10 Things To Know Before You Go To Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a country rich in tradition and has a laundry list of incredible things to do in a relatively small area. It’s also growing more and more popular with travelers, as it’s a safe and affordable destination. But Ethiopia is quite different from other countries in eastern Africa. Here are 10 things to know about the culture, customs — and coffee — before you go to Ethiopia.



Clocks are set differently

Many Ethiopians measure time from when the sun rises and count time based on dawn. So when the sun rises, it can already be 12:00. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it pretty quick.



Calendars are a bit behind, too

The calendar is also different and Ethiopia is about seven years behind Western countries (and others in Africa, too). As of June 2015, it’s currently still 2007 in Ethiopia. If you look at a calendar and think you went into a time warp, don’t worry, you’re just in Ethiopia.

ethiopian coffee ceremony

Bluerain / Shutterstock.com

The coffee will probably make you jittery

Ethiopian coffee is strong — really strong. And Ethiopians tend to drink quite a bit of it at a coffee ceremony. If you’re used to drinking the brew at your office or Dunkin Donuts, be prepared for a jittery caffeine buzz after downing a few cups.


Adam Stocker / Shutterstock.com

You might meet Rastafarians

While Rastafari is usually associated with Jamaica, it was the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie who inspired it. If you travel outside of Addis along the roads toward the Simien mountains, you’re likely to encounter a few of them (many of whom relocated from the Caribbean).

Simien Mountains

Courtesy of Marc Veraart / flickr

Most of the country is at a high altitude

Most of the areas where tourists go such as Ethiopia’s highlands and Addis Ababa are at high elevations. Addis is at 7,600 feet and the highlands are of course even higher. Be sure to take it easy for a few days when flying in so you don’t get shortness of breath, dizziness or nausea.



Foreign currency isn’t used much

Unlike some other African countries where you can use US dollars for tips and hotels, you won’t find that practice much in Ethiopia. The currency of Ethiopia is the birr — it’s divided into 100 cents and you’ll find notes in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50, and 100.

ethiopia rain umbrellas

Dereje / Shutterstock.com

The rainy season is between June and August

African countries like Zambia and South Africa have rains between November and April, but the rain tends to fall pretty hard in Ethiopia between June and August. The northern highlands can be especially wet during this time.

Ethiopia mountains

Wikimedia Commons

It also gets cold

Although Dallol is the hottest year-round place on the planet, other areas in the country are mountainous and can get pretty chilly. Be sure to check the weather and pack a jacket.

mosquito small


You can get malaria

Most of Ethiopia including Addis and the highlands are low-risk areas for malaria, but a trip below 6500 feet can leave you in areas where you can be exposed to it. Ethiopia is also home to a chloroquine-resistant strain of malaria and the more dangerous falciparum strain. It’s good practice to have some malaria pills just in case you take any impromptu trips around the country.

wat and injera


There won’t be any cutlery

You probably won’t find many restaurants or families who will serve you meals with utensils in Ethiopia. Instead, just tear off a piece of injera, wrap it around a mouthful of food and pop it in your mouth.

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  1. GumboGodess
    Jan 14, 2016

    Also, Christianity originated in Ethiopia. It wasn't just one of the first places to adopt it. Where was baby Jesus...

    Also, Christianity originated in Ethiopia. It wasn’t just one of the first places to adopt it. Where was baby Jesus hidden from Herod? Egypt. Why? Because he could blend in the land of the “burnt faces”.

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