Ethiopia (Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia), is located in the Horn of Africa. It is bordered by Eritrea to the north and northeast, Djibouti and Somalia to the east, Sudan and South Sudan to the west, and Kenya to the south. With about 87.9 million inhabitants, Ethiopia is the most populous landlocked country in the world, as well as the second-most populated nation on the African continent. It occupies a total area of 1,100,000 square kilometres and its capital and largest city is Addis Ababa.
Some of the oldest evidence for modern humans is found in Ethiopia, which is widely considered the region from which Homo sapiens first set out for the Middle East. Ethiopia is a land of natural contrasts; with its vast fertile West, jungles, and numerous rivers, the world’s hottest settlement of Dallol in its north, Africa’s largest continuous mountain ranges and the largest cave in Africa at Sof Omar. Ethiopia has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa and is where the coffee bean originated.
Ethiopia is a multilingual society with around 80 ethnic groups, with the two largest being the Oromo and the Amhara. majority of the population is Christian and a third is Muslim; the country is the site of the first Hijra in Islamic history and the oldest Muslim settlement in Africa at Negash. A substantial population of Ethiopian Jews, known as Beta Israel, resided in Ethiopia until the 1980s but most of them have since gradually emigrated to Israel. Despite being the main source of the Nile, the longest river on earth, Ethiopia underwent a series of famines in the 1980s, exacerbated by civil wars and adverse geopolitics. The country has begun to recover recently, and it now has the largest economy by GDP in East Africa and Central Africa
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Porters Rights: Most Ethiopian porters are poor farmers from lowland areas, unused to high altitudes and harsh mountain conditions. Ethiopian porters suffer more accidents and illnesses than Western trekkers. Reports of porters being abandoned by tour groups when they fall ill are not unusual. Porters have even been abandoned in life-threatening blizzards while trekkers were rescued by helicopter.
Only book your trek with a tour opertator that has a Porters Policy based on our code.
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Land grabs / displacement: Local communities are sometimes forced off their land for tourism development. Pastoralist groups such as the Maasai and Samburu in East Africa are amongst the worst cases of displacement from lands that they inhabited for centuries. This is due to conservation and tourism policies which have favoured safari tourism above the needs of the local people.
Additionally the remote Gambela region and Lower Omo valley are being rapidly converted to commercial agricultural investment centres. To encourage widespread industrialized agriculture in these areas, the Ethiopian government is depriving small-scale farmers, pastoralists and indigenous people of arable farmland, access to water points, grazing land, fishing and hunting grounds. It has also has been moving people off the land into government villages to allow investors to take over the land. Wealthy nations and multinational corporations are taking over lands that are home to hundreds of thousands of ethnically, linguistically, geographically and culturally distinct pastoralists and indigenous communities.
Orphanage Tourism: Increasing numbers of tourists visiting Ethiopia’s Simian mountains, colourful markets and lush national parks, want to experience the latest must-do activity on the tourist trail: a volunteering stint at an orphanage. However these good intentions are unwittingly feeding an industry that dupes poor parents into sending their children to bogus orphanages in order to extract money from well-meaning foreigners. It is a business model built on a double deception: the exploitation of poor families in rural Ethiopia and the manipulation of wealthy foreigners. In the worst cases, tourists may be unwittingly complicit in child trafficking.
Ethical Photography: Travelling presents an opportunity to photograph in lots of different destinations and situations, but sometimes there may be culturally sensitive issues to think about before reaching for the camera or other photo-taking device. There are lots of people in the world who do not have clean water, electricity, schooling or enough to eat, let alone access to mobile telephones, the internet and printed media, so they have no idea where their photograph may end up or how it could be used. Sadly, in this day and age, child prostitution, child trafficking and other crimes against children are facilitated via the Internet, and photography can play an unwitting and innocent role. Photography and its use is no longer straight forward, so perhaps it is time to stop and think a little about the ethics of photography.
Taking photos of the friendly people of Ethiopia is a highlight for many travellers and photographers. Smiles are universal ways to engage, as is showing people the photo you just took of them. If you show an interest in their work or ask them questions, they’ll be happy to have their picture taken. In some touristy places it has become common for people to ask for money for their photos to be taken. Do as you wish, but a photo of someone you shared a laugh with may have a better lasting impression than one you paid for. Don’t forget the same holds true for any porters and guides that may help you along the way. Take an interest in them and you’ll be rewarded with more great photo opportunities.
To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on ethical photography:
Cultural Loss & indigenous tourism:
As we have extended the scope of our holidays into remote places, we now see ‘remote people’ as part of our holiday landscape. Our interest in other people’s cultures is not always sensitive. What are the implications, for example, of tourists viewing, filming & photographing tribal peoples who now demand payment in exchange for becoming models in their finery?
For example, in a remote part of Ethiopia called South Omo, local tribes people – including the women of the Mursi people who wear lip plates – have begun to express their hostility to the tourist invasion. Performing for tourists has become an income earner for tribal groups all over the world. But the income comes with a price.
To learn more check out the following Tourism Concern articles on Indigenous people and tourism:
Dogs: There are an estimated 250,000 homeless dogs in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, and there are more than 500 cases of rabies reported every year. Virtually no dogs are vaccinated or neutered, and pet “ownership” is a tenuous connection with no tradition of lifelong care and responsibility. As a result, homeless or discarded dogs are left to forage for their food—mostly garbage—and to multiply without restriction. Many dogs starve, are killed in traffic, or suffer injury or abuse. Always present is the danger of rabies devastating wildlife, including the critically endangered Ethiopian wolf (pictured), the world’s rarest canid. For decades nuisance dogs have been thrown into a pit at the Gido Cave outside the capital, where it is estimated that 6,000 dogs were left to die in the past 20 years. Dr. Roba was moved to rescue some of these doomed dogs. With the help of HAPS (the Homeless Animal Protection Society of Ethiopia), he saved four dogs from certain death and sent them back to the United States. Two were sent to Dogtown in Utah for rehabilitation and two were adopted in Houston. With the help of the local authorities, the cave was sealed to spare other dogs a miserable, protracted death from starvation. One solution to the homeless dog population is modeled on the trap-neuter-return programs that are being employed in the many countries to manage colonies of feral cats.
Horses and donkeys are widely used in Ethiopia as beasts of burden for moving every type of merchandise, pulling carts, and as mounts. They are often asked to bear loads beyond their strength and beaten when they fail. When they become unable to work due to old age or injury, both horses and donkeys are turned out to fend for themselves. They suffer greatly from lack of adequate food and water, and like dogs are often hit by cars or fall victim to abuse. Outreach programs are emphasizing education in humane treatment of horses and donkeys, including provision of adequate water, lightening of loads, and discouraging the practice of hobbling by tying up one foot to prevent animals from straying.
Water: Like many African countries, parts of Ethiopia face water shortages, poor sanitation, and a lack of access to clean water sources. Ethiopia is located in Africa’s Horn where drought and politics are two leading causes of water shortage. In a study conducted by Water.org they found that “42% of the population has access to a clean water supply” and only “11% of that number has access to adequate sanitation services”. In rural areas of the country, these figures drop even lower, resulting in health problems in the villagers as well as their animals.
For tourism to be truly sustainable, its development and management must be premised upon a respect for human rights, including the right to water and sanitation for essential personal, domestic and livelihood needs. In many cases, tourism development is negatively impacting the quality, availability and accessibility of freshwater for local people, amounting to an infringement of their water and sanitation rights. This is posing risks to community health and well-being, hampering socioeconomic mobility – particularly of women – harming livelihoods, threatening food security, and undermining the sustainability of the tourism sector itself.
- Don’t buy bottled mineral water on a trek.
- If water from streams, wells, cisterns and taps is not safe to drink: purify your water with iodine or a portable water filter and carry it in a reusable bottle.
- The easiest and cheapest way to ensure safe drinking water, is to treat it with iodine. If you don’t like the taste of iodine, bring flavoring vitamin C tablets to neutralize the iodine taste (note that you need to let the iodine do its work before you add the vitamin or flavoring).
- If possible, avoid lodges and teashops that use wood for fuel, and only take hot showers with solar-heated water.
- Don’t use detergents or toothpaste in or near watercourses, even if they are biodegradable.
- For personal washing, use biodegradable soap and a water container (or a lightweight, portable basin) at least 50m (160ft) away from the watercourse.
- Disperse the waste water widely to allow the soil to filter it fully.
- Wash cooking utensils 50m (160ft) away from watercourses using a scourer, sand or snow instead of detergent.
Mountain rubbish: Campers, hikers, and climbers should all follow a “Leave No Trace” approach when exploring the great outdoors.Carry out all your rubbish or dispose of your trash responsibly. Don’t overlook easily forgotten items, such as foil, cigarette butts and plastic wrappers. Take into account how long items take to degrade. For example, aluminium cans take 80 to 100 years and plastic bottles take up to 450 years. Besides, while degrading harmful chemicals end up in the ground water.
- Collect rubbish where you see it on walking trails. If you cannot carry it out of the area, take the litter to a local rubbish collection depot or incineration centre.
- When buying things from shops, do not accept plastic bags.
- Never bury your rubbish. Digging disturbs soil and ground cover and encourages erosion, and buried rubbish may be dug up by animals, which may be injured or poisoned by it.
- Minimize waste by taking minimal packaging and no more food than you will need. Take reusable containers or stuff sacks.
- Take your used batteries home to your country.
- Where there is a toilet, please use it. Where there is none, bury your waste. Dig a small hole 15cm (6in) deep and at least 100m (320ft) from any watercourse. Cover the waste with soil and a rock. In snow, dig down to the soil. Ensure that these guidelines are also applied to portable toilet tents.
- Please encourage your porters to use toilet facilities as well.
The best time to visit Ethiopia is between January and March when clear, sunny days bring regular average daily temperatures of 25°C (77°F). This is Ethiopia’s busiest time to visit, with wildlife spotting at its peak and the festivals of Timkat and Leddet drawing huge crowds.
The rainy season (April to September) brings soaring temperatures and humid conditions. Due to rain, from May to August some roads in the Lower Omo Valley become impassable. August is the hottest (and wettest) month with temperatures reaching 45°C (113°F) regularly in the lowlands. In the highlands temperatures are much more moderate but sightseeing is hampered by downpours of rain.
October to December is an excellent time to visit Ethiopia as the countryside is lushly pretty after all the rain, there are plentiful sunny days and historical sites and monuments are not overrun with tourists. Night time temperatures in highland areas often drop to between 5°C (41°F) and 10°C (50°F) during November and December so be sure to pack a jumper.
Due to vast altitude differences between highland and lowland areas, if you are intent on exploring Ethiopia fully you should prepare for a wide range of temperature differences. Bringing clothes that can be easily layered is the obvious choice. You will need lightweight clothing for the lowlands and mediumweight for the hill country. At least one warm jumper or pullover should be brought along to cope with dramatic temperature drops once the sun goes down.
The rural environment in Ethiopia is endowed with farmlands, lakes, rivers, livestock, forests, woodlands, grasslands, wildlife and plenty of open spaces. Approximately 60 percent of Ethiopia’s land surface is classified as arid and semi-arid, the remaining 40 percent being sub-humid and humid and thus of high agricultural potential.
In contrast to the rural areas, the urban environment is characterized by such variables as very high population, high density of housing, crowded market centers and contamination from industrial effluent. Of all the environmental problems, the country’s most critical concern focuses on the management and utilization of its land resources. The intensive use of the limited arable land by subsistence farmers under past governments of uninformed interference has led to serious instances of land degradation.
Though air pollution has become a fairly serious localized problem in Addis Ababa, water pollution as well as domestic and industrial wastes are some of the problems that have resulted from the process of industrial expansion and social transformation taking place in the country.
Overgrazing, deforestation, and poor agricultural practices have contributed to soil erosion so severe, particularly in the Tigray and Eritrea regions, that substantial areas of farmland have been lost to cultivation. The combined effects of severe drought and a 17-year civil war have also added to Ethiopia’s environmental problems. Ethiopia’s forests are also endangered. Each year, the nation loses 340 square miles of forest land.
About 5% of Ethiopia’s total land area is protected. In 2001, 35 of Ethiopia’s 255 mammal species were threatened. Of 626 bird species, 20 were endangered. One type of reptile in a total of 188 species and 125 plants in a total of 6,500 were also threatened with extinction. Endangered species in Ethiopia include the simian fox, African wild ass, Tora hartebeest, Swayne’s hartebeest, Waliaibex (found only in Ethiopia), waldrapp, green sea turtle, and hawksbill turtle.
Mountain biodiversity is suffering due to ecological fragility and instability of high mountain environments, deforestation, poor management of natural resources, and inappropriate farming practices.
- Stick to existing trails – walking off the track can damage plant life and expose new areas of ground to erosion.
- Do not trample or collect the flora.
- Don’t buy items made from endangered species.
- Do not feed the wildlife as this can transmit diseases and lead to animals becoming dependent on handouts, which leads to unbalanced populations.
- Do not kill rodents or other pests in huts or camps. In wild places, they are likely to be protected native animals.
- Discourage the presence of wildlife by not leaving food scraps behind you. Place gear out of reach and tie packs to rafters or trees.
- Do not use firewood for heating or cooking in natural reserves.
- The use of open fires should be discouraged even where it is not directly prohibited. Firewood gathering is the main cause of deforestation in many areas and wind-blown embers are a major cause of forest fires.
Ethiopians are very proud of their culture, identity, and country. Avoid criticizing their cultural lifestyle, especially their brand of Christianity (Oriental Orthodox). Avoid all contentious religious discussion, or you may risk all good will and hospitality you could have been afforded. Rather than argue about the merits of Orthodoxy or Islam, it’s best to ask friends to explain their customs, festivals and beliefs and to listen with respect. The Ethiopians’ relationship with the westerners is generally free of racial animosity. However, there is considerable suspicion and even xenophobia toward foreigners in the countryside. Ethiopians can be short-fused if they feel they are not treated as equals.
If a woman is with a man, ask the man’s permission to talk to her beforehand. For a man to avoid eye contact with a woman is considered a sign of respect. If you’re a foreign woman and are in public with a man, don’t be upset if Ethiopian men address all questions to him. They will do this not to slight you but to show respect. This will be the case on public transport and in restaurants. Likewise, if you are a foreign man, maintaining a formal distance from women will be seen as good manners. It is very important that you remove your shoes when entering a home.
To get the best introduction to Ethiopian food, go on a food tour with AddisEats Walking Food Tours . The excellent guides explain all about the food and eating culture of Ethiopia. They explain how dishes are made, what dishes are made for special occasions and so much more. Best of all, they take you to local restaurants that tourists don’t visit to give you a real taste of the city. It shouldn’t be missed when traveling to Ethiopia!
Injera is Ethiopia’s national dish. It is a spongy, tangy-tasting sourdough made from the grain teff, which grows in the highlands of Ethiopia. It is baked in the form of giant thin pancakes, then often rolled up and sliced to hand-sized portions. It is eaten with wot (or wat), traditional stews made with spices and meat or legumes. Some popular wats are doro (chicken) wat, yebeg (lamb) wat and asa (fish) wat.
The injera sits directly on a large round plate or tray and is covered with wat placed symmetrically around a central item. The various wats are eaten with other pieces of injera, which are served on a side plate. Injera is eaten with the right hand – rip a large piece of injera from the side plate and use it to pick up one of the various flavours of wat on the main platter.
Do not eat with your left hand! In Ethiopia food is a respected gift from God and eating with your left hand is a sign of disrespect.
Another popular injera dish is firfir: fried, shredded injera. It can be served with or without meat or with all sorts of veggies.
If you prefer vegetarian foods, try the shiro wat, which is a vegetable stew served with injera. Most times you have to specifically ask for it as it doesn’t come with most of the combinations, as Ethiopians prefer meat.
Amharic is the first official language of Ethiopia. The language is a Semitic language related to Hebrew and Arabic, and if you know either one you’ll recognize some cognates. In all parts of the country everyone speaks Amharic to some extent, no matter what their first language may be. The language is written in the Ge’ez script.
In big cities, most people under 40 speak some English. (English is the primary foreign language taught in schools.) In rural areas, find local school children to translate for you for a fee that could be next to nothing. (Ethiopians have a distinct way of speaking English. Because it is heavily accented, it might be a bit difficult to understand it at the beginning. However, when you get used to the way they pronounce some English words, it will become fairly understandable.)
Up north in Tigray, Tigrinya is the primary language, and it’s also written in Ge’ez. However, Amharic is widely understood.
In the middle regions, Oromo is widely spoken. Oromo language uses a Latin alphabet.
The main religions in Ethiopia are Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Paganism. Ethiopia is a predominantly Christian country and the majority of Christians are Orthodox Tewahedo Christians, who belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. There are a minority of Christians who are Roman Catholic or Protestant. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is headed by a patriarch and is related to the communion of the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church and Malankara Orthodox Church of India.