Key information for your Ethiopian journey

get ready for your trip to Ethiopia

  • Home
  • Discover Ethiopia


In 2015 Ethiopia has been elected World’s Best Tourist Destination by the European Council on Tourism and Trade (ECTT). Ethiopia has never been colonised and thus not only is it a country of exceptional culture, but it is also remarkable for its great sites: the Ruins of Axum, the city of Harar, the Lalibela rock-hewn churches, the Lower Valley of the Awash or the Simien Mountains National Park… So many wonders listed as UNESCO’s World Heritage.

Second most populous country of Africa, Ethiopia is ninth of the continent by its surface area. The country mainly consists of highlands stretching from the Danakil Depression at -120 metres below sea level up to the Ras Dashen Mountain’s snowcapped summits at 4,543 metres of altitude. Ethiopia’s environment is very diversified, as the country is traversed by six climate zones. Addis Ababa, the capital, located at 2,400 metres of altitude, is the third highest world capital.
Ethiopia is called Cradle of Humankind as it is here that the oldest hominids were found: first Lucy was discovered in 1974 and then in 2003 the oldest specimens of Homo sapiens were also unearthed on the Ethiopian land. The existence of a state goes way back to the 3rd century, when the Mesopotamian prophet Mani mentions the Kingdom of Aksum as one of the four world’s most important realms. Ethiopia distinguishes itself within the African continent as the only country to have never been colonised. Therefore the colours of the Ethiopian flag often symbolise Africa and have been used by many other African states.
Nowadays Ethiopia is a constitutionally secular state with many coexisting beliefs. It is the world’s second oldest Christian nation after Armenia. The Christian community is predominantly Orthodox, with some catholic and protestant minorities. Furthermore, one third of Ethiopia’s inhabitants is Muslim while some others belong to the the Falasha (Ethiopian Jews) or animists minorities.
Regarding the international political scene, Ethiopia has signed the United Nations Declaration back in 1942 and it is one of the 51 UN founding member states. Addis Ababa nowadays hosts the headquarters of both the Economic Commission to Africa (ECA) and the African Union.

Ethiopia and its extraordinarily diversified landscapes, its relics of ancient architecture and its extremely abundant wildlife is a real call for contemplation. Rich by its culture and by its fascinating story, proud of its fight for independence, Ethiopia managed to preserve its traditions throughout centuries and offers a true immersion into the African land. Ethiopia is an authentic country that is situated far from the usual touristic itineraries and that will delight travellers looking for new experiences by the hospitality of its inhabitants, the various landscapes, the opulence of its history and of its culture.


Official name: Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Capital: Addis Ababa
Surface area: 1.127.127 km²
Time difference: Ethiopia’s time zone is GMT+3.
Telephone code: The country’s dialling code is + 251.
Total population: 99,4 millions d'hab.
Density: 88hab./km²
Language(s) and ethnie(s): Ethiopia’s official language is Amharic but there are over 80 spoken languages such as Oromo, Tigrinya or Afar, as well as around 200 dialects. English is taught in school, in cities, and most Ethiopians speak it. Exchanges are therefore possible in English and sometimes in French. Ethiopia is a mosaic consisting of over 80 ethnies. The most numerous among them are the Oromos (about 40%), followed by the Amharas and Tigreans (32%). Other ethnical groups are fewer - this is the case of the Sidamo, the Arari or Shanqella People, the Somalis and the Afars - also known as the Danakil and Gurage.
Religions: Orthodox and Protestant Christians (55 %), Muslims (35 %), Animists (8 %), others (2 %).
Currency: The Ethiopian currency is the Birr, divided into banknotes of 100, 50, 10, 5 and 1 birrs, as well as into coins of 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 cents.
Exchange rate: 1$ = 27.56 birrs (March 2018). It is advised to exchange currency at the airport banks.
GDP: 25.08 billion US$.
GDP/per capita: 294 US$.
Paymant cards: ATMs are still quite rare in Ethiopia and they are not guaranteed to work with Mastercards. It is best advised to choose cash or money transfer (Western Union).
Visa: Visa is compulsory, it can be delivered at the Addis Ababa airport for 45€ or for 50$. Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months following the scheduled date of your departure.
Vaccines: There are no compulsory vaccines. Be up to date with your classic vaccines - mainly tetanus and polio. Typhoid and hepatitis A and B are advised. While vaccination against yellow fever is not compulsory, it is highly recommended.
Diseases: No significant diseases to report. Be vigilant with food and water.
Accommodation: The hotel offer in Addis Ababa is developing fast and a growing number of hotels are conformed to international standards, including several luxury hotels: Sheraton, Hilton, Radisson Blue, Golden Tulip, Marriott… Many comfortable small hotels and guesthouses are also available. Major tourist areas offer a wide array of accommodation, including luxury hotels as well as smaller lodging in charming local hotels. Many national parks have their own comfortable lodges. In some other destinations the hotel offer can be more rustic, with very simple rooms nonetheless fitted with private showers and washrooms. In certain areas lacking infrastructure we usually use 2-persons tents. Camping equipment is provided (except sleeping bags): foam camping pads, dishes, folding tables and chairs for meals and evening gatherings. Meals are taken outside in the open-air and there are no mess tent nor toilet facilities.
Electricity: 220 V, standard european socket.
Ethiopian cuisine: Ethiopian cuisine is very simple. There are several typical dishes, such as injera (a large teff flour flatbread) typically served with grilled meat or meat stew (beaf, lamb, goat), shiro (chick pea dish) or misir (lentil stew). You can season all your meals with many spices - the berbere is a spice mixture including cumin, cardamon, cloves, ginger and cayenne pepper. Niter kibbeh is an often spice-infused clarified butter.
Ethiopian beverages: Coffee is of great importance in Ethiopia. It has become one of the country’s main source of income. Coffee beans have alternately been savoured as vegetables, as salty snacks or sweet tidbits, they have been mixed with butter to form pancakes or even used as medicine. Each village owns its Buna Bet (a coffee house) where you can taste the beverage that has its own traditional ceremony. You can also try the very characteristic talla (beer), some kaitaka (a sort of cereal alcohol) or some tej (fermented honey alcoholic drink).
Climate: You can visit Ethiopia all year long but the time of the year it is best to go will largely depend on the region you intend to visit. The main rainy season occurs from mid-June to mid-September and while it would not stand in the way of trips to the North of the country, it could make access to some of the more remote sites difficult. The most favorable period for visiting the North spans from October to February. Right after the rainy season Ethiopia gets exceptionally verdant and the landscapes get even more beautiful. The period corresponding to European winter has the advantage of concentrating a great variety of migratory birds. On the other hand, the period of July-August, and then again the period of December-January are the best timeframes for excursions in the Omo Valley. Note for the trekking enthusiasts: avoid periods from November to March for the Bale massif and mid-June to mid-September for the Simien massif.

Touristic seasons: While there is no real high or low touristic season, its peak occurs between December and February for the North and between July and April for the South. Between October and December tourism remains constant.

Celebrations and special occasions:
19th or 20th of January - Timkat: The country’s most important and spectacular religious holiday. Timkat, also called Epiphany, is in fact the celebration of Christ’s baptism. A procession of “Tabots” (similar to the Arc of the Covenant replicas) is held on that day. It is the only time of the year the tabots are leaving the churches, surrounded by a crowd of celebrants and accompanied by a chorus in beautiful garments. Thousands of believers march toward the principal sacred places.
27th or 28th of September - Masqal: This holiday commemorates the discovery of the original Cross on which the Christ was crucified and which was found in Jerusalem. It also corresponds to the end of the rainy season, marked by the blooming of thousands of flowers. According to the tradition on the main squares of cities and villages large bonfires are lit and blessed by religious authorities.
6th or 7th of January - Genna (Christmas) or Ledet (Nativity): The celebration of Christmas is characterised by a great religious zeal. Worshippers circulate all night long from church to church. It’s a perfect occasion for witnessing, in some regions, traditional games such as the Genna game (a sort of field hockey) or Gug (a horse parade).
Variable dates - Fasika: Orthodox Easter marks the ending of a 55days long fasting, during which believers abstain from consuming meat, milk and eggs and fast completely before 3 a. m. The last day of the fasting lasts until the end of the religious service which finishes at in the early morning. Easter is the main holiday for the Orthodox and it is much more important than Christmas.
Several Muslim celebrations: The Eid al-Fitr on the 6th of December, the Eid Al-Adha on the 11th of February and the celebration of the Birth of Mohamed on the 13th of May are celebrated in the country’s Muslim communities. The most impressive gathering of Muslim congregation occurs in the sites of Negash, Sheikh Hussein and Sof Omar - destinations of fascinating pilgrimages on various dates.
Several Animist ceremonials: In the Southern ethnies the main social rituals - such as the bull jumping ceremony among the Hamar or the Saginé or stick fighting ceremony among the Surma and the Mursi people - usually occur during and after the harvest season, between July and December. The Oromo ceremonies often take place during rainy season, between June and September.
Introduction: Ethiopia is among the areas of earliest human settlement and is considered as Cradle of Humankind. The earliest traces of hominids date back to 3 to 4 million years. Homo erectus and homo sapiens have appeared in the region between 1,7 million and 200,000 years B.C. Although there is not much data about Ethiopia in ancient times, it seems to have been part of the Land of Punt (-3,000 to -1,000). One has of course to mention the discovery of Lucy or “Dinknesh” in the Afar region, now in the south of Ethiopia. The history of “modern” Ethiopia begins around the 8th century B.C. with the formation of the Kingdom of Aksum which used to encompass the south of Yemen, Eritrea and the north of today’s Ethiopia.

Chronologie :
2000 B.C.: First mention of the Land of Punt in Egyptian texts.
1000-500 B.C.: Migrants from the Arabian Peninsula settle on the Ethiopian shores. A civilisation of Sabian influence is established in Yeha, in the North of Ethiopia.
100-300: Foundation of the Aksumite Empire. Its first ruler is king Menelik I - son of Makeda, Queen of Sheba and King Solomon of Israel.
330: King Ezana’s conversion to Christianity.
517: Southern Arabia, today’s Yemen, is invaded and occupied by the Abyssinians.
6th century: Apex of the Kingdom of Aksum.
570: The Persian invasion of Arabia marks the end of the Aksumite Empire in the Peninsula.
8th century: The prosecuted Mohammedan find refuge in Aksum.
8th-9th century: Islamisation of the Red Sea’s coasts and decline of the Kingdom of Aksum.
1137: Establishment of the Zagwe dynasty.
1185-1225: King Lalibela's reign.
1270: Yekouno Amlak restitutes the Solomonic dynasty.
14th-15th century: Prosperity era under the reigns of Amda Syon’s (1314-1344) and Zara Yakob (1434-1468). Expansion of Christianity and first battles against Muslim emirs.
1527-1543: Ahmed ibn Ibrahim, called “the left-handed” (Graññ) ravages the country with his armies. King Lebna Dengel (1508-1540) calls out to the Portuguese for help. The Graññ dies and Muslim troops retreat towards Harar.
1635: King Fasilidas (1632-1667) establishes his capital in Gondar and restores the authority of the Orthodox Church.
1706: King Iyassou's murder. Gondar drifts into fratricidal conflicts asile the central power is in decline.
1872: Ras (emperor) of Tigray takes power as King Yohannes IV.
1889: At King Yohannes’s death, Menelik II (1889-1913) proclaims himself emperor.
1892: King Menelik founds Addis Ababa and makes it the capital.
1896: Italian troops are defeated in the Battle of Adwa.
1916: Zewditu, daughter of Menelik, is appointed empress while Ras Tafari assures the regency.
1924: Ethiopia becomes a member of the League of Nations (LN).
1930: At the empress’s death, Ras Safari is enthroned as Haile Selassie.
1935: Ethiopia is invaded by Italian troops. On the 9th of May Mussolini annexes Ethiopia as a part of the Italian East Africa colony. The emperor is exiled to London.
1941: On the 5th of May Haile Sellasie returns as liberator to Adis Ababa, supported by British forces.
1950: Autonomous Eritrea is attached to Ethiopia through a United Nations resolution. It will be annexed in 1963.
1973: Creation of the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces (Derg).
1974: The king resigns on the 12th of September. He dies shortly after, placed under house arrest. The Derg proclaims socialism.
1977: Mengistu is proclaimed head of state.
1984: Famine, sometimes cynically maintained by the authorities, devastates the country. Beginning of Operation Moses which results in thousands of Jews leaving for Israel.
1991: The capital is taken by a coalition of various resistance forces. Mengistu flees to Zimbabwe. Meles Zenawi, head of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) takes power.
1993: Eritrea declares independence.
1994: For the first time in their history, Ethiopians vote a Constituant Assembly.
1998: Problems revolving around the Eritrean borders degenerate into armed conflict.
2000: A cease fire is established and Blue Helmets are deployed along the border.
2010: EPRDF’s large victory at the general election on the 23rd of May, followed by Meles Zenawi’s re-appointment as prime minister.
Christian art:
Ethiopia has developed a deep religious tradition as well as a distinctive form of Christian art. Its three chief forms are architecture, metalwork and painting. Christian architecture is to some extend influenced by the Aksumite civilisation; the first rock hewn monuments date back to the 7th century. They first appear in the Tigray province, where a large cross-shaped funeral church has been carved out, dedicated to its rulers - the twin brothers Abreha and Atsbeha. The Lalibela church ensemble remains the most famous one. King Lalibela had the first monolith churches made in the 12th century. When they are not carved into the rock, Ethiopian churches are often octogonal. They are frequently ornamented inside and it is mostly from this form of art that Ethiopian painting has evolved, influenced by Byzantine art. The country’s isolation from the rest of the world is made particularly evident in the paintings from the 12th to the 15th centuries, when a true Ethiopian style has emerged. The first original Ethiopian pictorial school appears around 1400, while painters are mainly illustrating manuscripts. Besides architecture and painting, one of the most original art in Ethiopian Christian art is the cross art.

Textiles, pottery, jewellery and leather are products emblematic for Ethiopian culture and lifestyle. One can however note some regional peculiarities, as is the case with the Kaffa region where the existing regional coffee culture has enabled the development of a coffee-centered craft focused around clay coffee cups and coffee pots. The headrest is an important object in Ethiopian craft: widespread on the south, it is often dugout, but can sometimes be formed of two pieces. The extraordinarily diverse Ethiopian pottery is of great quality, especially in the regions of Tigray, Harar, Illubabor and Wolayita…
Crafts testify of the local artists’ thousands years old ingenuity and know-how, as well as of the country’s cultural diversity. Crafts are representative of talents and traditions pertaining to different ethnies’ ornamentation. For example, the most popular items of the Harari craft are their colourful baskets, such as the mesob basket - a kind of circular table-basket designed for serving injera, as well as their jewellery - both widespread in the whole Horn of Africa. Wool weaving is not any less emblematic and it is the speciality of the Konso people, while the Dorze people specialise in cotton weaving. These ethnies provide a crucial part of the traditional clothing demand. Equally gifted weavers, the Gurges are renown for their working of the horn, from which they create spoons, cups and combs. The Arsi decorative adornments made from colourful beads and worn as necklaces, diadem or earrings are popular in the whole country. The Jimma region, with its extensive forest ressources, produces impressive wooden chairs carved from a single piece of wood as well as the very popular three-legged stools. Finally, the pastoralist communities produce many containers executed in mixed techniques and using different materials (gourd, wood, leather…), often ornamented with beads. All of these flasks, milk jugs, butter dishes as well as the traditional “agelgil” (little leather-covered basket used for transporting food) are most decorative in their simplicity.

Ethiopian music is extremely diverse as each of the 80 ethnies of the country has its own particularities. Numerous influences include Christian and Muslim liturgy as well as pop music from the Horn of Africa countries - Somaly and Sudanese in particular. Ethiopian music often recurs to a unique, pentatonic modal system, characterised by prolonged intervals between some notes. The whole Orthodox liturgy is chanted and religious music remains an essential subject in religious education.
In the 1960’s, in the bars of Addis Ababa, the traditional Azmari music gains some exterior influences and merges with blues and jazz, giving birth to a unique current in the history of African music - Ethio Jazz. Amongst its most famous representatives in the 1970’s there were Mahmoud Ahmed - who to this day remains the Ethiopian singer the most popular abroad, and Mulatu Astake - considered the real father of ethio jazz. The saxophonist Getachew Mekurya and the singer Alemayehu Eshete are two other illustrious emblematic figures of this genre. Towards the end of the 1990’s, the french record label Buda Music has reedited the greatest voices of ethio-jazz in the Ethiopiques collection allowing the western world to rediscover the groove from the Horn of Africa. Aster Aweke is a star female singer to which we owe a savant combination of traditional sonorities and pop music. Among the new generation - Teddy Afro is currently the most popular artist in Ethiopia.

There are two major sport disciplines in Ethiopia: running and football. Long-distance and middle-distance track remain the main passions of all nations accustomed to see their athletes in a blaze of glory during major international competitions. These athletes are certainly the ones who enjoy the most consensual reputation countrywide. Having earned international renown through the media coverage of major sporting events, they are probably the most famous Ethiopians outside the country’s borders. Amongst Ethiopians having dominated long-distance running competitions worldwide, in the last years the most notable are Haile Gebrselassie, world champion and Olympic champion who has established over twenty new world records. Kenenisa Bekele is another major figure - world champion in long-distance running and double Olympic champion in Beijing. He also remains, since 2010, the current Olympic record holder in both the 5,000 metre and 10,000 metre events. When it comes to women competitions, the Beijing Olympic female champion Tirunesh Dibaba is the current record holder for the 5,000 metre event. As many other Ethiopian runners have made a strong impression in this discipline, it is also worth to mention Abebe Bikila - the first African gold medalist who won the marathon at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome while running barefoot, Mamo Wolde, Miruts Yifter, Derartu Tulu, Gebregziabher Gebremariam and Million Wolde. Derartu Tulu was the first African woman to win gold at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona in the 10,000 metre.
Ethiopia is also very fond of football. Sadly, and much to the despair of local football fans, the Ethiopian national team’s performance is quite poor - even considered at a continental level. Nevertheless, football remains a very popular sport in Ethiopia, even if Ethiopia’s national team is not very successful. At an international level Ethiopia ended up 123rd in the FIFA World Ranking in 2010 and it has never managed to qualify for the World Cup. Nowadays Ethiopians are most interested in the English Premier League, which is largely retransmitted on the country’s television channels. Young people are eager to cheer for Manchester, Arsenal, Barcelona or Real Madrid...



With its elevated Abyssinian plateaus isolated by 25 over 4000-meter summits, its lengthy savannahs dotted with acacias, its salt and lava volcanoes, its Great Rift Valley lakes populated by a multitude of birds species and its powerful rivers, Ethiopia will amaze you by its colourful diversity. But the most moving are doubtless the people who have been shaping the land for centuries: the Amharas, the Oromos, the Afar, the Mursi, the Hamar, the Borana… Orthodox, muslim or animist - Ethiopia constitutes an astonishing spiritual shelter for many religions… This diversity keeps surprising and delighting visitors who have to learn to understand their common identity, beyond the regional disparities.

Your on-demand travel itinerary in Ethiopia

Let us know about your wishes and receive a tailor-made travel recommendation designed accordingly.


© Sphere Tour & Travel