Ethiopia Travel Warning: 4 things to know NOW (but helpful for any African country!)
Ethiopia Travel Warning | I’ve gotten numerous travelers recently asking me, “Is Ethiopia safe to visit right now?” If you haven’t seen the news, there have been multiple protests resulting in many deaths. It’s grossly exaggerated by the media. But as a local living here, it’s escalating to a point travelers should start paying attention to it.
Here’s the best Ethiopia Travel Warning I can give you as someone who actually lives here.
1) Ethiopia Travel Warning: Avoid protests.
When violence first broke out, it occurred only during protests. And the protests weren’t in random spots. They were in predesignated locations usually outside of a university or in a town square. You could be a few blocks away, and be completely unaffected.
That’s why I initially told travelers to continue to the “regions of violence” (mostly in the North only), but to use common sense and avoid protests.
And today’s that’s still my biggest recommendation wherever you are traveling in the world. Unless you feel so strongly about a protest and think it’s the only way to get your message across, then AVOID PROTESTS…. in America… in Europe… in Africa. Nothing good happens to bystanders in an angry mob.
Still today in Ethiopia protests are preplanned. Locals know where they will be. And if you, as an unaware traveler, stumble into one…. just turn and walk away. It’s the simplest, but honestly the best safety tip.
2) Ethiopia Travel Warning: It’s localized.
The violence that has occurred is mostly in the North (Gondar & Bahir Dar areas). The rest of the country is pretty much functioning as normal. There have been a few protests in Addis and other cities, but for backpackers the rest of Ethiopia can be safely traveled.
Because Ethiopia, like most other African countries, has many different regions, cultures, and ethnic groups. So violence in one area usually does not affect violence in another area. The fighting happening in Ethiopia right now involves disagreements between Oromia People and the government, and it’s expressing itself in mostly specific areas.
The same goes for travelers in other African countries.
If you hear of violence in North Kenya, it probably doesn’t affect Lamu Island. At the border of DRC and Rwanda, I was literally right beside a town in the DRC with incoming rebel groups, yet a 15 minute walk away and I was perfectly safe.
Bottom line. Violence in Africa is almost always in specific areas that affect specific people. As a traveler, just avoid those areas and the rest of the country is most likely safe. (Obviously there are some exceptions…some Northern or Central African countries right now have heightened security issues. But for Southern & East African countries this advice generally works).
In Ethiopia, right now, I recommend avoiding Gondar, Bahir Dar, and surrounding areas. I just met an American guy who left Bahidar because he could hear gun shots on the street. And he wasn’t some sissy or missionary who gets more funding the more embellished his stories get. He was a really cool businessman, heading home until things cool off a little.
But just because you’re avoiding the north, doesn’t mean the rest of Ethiopia is off limits. There are so many reasons to visit Ethiopia. But if you’ve read my Ethiopian Guide, you know that I don’t recommend Gondar or Bahir Dar as the top travel spots anyways. If you haven’t downloaded, get it now and plan your trip to better and more exciting areas (volcano or crazy tribe men anyone??).
**UPDATE** The protests are spreading outside of these areas, but they still tend to be mostly in Oromo/slightly in Amhara regions. Although Addis & surrounding areas have seen some as well. Keep in mind that the protests aren’t all the time… they are still at selected places in selected areas. However, as a traveler be aware that they could potentially pop up wherever you are.
3) Ethiopia Travel Warning: It’s not aimed at you.
The violence in Ethiopia is not aimed at tourists. Ethiopians actually love foreigners! If anything they’ll go out of their way to help you, protect you, or become friends with you. And as mentioned above, even if you find yourself accidentally in a fighting zone, it’s mostly likely between two ethnic groups. (I mean still get out— but just know you’re probably not the target).
I wouldn’t visit an area that was experience Anti-American protests though. That’s why some travel in the Middle East right now is dangerous. Because ISIS is targeting locals and tourists alike.
But for now in Ethiopia, foreigners aren’t the target. And as long as you don’t get accidentally get in the middle of violent areas, you probably won’t have a problem.
**UPDATE** Unfortunately, one American woman was killed during the first week of October & it is believed to be because she was a foreigner. Supposedly the crowd targeted her because she was white. At this time, the American Embassy is also receiving some mean accusations on their local facebook page. As a whole, I would say the country is still very kind and hospitable to foreigners. And I’m personally not planning on leaving or changing up my routine because of this. However, it’s a good reminder to stay away from crowds & exercise extra caution.
4) Ethiopia Travel Warning: Stay Current
Just like anywhere in the world, sometimes terrible incidents do occur, but they blow over rather quickly. Like when I was in Mozambique and a shoot out occurred in the northern area. The road was blocked off, and the protestors warned that they would shoot if anyone passed. A local bus driver proceeded anyways, and shots were fired at the bus. Sadly, a few people on the bus died.
That totally freaked me out because I was still rather new to Africa. And I was traveling only by local buses. But I waited it out in Tofo (hard life, huh….) for a few days and things cleared up fast. It wasn’t a major issue so I proceeded with no problem.
If it was a reoccurring issue or something that was going to drag on (or as mentioned earlier– targeted at foreigners), then I would not recommend going.
All this to stay, things change fast in Africa. Stay updated. Here’s a few ways:
- The United States State Department will have the most in-depth current analysis of the situation. Here is Ethiopia’s safety report. Warning. They are extremely detailed. And they may scare the shit out of you all together. Keep it in context. When you’re reading all these scary stories about other countries, remember America still has a reported rape every 2 minutes. And yet most people can live and travel there without any incident.
- The British government also issues warnings and recommendations for countries around the world. While very serious, they tend to have a little less, “You’re going to die!” vibe. Plus they often show maps of which areas are under fighting and which aren’t, which is very helpful in African countries. (See their travel warnings for Ethiopia or look at the image below).
- Ask a local or a traveler. The best advice comes from someone in the country or who has just visited it. For Ethiopia, I always got your back! 🙂 Leave a comment below if you need more tips or advice. For other countries it’s a little tricky. You’ll probably meet someone who was just there and can give you updated travel advice if you’re backpacking around that country. Or try contacting hotels, hostels, or locals on social media. I actually met a Kenyan guy via Twitter before my trip. Although he moved to the US, I stayed with his sister when I was in the country.
Hope this helps! I’ll continue to update you guys as things progress or as always, leave me a comment below! 🙂