I first went to Ethiopia in December 2010 (2 weeks in the Lower Omo Valley & the Danakil Depression), followed by another trip over Easter 2011 (12 days on the Northern Historical Route), at the time when tourism was still in a very early phase, but already showing signs of a quick take off.
What a surprise when I came back in November 2015 (almost 4 weeks on the Northern Historical Route & the Danakil Depression)! I discovered a country that had undergone a tremendous development in many aspects, over a period of only five years…
- Access To Ethiopia Is Now Much Easier
Back in 2010, few airlines flew to Ethiopia. Ethiopian Airlines has now turned into one of the biggest, most modern and best carriers in Africa, with the largest Boeing fleet (no less than 13 DreamLiners and 10 Boeing 777)! You can now fly directly to Addis Ababa from Paris, London, Frankfurt, Rome, Vienna, Stockolm… You can also now get a Visa On Arrival, which is efficient and relatively quick (50 USD for one month, 70 USD for 3 months), payable cash in several currencies.
- What A Change In The Road Infrastructure!
Roads in Ethiopia in 2010 were dirt roads in poor conditions, making any trip an agonizing experience, engulfed in clouds of dust. The bus trip from Bahir Dar to Lalibela (310 km) was no less than 17 hours! But at that time, massive construction was already under way. In 2015, almost all major roads are excellent tarred road (all Chinese build), and there is even a modern highway for the first 130 km from Addis to Djibouti. There is even a tarred road from Mekele to Ahmed Ale and almost to Erta Ale, in the heart of the Danakil Depression… What was still at the end of the world back in 2010 is now easily and comfortably reached!
- Boom Town
This was my first reaction in Aksum, in Gonder, in Bahir Dar, … Actually everywhere where I had been, I could almost recognize nothing. High buildings have popped-up from the ground like mushrooms. What I remember as small and sleepy towns had turned into modern cities!
- A Significant Hotel Infrastructure
The unique history of this once great empire and Ethiopia’s many other attractions have led to a boom of high-priced organized tourism. To cater for these new customers, a hnumber of large, modern hotels have been built or are still under construction. You now find a huge choice for all budgets…
- End Of The “Faranji Fever”?
Faranji fever (“Faranji” means “foreigner”) has become the wording for screaming kids following travelers and tourists around yelling “Faranji, faranji”, or “You, you, you” or “Whatsyourname”, often asking for money. It was a very unpleasant aspect of visiting Ethiopia. With tourism becoming more widespread, and obviously the government wanting to develop this source of hard currencies, things have change. Of course in markets you will still hear “youyouyou”, but it has become far more unusual…
- Nonetheless… Ethiopia Is Still Mainly “Terra Incognita”
I am used to my friends rolling their eyes when I spell out the next travel destination. “Zimbabwe? But that is dangerous!” or “Malawi? Where is that?” Ethiopia still triggered remarks like “Why do you go there?” “What is there to see?” or “But it is only a desert!” This country is still often associated with the horrible images of the great famine in 1985 – 1986 and the war against Eritrea. It required a lot of explanations about the great culture of the only country in Africa that was not durably colonized:
- The Historic Circuit abounds with centuries old churches and monasteries as well as remnants of the glorious past of the Aksumite (remember the Queen of Sheba?) and the Abyssinian Empire that spread through Eastern Africa and parts of the Arabic Peninsula
- The Omo Valley and the Danakil Depression are superlatives in their own. The many different ethnic groups of the Omo Valley continue living their traditional way of life like hundreds of years ago. The Danakil Depression on the other hand is one of the geologically most active and hottest regions on earth. The incredible landscape of Dallol and the permanent lava lake of Erta Ale are just the ultimate climax.