Most visitors to Ethiopia spend a few scant hours or a day in Addis Ababa, as many tour providers focus on the northern historical route or the southern tribes and their traditions. I don’t fault anyone for this. Addis is a rapidly developing city that at first glance appears to be a series of construction sites and roads that change without notice due to the ongoing light rail project. Green spaces are more or less nonexistent and the car exhaust fumes can be suffocating. Nonetheless, Addis should not be completely ignored as it does have some virtues and indeed merits a couple of days for exploration. Here’s what you can do to fill that amount of time and where you should stay in Addis Ababa.
Enjoy a Pair of Great Museums
I have written about two museums in Addis on this blog: the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum and the Ethnological Museum. These are a must for anyone with sufficient time, as they both are designed to inform and engage the visitor. While the Red Terror Martyrs Museum focuses on a specific, difficult period in the country, the Ethnological Museum details different cultural traditions and hosts a range of items of interest, from musical instruments to centuries-old crosses. The Ethnological Museum is located on the grounds of Addis Ababa University, which are a shady respite from the surrounding urban clatter.
Hit the Mountains
For the more active types, head to the Entoto Mountains just at the edge of the city. Even with only a few hours, you can get in a mix of hiking and religious history. Entoto Maryam Church is a steep 10-minute drive from Addis Ababa University and is next to the modest palace of Emperor Menelik II, the man who founded the city in 1886. The entrance fee includes the small museum near the church gate; however, the collection is dusty and unimpressive. Your time is better spent wandering around the single-floor palace and enjoying the mountain air. Raguele Church is a five minute drive from Entoto Maryam and can be toured with a guide. Each guide I’ve used at Raguele (free with admission) has been very knowledgeable and friendly, so be sure to take advantage of them. There is even a small rock church on the grounds of Raguele where you may run into the church cats. Like Entoto Maryam, the small museum at Raguele is unremarkable.
After the religious and historical tourism, leave the car behind and walk around the forests. The eucalyptus scent hits you as soon as you approach a cluster of the trees that were originally brought from Australia to alleviate Addis’ firewood shortage (which was endangering its ability to sustain itself as a city). My first travel post on Cook Sip Go actually dealt with this activity. Plenty of paths crawl throughout the forest and they don’t stray too far from any of the roads, so getting lost is not an issue. However, “guides” will likely approach you offering to take you to a cave or something of the sort. I refused to hire them and would recommend that any visitors do the same.
Get Up Early for a Run
Starting at dawn, dozens of exercisers convene in central Meskel Square. The terraced rows are training grounds for Ethiopia’s famed runners and you will certainly see some high level athletes effortlessly sprinting in your direction. If you’re staying within walking distance (or a quick cab ride) from this part of the city, the spectacle is worth the pain of the early alarm.
I very openly profess my love of Ethiopian cuisine and it really does have something for everyone. For ravenous carnivores, there is kitfo. Vegans can order incredibly flavorful dishes that contain no animal products, such as the sampling of veggie creations in bayaynetu or, my personal favorite, shiro tegabino. And those travelers with gluten allergies can also enjoy Ethiopian food in the traditional way, as the spongy flatbread injera is made from the teff grain, which is gluten free. The best way to find good local food is to track down crowded places around lunchtime. The incense of the Ethiopian coffee ceremony will usually be in the air once you walk inside. Taxi drivers can also supply good information on restaurants, so don’t be shy to ask. Most importantly, take your time at the meal, have some coffee afterwards and soak in the environment that a hopping restaurants provides.
Where to Stay in Addis Ababa
There are a variety of lodging options in Addis Ababa. If you want more Western-style amenities you will need to pay a bit more relative to the hotels outside of the capital; however, a couple can find a comfortable room for around $100 USD/night.
Sheraton Addis Ababa – The fanciest place in town – this is where the bigwigs like Bill Gates stay when in Addis. Once you’re past the front entrance, you would have no idea that you’re actually in Ethiopia, as it feels like an upmarket resort you’d find in warmer climates across the globe. But it might be just what you need after a couple of weeks spent climbing up the sides of rock churches and trekking in the highlands.
Hilton Addis Ababa – The number two hotel in town is also a luxurious experience with excellent amenities. The outdoors bar is lively on the weekends and the pool is surrounded by trees and offers a very relaxing ambience. If you want guaranteed reliable internet in Addis Ababa, you’ll need to stay at the Sheraton or Hilton or stop in and pay for their wifi.
Harmony Hotel – Located in the upmarket neighborhood of Bole, the Harmony lies at the intersection of value and luxury. The hotel has an immaculately clean gym, an indoor pool and a chill bar on the top floor. My hotel of choice during extended power outages.
Jupiter International Hotel – There are two Jupiters, one in Bole and another in Kazanchis. The Jupiter in Kazanchis is more centrally located, however, and has dependable internet. The hotel also has a gym, good food and live music on Thursday nights. Room prices are similar to those of the Harmony.
Have you been to Addis Ababa? If so, is there anything you would add that could enhance a visitor’s stay?
Disclosure: The links to the hotels are affiliate links. If you book these hotels or any others after you click on the links, you support Cook Sip Go without incurring any additional expense.