Ethiopian Tourism Commission
P.O.B. 2183
Tel: 517470. Cable: Ethiotourism. Telex: 21067
Fax: 251-1-513899, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Physical geography

Ethiopia, located in the highlands of the Horn of Africa, is one of the most beautiful countries on this enchanting continent. Its 1,157 603 sq. km. cover a terrain as varied and diverse as any in the world. The vast central massif is characterised by spectacular gorges, ranging in altitude from the highest point, Ras Dashen (4,620m) to the dizzying depth of chasms 100m below sea level. The magnificent Simien Mountains, part of which now form a national park, comprise the most spectacular scenery in all of Africa. Vast savanna lands support the huge herds of game; the great Rift Valley with its chain of seven lakes is renowned for its teeming birdlife. Lush rainforests exist in the west, while the main areas of Ethiopia's wildlife are found in the south and southwestern part of the country, where several national parks and game sanctuaries have been established. Volcanic deserts lying 120m below sea level, moonscapes of strange shapes and brilliant colours lie to the east, and miles of white sandy beaches and coral reefs border the sparkling waters of the Red Sea.

Ethiopia is bordered to the north by the Eritrea, to the west by the Sudan, to the south by Kenya, and to the east by Somalia and the Republic of Djibouti.


This ruggedly mountainous country enjoys a generally temperate climate throughout the year. Weather conditions are determined by the physical nature of the country and its proximity to the Indian Ocean. The temperature in the highlands is moderate, ranging from 14°C to 18°C most of the year. However, in the lowland desert and coastal areas in the hot season, temperatures can rise to over 45°C. Although meteorological conditlons vary from one place to another depending on altitude, there are generally two seasons: the rainy season from June to September and the dry season which runs from October to May with months of 'small rains', in February and March.

Economic geography

Ethiopia is a land of rich agricultural potential, and development in this area is now undertaken by state farms using new techniques and machinery.

And Ethiopia is the original home of coffee. Named from the part of Ethiopia where it still grows wild: Kafa. Coffee is now cultivated extensively and is Ethiopia's major export. Ethiopian coffee is blended into all major world coffees and is unsurpassed in its flavour.

Ethiopia, because of its highland river system, has almost unlimited hydroelectric power, of which only a small amount has already been harnessed. The country is also believed to have rich mineral resources, and major investigations concerning this potential are now under way.


Population of Ethiopia: about 55,132,600. Addis Ababa: 2,316,400. Dire Dawa: 173,588. Harar: 109,670.

A brief history

Ancient Ethiopians were of Hametic stock. These were later intermingled with Semetic immigrants from Yemen across the Red Sea. Nilotic people moved in from the west and some Bantus from the south. The result is that at present, Ethiopia has a rich and complex human pattern: altogether there are over 80 ethnic groups and an equal amount of dialects. With its ancient cultural heritage rooted in the earliest civilisations, Ethiopia is believed to be the 'Cradle of Man'. Nowhere else are the fossile records more vivid or complete; nowhere else can boast the discovery of older recognisably man-like remains (eg, Bodo-man and Lucy).

Today Ethiopia enjoys the further distinction of being the oldest independent nation in Africa. As an ancient land whose civilisation is the result of the fusion of the past and present, the nation had embarked upon the road of modernisation by the beginning of the 20th century.

Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, is the headquarters of the Organization of African Unity, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and many other regional and international organisations.


Christianity was introduced to Ethiopia as early as the beginning of the fourth century AD, but there has been complete and almost uninterrupted freedom of worship in Ethiopia for centuries. In the seventh century the followers of the prophet Mohammed, then persecuted in Arabia, found asylum in Ethiopia: 'the land of righteousness' as the Prophet himself put it, 'where no one is wronged'. Most Ethiopians adhere to either of these two major religions. Pagan practices are also common in some localities.

Languages spoken by nationals

A variety of languages are spoken in Ethiopia. The official language is Amharic, which has its own alphabet. English, the medium of instruction in schools and colleges, is widely used. Arabic, Italian and French are spoken by a significant number of inhabitants.


Ethiopian dates are according to the Julian calendar, which places Christ's birth seven years and eight months later than the Gregorian calendar used in the west, so that upon entering Ethiopia, the traveller is 'seven years and eight months younger'. The new year starts on 11th September and is divided into twelve months of 30 days each, and a five days' month (six days every leap year) making it 13 months a year - hence our tourist maxim '13 months of sunshine'. Ethiopians begin counting the hours of the day at sunrise; therefore, 7.00am in Europe is 1.00am in Ethiopia, and noon is 6.00am. Ethiopia is in the GMT + three hours time zone.


The Ethiopian currency is called Birr. The present rate of exchange is US $1.00 to Eth. Birr 6.30 (September, 1995).

Official holidays (all offices and shops closed)

Ethiopia's Sabbath is Sunday. For purposes of observing religious ceremonies and celebrations, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Ethiopian Islam have many holidays throughout the year and every church has at least one feast day a month.

The following are national public holidays: 7 January, Ethiopian Christmas (Gena); 19 January, Ethiopian Epiphany (Timket); 2 March, Adwa Victory Day; 6 March, Patriot's Victory Day; 1 May, International Labour Day; 11 September, Ethiopian New Year's Day (Enqutatash); 27 September, The Finding of the True Cross; 1 October, Birth of the Prophet Mohammed (Maulid).

N B. The most impressively colourful and memorable holidays to the visitor are Maskal (Finding of the True Cross) and Timket (Ethiopian Epiphany). Ethiopian Easter, like that of the European, does not have a fixed date; likewise, the Moslim holidays are based on the lunar calendar and their dates vary from year to year.

Office hours of government establishments and of most private companies are open from 8.30am to 12.30 noon and 1.30pm to 5.30pm. On Saturdays, morning only.

What one should not fail to see

Ethiopia's geographical location and remarkable physical features have endowed it with a rich and varied natural heritage of vegetation and wildlife. Its avifauna, for example, is one.of the most diverse and abundant in Africa. Some 835 species of birds are found in Ethiopia, of which 26 are exclusive to the country. So far the existence of 103 species of mammals has been recorded in Ethiopia. Among the endemic mammal species are the Walia Ibex, the Simien red fox, the Mountain nyala, the Gelada baboon, the Somalia wild ass, Menelik's bushback and Swayne's hartebeest. Some 30 plant species have so far been identified as endemic in Ethiopia.

Bale National Park

Africa's highlands are like no other, and nowhere are differences more sharply perceived than in the giant wilderness of Ethiopia's Bale Mountain National Park. The Bale Mountain National Park is the home of the Simien red fox, the Mountain Nyala and Menelik's bushback.

Nech Sar National Park

Swayne's hartebeest is restricted to the Nech Sar National Park, which straddles the southernmost two of Ethiopia' s Rift Valley Lakes, Abaya and Chamo. These two lakes also support many species of fish including the Nile perch and the tiger fish, and hordes of hippos and crocodiles. Set high on the escarpment, Arba Minch commends incomparable vlews over the twin lakes of Chamo and Abaya.

Omo National Park

Ethiopia's largest nature sanctuary, the Omo National Park, is one of the richest spectacles and abundant in game, yet it is the least visited area of its kind. It is found on the west of the Omo River just before its final journey to Lake Turkana.

Mago National Park

On the east of the Omo another sanctuary, Mago National Park, has also been established. The park is a land of endless, distant horizons with few landmarks or tracks as the visitor plunges into the rolling grasslands. The eland, the oryx, Bura hell's zebra, Lewl's hartebeest, the buffalo, the giraffe, the elephant, the lion and the leopard, to mention just a few, are seen in great numbers. As a whole, the Omo valley, possessing the Mago and Omo parks on either side, is also considered to be the most probable site for the 'Cradle of Mankind'.

Awash National Park

East of Addis on the Assab Highway is Awash National Park, the oldest and most developed of its kind. Capped by the 1,800 metre-high semi-dormant Fantalle volcano, the Park has an extensive area of pools of mineral hot-springs fringed with Loum palms. Four hundred species of birds are found in this area that covers 700 sq.kms. The wild animals that abound in the Park are the oryx, the hat-eared fox, the caracal, the aardvark, colobus and green monkeys, Anubis and Hamadryas baboons, the klipepringer, the leopard, the bushback, the hippo, and many others.

Once the visitor has gone as far as Awash National Park, Harar, a mediaeval walled city that has lost none of the colour and beauty of its ancient past, is worth seeing. In the marketplaces and shops buy exquisite basketry and silver jewellery and see the hyena man.

The historic route

The monasteries of Lake Tana, the Blue Nile Falls, the 16th century Castles of Gondar, the Simien Mountains National Park, the rock-hewn Churches of Lalibela and the ancient city of Axum which is the last resting place of the Ark of the Covenant are some of the wonders one can discover on Ethiopia's Historic Route.

Most favourable seasons for sojourns and touring

From October to the middle of June is the best season for weather; the climate during this time is moderate and thoroughly delightful - a result of the combination of great height and proximity to the Equator. Addis Ababa, for example, is 2,408m above sea level and only 9°N of the Equator.

June to late September is the season of the big rains and temperature drops.

How to dress

For most of the year, ordinary European spring and summer dresses are fine, though a sweater or coat for the evenings is necessary. In the rainy seasons, a raincoat is useful. Sunglasses and a sun hat are recommended for the middle of the day.

Main holiday resorts

Lakes: Ethiopia is fortunate to have seven of the great Rift Valley lakes where the visitor can sun and swim, fish for the gigantic Nile perch and visit some of the richest birdlife habitats in the world. Lake Langano in the Rift Valley with good camping facilities and excellent hotels and chalet bungalows, is the principal lake resort area.

Mountains: Ethiopia's mountains are a secret wealth at this time, open only to the adventurous. Although there are roads through this soaring and then plunging terrain of sharp cliffs and verdant valleys of 4,500m high mountains and 2,100m deep gorges, the most popular adventure is trekking, with pack animals to carry provisions. Addis Ababa itself can be a vacation spot, with an excellent climate for sports, and hot mineral springs, popular for their curative value.

Main holiday sports

Swimming, waterskiing, skin-diving, sport fishing, horse-riding, tennis, golf, camping, mountain climbing etc.

What to eat and drink

In addition to hotels and restaurants which serve continental food of good quality and beverages of all kinds, there are also a variety of Ethiopian dishes served at national restaurants. The Ethiopian national dish is 'injera', a kind of pancake, and 'w'et', a sort of peppery stew made of beef, lamb or chicken, often with some hard-boiled eggs, and liberally seasoned with hot red peppers, berbere, and other spices. A foreigner who is not used to this kind of food will at first suspect that his insides have been set on fire. He will, therefore, have generous recourse to the extremely tasty and potent 'tej', a sort of honey mead, or 'tella', the Ethiopian beer.

What to buy

Thick handwoven carpets; flat woven carpets; filigree gold and silver jewellery and Ethiopian crosses of varied sizes and designs; intricately designed baskets; the shemma, the white cotton national dress with elaborately coloured borders; Biblical style musical instruments, woodcarvings, cups and spoons fashioned of horn; ivory and ebony carvings; salad bowls and other items of the rare Ethiopian olivewood; shields, spears, drums; traditional paintings on sheer skin or canvas. The 'Mercato', Addis Ababa's open air market, is the biggest in Africa. Addis Ababa has the biggest duty free shop in Africa.

Frontier formalities

Passports and visas

Except for nationals of Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya and Sudan, visas are required for all visitors to Ethiopia, and are readily available at Ethiopian diplomatic missions abroad.

National travel agents can obtain visas for their clients upon arrival provided all the information required is sent prior to arrival.

Health regulations

Prior to entry, visitors should be in possession of a valid health certificate for yellow fever. Vaccination against cholera is also required for any person who has visited or transited a cholera-infected area within six days prior to arrival in Ethiopia. Malaria is prevalent throughout the lowlands of Ethiopia, and necessary precautions should be taken before leaving the central highlands.


Duty free import is permitted for up to: a) 200 cigarettes, or 50 cigars, or 1/2 lb of tobacco; b) 1 litre of alcoholic beverage, c) 1/2 litre, or two bottles, of perfume.

Visitors may export souvenirs with a value not exceeding Eth. Birr 500, although some articles (such as animal skin and antiques) require an export permit. Video and film cameras are subject to taxation unless a guarantee of re-export is accepted by the customs department.

Currency regulations

The import of up to Birr 10 is permitted, and visitors may import an unlimited amount of foreign currency.

Main travel routes

Ethiopia has a system of all-weather roads connecting the cities and towns of the nation. Ethiopian Airlines has an extensive air service throuhout the country. The Djibouti-Ethiopian Railroad runs from Addis Ababa through Awash and Dire Dawa to Djibouti on the Red Sea coast.


See under Official Holidays. For further information contact the Ethiopian Tourism Commission, P.O. Box 2183, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Representatives abroad

Apply to the nearest embassy.

We have been able to publish the present tourist information on Ethiopia thanks to the co-operation and the participation of the Ethiopian Tourism Commission in Addis Ababa.