Addis Abeba – from the local point of view
I am sure you have heard at least some news about Ethiopia or have some kind of expectations of the country but let me tell you first before you continue reading, that it is so much more than that. And I mean everything there is so much more than can be described. The colors, the people, the smell, and nature… All of it, just full of life. I have always wanted to go to mainland Africa but it always seemed to be somewhere in the distant future. But now, we got the opportunity to actually go there and meet Abel’s family and his home country. We visited Ethiopia in January for almost two weeks. So let me describe the country the best I can as it deserves to be described – with vibrancy, dignity and above all; love.
Ethiopia has such a long history so it is not called ‘The Mother of Africa’ for no reason. They say that Africa used to be just a huge continent and that originally Ethiopians were the first ones to habit the land. You can actually find the oldest fossil in the world in the National Museum in Addis Abeba. Incredible, right? They also have such a complex history because of their different ethnic groups and the vastness of the country. To be honest, I knew only a little about the history of this country. I have always found the history lessons to be boring (a bad habit I know, but hey can’t help it), but listening to all the stories while traveling the country I was just completely fascinated! It was how they were told – by the people who actually have lived there for decades and heard the stories from their parents and grandparents. So if you visit Ethiopia, I highly urge you to take in as much history as possible from local tour guides and museums. You won’t be disappointed and it won’t be boring, I promise you!
Best things to do in and around Addis Abeba
Addis Abeba (or Addis Ababa) is the capital of Ethiopia. It is not that huge of a city even though it is fastly growing, jammed and densely populated. There are a lot of people, cars and other vehicles. So if you haven’t yet experienced real traffic, you will in Addis. That’s why it might take a long (and I mean, very long) time to get from a place to place even within a walking distance if using a car. Still, a car is the best way to get to places. You can walk but prepare to be stopped by local kids asking for money, even though how polite and well-mannered they are. Also, the pavements can be crowded at times, especially the main roads. There are people hustling and selling everything by the roads. It can be an experience too, just be aware of the pickpockets (like in any other big city)!
The National Museum: The National Museum in Addis is a great place to soak in the history of Ethiopia and also a place to see the original Lucy – the oldest fossil in the world!
Unity Park and the National Palace: This park is newly opened which makes it so interesting! Plus, they have honored the palace by building a gorgeous park around it. It takes around 3 hours to go through everything in there but you can easily spend the whole day there since they have cafes and restaurants. Also, you have to pay an entrance fee and remember to take your passport with you! You can skip the lines if you purchase the ticket beforehand, though there’s no need to take the tour option – they charge a lot more on that. Just buy the entrance fee and walk on your own. More info can be found here: https://actiontourethiopia.com/unity-park/
Holy Trinity Cathedral: This place is a must-see when you visit Addis. It is one of the most important places of worship in Ethiopia and is the final resting place of His Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife Empress Menen Asfaw. You can actually see their marvelous graves inside the church made out of granite. The entrance fee for tourists also consists of entrance to the small museum.
Piazza: the home of local markets, shops and places to eat. There is also the largest market found anywhere in Africa called Mercato; about 2km away from Piazza. Be aware of pickpockets though if you go without a local guide!
Bishoftu: 40km southeast of Addis Abeba is the home of the crater lakes and is known for its beautiful nature. There are plenty of hotels and resorts around the four lakes. I recommend planning a day trip here if you have enough time.
Entoto Maryam: One of the oldest functional buildings nearby Addis is Entoto Maryam Church. It is mainly for worshippers but to get a glimpse of the interior is during Sunday Mass. There is also a museum you can visit where they keep religious items and clothing from the era of Menelik II.
Ethiopian Art: The best place to go and see (and buy) the best Ethiopian Art is in St. George Art Gallery. The gallery is founded by a local lady and they have an amazing collection of locally handcrafted art, textiles, and interior design. If you are even a bit interested in art, this is the place to visit. It is also a place to get a unique glimpse of the local way of living since they have decorated the house with local design and decorations. You can read more about it here: https://stgeorgeofethiopia.com/about-me/
Some basic info and etiquette:
- Amharic is the common language
- Majority of Ethiopian are Orthodox but there are also other smaller religions and a Muslim population
- Ethiopians are extremely polite and humble, so please act accordingly
- Chewing gum is not allowed in sacred places (e.g. inside churches)
- Always eat food with your right hand, and wash hands before and after the meal. In some places, there is also a jug of water for this purpose
- Tipping is common and appreciated. There are no rules but many cleaning staff, for example, is dependent on tips to earn a living
Must-try local foods:
You can get local food from most of the restaurants and bars. And I do recommend eating the local food (since it’s well cooked). It consists of different sauces and the “bread” injera made of a plant (which is full of iron by the way). My favorites are Shiro (kinda like bean purée), tibs (sliced stir-fry meat) and Gomen wot (spinach stew). But there are so many more delicious dishes! I absolutely love Ethiopian food because the taste is just so delicious. It is not spicy, it’s just full of flavor. For a real local experience, I recommend going to Kategna. It is the best restaurant in Addis! And to experience the local evening spent with friends, go to a place called 2000 Habesha Restaurant. It’s a place to watch traditional dance shows, eat good food, drink local drinks and maybe even participate in the dance (they might try to get you on stage!) Fun night guaranteed.
I hope this post got you excited and gave you some new information about Ethiopia and its capital. Stay tuned – I will write another post solely about Lalibela since that place deserves a little bit of extra attention with its own post!