What to Do & How to Get Around on a Layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
As much as possible, I try to help answer readers’ questions. Almost everything can be found in my Backpacking Africa for Beginners Book. But since I have a special spot for Ethiopia, I couldn’t help answering this question about what to do on a layover in Addis Ababa.
Thanks for all the very interesting experience reports from Africa and especially Ethiopia.
End of January 2017 I will have a layover in Addis Ababa from 6am (arriving from Frankfurt) to 11.30pm (leaving for Cape Town), and I would like to see a bit of the city. Is there a possibility to hire a cab for the whole day? Do you have any other recommendations?
All the best and kind regards from Germany,
While I personally love living in Addis Ababa, it’s not the most exciting sight-seeing destination. The rest of the country though– BEAUTIFUL! There are so many reasons to travel Ethiopia for a couple of weeks or more. But if you can only manage a layover in Addis Ababa, here is what you need to know:
Most travelers (from the US, Europe, Canada, and some others) can easily get a transit visa upon arrival for their layover in Addis Ababa. Currently it’s $50, although you should check with the Ethiopian Embassy in YOUR country to be sure.
HIRING A DRIVER:
Since your layover in Addis Ababa will be short, the most efficient (and expensive) way to see this giant metropolis is through hiring a driver. You can hire a taxi at the airport but you’ll end up haggling quite a bit for the price, and you have no good guarantee that the driver won’t take off during the day with all your stuff in his trunk. You can also contact a private taxi company before you come, but the driver might not speak English fluently. And customer service won’t be great either. The last, and best option, is to hire a driver from a tour company. They are much more trustworthy and can make your one day really special.
The price for hiring a driver isn’t backpacking budget friendly costing about $150 for the day. But it will be a more enjoyable way to see the sity. When my cousins were here they took a tour with Timeless, and loved it. I recommend checking them out if you want this option.
RENTING A CAR:
I don’t recommend this option. It will only cost $50-60, but driving in Ethiopia is extremely chaotic. And international licenses aren’t accepted which means if you get caught, you can get a fine or worse.
I take public transportation in Ethiopia everyday, and the adventurous traveler will find it fine to use. It’s not as easy to figure out as public transportation in Europe, but locals are really nice and will help you. There are no real addresses in the city. You have to decide where you want to go and find out which area of town it is in. Then you can take a bus to that area, although sometimes you may need to take a connector bus.
There is the Addis Ababa lightrail, and tickets can be bought at small gray and orange booths at points all along the line. The train doesn’t go to places that most travelers would find interesting to visit though. (One ticket costs 3-8 birr which is less than 50 cents)
There are different big buses you can take, but they are usually very crowded. I don’t recommend them for newcomers because they are easy to get pick-pocketed on, and they only stop at designated places.
These are what I like to take. They are 12 passenger vans that hold up to 20-25 people at certain times. They’ll stop anywhere along their route, and other passengers will gladly answer any questions you have about where to go. (One ride costs 1.50-4.50 birr on average which is less than twenty five cents)
While you probably won’t walk the whole day, it is a great way to see parts of the city. And Addis (besides pick-pocketers) is very safe. Just be careful crossing the street because pedestrians do not have the right away. A bus will hit you. Seriously, I’ve been hit. But thankfully, it was more of a “love tap” and my bruise healed quickly.
- Seeing Lucy (the oldest skeleton ever found!) She’s not super exciting, but something worth seeing. Entrance fee to the National Museum is only 10 birr (50 cents).
- If you’re super adventurous, you can see the Merkado. Its the largest outdoor market in Africa. It’s freaking crazzzy! Lots of people everywhere. But perfect if you love people watching.
- Drink tons of coffee! As you know, Ethiopia was the first country to discover coffee. The most popular cafes are Kaldi’s (replicated off of Starbucks) and Tomoco (standing only cafe that locals love). And if possible find someone/somewhere that makes a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
- Checking out a traditional dancing restaurant. It’s a little touristy. But it’s one of the best ways for you to try a sampling of all the different kinds of Ethiopian food, see traditional dances from all the tribes, & enjoy any of the local drinks. My favorite is Yod Abysinnia & it’s right by the airport. Get there around 7-8 pm and hang out there until you depart.
- Most travelers love trying raw meat. It’s a delicacy here. I’m vegan so definitely not my cup of tea. And technically raw meat can give you a worm (but worm pills are super cheap and can be found at any pharmacy).
(Note: I have a complete Addis Ababa Guide that includes more places to visit & the area of town they are located)
Money scams definitely exist. Everything from ludacriously overpriced coffee-ceremonies to expensive khat houses trip up the average tourist. Use common sense and always agree on the price of everything beforehand. A complete list of Ethiopian scams can be found in my book.
- Taxis at the airport will charge a lot. If you walk out of the airport, cross the parking lot and main road, you’ll be able to find a cheaper one. You’ll still need to haggle, but you’ll save $5-15.
- Locals love to hear foreigners speak their language. It’s a kind gesture. A few basics include:
Hello– Selam (literally means peace)
Thank You– A-may-say-ga-na-low
Bathroom – Shint- a- bet
Where is – ______ Yet No? (Ex. Where is the bathroom? Shint-a-bet Yet-no?)
How Much– Sent-a-no?
LAYOVER IN ADDIS ABABA
Just because you have a layover in Addis Ababa, doesn’t mean you can’t change it. I knew a backpacker who came for a short layover, and changed it into a 3 week trip. He never regretted it.
If you’re in the city, feel free to say hi! You can reach out on my Facebook page or call/message me when you come. (For spamming purpose, I had to take my number off the site, but you can get it by downloading the rest of my Ethiopian guide)