Frequently Asked Questions

How is traveling in Ethiopia?

Traveling to Ethiopia is an experience everyone should live. Nothing will be the same after discovering this until recent time mysterious and inaccessible country of Africa.

Ethiopia is much more than a country plenty of catastrophes. It is the cradle of mankind, the country of contrasts, the country of multiculturalism, the country where different religions live together since ancient times adding color and diversity to its people. To get an idea of the hotchpotch that comes together in Ethiopia, the north has maintained the Christian heritage for more than 2000 years. In the east, however, you can find the city of Harar, one of the most important Islamic enclaves of east Africa and undoubtedly, one of the most beautiful. Not to mention the Martian landscape of the Danakil’s depression, said to be the lowest point on earth and inhabited by the Afar nomads who cross the desert with their endless camel caravans. If we turn our face to the southern Ethiopia we will find one of the favorite places for ethnologists and biologists; valleys, rivers, mountains and savannah inhabited by wild animals and tribal clans with ancestral customs such as body scarification, blood drinking, body painting or lip piercing with clay plates as big as 20cm diameter. Their religious tradition is none of the above mentioned, but animism.

In which condition of climate, infrastructures, accommodations and transports can we experience all these wonders?

How is the weather?

The climate in Ethiopia is very diverse due to its size (the tenth bigger in Africa) and its geophysical variety. It comes to my mind the radical difference between the frozen summits of more than 20 peaks above 4000m on one side, and the sweltering heat of the desert areas such as Ogaden or the Afar region where Danakil depression is found, where daytime temperatures can reach easily 50 ºC.

But if we talk about average temperature, Ethiopia in general counts with a hot and humid climate with temperatures between 13 ºC and 33 ºC, except those places with extreme climate.

The North is rainy and humid during June, July, August and September, but temperature is rarely low. A sweater or raincoat will be enough during the day. At high places’ campsites such as Simien Mountains or Bale Mountains temperature does descend up to 3ºC or 4 ºC during the night so it is essential to wear winter clothes.

During the dry season, the rest of the year, the weather is hot and dry. However, nights are rewarded with a nice breeze to mitigate the daily sun.

The South, rain season varies from year to year but it mainly takes place between April and September. The rain has little impact on the daily heat, however nights are very pleasant.

The Omo Valley area has hard drives during the rainy season because of the road condition. So, every traveler should consider muddy drive in this season, but dusty roads in the dry.

The North eastern Ethiopia has high temperature all year round, so protection against the heat is essential. The Danakil depression area is considered as one of the hottest places on earth, but at the same time, one of the most fascinating and bizarre for its geomorphologic characteristics.

In general, during a trip in Ethiopia we experience hot days with mild night temperature during the dry season, and heavy rains combined with sunny hours during the European summer time. The coldest nights would be in the highest places, as you can imagine.

Which is the best time to travel?

Ethiopia can be visited throughout the year. But our advise and according to most travelers, the most beloved months to visit Ethiopia are September and October. At this part of the year you find a special beauty. Once the rainy season is over, a blanket of colorful flowers covers the fields giving an extra beauty to the already magic landscape. It is the Ethiopian spring. Immediately, this is followed by the harvesting months of November and December where the country side is busy and alive, and here comes January, the main festival time for the whole country; Christmas and Timket or Ethiopian Epiphany.

However, don’t worry if you can’t come at this time, it’s only a question of extra beauty for your eyes. You can visit Ethiopia at any time of the year.

How are the roads and which transport Birana Tour uses?

By road:
Ethiopia is a country which is developing spectacularly fast. During the past year the economy growth reached 13%!! However, there is still a lot to do. The authenticity of this country lies precisely in the simple and easy way of life, without artificial make up.
When we travel to Ethiopia we should bear in mind that infrastructures are generally insufficient despite the huge progress in road construction, hydroelectric dams and airports.

Roads are mainly paved connecting the capital to the south, the west, the north and east, and under construction at the main road heading to Kenya. In the rest of the country the roads are principally not asphalted. We can find from nice easy-to-drive roads to impossible paths heading to the most remote places of the country.

Visiting Ethiopia by road takes longer days than flying due to the size and morphology of the country and to the fact that life, as in most African countries, takes place on both sides of the road. That means cars rarely drive beyond 70kph, the ideal speed to enjoy the everyday Ethiopian life and the amazing scenic landscape. It also allows you to stretch your head out of the window to feel the breeze (except when there is a lot of dust, don’t forget!)

The most efficient, secure and fast transport by road to cover the thousands of kilometers are the 4x4 cars with driver. The main characteristic is that such vehicles reach every part of the country, independent from the muddy roads or mountainous terrain. Another advantage is the freedom to stop anywhere and anytime you want to take pictures, to rest or just contemplate the scenery.

By plane:
This is the best option to cover the 3.000kms of historic north tour when you don’t have much time for your vacation.
The flying company, Ethiopian Airlines is one of the most active lines in all Africa. The Ethiopian airports are operating since the fifty`s and recently renovated and modernized. The airplanes for the domestic flights are the new Canadian made, Bombardier Q400; new and operating since 2010.

How is the accommodation in Ethiopia?

There are accommodation possibilities for every taste.

The 4* Hotels operate well and have good installations. However, there are some hotels that lack maintenance. These hotels are mainly out side Addis Ababa. All high standard hotels have electricity, hot shower, Internet, SAT TV, good restaurants with local and international food, good service and professional staff. These hotels are good value for money.
The best: the beds and the food. The worst: everything related to plumbing.

There are some high standard hotels in the capital such as intercontinental, Radisson Blue, Hilton and Sheraton. These hotels are 5* and luxury collection.

As for the Lodges, these are great. Equipped with all commodities and located in beautiful environments surrounded by nature, this type of accommodation makes you feel like in paradise. The bungalows supply all needs for your rest and enjoyment. They are usually surrounded by trees inhabited by monkeys and birds, which morning sounds will give you awakening an authentic African taste.
The room prices are usually high because they encounter construction difficulties due to the remote location and rough environment, but, who wants to save in beauty and relaxation, when it is about vacation? Highly recommended.                                                
The best: the location, the landscape and the ambient sounds. The worst: finding your bungalow in the night through the deep forest after drinking beer at the lodge restaurant.

The local hotels of low category are pretty untidy. However, they offer the basic services for your stay, despite not all of them have hot shower. The rooms are simple and may be noisy but they are the real cheap alternative for those travelers with low budget. Remember that you will share your room with other beings, in particular from the exciting world of insects. There is place for everybody, isn’t it?                                                                                                                                                      The best: the low price and the authentic familiar environment. The worst: all the rest.

The Camping areas are very beautiful and simple due to the natural surroundings. However, infrastructures lack maintenance. There are showers but not hot water and the toilets are open air or untidy. Some of the camp sites in the country are not very far from restaurants and bars, mainly with local food, some of them are remote and away from villages and essential to bring all food and camping gears for your stay. The camp sites are recommended if you have 4x4 cars to carry the camping material. You may not worry about your food and camping gears, Birana Ethiopia Tours will supply all the necessary materials for the camp.
The best: the camp fire, possibility to be near to local life and the night sky. The worst: finding the open air toilet in the middle of the night.

Can I adapt the trip to my particular needs?

One of our greatest achievements is the elaboration of tailor made trips for every type of travelers. Whether you search for action and interaction with nature, more remote experiences, or simply something more traditional and quiet, far away from the crowds, Birana Ethiopia Tours is able to design the best options for every need. For this purpose, communication between you and us is essential. The conversations we have (via email, phone, etc.) will determine what you are looking for, so that we can satisfy your needs. We believe that a high quality service implies direct communication with the traveler and personalized attention to understand what kind of traveler we are dealing with and adapt the trip to his/her/their characteristics and wishes.

What shall I bear in mind before departure?

A previously not prepared trip is usually a disaster. Birana Tours organizes your trip in Ethiopia but, who organizes you? The following detail information will help you to organize your trip by your own before your departure.

Documents and visa
You will need a passport with 6 months validity and, very important, at least one page free to stamp the visa at your arrival in Ethiopia.

The entry visa is mandatory. You will get it at the Addis Ababa Bole Airport at your arrival. You will find the immigration office just before the passport control area. The fee is 17€ or 20$ and it is valid for three months.

If you wish to drive a car in Ethiopia you will need an International Driving License. You can obtain it in your country of origin but while in Ethiopia, you will need to show both the original and the international license if required by the police.

The Ethiopian Authorities do not recommend traveling without driver if you don’t know the route or have no experience traveling in African countries. There is lack of indications and the probability of getting lost is very high.

Birana Ethiopia Tours joins this recommendation: if you want to travel in Ethiopia by car, rent vehicles with experienced driver. Vehicles without driver are recommended exclusively for those who live in the country and know well how to drive its roads.

Birana Ethiopia Tours is a Travel and Tour company, and we are not authorized to offer information about public health. This information varies constantly so, to avoid wrong contents, for all information related to vaccination and sanitary precautions we recommend you to read the Ministry of External Affairs web site: you can consult your health center.

The best advice on money matters is prevision. However, if you need urgent money withdrawal, there are plenty of ATMs in Ethiopia.
In the capital and northern towns such as, Bahir Dar, Axum, Lalibela, Gonder or Mekele, there are plenty of banks with currency exchange service.

In the remote south however, there are less possibility to money exchange so it is advisable to change the money in the towns before reaching to further south.

Some 4* hotels in the big towns have money exchange service. The Money Exchange office at Addis Ababa Bole Airport is the best option at your arrival. It is open every day but not during the night.

You should bear in mind that the exchange rate varies constantly. To know the current exchange rate check online currency converters. Anyway, all Money Exchange offices in Ethiopia are totally legal and expose the exchange rate clearly and officially.
At Addis Ababa Airport, there are two Money Exchange offices, one in front of the Immigration office (where you get your visa) and another at the luggage belts area. Wherever you exchange your money, it is of huge importance to get small denomination notes (200 Birr in 1 Birr notes and another 200 Birr in 10 Birr notes)

Travel and cancellations insurance
Generally speaking almost all tourists coming to Ethiopia buy their insurance from the country of origin because you may already have insurance or it would be easy and convenient to process. The trips booked through Birana Ethiopia Tours do not include any travel insurance. For the reasons mentioned, we recommend our clients to get travel insurance in their country of origin which includes cancellation, accident and lost luggage protection.

It is very important to organize your luggage properly in order to arrange everything you need and at the same time not to exceed the 20kgs weight plus handbag established by the flight companies. We suggest soft bags instead of hard suitcases because the hard ones get damaged easily and take much space in the vehicles.

If your luggage missed at your arrival in Addis Ababa, do not worry so much. Your luggage didn’t get missing; it will arrive in the next flights. Head to the baggage claiming desk and apply for reclamation. You can give them the following contact person and phone number: Miriam Gómez 0926 83 10 95 or Endalk Teshome 0911 67 07 20.

The Birana Ethiopia Tours team is committed to act as local agent to solve the problem as soon as possible and try to avoid the inconveniences caused by the loss of your luggage.

Indispensable material
The necessary material for your trip in Ethiopia is: Winter clothes for nights on high elevations, a raincoat, light and comfortable summer clothes, scarp for protection against dust, trekking shoes if you come for trekking in Simien Mountains, bale Mountains or Tigray, sport shoes for daily use, shower flip flops, small bag, torch, medicine box with the proper medicines (antimalarial, antibiotics, etc.) and mosquito protection 35%DEET (spray, patches), high protection sun cream, photo camera with big memory card and enough battery (if you have car charger, much better), camping towel and sleeping bag (if you are camping)

Communication abroad from Ethiopia
Despite the fast progress in the telecommunications sector and the wide mobile network almost all over the country, this can not guarantee 100% outside big towns.

Anyway you can call home from your mobile or from local telecommunication offices. Calls from abroad are usually expensive.
Calling from the hotel room or reception of your hotel would be higher.

You can find Internet almost everywhere, at your hotels, internet cafés, even Wi-Fi network in the big towns.

To give or not to give. About Mendacity.                                                                                                                          Before your departure to Ethiopia, you may think what to bring to give to the poor. My advice is not to bring sweets or toys. The best you can bring is school material that you can leave in any children help centers. Birana Ethiopia Tours collaborates with a center in Axum and another in Addis Ababa, so that you can bring it there personally if you wish.

A crucial warning is, do not give anything directly to the children. Why? Well, there are many different answers with many different perspectives but mainly, because to give encourages begging.

A country like Ethiopia needs solid projects of education, health, infrastructures, etc, projects in which you can collaborate if you really want to help.

However, there are beggars mainly in big populated towns: war victims, widows with children, barefoot nuns, etc. These people actually do living from the daily donations of the Ethiopian society, millions of coins that allow the surviving of these beggars. To give something to these people is not wrong.

Ethiopia is one of the highly growing countries in Africa in which the government is working strongly in different areas for the better future of the nation. One of the futures of the country is tourism. Thanks to the newly growing tourism business, Ethiopia is living a new future with very good perspective. Tourism represents the sector that more equally shares its benefits to the population.A group of tourists visiting remote areas can benefit the local community buying handicrafts made by women, drinking and eating at the local bars and restaurants, renting rooms to spend the night, etc.

If you really want to share something with them, consume their products wisely to encourage family economy and communal work, so that they see the real benefits of working instead of the bad custom of begging. A country of beggars can never prosper.
We would like to end up telling an anecdote that happened on Endalk and Miriam in one of their appearance in Lalibela
A group of teenagers were following us and our tourist group. Enjoying the event they were asking for money:

-Mister, one birr. Give me one t-shirt. Mister, Mister.

Endalk turned to them and in his school teacher manner said to one girl:                                                                                  

-Do not beg it is not nice. Stop following us and go to school.

She then teasing and half laughing replied:

-You are also walking with the tourists.

Endalk, with wise tone explained to her:

-That is right, but I’m walking in front of them, not behind. If you continue like this, you will always walk behind the tourists. Go to school and work and you will also walk in front of them.

There was nothing else to say.

P.S: What can I do with those shoes or t-shirts, etc, I don’t want to bring back home? Leave them at the hotel’s room for the cleaning stuff. They will appreciate it and it is a very positive way of indirect giving.

How long shall I book my trip in advance?

It will be a great advantage for you to book your trip in advance, enough to ensure to get room at the best hotels. In the south there is lack of high standard hotels so that to book in advance is very important to get the best options. However, as Ethiopia is not a mass tourism destination, it may not difficult to get hotel rooms, domestic flights and transportation in the last moment, with maximum risk and cannot be guaranteed hundred per cent.

What does the price of the trip includes?

An advantage of our service is that you can add or eliminate options, choose expensive or cheap hotels, include full board or not, etc. The final price of your trip will be adapted to your specific needs.

In our web catalog we show the prices per person. If you look closely to the price differences, you will realize that larger number of people you are in the group, the more expenses you share among the member of the group: the vehicles, the local guides and the general entrance fees at national parks. The rooms, meals and visiting sites’ entrances are costs assumed individually.

If you need to know which are your expenses in cash during the trip, on each trip description you will find “The price includes” and “The price doesn’t include”. Thus, you can have a picture of your extra expenses in cash during your stay in Ethiopia.