Tips for adventure travel in Ethiopia

In November 2010, my husband and I toured Ethiopia for three weeks by public bus with a private guide. Traveling (especially traveling by bus) is a real adventure and not for the faint hearted as there are long travel days (even longer if the bus breaks down) on rough roads. But it’s a great way to get up close and personal with the life and culture of the locals.

addis ababa

We arrived at the airport at 3:30 am. We hadn’t booked any accommodation due to our early arrival so we stayed at the airport until 7am. A taxi agreed to take us into the city for USD$10. We went to the Ras hotel where we had to wait until 9am to see if they had a room.

Travel Tip: We stayed at the Ras Hotel 3 times due to its central location. The price includes breakfast, which is horrible, but lunch and dinner are good.

bahir dar

We stayed at the Ghion Hotel on Lake Tana and took a boat cruise to the islands to see the painted churches. The Blue Nile Falls area is pretty, but not worth the long bumpy ride to get there. From the damming of the river, the waterfalls certainly don’t look anything like the posters they show.

Travel Tip: Check to see if a guide is included with your Lake Tana boat cruise. There were 9 of us on our boat. No guide accompanied us on the boat except our private guide Samson. The first island we visited Samson acted as an interpreter, otherwise we would not have understood what we were seeing. The second island we visited the church guide spoke English.


The abandoned castles are very interesting and it is worth hiring the guides inside the gate.

Travel Tip: We stayed at Pension Belgez, which was cheap, clean and quiet, but the rooms were very small and cramped. They do your washing for a very small fee – give the cleaners in the morning.

simien mountains

We did a 4×4 day trip with another traveler and our guide Samson.

Travel Tip: We would have liked to stay overnight even though we are not hikers as the scenery is stunning.


We spent 2 nights in Lalibela exploring the amazing rock churches.

Travel Tip: Have your entrance ticket handy as it will be checked at each church entrance.

Arba Minch

Arba Minch is an overnight bus stop between Addis Ababa and Jinka.

Travel tip: Spend an extra night at one of the stopovers and take the lake tour.


We hired a 4×4 locally to tour the 3 main tribes in the area (Mersi, Hamer and Karo tribes). We shared this cost with 3 other travelers who were on the bus and stayed in the same accommodation as us.

Travel tip: buy your bus ticket to Addis Ababa in advance (at least 1 day before) so you can get a better seat number; otherwise you will find yourself stuck in the back of the bus on the 2 day trip. Buy good earplugs so you can block out the noise from loud music videos.


We used a variety of transportation including: public bus, minivan, 4×4, and boat.

Travel tip: if there are enough of you going in the same direction, it will be cheaper and more convenient for you to rent a minivan with a driver like we did from Bahar Dar to Gondar (7 people).

Tour guide

We use the services of a private guide. This was the first time we hired a guide for the entire trip through a new country. The guide proved invaluable in keeping the touts out (it’s worth the money alone), dealing with local tour operators, and getting hotels.

Travel Tip: Use the extensive knowledge and experience of a private guide to experience Ethiopia through the eyes of a local.

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