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Thursday, 14 March 2013 10:20

Ethiopia for Beginners

Written by  Lisa Loverro

When planning a first-time excursion to any country, it’s important to prepare the best possible itinerary for your client so their takeaway will be a positive experience. It’s in everyone’s best interest to have them not only walk away from their trip with an in-depth knowledge of the country, but also an enthusiasm to recommend a trip to their family and friends. When planning an agenda to the diverse country of Ethiopia, a destination filled with culture, landscape and historic significance, the pressure to curate the essential Ethiopian experience can be a daunting task. To eliminate some of your guesswork, we’ve outlined some “must do” and “don’t miss” spots in this magical country.


Northern Highlights

The Northern Circuit of Ethiopia is the ideal place to begin for the first-time Ethiopia traveler. Sara Fazedin, principal consultant for Africa at Travel Marketing Worldwide (www.trav
) states, “The cities of Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar, Gondar, Axum and Lalibela would highlight all the historical wonders that makes Ethiopia such a special place.” Possessing a historical past, with roots in ancient Christianity, northern Ethiopia is unlike another other place in Africa.

The capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, meaning “new flower” in their native Amharic language, is a uniquely indigenous capital city. Unlike other colonized cites within the continent of Africa, Addis Ababa has developed organically from its ancestral roots. Points of interest are the National Museum, where you can view the fossilized bones of “Lucy,” the Mercato, one of the largest open-air markets in Africa and finally the Ethnographic Museum, the former palace of Emperor Haile Selassie and the Trinity Cathedral, Selassie’s final resting place. A few days in Addis Ababa will make for the perfect entry into the region, before exploring the rest of the country.

Located in the north, Lalibela, a small town with big wonders is home to eleven monolithic rock-cut churches. Each is carved entirely out of a single block of granite. This rural town might not be on everyone’s itinerary, but the presence of these churches make it a unique point of interest. Lalibela is a timeless town where religion is of the utmost importance, propelling it to the top of any religious excursion. Continuing through the northern region, Gondar, referred to as the Camelot of Africa, is filled with many significant castles, along with picturesque vistas overlooking farmland and mountain streams. The main castle located here was built between 1630 and 1640, on orders from then Emperor Fasilidas. 

One of Ethiopia’s leading tourist destinations, Bahir Dar, is a colorful and fragrant city known for its wide avenues lined with swaying palm trees and beautiful flowers. It’s situated on the shores of Lake Tana and is one of the most well planned cities in the country, garnering the UNESCO Cities for Peace Prize in 2002. The city boasts one of the largest daily markets in the country, and there’s no better way to get around than to rent a bicycle and take to the streets on the most common mode of transportation. On Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake and where the Blue Nile originates, 37 islands are scattered about it’s surface filled with hidden churches and monasteries.

When visiting Ethiopia, your clients need to know certain basic facts. Ethiopia is not a five-star destination. Fazedin explains, “The hotels throughout the north are at two or three star levels but are uniquely Ethiopian and designed locally to give a true sense of the destination.” Dining in Ethiopia is an experience unto itself. The food served in most restaurants is typically the local food, which consists of spicy meat and vegetables prepared in a stew-like manner, served with Injera, pancake-like bread. Utensils are rarely used and Ethiopians eat with their “clean” hand, the right. Also, due to the large influence of Italian culture from their occupation in the late 1930’s, pasta with red sauce is commonly found on menus.


Travel Information

Ethiopian Airlines (www.ethiopia
) offers non-stop service from Washington to Addis Ababa, eliminating their previous stop in Rome. Total flight time is 12 hours and 25 minutes, which slashes the overall travel time by 2hrs and 35mins. U.S. Citizens need a visa to enter Ethiopia. Single entry 1-3 month tourist visas can be issued upon arrival at the Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. The airline’s tour division, a partnership with Group IST, offers Ethiopia tour packages. Visit www.etafri

There are other operators that also specialize in cultural trips to this country. Check out Dinknesh Ethiopia Tours ( for not only cultural, but adventure and religious trips.

For additional travel information, visit

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