Ethiopia Travel Tips & Useful Info

Vervet monkey - Awash National Park - Ethiopia
A Vervet monkey in Awash National Park, Ethiopia

Planning the trip of a lifetime to Ethiopia? This page is packed with useful information to help you plan your trip. Find out which vaccinations you need, whether the tap water is safe to drink and what currency you need to take, along with much more helpful information.

What vaccinations do I need for Ethiopia?

You should seek medical advice from your local health practitioner before travelling to Ethiopia and ensure that you receive all of the appropriate vaccinations. As a guide, Diphtheria, Hepatitis A, Polio and Tetanus injections are recommended, as are Hepatitis B, Meningococcal Meningitis, Rabies, Typhoid and Yellow Fever. A Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate is required on entry to Ethiopia by travellers who are arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission and for travellers having transited for more than 12 hours through the airport of a country with risk of yellow fever transmission.

Do I need anti-malaria tablets for Ethiopia?

There is no risk of malaria in Addis Ababa but the disease is prevalent in other parts of the country. It is very important to check with your doctor before you go, to see whether malarial medication is required for the areas you are visiting. Generally, it is good practice to avoid mosquito bites by wearing long sleeved, light coloured clothes and wearing a mosquito repellent that contains at least 50% DEET. For more information on the malaria risk in Ethiopia, visit the NHS Fit for Travel page or the CDC Travellers Health Page.

Is it safe to drink the tap water in Ethiopia?

The tap water in Ethiopia is generally considered NOT safe to drink. Bottled water is readily available from shops, hotels, restaurants and other establishments. Make sure that the seal isn't broken on any bottled water you purchase. Bottled water should also be used when brushing teeth, though the tap water is fine for showering with.

Wat - Ethiopia food - Ethiopia
Wat is a traditional Ethiopian dish

What is the food like in Ethiopia?

The most common staple food in Ethiopia is known as wat, which is a thick stew made with meat such as chicken and lamb, or vegetables. Wat is normally served on top of injera, a large sourdough flatbread. Other popular dishes in Ethiopia include Tibs, which is sauteed meat or vegetables, and Kitfo, raw or rare beef mince marinated in spicy chilli powder. Spice is an important part of Ethiopian cuisine.

As an Orthodox Christian country, many Ethiopians don't eat certain foods such as dairy products, meat and eggs on Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as during other periods of the year. As a result of this, Ethiopian cuisine is formed of many vegan dishes, and meat is not always readily available. Despite this, most Ethiopians are carnivores, and on the days when meat is allowed, vegetables are hard to find!

Many Ethiopians claim that coffee originated in their country, and it is an important commodity. Coffee ceremonies often take place after a large meal, when coffee beans are roasted in front of guests before being served.

Are there any eating customs I should be aware of in Ethiopia?

Eating from individual plates strikes most Ethiopians as strange - the custom here is to share food from a single plate, without the use of cutlery. It is also considered rude and unsanitary to eat with your left hand, and you should ensure that there are some leftovers on the plate. It is a common superstition in Ethiopia that clearing a plate is inviting famine.

Is it standard to tip in Ethiopia?

Tipping is more common in Ethiopia than in other East African countries but it is still not always standard practice. It is important to remember that Ethiopia is a very poor country and what may seem like very little to you, could be very important to waiters, guides, porters and other staff that assist you on your holiday. However, it is totally up to you, and depends on the level of service you receive and the amount of money you have. As a general guide, 50 cents (USD) would be considered a generous tip for a meal in an Ethiopian restaurant and for hotel porters. It is not customary to tip taxi drivers in Ethiopia unless they go above and beyond to help you.

Meeting the locals at Debark - Ethiopia
The people of Ethiopia are generally very friendly and welcoming

Is it safe to travel to Ethiopia as a single woman?

A lot of travellers visit Ethiopia as part of a group tour and in this context, visiting Ethiopia is very safe for solo women, as they will be in a group and escorted by a guide. If planning to travel to Ethiopia as a solo woman, our advice would be to dress conservatively and not be surprised if you are approached by a lot of men. Often they will just want to chat, and many will refer to you as 'sister', rather than treating you in a sexual way. Avoid travelling alone at night where possible and be polite but firm when talking to strangers.

How about as a member of the LGBT community?

Currently, homosexuality is illegal in Ethiopia, and sexual activity with someone of the same gender is punishable with prison. It has been known for Western members of the LGBT community to be attacked and harassed. This is largely because of the strict Christianity of the country, homosexuality is simply not accepted as a part of Ethiopian society. Whilst an outdated view, this does not mean that Ethiopians are inhospitable or unfriendly people. In fact, Ethiopia is generally a very welcoming country, homosexuality is just not accepted like it is in other parts of the world today.

Any LGBT traveller wishing to explore Ethiopia would be best to behave with discretion and not to engage in any flirting or sexual activity with anyone of the same sex whilst visiting the country. As long as travellers act with discretion, there is no reason to expect any problems.

What is the duty free allowance for Ethiopia?

Travellers who are over the age of 18 may bring the following into Ethiopia:

  • 200 cigarettes or 250 grams of tobacco
  • 2 litres of alcoholic beverages
  • 600 millilitres of perfume
Unlicensed firearms and ammunition are banned from being imported into Ethiopia.

What is good to shop for in Ethiopia?

Travellers looking for souvenirs and handcrafted goods are best off heading for the markets, including the Addis Ababa Mercato, which is one of the largest in the whole of Africa. Ethiopian crosses, shamma cloths, and carvings encompass the importance of religion in the country, while other popular souvenirs include locally-produced coffee and goatskin injera-holders.

As well as the large markets, many communities have their own, smaller markets which are worth visiting if you have a couple of hours spare. These bustling markets are the backbone to small-town and village life in Ethiopia. As well as an outlet for local businessmen and women, Ethiopians use the local market to meet up with friends for a catch up and a gossip.

Ethiopian wolf close up - Bale Mountains - Ethiopia
An Ethiopian wolf in the Bale Mountains

What is the currency in Ethiopia?

The official currency in Ethiopia is the Ethiopian Birr. Check OANDA for the latest exchange rates.

Euro, British Pounds, US Dollars, South African Rand and other major currencies can be exchanged locally or in advance of departure. Additionally, exchange facilities are available at various bureau de changes and banks. ATM's are readily available in Addis Ababa and increasingly in other large towns and cities. It's advisable to request bank notes in smaller denominations, as it can sometimes be hard to get change from large notes and smaller notes are handy for smaller purchases and gratuities. Credit cards are generally not accepted in shops, restaurants and other local businesses.

Traveller's Cheques are not recommended as they're often difficult to exchange and incur high fees.

What do things cost in Ethiopia?

Generally, those on safari will have their accommodation and food costs included in their tour package. However, a couple can expect to pay between USD $25 - 75 for a comfortable hotel room and USD $10 - 20 for a meal with alcohol. Public transport is fairly cheap and to catch the bus between cities costs between USD $8 - 17.

What sort of plugs do I need in Ethiopia and what is the voltage?

Standard voltage in Ethiopia is 220 volts. A two-pronged variety of plug is the standard in Ethiopia, though we recommend that you pack a universal travel adaptor. You will need a voltage converter and plug adaptor in order to use U.S. appliances.

Is WiFi widely available in Ethiopia?

WiFi is increasingly common in Ethiopian cities, especially in hotels. In Addis Ababa there are numerous internet cafes which travellers can use. However, bear in mind that the connection is often poor and significantly slower than you are used to back home. The Ethiopian government is suspicious of the internet and on a number of occasions, social media including Facebook and Twitter has been temporarily banned in the country.

What time zone is Ethiopia on?

Ethiopia is 3 hours ahead of GMT and does not observe daylight savings.

See also

For further information to help plan your trip to Ethiopia, see the following:

Best Places to Visit - cities, national parks and more
Best Time to Visit - covering everything from money to health, food to shopping
Tourist Visas - know what visa you need prior to travel