Tips on travelling to Ethiopia from Muluken Girma

Muluken Girma is a professional tour organiser and guide born and raised in Addis Ababa. He has studied Tour Operations Management at the Catering and Tourism Training Institute of Addis Ababa in March 2004. Since then, he has been successfully organising group and individual customised tours all over Ethiopia.

One of his recent achievements is being selected as one of the Top 100 Tour Guides in the World in 2016 and 2017, and best tour guide in Addis Ababa by www.TourHQ.com.

Find Muluken on Facebook, or on his pages here, and here.

How well do you know your country?
As I was born and grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital city, I naturally know Addis Ababa very well. And, as I studied Tourism Management for two years and was working as a full time tour operator and tour guide to all parts of Ethiopia since 2004 travelling to the major sites frequently with visitors, I know almost every places of interest in the country very well. 

What is the appeal of your country for travellers?
Ethiopia is an ancient geographically diversified and second biggest African country with a people of more than 100 million speaking more than 85 different languages. Ethiopia has a number of historical, cultural, religious, natural, and archaeological sites of interest to travellers. 

Among the things which make Ethiopia unique and worth visiting are: Ethiopia is the birthplace of Coffee, from the Kaffa province of Western Ethiopia; Ethiopia is an ancient state which accepted Christianity as a State Religion in the 4th Century AD and it is also believed to be the last resting place of the Original Ark of the Covenant; Ethiopia is the only country in Africa with its own alphabets and numbers used as government language; and Ethiopia is the only African nation which was not colonized by European powers during the Scramble for Africa.

There are many more points of interest to be included in the list. But, the 11 churches of King Lalibela, which are carved out of a single piece of rock in the 12th and 13th Century AD, make Ethiopia worth visiting by itself. 

When is the best time to visit the country?
Good time to visit most of the country is from is from September to June weather wise and September & October is the best. January is most interesting to see colourful religious celebrations like the Ethiopian Christmas (January 7th) and Epiphany (January 18th and 19th).

Anything special I should pack for travel to your country?
If you are trekking in the Simien Mountains National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Bale Mountains National Park, you may need walking sticks and good walking shoes as the steep difficult trails require so. 

What's the best way to get around?
For travellers with enough time, driving between places is a good option as the things to see and do along the way contribute a lot to the whole experience of Ethiopia. For visitors with limited time, Ethiopian Airlines serves the major tourist areas with daily domestic flights

What are your top three attractions?
The rock cut churches of Lalibela, which were cut out of a single piece of rock centuries ago; the steles (obelisks) of Axum which were carved from strong granite rocks, moved to about 4 km away, and erected in the 4th Century AD; and the Simien Mountains National Park, which offers superb views and shelters three animals endemic to Ethiopia.

Anything or anywhere travellers should avoid in your country?
The south eastern part of Ethiopia along the border Ethiopia shares with Somalia as Somalia is not so safe.

Anything I should be aware of as a visitor in terms of local customs/traditions?
As about half of Ethiopia's population consists of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Christians, among which a huge percentage are dedicated followers, and about 40 % of the country's population is Muslim, it's fair to say the whole country is dedicated to the religious beliefs, and value their cultural and social values.

Among the things which are banned by law and completely unaccepted religiously, socially, and culturally is practicing same-sex relationships. I don't mean not only engaging in such a practice with locals, but also showing such a relationship in public places. 

And, when visiting churches and monasteries in Ethiopia, smoking, chewing gum, speaking loud, and eating are not allowed. Also, when entering churches women are expected to be fully dressed including covering their hair, men are not allowed to wear hats, and everyone has to take their shoes off.

How safe is your country? What safety measures would you advise visitors take?
Ethiopia is generally a safe country to travel to. People are welcoming and friendly. But, it is helpful to get updated information about the safety of the specific travel area. Visitors, especially when visiting markets like Merkato in Addis Ababa, have to be very careful of pickpockets. It is good practice to not carry cash in excess of what is planned for spending. Learning a few words from the specific visiting area and practicing it with locals is a friendly way to be welcomed and hosted, and to experience the authentic life of the locals.

Would you recommend it as a destination for families travelling with kids?
Generally, yes! Northern Ethiopia, and most of the Southern Ethiopia, is recommended as a destination for families with kids as there is good accommodation, and good transport facilities.

What are your favourite restaurants in your country?
My favourite restaurants in Ethiopia, more specifically in Addis Ababa, are traditional Ethiopian Restaurants which serve a variety of deliciously hot Ethiopian meals in the same plate so that family and friends can share and eat with their fingers. My favourite restaurants in Addis Ababa are the Habesha 2000 Traditional Ethiopian Restaurant and Yod Abyssinia Traditional Restaurant.  

What are the best souvenirs to buy in your country?
Traditional Ethiopian hand-woven cotton clothes, locally crafted silver and gold crosses, hand woven colourful baskets made of grass, and small stools made of goat or cow skin are some of the best local souvenirs to buy in Ethiopia. For people who are interested in buying some leather products, Ethiopian made jackets and bags are available. 

Is your country expensive?
Honestly, I don't have good global market knowledge to answer that but I don't think so. From my experience with visitors from different countries, I understand that food is quite cheap. Now, as the country is growing very fast, there is a wide range of transportation, accommodation, and restaurants so that visitors can use services in line with their budget.

Which city is your favourite?
Lalibela in the northern Ethiopia is my favourite city in Ethiopia because people are very friendly and welcoming. I have seen the beautiful hand carved churches of Lalibela (12th and 13th Century AD) more than 70 times but I still look forward to seeing them again. 

Is there anything else about your country you think travellers should know?
Travellers, when communicating with locals, regarding the time of a day, should make sure if they are talking Ethiopian or Western time. Because, Ethiopia doesn't use AM and PM for timing, rather the 24 hours are divided into 12 daytime hours and 12 nighttime hours. As the country is located close to the Equator the duration of the day and night is almost equal all year round. We Ethiopians begin our day at 7:00 AM (Western time), but treat it as 1:00 and keep going. Nightly timing starts again at 7:00 PM. 

Ethiopia also uses a different calendar from the rest of the World - Julian calendar. Now, as of 2017, we are in 2009. As a motto of a local tour company says, "Travel Ethiopia and be eight years younger!".