and some towns.
The country's official currency is the Ethiopian Birr. Travellers cheques may be exchanged at local banks, bureaus, and some hotels; cheques in U.S. Dollars receive the best exchange rates. Foreign currency should be exchanged only at authorized banks and hotels; never change money on the street, no matter how favourable the exchange rate. Major credit cards, including Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Diners Club, are accepted on a limited basis throughout Ethiopia, especially at hotels and other tourist establishments.
Import and export of local currency is regulated by law. You may import foreign currency, as long as you declare the amount upon arrival.