15 Hours in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
During my one-day stopover in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, I ate tibs and drank beer with a Swedish rock band, drank coffee with friendly locals, shopped for spices, and still made my flight back to the U.S. It was December, and I was headed home to the United States from a work assignment. After a few days, concerned that I was going to be stranded there over the holidays, I was booked on Ethiopian Airlines from Djibouti to Addis Ababa, and then onto a direct flight to Washington, D.C. The catch was that I’d have to spend 15 hours in Addis Ababa. And there was no way I was going to spend that in the airport.
As I would learn, the Addis Ababa airport is the busiest in Africa, and is the connection point to most of the continent, especially if you don’t have a direct flight. It’s geographically positioned to make flying anywhere in the continent relatively easy (though it may still take you 9 hours). However, you also may have to wait many hours for your flight.
This is when we discovered that beer is cheaper than water.
The Ethiopian Government is highly aware of this and has made it very easy for those who want to take a day to sightsee in their capital while waiting for their connection. While a visa is required to enter the country one can purchase a 24 hour transit visa at the airport.
This is what I did. I’m very fortunate to have an uncle who runs Epic Photo Tours, a photo-tourism business, which takes groups all over Ethiopia. As soon as he found out I would be in ADD for a day, he said “Oh, I’ve got a guy there. Let me put you in touch.”
Sure enough, Osman from Sora Tours picked me up from the airport and showed me around for the entire day for 1000 Ethiopian Birr (or about $50, which included tip). It was worth every penny–at some points, he would walk around with me, and at other points he would just go wait while I shopped or drank coffee.
The first stop was Habesha Traditional Restaurant. Ethiopian food is very distinctive: various meat and veggie dishes are arranged on a spongy bread plate called injera. One eats the other dishes in the bread, and then you eat the bread at the end. This is a lot of food, and I walked into this massive, completely empty restaurant a bit after the typical lunch time (about 2 PM), a solo female expecting to shamelessly eat an extremely large plate of food all by myself.
15 Hours in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
And in rocked a group of other 20-something Westerners who looked about as disoriented as I must have. I invited them to join me (selfishly motivated by not wanting to look weird because I was eating alone). They were a Swedish music group, Kwaai, on their way to South Africa. Like me, they were trying to make the most of a long layover.
We decided to order two of the largest dishes in the restaurant, a large bottle of water and a round of the local beer, St George. This is when we discovered that beer is cheaper than water.
After a large meal, and many, many beers, we parted ways. They went back to the airport, and Osman took me to the Addis Merkato, the largest open air market in the world.
I’ve lived in countries with chaotic open markets, but I know no Amharic or Oromo (the two primary languages of Ethiopia), had been up since 4 AM, and had a bit of a beer buzz. Even though English is widely spoken, I was very grateful that Osman could help me out.
Ethiopia is definitely a place one needs to haggle, and Osman helped me haggle some spices and beautiful carved wooden items for gifts, even getting into a bit of a shouting match with a vendor when he knew I was getting ripped off. I got a jewelry box for my best friend and some bookends with carved lions for myself.
I can’t really say I saw much of Addis Ababa Ethiopia — I spent so much time at the first restaurant with my Swedish friends that I didn’t make it to the Ethnological Museum before heading to the other “must sees” But I saw enough to know that I want to come back, and met some wonderful, kind people.
After the market, Osman dropped me off at Tomoca for coffee. I wandered in alone, and ordered a plain coffee. I spent over an hour there, talking to some local graduate students. In fact, I don’t remember what we talked about, or the names of the people I talked to, but what does stand out is that they were some of the friendliest people I have ever met while traveling, with tremendous national pride, and a desire to share their city.
As a female solo traveler, I think it’s common to have the experience of meeting men who seem overly eager to help you out, but who have ulterior motives. However, one develops a sixth sense when you know something is and isn’t right. While I declined their eventual invitation to come to a concert with their (coed) group of friends, the invitation seemed genuine and thoughtful, and if I hadn’t had a flight to catch in four hours, I might have gone.
Tomoca, by the way, also has the best coffee in the world, and I brought two bags home to the United States for my parents.
As a female solo traveler, I think it’s common to have the experience of meeting men who seem overly eager to help you out, but who have ulterior motives.
After the coffee shop, Osman brought me to Yod Abyssinia, another traditional restaurant. Since it was dinner time, there were many others enjoying a meal, and the restaurant offered a live cultural show. It was a great place to eat, have a St. George, watch a show, and relax before my 15-hour nightmare flight (that’s another story) back to DC.
I can’t really say I saw much of Addis Ababa Ethiopia — I spent so much time at the first restaurant with my Swedish friends that I didn’t make it to the Ethnological Museum before heading to the other “must sees” But I saw enough to know that I want to come back, and met some wonderful, kind people. Addis Ababa Ethiopia is not a place that’s at the top of the list for solo travel, but it can definitely be done and enjoyed.
Jack and Jill travel also have a great post on backpacking in Addis, with recommendations on where to stay.
15 Hours in Addis Ababa Ethiopia | Pink Pangea | Travel Information