After a week in Zanzibar, we departed from the island and headed back to Cape Town.
We broke up our trip as total travel time was 9 hours, so we stayed two nights in Ethiopia at the Hilton Addis Ababa on our way back. If you’re traveling via Addis with a connecting flight, I highly recommend doing this.
We reached Bole international airport and went through the security protocols, left the airport and got into our hotel’s shuttle. *Note the Ethiopian security regulations at Bole airport is extremely strict and thorough.
As we drove, we were mesmerized by the amount of hotels we passed coupled with modern buildings and historic structures.
Addis Ababa is a buzzing city of economic, social and political activity and home to such notable offices as the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. The nightlife is no different, with restaurants, bars and dance clubs open until the early hours of the morning.
Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia, is widely recognised throughout the country and even spoken on its flag carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, which has been voted as Middle East and Africa airline of the year 2017. We were hesitant of the airline at first, yet I can comfortably say that we are super pleased with their service.
Recent years have seen a huge increase in visitors to Addis Ababa, mainly due to the expansion of Ethiopian Airlines’ worldwide footprint. Many travellers fly into Addis Ababa and then head straight out on connecting flights and sadly miss the opportunity to explore the very fabric of this ancient country.
Ethiopia is home to a population of 100 million strong and also the gateway to an ancient world with a wealth of treasures for travellers to uncover.
The Ethiopian Empire, which was historically known as Abyssinia left behind an abundance of cultural rich artifacts, monasteries, palaces and other ruins. Visitors can explore several of these monuments and buildings in Addis Ababa with other sites such as Lalibela’s rock churches and Aksum located deeper into northern Ethiopia.
Aksum is a city in northern Ethiopia, known for its tall, carved obelisks and relics of the ancient Kingdom of Aksum. The St. Mary of Zion Christian church is believed to have housed the biblical Ark of the Covenant and now housed in a nearby chapel. The history surrounding the Ark dates back to the times of King Solomon and Queen Sheba.
Another UNESCO world heritage site is located in Lalibela. 11 Medieval gigantic cave churches are situated heart of Ethiopia near a traditional village with circular-shaped houses. Today Lalibela remains as one of the most important sites of Ethiopian Christianity.
Heading back to “The New Flower” as the Amharic language gives its definition of Addis Ababa we explored the many tourist sites scattered across the city.
Looming over the north side of Addis Ababa, Mount Entoto reaches a height of 3200 meters above sea level. This mountain has huge significance to the people of Addis Ababa. Firstly, it’s the highest point in the city and allows visitors to get a unique view of the capital.
The mountain is covered with a forest which provides firewood to the city. As we made our way slowly up the mountain road leading through the forest, we came across several donkeys and women hauling their family’s supply of firewood.
We finally reached the top and was stunned by an enormous, colourful church and surrounding buildings that stood in front of us. After asking one of the locals to give us more insight into the significance of these buildings, we in fact arrived at the first palace of Emporer Menelik II as well as the Entoto Maryam church and museum.
We paid and entered the museum. With the assistance of the groundskeeper, we received a tour of the museum (where no photography is allowed) and viewed the robes, crowns, portraits and other royal regalia from Emperor Menelik II and Hailie Selassie’s era.
The Maryam church is a traditionally painted octagon historic church and also the site of pilgrimage for Ethiopians of the Orthodox Christian faith. The adjacent buildings were the palace of the emperor as well as the first church building in Addis Ababa.
As it became overcast and started drizzling, we decided to head back to the city to explore the areas surrounding our hotel. As this was our last day in Ethiopia, we still needed to buy some souvenirs for our family and friends back home. Slowly but surely we drove down the steep winding road and passed more women carrying wood and a few herds of goats and sheep along the way.
As we entered the city, we drove through what seems to be a market area focusing on shema, 100% cotton products; and the perfect gift some friends back home. The street is filled with an endless number of stalls, all selling different varieties of cotton garments, scarves and material. After buying some bargains, we went on to explore the city’s history.
The diversity of Ethiopia’s people is reflected in the many churches, mosques and museums, including the Ethiopian National Museum. Lucy, a skeleton found in 1974 and estimated to be 3.2 million years old. The partial skeleton can be viewed at the museum as well as other articles of Ethiopia’s heritage.
Another distinctive discovery of Ethiopia is honey wine or Tey, also called mead in other parts of the world. It’s made by fermenting honey with water and flavoured with fruits and spices, which gives it a sweet and smooth taste. For a taste, visit a local Tey house or the legendary 2000 Habesha restaurant in the city centre which offers a wide range of Ethiopian cultural cuisine whilst guests are mesmerized by dances and music from the country’s cultural heritage. This is the perfect way of experiencing Ethiopia over dinner.
Life begins after coffee!
That’s a phrase that most in today’s age with agree with. Ethiopia is the origin of the earliest legends about coffee. As coffee is Ethiopia’s largest industry, it makes up about 60% of its export profits. One of my favourite coffee houses that I discovered in the city was Tomoca, definitely worth a visit!
For some reason, Ethiopians serve coffee as a half-filled cup and asking for a full cup will get you additional hot water. I guess the reason is the strength of the coffee.
Ethiopia has a lot to offer the world of coffee, both historically and as a modern producer of coffee. It’s fair to say that Ethiopian coffee will remain relevant to the coffee industry for hundreds of years to come.
For a cultural coffee experience, visit the Hilton Addis Ababa hotel and experience a coffee roasting ceremony in the hotel’s lobby. This ritual is performed throughout the day and open to everyone. For another coffee experience at this luxurious hotel, try the traditional coffee served during breakfast coupled with the smell of smouldering frankincense that fills the air.
Addis Ababa is often used as a detour for exploring the rest of Africa, and most visitors only take a day or two to take in its unlimited sights. As its economy grows and focus shifts towards tourism, this vast cultural landscape will become even more of an interesting tourist destination in its own right over next couple of years.