Petra Tours Ethiopia - General Information

When to Visit Ethiopia

This can depend on where you are going. In most of the country, the main rainy season runs from June to the end of September, with short rains in March. In the Omo and Mago parks however, in Southern Ethiopia, the seasons are different with the main rains from March to June, and shorter rains in November.


Although Amharic is the lingua franca of Ethiopia, and both English and Italian are widely spoken in the main towns, there is a rich heritage of 83 local languages and over 200 dialects.

Amharic is considered the official language, and its distinctive alphabet will be seen by the visitor all over the Country. The name originates from the Amharic people, who live in the highlands of Ethiopia.

Ethiopian languages belong to one of four main language groups: Semitic (such as Amharic and Tigrinya), Cushitic (such as Afan Oromo) Omotic and Nil0-Saharan. A useful phrase book will provide phonetic guides to aid pronunciation.


Ethiopia is found in the tropical zone of the horn Africa extended from 3’N to 18’N and 33’E to 48’E. It is bounded to the northeast by Eritrea and Djibouti, to the east and south east by Somalia, to the south by Kenya and the west Sudan.


The territory of Ethiopia covers an area of 1,112,000 square kilometres, which is as large as France and Spain combined.


There are four seasons in Ethiopia: Winter, the dry and moderate tempreture season(from January to March); Autumn, the wet and hot tempreture season(from April to June); summer, the rainy and cool temprefture season(from July to September) Spring, the dry and cool tempreture season(from October to December).


The dominant features of the topography of Ethiopia are the highland , the lowland and the rift valley regions. The highland covers 56% of the total area with an average elevation ranging from 2000 meters to 3000 meters above sea level. Ras Dashen is the highest peak mountain in the country measuring 4620 meters above sea level. The lowland covers 44% of the total area commonly associated with the boarder line of the country. Denakle Depression, the deepest point on the earth, skins about 116 meters below sea level. The great valley that extends from the Gulf of Eden(Syria) to Mozambique crosses the Ethiopian territory with a length of 600 kilometers from northeasterly to southwesterly direction.

Water body

Ethiopia is considered to be the ‘water tower of Africa’. It is the source of numerous rivers that flow in to different countries in Africa, the most famous is the Blue Nile River(named Ghion in the Bible at the chapter of Genesis), that covers 1450 kilometers from its source lake Tana to the White Nile that joins it at Khartoum. Ethiopia is also the various lakes, which are grouped in to the high land and the rift valley lakes with theirbfamous connections of bird lives.

Climate and Clothing

Because of the elevation, temperatures rarely exceed 25 o C in most of the country, although in some of the lower lying areas (Awash, Omo and Mago parks) it can get considerably hotter. Pack light clothes for the day time and a jacket or sweater for the evenings, and a good pair of walking shoes even if you are not going trekking - path ways around historic sites are usually uneven and stony. Trekkers in the Simien and Bale Mountains will need warm clothes, waterproofs and 3-4 season sleeping bags. On a cultural note - Ethiopians are generally modest dressers, and visitors should be sensitive about going underdressed (shorts, tank tops and bare backed) into places of worship. Shoes must always be removed before entering churches and mosques - for getting around sites like Lalibela with its many churches airline socks are very useful.


The Ethiopian national dish consists of injera, a flat, circular pancake of fermented dough made from a grain seed called tef, on top of which are served different kinds of cooked meats, vegetables and pulses. The sauces are generally spiced with berbere, a blend of herbs and spices (including hot peppers) that gives Ethiopian food its characteristic taste. Vegetarians should try "fasting food" (for devout Ethiopian Orthodox Christians fast days make up more than half the year), a colorful spread of salads, vegetables and pulses, devoid of all meat and animal products.

One eats national dishes with the right hand (water for washing is usually brought to the table before the food is served), tearing off pieces of injera to pick up the "toppings". Addis Ababa now boasts of a wide variety of restaurants, and at hotels in tourist sites European style food such as pasta is always available. If you are travelling to remote areas, such as the Omo Valley and parts of southern Ethiopia, it is advisable to stock up with tinned and packet food in Addis Ababa.


Gassy and still mineral water, along with soft drinks, are now available throughout the country. There are several brands of locally produced beer. Ethiopia produces its own wine and spirits, while imported spirits are also widely available. There are home made alcoholic drinks: tela (home made beer or ale), tej (wine made from honey) and kati kala (distilled liquor from various grains.)


Addis Ababa has two 5 star hotels - the Hilton and the Sheraton (5 star plus) - and a growing number of tourist class hotels. Standards vary outside the capital, but apart from the Omo and Mago areas where camping is unavoidable it is generally possible to get relatively clean rooms with en suite toilet and shower. Kibran Tours and other companies have started to construct eco-tourist lodges, and is it is expected that others will follow.

Travel by Air, Road and Rail

Ethiopian Airlines operates a safe, extensive (43 airports and an additional 21 landing strips) and generally efficient and reliable domestic air service, but cancellations and delays can occur. Ethiopian Airlines and currently one private company offer charter services. Travelling by road allows visitors to experience Ethiopia's wonderful scenery, but road conditions are generally poor, and the mountainous topography in the north will cut speed. The hour flight to Lalibela for example takes nearly two days by road. Railway enthusiasts who wish to travel by train from Addis Ababa to Dire Dawa or on to Djibouti should be prepared for cancellations and delays and run down carriages.

Ethiopia has embarked on a massive road renovation and construction program, and many areas are now accessible by good asphalt roads. Given the size of the country, however, it will take quite some time to upgrade the road network on a countrywide basis.


Many antiques cannot be exported and may be confiscated if found in airport searches. The National Museum in Addis Ababa can issue a clearance certificate.


Outside Addis Ababa, generally only 100 ASA film is available. As a matter of courtesy, permission should be sought before photographing individuals and in many parts of the country, particularly among the ethnic groups living by the Omo River, people will demand a fee. In some sites (Blue Nile Falls for example) there is a charge for video photography.


Ethiopia has a calendar of 13 months: it follows the Julian calendar which is divided into 12 months of 30 days each and a 13th month of five or six days at the end of the year. The time difference is +3 hours from Greenwich.

Religious celebrations

The Ethiopian New Year on September 11th, the Finding of the True Cross (Meskel) on September 26 and 27th, The Tisyon Mariam on November 29th, the Ethiopian Christmas (Gena) on January 6 and 7th, the Epiphany (Timket) on January 18 and 19, The Ura- Kidanemhiret church festival on February 24, the Kulbi Gabriel on December 26 and July 26 and Easter are the most important festivities of Ethiopia.


The current population is about 80 million, making it the third most populated country in Africa.


The former military regime was overthrown in 1991. Ethiopia is now a Federal Republic made up of 14 regions, mainly based on ethnicity. (In southern Ethiopia, 5 regions have combined to form the Southern Region.) The present government was elected in 1995 for a 5-year term.


85% of the populations get their livelihood from the land. Coffee (the word originates from the name of the province Kaffa, in the south west of Ethiopia) provides 65% of foreign currency earnings. The opening up of the economy since the overthrow of the previous government in 1991 has created more favorable grounds for development of Ethiopia's resources. Ethiopia is the "water tower" of the region (the Blue Nile contributes to 85% of the main Nile flow) and plans are now in progress to better exploit the country’s water resources both to boost agricultural production and for power generation. Mineral exploration and mining has stepped up in recent years-there are reserves of natural gas, coal, Gold, copper, tantalum, potash, zinc, iron ore, marble, precious and semi-precious stones.The export of livestock, skins and hides (Ethiopia has the largest domestic livestock population in Africa) oilseeds, pulses and animal feed makes up the rest of Ethiopia’s foreign currency earnings, with tourism set to make an increasingly important contribution.

Crafts of Ethiopia

Ethiopia is rich in traditional crafts, and our artisans work with local raw materials, creating artifacts that are both useful as well as being items of great beauty.

Shopping in Ethiopia can be an exciting experience. The bustling markets are the places to try out your age-old skills of bargaining, and even in some small workshops you can achieve a more reasonable price after a little bit of haggling. In Addis Ababa, the Mercato is the placer to head for, but in all towns markets and roadside stalls will display the crafts made in the locality.

In Harar visitors will find colorful basketwork or silver filigree, while the crosses of Gondar are famous. Are famous Hand-woven carpets come from Debre Birhan, while Jimma is well-known for its three-legged stools? All over the Country you will find historical (and sometimes not so ancient) artifacts. Icons, parchment, swords and old books may be offered by many vendors. Please remember that a permit must be obtained before taking reproductions of ancient relics out of the Country. To export a genuine national treasure us bit permitted.

In all regions modern skills are being combined with traditional methods to produce modern handicrafts that make splendid souvenirs. Pottery, wood-carving and modern jeweler makes wonderful keepsakes of a visit to Ethiopia. Other treasures include hand-carved furniture, wall-hangings, beautiful embroidery, and costume dolls. Our modern designers have now created ranges of fashionable clothes that will entrance you. Ladies should explore some of the smaller boutiques in Addis Ababa, while both men and women will delight in the excellent leather goods for which Ethiopia is famous.