South African quick guide to Ethiopia (Photo: iStock)
Known as the African country that was never colonised, Ethiopia has a vast ancient history still seen today in its archaeological artefacts and ruins of Christian temples from long ago.
It's also quite famous for its cuisine found in restaurants around the world, but you can experience it firsthand in its country of origin.
This east African country is also the origin point for the Nile river - the longest in the world - where the Blue Nile falls thunderously creating a massive waterfall.
Ethiopia holds important insights into Africa's past, and is a must-visit when travelling through the Horn of Africa.
SEE: Ethiopia: Old-world Africa, brimming with modern life
Here we take a look at one of the top ten searched African destinations for South Africans and what you need to know should you want to visit:
Visa requirements: Visa on arrival via e-visa applications for South Africans with a valid passport - valid for at least six months from your arrival date in Ethiopia You still need to submit specific documents via your online application, with R1 259.37 fee payable. Click here to apply
Continent: Eastern Africa
Capital: Addis Ababa
Medical requirement: Malaria preventative measures near lakes, no risk in the capital.
Currency / Exchange Rate: Ethiopian birr (Weaker than the rand)
National Carriers: Ethiopian Airlines
Main airports: Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, Aba Tenna Dejazmach Yilma International Airport (Dire Dawa), Arba Minch Airport, Asosa Airport, Axum Airport, Bahir Dar Airport
Time Zone: 1 hour ahead of SA
Plugs: Type C, E, F and L - European style two-round pins. SA uses type C (Two pins) and D (Three pins).
Public transport: There's a cheap bus system along major roads, but it's not very reliable. An old rail system exists, but many of the new routes are still under construction.
Best time to visit: October to March just after the rainy season when everything looks fresh and green.
Climate: Tropical monsoon and highlands.
Food specialities: Ethiopian food is quite popular around the world, iconic for its injera – a spongy pancake roti made from teff - normally accompanied by wot – traditional stew that’s spicy and made from chicken, legumes, lamb or fish. Tibbs is also popular – spicy beef fried in butter - and kitfo – minced meat with chilli (can be raw). All of this is normally washed down by Ethiopian coffee served with popcorn.
Language: Amharic (Official), Oromo, Arabic, English
SEE: Ethiopia: legend, mystery and magic
My name is ….
Sime … newi.
Do you speak English?
Where is [hotel/toilet/beach etc.]?
… wedeti newi?
WATCH: Risky business of the Ethiopian Hyena Men
- Take note that parts of Ethiopia is at a very high altitude and if you're not used to it take it slow when doing physical activities like hiking as it can cause dizziness and headaches.
- Ethiopia borders countries that are in political turmoil, like Somalia and Sudan, and it's advisable to avoid the borders for your own safety.
- Best to have cash as you go as only major hotels have card facilities.
- Many local restaurants don't have menus, so it would be good to learn a few names of the dishes you like so that you don't end up ordering the same thing over and over again.
- Watch out for pickpocketers in Addis Ababa, but generally travellers feel that the country is safe.
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Top attractions in Ethiopia:
- Simien Mountains National Park
The name means 'north', these mountains were created millions of years ago by massive erosion with some cliffs with more than a thousand metre drops - quite a wonder to behold. A UNESCO site, there are various hiking trails on offer where you could potentially spot a Walia ibex or the Ethiopian wolf.
SEE: 5 ways to make the most of Lesotho's sky mountains
Part of the longest river in the world. the Blue Nile Falls is known as Tis Abay, meaning 'great smoke' in Amharic. It's 400 metres wide at its fullest and drops 45 metres into the river, and is surrounded by lush rainforests inhabited with monkeys and colourful birds.
- Ancient churches in Lalibela
Lalibela is a town built in the 12th century in the Lasta Mountains, and is famous for its churches carved out of colossal monoliths. Local stories claim that angels helped built these amazing structures, and are holy sites for Coptic Christians.
SEE: Digging Deeper: Archaeologists find ancient necropolis in Egypt
One of the longest cave systems in Africa, the Sof Omar Caves were created by the erosion of the Weyib River cutting through a limestone hill. The best time to see its magical rock formations is between October and August when the water inside the cave is lower.
Once the capital of ancient Ethiopia, Gondar is made up of fortresses and a palaces that used to be the home of the country's emperors. The most well-known building is the Fasil Ghebbi, which was a fortress city within Gondar and was built in the 17th century in Nubian styles.
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