I typically use trip advisor as my go to reference for travel, which I do a lot. However, last month I had a trip planned to Addis Ababa for a 2 week meeting and hit google. Up popped VT - what a find! I had one day off during the 2 weeks for sight seeing and am an avid photographer, especially unique people and places, which can be a bit challenging at times, especially if you don't have someone to help. In the photog world, we call this a "fixer". Based upon DAO and Jan's recommendations here, I reached out to Solomon Mensa. He is from southern Ethiopia and has lived in Addis more than 5 years. He knows the streets, communities and nuances well. He is independent, not affiliated with a large tour company, many of which there are around Addis. I was a little reluctant, but not after initially meeting him. Solomon is gracious and strives to meet your tour needs. For example, during the day we were able to meet and talk with some really very unique individuals. We toured most of the major sites during the day, ate at a local butchery, attended a large outdoor religious ceremony that I will never forget - he translated the service for me. After spending 2 weeks in Addis and being asked repeatedly for money or offered services I didn't want/need - the day with Solomon was a welcome relief. None of those things happened in his presence and you can feel safe in some sketchy areas if you are under his guidance.
Email is the best way to contact him, he got back to me with a day:
The ethnological museum is definitely worth a bit of your time in Addis Ababa!
According to the Lonely Planet - and as far as my experience goes, I agree - it is maybe the finest museum in Africa, even if you are usually not a museum fan.
You should not be discouraged by the price, because it is only 50 birr for adults and 30 birr for students.
The location, in the gardens of the main campus of Addis Ababa University, as well as the content of the museum is worth a visit.
Some historical objects of Haile Selassie's time, his authentic bed and bath room and an extensive collection of instruments, old orthodox crosses and paintings can be found. Most beautiful to me however was the main collection: organized as a voyage from birth to death and after death you are taken through different customs of the several tribes and peoples of Ethiopia.
Very educative and beautifully exposed.
This is my good friend and one time guide: Solomon Kasaye. Solomon was the first person I ever met in Ethiopia and we still keep in touch. He is a close friend and a very excellent guide. Would you like to see the real Ethiopia? Solomon is the man. He can show you how shared taxis work, take you to a chat house, any museum and also guide you throughout the beautiful rural south of Ethiopia. He really opened my eyes to what many tourists who never leave the hotel will not see. He also provides escort service to the Merkato and knows where and how the pickpockets operate. Please drop him an email if you would like to use his invaluable help. You can also email me if you need any help.
Addis Ababa is the starting point for seeing the 'Historical Places'. I recommend you organise it with Solomon before you come, or just Addis is you are only here for a day or 2. It will ensure you get a lot more out of Ethiopia.
You can email him on:
- or -
All the best,
** Please note: Solomon has acted as a guide for 2 other VT Members since I met him and they found him to be an excellent guide who also kept the costs down. **
I have visited Addis Abbaba now for 4 different times. I'm a photographer and a writer and must try to find places off the beaten path. On my own it is really difficult to find those places, but that is why it was so fantastic that I found my friend, guide and wonderfull assistent Solomon.
Either you wanna see shelters for homeless people, do a funny photoshoot in one of the many bizarre photo studio's Addis Abbaba has to offer, or you want to go to a Holy Water meeting (that's a ritual in a church where people with beginning mental problems come to be washed with holy water), or also if you wanna do more normal things like going to the market without being robbed then Solomon is your man. He knows the street and the city really good, and so is his english.
You can mail him with at this email: email@example.com
This huge obelisk dominates Churchill Avenue and is just over the road from the main Post Office. It is a grotesque tribute to the rise of the Communist Derg (translates as ‘committee’) which was a military junta that seized power in 1974. Their first months were marked by the imprisonment, torture and murder of tens of thousands of innocent Ethiopians. Led by Major Mengistu Haile Mariam, they ruled with bloodthirsty ruthlessness until 1991. This is actually a complex that you pay an entry fee to get into the grounds. The main obelisk is decorated with typical Communist gothic ‘heroic’ figures brandishing guns and ploughshares. It is an absolutely grotesque romantic depiction of the enslavement of a nation. It is a must see to understand the bloodshed of over a decade and even bizarre depictions of the famine deliberately caused by the Derg themselves.
Open 7 days a week. The ticket seller finds you. There is no ticket office. Just walk up to the gate. They will give you a receipt.
What in the world? If you go for a visit to the fantastic Ethiopian Ethnological Museum you will see these weird stairs leading to ….nowhere! It gets stranger from there. On top of the stairs is a Lion! In fact it is the Lion of Judea – the symbol of the Ethiopian Royal family. Here is the story. The Italians invaded and occupied Ethiopia form 1936-1941. The Ethnological Museum, on the grounds of Addis Ababa University, used to be Emperor Haile Selassie’s Palace and residence. The Italians decided to build the stairs just out front with each step representing a year in the reign of Benito Mussolini and the fascists since 1922. A kind of poke in the eye to Ethiopian people. Well, the Allies threw the Italians out and the Emperor returned. Rather than be spiteful, Haile Selassie had his personal symbol put on top to show who came out on top!
I used a tour company for excursions. A half day one for the city and a full day one to Bishoftu.
The cost was $76 for the half day and $148 for the full. I could have saved myself a lot by just getting my own guide and a blue taxi (at least for the city tour), but it seemed too much like hard work - and I was on holiday after all.
The half day trip took 3 hours. My own driver/guide in a big Toyota Landcruiser. He was fine - knowledgable and good English. He dealt with things like paying admission and the “in house” guide at Kiddest Selassie - all included in the price.
The full day trip took 5 hours.
The company is NTO - it has an office at the Hilton (where I was staying), so convenient.
These lie just north of the city, and are mostly covered by eucalyptus trees. Yes, an Australian import.
The city gets a lot of its firewood from this source - fast growing so more sustainable than native species. It has its controversies, however - the effect of wildlife, for example.
The Entoto National Park has been created in this area. I didn’t try to venture in, so can’t comment further.
I do know you get wonderful views of the city from up there. I also know you have to beware of the altitude - over 8,000 ft - when exerting yourself.
You may be shocked (I was) by the sight of women carrying huge bales of wood down the road to the city.
You’ll also find Entoto Maryam up there - see separate tip.
This lies directly behind the Entoto Maryam church, and is not obvious unless you know it’s there. My guide did. My guide book didn’t.
It comprises 3 buildings - the main one, a sleeping one and one for guests. They’re all modest and tiny by palace standards. Simple wooden roofs & floors - mud & straw walls. They do offer a fascinating insight into lifestyle at the time.
Watch out for the local sheep, and their dung. Also watch out for the huge and noisy local “crows”.
This is a relic of the Emperor Menelik II era in the late 19th century, when the country’s capital was in the Entoto Hills (before moving to Addis Ababa in 1887).
It is the church where Menelik was crowned in 1882. The interior is only accessible at the time of services - 9am each day.
It is octagonal, and traditionally painted. In it’s grounds you can see the orginal church built on the site, the belltower and the “throne” where Emperor Haile Selassie sat during his annual festival for the locals.
Also in the grounds you will find Menelik’s original “palace” - perhaps grand by local standards of the time, but seemingly very modest to my eyes. You have to know it’s there (my guide did) in behind the church (I'll do a separate tip).
Lastly, don’t miss the Entoto Saint Mary, Emperor Menelik & Empress Taitu Memorial Museum - also in the church grounds, but at the front. A tiny affair with lots of interesting items - including a gold medal from the Sydney Olympics won by one of Ethiopia’s athletes.
This is a rather unpretentious building, but is home to “Lucy”. That is the 3.5m year old skeleton of the oldest known “humanoid”. It’s discovery in 1974 turned human anthropology on its head, proving that we were up on our hind legs about 2.5m years earlier than previously believed.
The Ethiopians call her Dinknesh (which means “wonderful”), and I prefer that. The English name seems totally incongruous.
For some reason I chose not to photograph her. Invasion of privacy?
It was a timely reminder that this is where it all started for homo sapiens - Ethiopia I mean, not the museum.
The other exhibits are also interesting and informative - labelled in English as well as Amharic.
The museum is crying out for someone to invest some time and money in upgrading and modernisation, but that’s part of its charm - no pandering to tourism.
This church is also known as the Holy Trinity Cathedral. It’s not big - at least by European standards - although my guide book describes it as “very large”. Hmm...
It’s cornerstone was laid in 1933, so it’s not old either.
It is worth seeing, however. Emperor Haile Selassie laid the cornerstone, and his remains are now entombed there. They were elsewhere after his execution, and were moved in 2000. In addition, the “thrones” from which he and his wife worshipped in the church are still there - now unused.
For me it was also an informative introduction to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, of which (not surprisingly) I knew nothing before. I had a guide from the church, organised and paid for by the company which I bought an afternoon excursion from.
Like a lot of what I saw that afternoon, it’s all quite informal. It was quite possible to go up and stand beside or touch Selassie’s tomb.
I found this great NGO working with families living with HIV. They have a workshop where the women make jewelry out of roasted coffee beans as well from local traditional beads. Its the nicest souvenirs I've found in Ethiopia and the money supports a great cause. Their place is a little hard to find but worth it if you want to see how they do their art and learn about the other programs they have. It is just up the hill from the Sidist Kilo University (where the Anthropology Museum is). Turn right at the Ethiopian Cultural Center, before you reach the American Embassy, and follow the signs for Cure Hospital. The road kind of forks but you stay on the right side. Its called Beza Entoto Outreach. Their gate is black and white, on the right side, and their sign is small. It is across from a brightly colored elementary school called Vikas Academy. Its a very interesting place to visit if you want to see something out of the usual tourist circuit.
From the outside your first impression is that some of the lettering has fallen off and it could do with a bit of paint. The Tourist Office in Addis is ok. They are helpful and can give you just about any information you need on the city. They can also help you with information about other tourist destinations in Ethiopia. They are open 8:30-12:30 & 13:30-17:30 Monday-Thursday and 8:30-11:30 & 13:30-17:30 on Fridays.
Update: They got new signs in September 2007 and the office looks very nice now.
On our 3 ½ week trip through Ethiopia we started with a 4-days-trek in the Simien Mountains. Back to Gondar for the Timkat-Festival we traveled on to Lalibela and Mekele. From there our route took us to the Danakil Depression, where we visited Dallol, the Saltplaines and Ert Ale. Then we drove to Awash National Park and further south to Arba Minch, Turmi, Omorate, Jinka and Mago National Park, where we visited all the different tribes.
Our group consisted of three people travelling with Liza, Christos and Wondu. We spent a wonderful time on a really well organized trip and had a lot of fun together.
Christos’ driving was very good and we felt always safe with him. He proved his skills when we were driving from Mekele down to Danakil. The dirt road along the sheer drop-offs was wet and very muddy. Even under these extreme conditions he always had the vehicle under control. In the desert we had to drive 80km through pure sand and we didn’t get stocked once. Chapeau!
Also the second driver Binjam (he drove with us to the south) was very good.
Liza took care of the cooking during the Danakil trip which was a real challenge. First of all the circumstances were not easy at all. Since two of us are vegetarians she had to prepare some adequate food for us. She did this with no problems and we enjoyed the quality of her meals very much.
During our trip through Danakil we were accompanied by Abu Hussein, our Afar guide. He is a very experienced Pathfinder and we were very lucky to have him with us when we crossed the desert during a sandstorm. With great security he led the way even though we couldn’t see further then a few meters.
Last but not least we want to warmly recommend our local guide Wondu Haile. He did a wonderful job as our guide. He has a comprehensive knowledge of the local cultures and of the different tribes too. He was very reassuring and patient and he is sensitive and diplomatic so we always felt comfortable in his company. He is a very nice person, always so polite and thoughtful and he takes good care of everything, sometimes even making the impossible possible. Thanks to his high education and the perfect knowledge of the English language we were able to have good conversations so we got a deep insight in the ways of life in Ethiopia and this made our journey an unforgettable experience.
The company’s Toyota Landcruiser was the ideal vehicle for the desert. In addition he was supplied with special suspensions and mud-tires, which made travelling through the desert very comfortable.
The camping equipment used by Pangeans Safari was of high quality and in excellent condition. We had big two-man tents (Coleman) one could stand up inside. There was even an outside covered space for the table and the chairs. They provided army camping beds and comfortable chairs and tables. Compared to what we saw other companies were using we can say the equipment of Pangeans is the best.
All in all Pangeans Safari did everything to make our trip through Ethiopa a fantastic and unforgettable journey. We can highly recommend this company. We want to thank Christos and Liza for everything they did for us.
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