The Ethiopian City of Addis Ababa was almost exactly what I expected — noisy, sprawling and awash with poorly constructed scaffolding and high rises merging with slums. What else can be expected from this capital city with a population of ten million. Due to the high altitude of 2400 meters above sea level, hiking up a lot of steps can leave you breathless fairly quickly so take it easy whilst you adjust.
When visiting such a vast city, it can feel a bit daunting so I reckon its best to concentrate on a few aspects to really scratch beneath the surface. Firstly, I recommend hiring a private driver for the day who will wait for you and offer local tit bits of information, you’ll no doubt be able to arrange through your hotel. Failing this you can barter for taxis along the way or take local buses but in my humble opinion you’ll waste a lot of time and depends on how much of it you have.
I stayed at the Caravan Hotel which is nearby to the airport. It was 3 stars and catered for everything that I needed it for; restaurant, Wi-Fi, clean and tidy.
Sightseeing in Addis Ababa
A great way to start the day is by taking a car up Mount Entoto for an all encompassing view of just how big Addis Ababa is. The drive involves a steep climb to an altitude of between 2,600 and 3,100 meters and offers incredibly dramatic views over the city and surrounding area. Thousands of homes and villages rest scattered in amongst the eucalyptus trees (firewood for the city) which were imported from Australia during the reign of Menelik II. What I enjoyed was that it offer a calm oasis before rejoining the hustle and bustle of Addis later.
Mount Entoto is believed to be a sacred mountain and has many monasteries, one of them being Entoto Mariam. It originates back to when emperor Menelik II made a permanent camp there, before relocating down the mountain to the new capital Addis Ababa (or New Flower). Mariam (St Mary) is important because this is where Menelik was crowned emperor of Ethiopia in 1889. Points of interest here are the cave where people stored foodstuffs and prayed, plus the monastery itself which is decorated from the outside with rich colours and inside, vibrant religious stories. You can hire a local guide at the site if this is of interest to you.
The largest open air market in Africa, Merkato covers several square miles and is the place to go for anything that you need, including and not exclusive to, coffee. The market began with no real plan and has grown in size taking different categorical stocks named ‘terras’. The market has a particularly local flavour and anyone without the patience of a saint or a strong nose should simply take a driving tour which is actually more interesting than it sounds. It has been said that this area is dangerous for tourists although having visited loads of markets I personally don’t agree. Having said this, your presence there on foot will create a lot of interest and you’ll need to be ready for it. I took a driving tour and was happy enough.
So obviously you cant come to Ethiopia and not sample the coffee, in fact you’ll be hard pushed to avoid it, but one coffee shop you should visit in Addis is Tomoca. This establishment truly does show Starbucks how a real cup of coffee. Small in size and bustling with human traffic and rich aromas, the beans are roasted on site and it has been said that Tomoca serves up the capital’s best coffee. Beans are sold here by the half-kilo which is said to be some of the best in the country. There is no seating and the walls are adorned with antique style art. If only all coffee shops were like this!
Even though museums don’t typically feature highly on my travel plan, the National Museum is an essential visit. You’ll find the usual assortment of artistic treasures, but more importantly one of the most precious archaeological finds in history, the remains of ‘Lucy,’ the partial fossilised remains of the earliest hominid ever found. You can hire a guide at the museum and although the attractions are well sign posted, this is what I did and I personally got a lot it. Regardless if you guide or not, the museum will walk you through evolutions history and outline how we all essentially originated from Africa.
Addis is a huge city and whilst I don’t profess to know everything, I really enjoyed my time here which is contrary to what I had expected. Yes, it is a bustling city which can appear faceless and without personality, but dare to look a bit closer and this city will explode around you.
Finally here is a video I made of my time in Ethiopia, hopefully you’ll enjoy yourself as much as I did.
If you want to read any other Africa blogs, check these out:
A guide to travelling Sudan
Everything you need to know about travelling in Cameroon
How to spot gorillas in Lobeke National Park
The ultimate guide to travelling in Ethiopia
The Danakil Depression – one of the hottest, driest and lowest places on earth
Tanzania – Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater
Botswana and the Okavango Delta
Happy travels folks.