Shrouded in mystery and history, Ethiopia is an emerging hot spot that’s just beginning to unveil its many treasures to international tourists. Look first to the capital, Addis Ababa, where tradition meets modernity, and the scale and speed of development in this fast-emerging African country is most evident. Here are four perfect itineraries for every traveler’s tastes.
1. Gastronomy and Music
Ethiopian cuisine has gained global recognition. Try injera, a staple made from indigenous crop cereal, teff. Alone, the spongy flatbread tastes like a foam mattress, but topped with wat (a curry or stew) and spiced lentils as a sharing platter, it’s a delicious meal. 2000 Habesha is our top pick in this culinary capital for high-quality cuisine in an upmarket setting—you can sample just about everything at the extensive buffet. Yod Abyssinia, off busy Bole Road, is a haven for traditional food, where Ethiopians dine with friends and family. For posh nosh and cocktails amongst the international jet set, the Hilton bar is the spot to be seen. From here, let your dancing shoes whisk you to H20 nightclub, the trendiest venue in town.
Insider Tip: Ethiopian jazz boasts a thriving scene that’s been garnering international acclaim. Hit up the Jazzamba Jazz Lounge, featuring live music sessions with Ethiopia’s top talent.
The historical home of coffee and origin of the Arabica coffee plant, Ethiopia has held a timeless love affair with this rich bitter nectar, and coffee today plays a vital role in the livelihoods of millions of Ethiopians. Travel anywhere in capital Addis Ababa knowing an excellent cup of coffee is always just around the corner. Our caffeine fix of choice is Tomoca, where patrons sit amidst maps and charts detailing the global history of coffee and soak up the buzz of the hectic city, alongside locals chatting in melodic Amharic. Kaldi’s Coffee is a chain increasing in popularity, and is great for extras like juices, ice creams, and snacks.
Insider Tip: For beans to take home, seek out Mokarar Coffee Roaster shop (circa 1944). It’s easily overlooked with its simple facade, but offers high-quality coffee at great rates.
3. City Sightseeing
Addis Ababa is perhaps the most fascinating place to observe Ethiopian daily life unfold. Cultures collide, eras amalgamate, and fashions fuse, from pre-Christian customs to trailblazing trends. Merkato, the largest open-air market in Africa, is an electrifying experience that employs tens of thousands of workers and spans three miles. A walk-through is a cultural assault of the senses; we particularly love the frenetic spice section (tip: hire a guide for safety and orientation). Afterward, trek up Entoto Hills for dazzling panoramic views at sunset. For a rare spot of peace, locals head to Menagesha-Suba Forest, west of the city. Romantic walks here are picturesque, with plenty of indigenous vegetation and wildlife.
Insider Tip: The Fistula Hospital is a remarkable place to visit, and is considered the best-run charity in the country.
4. Art and History
The art scene is flourishing in Addis Ababa. Deep-rooted foundations in religious art are now evolving to contemporary counterparts. Look to the Ethiopian Orthodox churches for the city’s founding art heritage. St. George’s Cathedral is the best place to appreciate historical religious art. The octagonal building, loaded with vivid mosaics and paintings, was built in 1896 to celebrate the defeat of the Italians. Visit St. George Gallery to view works by renowned Ethiopian artists, or try the National Museum, home to "Lucy," one of the world’s oldest skeletons.
Insider Tip: LeLa Gallery was set up to give Ethiopian artists a showcase for their work, with regular exhibitions hosted by the artists-in-residence.
Having traveled to 80-plus countries, Anisha Shah intrinsically uses her BBC TV & Radio News journalism background, connecting with and documenting people in all corners of the globe. Traveling extensively through Ethiopia, and choosing to go alone, was a successful challenge. She’s now planning trips to South Sudan, Iraq, and Senegal.
Photo credits: Courtesy of Anisha Shah