One evening I was walking near my home in Madrid and in front of me there was a group of people discussing where they should go to dinner. They were just passing Mesob, the only Ethiopian restaurant in Madrid. One of them said, “Look, Ethiopian food!” and they all started laughing. Several stupid comments about empty plates and starving children followed. Needless to say they didn’t go in, and didn’t learn about Ethiopia’s flavorful and varied cuisine, or the relaxing Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Ignorance is self-perpetuating.
Ethiopia has an image problem. We all have those horrible pictures of war and famine burned into our minds, but as our series on Ethiopia has shown, Ethiopia is a safe and welcoming place to travel. Tour operators such as Abey Roads say tourism is picking up, and considering how much the country has to offer, it’s amazing it isn’t a major destination. Ethiopia has something for pretty much everyone:
Hikers and rock climbers: The rugged Semien Mountains are fast becoming a destination for serious trekking. The more verdant Bale Mountains also offer good hiking opportunities. Rock climbers are beginning to make a foothold in the country, and with many untouched routes there’s plenty of opportunity to be the first on some challenging climbs.
History buffs: Grandiose castles, towering monoliths, and medieval cities help you delve into the past.
Adventure travelers and package tourists: You can rough it on public transportation or fly in comfort from site to site. You can camp or stay in five-star hotels. With facilities for all sorts of traveler, your level of comfort is dictated only by your inclination and the thickness of your wallet.
Budget travelers: Ethiopia is cheap. Even the airfare isn’t bad. I flew Egyptair from Madrid to Addis Ababa for 550 euros ($728) and it’s easy to travel in relative comfort on $20 a day.Students of religion: Ethiopia is the second oldest Christian nation in the world, and has large number of followers of Islam and traditional African religions. For the most part these different faiths get along, despite an embarrassing and atypical religious flame war on this very site. Angry people always make the most noise, but the vast majority of Ethiopians are easygoing and tolerant.
Nature lovers: The southern part of the country offers many safari opportunities with a chance to see rare black-maned lions, elephants, baboons, and much more. If you really want to get up close and personal, go to Harar and feed the hyenas.
Birdwatchers: An estimated 850 species, including scores of endemics, plus bird-themed tours makes this a great destination for the adventurous birder.
Friendly folks of any description: The best aspect of any trip is the people you meet. Ethiopians are open and friendly, and hopefully they’ll stay that way as tourism increases. Communication can be a problem in the more rural areas, but in cities and towns there’s always someone who speaks English or another European language, and everyone is happy to teach you their own language.
With all this, Ethiopia could and probably will be a major destination in ten years. The worst part of their history is behind them and Ethiopians are busy taking their nation to the next level. Now is an exciting time to see it, if only more people knew. Hopefully the government will invest in a campaign to get the nation’s public image out of the 1980s and into the present day.
This is the last installment of our series on travel in Ethiopia. Hope you enjoyed it!
Coming up next: a series on Somaliland, the other Somalia.