ETHIOPIA (ye-Ītyōṗṗyā Fēdēralāwī Dīmōkrāsīyāwī Rīpeblīk)
For anyone over 35ish, they will probably think of one thing when they hear the word 'Ethiopia', and that's famine. Induced by the Geldof inspired event, Live Aid. That was in the summer of 1985. What probably wasn't known at that time, was that Ethiopia suffers a drought roughly once a decade, and they are prepared for it. However, when the drought hit in 1985, a communist military dictatorship was in power, and busy with ending feudal land ownership. Ethiopia has plenty of land for growing crops, with a suitable climate to help them grow. As the picture i've chosen to represent the country shows, it has much greenery. The landscape of the country is very beautiful, and it's blessed with a multitude of amazing landscapes. It has the beautiful Simien mountains, the bizarre hell-like landscapes of Danakil, the sweeping plains of the Great Rift Valley. and the sandy deserts of the South East. The picture below is of an area known as 'God's chess board' and is in the Simien Mountains, 200miles north of Addis Abba.
As a tourist, Ethiopia is relatively easy and cheap to get around. A tourist trail or loop of sorts exists north of Addis Ababa, Bahar Dir - Gondar - Debark - Aksum - Lalibela. Harar sits outside that loop, as does the Omo National Park. It's better to fly to the hotspots, but use a 4x4 or bus to get between Gondar/Debark and Aksum. Most towns have a public transport hub for those on a budget with lots of time and patience. Walking around, unfortunately the 'walking dollar bill' effect is pretty bad. Mainly kids will walk up to you and shout 'pen', or to a lesser extent, 'money'. They will also shout 'you' at erm, you. Or the more common, 'you, you, you, you, YOU!' It can become disconcerting and make one angry. If anyone comes up to you asking where you're from in reasonably good English, they're going to end up asking you either for money or to buy them something. They'll normally sell whatever you give them back to the store when you're gone. If you're in a market, they'll be asking for a cut from the stall/shop owner. If someone asks if it's ok to practice their English, this rarely involves a request for money or something else. You will get attention pretty much everywhere, even in really remote areas people pop out of bushes and appear from nowhere. Personally I found this harder to deal with than India, where it's pretty bad. Another issue is the deforestation that the visitor will see. Those in poorer areas chop down trees in order to sell the wood at local markets. Not only is this bad for the environment, but also destroys habitat for wildlife.
The local food is very good, similar to Indian and Korean food, built around small pots of different types of spicy goodness. However in Ethiopia, they eat the food with Teff. Teff is a spongy sort of thin bread type food, usually placed as a roll, like thick kitchen roll, next to the food. The food is served on a large reed pot/table, with a couple of large Teff matts as a base. The food is then placed on top. The diner then uses the Teff to scoop up the food. If you're in Addis Ababa, and are looking for something more familiar as a treat, I heartily recommend Ristoranti Castelli, which, as you may have guessed, is Italian. The food is amazing, and ohe of the few places where you can eat salad without worry. Prices are higher than the local average, but not crippling. Be sure to book a table as well. The nearby club, Jazzamba Lounge, is nearby. Entrance 80bbirr, beers 35birr (2012 prices).
Language: Amheric. English widely taught/spoken. Regional languages include: Oromo, Tigrinya, Guaragigna, Somali, Arabic.
Currency: Birr (ETB)
Visa: At least 2 empty pages in passport, visa $20/€17 (2012 prices) on arrival for 30 days.
Plug: two round prong european plug. Some sockets have 3 round prongs in a row, but you can still use two prong plugs in them. 220v
GMT: GMT +3
GDP Ranking (IMF): #172 £682 (similar to Mozambique and Mali)
Communications: Country code is +251
Health: Outside the wet season, Malaria is rare in the highlands. Everywhere else and in the wet season, Anti-malarials are recommended. Stomach upsets are common, so immodium and rehydration salts should be packed. Usual developing world guidelines apply regarding tap water and salads etc. Good medical insurance is recommended.
When to Visit: June to early October is the main wet season, the highlands are cooler than the lowland areas around the border.
Personal Safety: Ethiopians are mostly friendly and welcoming people, as such, crime against tourists is low. Areas along borders are dangerous, particularly near Dijibouti, Somalia and Kenya. Near the Sudan and South Sudan border may also be dodgy. F&CO travel advisory here.
Getting Around: Due to poor roads, flying is recommended for those with limited time. Most major tourist cities have an airport, flights are operated by Ethiopian Airlines. Roads are being improved, and buses run for those with time. There is a rail route to Dijibouti, but it's not running as of 2012 due to upgrade work.
What to see/do: An established tourist route involves visiting Lake Tana at Bahir Dar, Castles of Gondar, using Debark as a starting point for treks in the Simien mountains, The Obelisks and Ezana stone at Aksum and the Rock churches of Lalibela. The muslim walled city of Harer and nearby Dire Dawa are further attractions. As well as the wildlife around the Great Rift Valley lakes (Ziway, Abijatta and Hawassa) and Omo National Park. Outside of these areas, one will find themselves off the tourist trail. For those with large cajones and a full sense of adventure, there is Danakil. An inhospitable region full of volcanoes and strange landforms. It's also home to some violent and unpredictable tribes, 2 tourists were shot dead in 2011. The F&CO advise against all travel, as such, your insurance won't cover you. Erte Ale shield volcano and Dallol landscape of crystal mountains and acidic pools. Temperatures rarely go below 30c at any time of the year, and in summer can reach up to 50c.
Food & Drink: Traditional food involves communal eating from a reed table and hood. A couple of layers of teff are laid down, and various types of food are put on top. The diners then eat with the hands, scooping up the food with torn bits of teff from a roll. Other treats involve Fish Dulet, which was great. The most popular beer in Ethiopia is St. George, although I prefered Dashen. Harar beer was similar to St. George. South African beer Castel/Castle is also sold, but is very bland.
Other notes: Be prepared for a lot of hassling, everywhere you go. Ethiopia has a low unemployment rate, but a lot of people think they can get a living from begging. Don't give into this, as it just encourages them and makes it worse for other travellers. Ethiopians are very proud of their country and religion, Orthodox Christianity. Avoid challenging Ethiopians about their religious views or the legacy of Live Aid concerts. They have a famine every decade and are prepared for it. In the 1980s they had a dictatorship which redistributed land, which coincided with a famine.
Ethiopia is undergoing a huge infrastructure upgrade, helped by the Chinese. As such by 2015/16, most main roads will be sealed, the railway to Dijibouti (Ethiopia's main port) will have re-opened. In most cities I viisted, lots of construction sites were present.