Our Frequently Asked Question sections are intended to help you decide if a particular destination is right for you. Here Derek Schuurman answers questions about Ethiopia. He has travelled extensively around the country, exploring both the historical sites, most of the wildlife reserves and more recently, the South Omo region. He'd be delighted to share his stories with you and you can ring him on 020 7666 1250.
What is special about Ethiopia?
Ethiopia has a unique cultural heritage, truly remarkable architectural constructions, elaborate festivals and a high concentrations of endemic birds and mammals. The scenery is stunning and really varied. There is, as our friend Philip Briggs wrote in his Bradt Ethiopia Guide, no grinding poverty.
How do we get there?
Ethiopian Airlines operates regular flights from London Heathrow (and from Manchester) to Addis Ababa. Figh duration is under 8 hours.
How do we travel around the country?
We arrange travel by comfortable, air-conditioned, sturdy four-wheel drive vehicles for most parts of the country, except for in certain stops along the Historical Circuit where they aren’t needed. Most of our customers opt for either a private tour or a small group which are a fun and sociaable way to travel. Ethiopian Airlines operates an excellent service in terms of domestic flights to a network of airports around the country.
If there was one thing I shouldn’t miss, what would you recommend?
Lalibela is top of the list for any first time visitor – it is one of the country’s many World Heritage Sites believed to be built in the late 12th century as a replica of Jerusalem and the rock-hewn monolithic churches are utterly remarkable. The myth is that angels built them and you could almost believe this!
See our selection of Ethiopia holidays and tours.
Is Ethiopia safe?
Yes, all the areas to where tourists travel are safe. We and our representatives carefully monitor the FCO site as safety, well-being and enjoyment of our clients, are our foremost priorities.
Can I drink the tap water?
Tap water is not safe to drink. Make sure that all water has been well boiled before you drink it or it is treated with iodine or a water purification tablet before hand. Add vitamin C tablets to hide the taste. Bottled water is widely available. When buying bottled water, make sure the bottles are sealed when handed to you. Bottled water is provided in vehicles and at the lodges and hotels we recommend.
Is English widely spoken?
The official language of Ethiopia is Amharic, but English is spoken by our guides, by most local guides and by a few people in the hospitality industry.
Should I expect very basic facilities in all Ethiopia’s hotels and lodges?
Many hotels and lodges are of the 'no frills' variety. That said, a fair number of comfortable lodges with a noticeably environment-friendly running practice, and of a very reasonable standard, have opened up in the last 5 years. These include gems like Bishangari, Gerhalta, Aregash, and Bale Mountain Lodges.
People should note that tourism in the country - while havin progressed considerably - is still somewhat in its fledgling stages and the infrastructure remains modest. Roads have mostly been upgraded (May 2016) but in a few places, unmade roads can be rough for short stretches and in the dry season they can be dusty. However, don't let this put you off: you wont be surrounded by mass tourism and this only adds to the authentic and exciting experience of visiting this wonderful country.
What is the local food like?
Good!. The traditional local staple is injera, a large, flat pancake made of teff, a type of grain grown in Ethiopia. It is accompanied by spicy stews. There is usually Italian cuisine as an alternative if you prefer but we recommend you try the local cuisine at least once! Ethiopia produces wine and a honey-based mead, tej. Vegeratians and those preferring gluten-free food, will be pleasantly surprised.
How can I contribute to the local economy and conservation programmes?
We can recommend reputable charities to you such as reputable orphanages or the Mekodonia Home for mentally disabled and elderly people in Addis Ababa which does sterling, inspirational work, as well as certain conservation projects, notably those concerned with conservation of the gravely endangered Ethiopian wolf.
Do I need to get any vaccinations ahead of travel and/or malaria tablets?
A yellow fever immunisation is a requirement ONLY if coming from an infected area. Malaria exists in the Rift Valley, Omo region and during October, at Lake Tana. The highlands are not affected. Always consult your doctor though, at least 4 weeks before travel.
I am pregnant, can I travel to Ethiopia?
No: there is a risk of Zika virus in Ethiopia. Pregnant women should therefore avoid travel to this country until after the pregnancy. In the event that travel is unavoidable, the pregnant traveller must be informed of the risks which ZIKV presents. We would recommend that pregnant women due to travel to any of the destinations affected by Zika virus, should seek medical advice from their GP and where it is necessary, to change or cancel their holiday arrangements in light of the NaTHNaC advice. Further information can be found by following this link: https://travelhealthpro.org.uk/country/76/ethiopia#Other_risks “
How does tipping in the South Omo & Konso region work?
With the tribes, photographic fees are 5 Birr per image. (1 US$ = 37 Birr, August 2019)
Your guide will take 5 Birr notes for you to make the payments easier. Do discuss the current updates on photographic tipping with your escort guide before arriving in the South – you will be able to draw money from an ATM in towns such as Arba Minch or hotels like Paradise Lodge.
Note that some of the tribal people charge per click/ per photo taken so please be mindful when taking photos.
Other tribes ask for a single amount and allow visitors to take an unlimited number photos.
Do not try to bargain or haggle during any village visit.
Please follow the thoughtfully written advice conveyed by Philip Briggs in the Bradt Ethiopia Guide, which we provide our guests with.
You will at all times be with your escort guide and with a resident/provincial guide/scout during village visits.
Among the Karo people, there is a charge of 5 Birr per person included in a photo but then you can take as many photos of the people chosen as you wish. Karo village scenes (without people) not charged for.
Tips for resident guides/scouts taking you on village visits: Birr 250 for Mursi, Hamar, Karo, Dassenech visits.
For shorter visits such as those to the Aari village or a Banna village, tip the provincal/local guide approx Birr 100 - 150.