Ethiopia, in the Horn of Africa, is split by the Great Rift Valley and is a landlocked country. With archaeological finds spanning back more than 3 million years, it’s a mystical land brimming with ancient culture. Key sites are Lalibela and its rock-cut Christian churches from the 12th–13th centuries. Aksum is the ruins of an ancient city with obelisks, tombs, castles, and Our Lady Mary of Zion church.
Some of the oldest skeletal evidence for anatomically modern humans has been discovered in Ethiopia. It is widely thought to be the region from which modern humans first journeyed to the Middle East and places beyond. The first Afroasiatic-speaking populations settled in the Horn region during the ensuing Neolithic era, according to linguists. Tracing its roots to the 2nd millennium BCE. Ethiopia's governmental system was a monarchy for most of its history. According to oral literature, the thought is that the monarchy was founded by the Solomonic dynasty of the Queen of Sheba, under its first king, Menelik I. In the 1st century, the Kingdom of Aksum maintained a unified civilisation in the region, followed by the Ethiopian Empire circa 1137.
Ethiopia is a land of natural contrasts, with its vast fertile west, its forests, and numerous rivers, and the world's hottest settlement of Dallol in its north. The Ethiopian Highlands are the largest continuous mountain ranges in Africa, and the Sof Omar Caves contain the largest cave on the continent. Ethiopia also has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Africa, which is why it is a must-visit on the archaeological traveller's bucket list.
UK: You will need a visa to enter Ethiopia. E-visas can be purchased in advance from the Ethiopian immigration website. Visas on arrival are also available for tourists at Addis Ababa (Bole) International airport, at a cost of approximately $50 for 1 month and $75 for 3 months.
USA: Travellers can apply for an e-visa on the website for the Main Department for Immigration and Nationality Affairs. While tourist visas are also available upon arrival at Bole International Airport, some travellers have experienced significant delays obtaining their visa upon arrival. Contact the Embassy of Ethiopia for the most current visa information.
Ethiopia is a strongly traditional country and most people, both Christian and Muslim, dress very modestly and conservatively by modern western standards, though this is changing in parts of the country, especially in Addis Ababa. Travellers are advised to dress in keeping with the locals.
For women, the ideal dress would be a long, flowing shirt and dress that covers the shoulders and knees. Trousers are also fine (though few local women wear them except in Addis Ababa), but shorts or sleeveless tops are not considered acceptable, especially in Islamic areas and rural settings.
Men should generally wear long trousers and a shirt, or a t-shirt covering the shoulders. Going shirtless is totally unacceptable and shorts are widely considered to be undignified attire for adult men.
Ethiopians place a high premium on greetings. Many would consider it to be rude to launch into any conversation or request without first exchanging greetings and asking after each other’s health. Shaking hands is still customary between men, an elaborate move that involves both parties bowing their torso and touching shoulders immediately after their hands make contact. It is a more ambiguous area between men and women, and generally the best way for male travellers to handle it is to wait to see whether the woman extends her hand first. Women tend to greet loudly but without physical demonstrativeness, though close friends or relations may sometimes kiss each other on the cheeks three times.
Ethiopians (of all religions) customarily reserve the left hand for ablutions, so it is considered both rude and unhygienic to use that potentially unclean hand to shake hands, to eat, or to pass money or any other object.
Ethiopian churches retain several ancient Judaic rituals. Shoes must be removed before entering any church (socks are fine), and where there are separate entrances for men and women, travellers will be expected to follow this custom. Traditionally, women are required to cover their bodies and hair with a long dress and a headscarf before entering a church, and while this custom is no longer imposed quite so rigidly as it would have been 20 years ago, it would still be respectful to adhere to it, particularly when visiting rural churches or ones that are unused to tourists.
Amharic and Oromo.
The tipping culture is developing in Ethiopia, as with many countries where tips are becoming a significant part of service staff salaries, and therefore it is difficult to state a standard etiquette. In general, try to tip 10-15% in restaurants but not in bars unless you feel the service warrants an ‘above and beyond’ reward. Andante Travels will take care of gratuities to restaurant staff, local guides and drivers.