Backpacking in Ethiopia

  • Population: 74.2 million (UN, 2005)
  • Capital: Addis Ababa
  • Area: 1.13 million sq km (437,794 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya, Somali
  • Major religions: Christianity, Islam
  • Life expectancy: 46 years (men), 49 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Birr = 100 cents


Backpacking in Ethiopia

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is a nation that is one of its kind in Africa, and in this continent, being a stand out is hard. Plagued with misrepresentations and overgeneralizations, it’s effortless to confound African countries as Kenya, Sudan or Tanzania, and none will be smarter. Ethiopia, however, is Ethiopia and to confuse it as something else is sacrilege, if not stupidity. We credit Ethiopia far less than what is due. Ethiopia sits at the very cradle of mankind with civilizations older than Egypt, and archaeological evidences that are so ancient to be long forgotten.

Yes, long lost kingdoms of Africa were built in these soils, and yet, Ethiopia remains to be one of the most underrated nations in Africa. A country that needs no celebrity to make its name ring worldwide is one such that deserves high regard. Already, it is referenced 45 times in the Bible, in addition to the unconfirmed relation of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon. But then, the status of the remains of Australopithecus Afarensis, the earliest ancestral hominid,and “Lucy” cannot be classified under ”celebrity”.

On a slightly modern note, Ethiopia is the only African country that stood lay unclaimed by any European usurper. Of course, it’s also the land of the Omo, the Suri tribe with their no-BS lip plates, and of FGM or female circumcision. Couldn’t a journey be more fascinating as one in Ethiopia?


Backpacking in Ethiopia

Ethiopia (8 00 N, 38 00 E) is a massive landlocked country on the eastern horn of Africa with a very diverse topography. It has a total area of 1,104,300 km2 of high plateaus and a central mountain range separated by the Great Rift Valley from northeast to southwest, the longest in the world, and around it steppes, deserts,  tropical forests, lowlands, and depressions as the Danakil Depression that is -125m below sea level. The Ras Dejen is the summit of Ehtiopia at 4,533m of majestic height and mass. The bewildering landscape induces the great variations in climate.


The climate ranges from tropical monsoon to temperate in the highlands. The wide range of climate, topography and altitude was a major factor in the evolution of species that, according to both hearsay and research, happened right in Ethiopia.


There are 88,013,491 Ethiopians at the most recent, and as a nomadic society, up to 15 million are pastoralists relying heavily on raising camels, goats, and especially, cattle. Ethiopia ranks 14th in the world for the most population. Its population is also among the most diverse owing to the multitude of ethnic groups, more than 80 that is, that inhabit the country. The Omoro, Amhara, Tigray and Somali are the major ethnic groups which form around 75% of the population. Ethiopia also shelters refugees from Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan. Currently, there are 980,000 people living with AIDS in the country.


Most of the Ethiopians speak a Semitic language, but statistically and ethno-linguistically, there are around 80 different groups with their own languages. AMHARIC is theofficial and national vernacular used widely from daily communication to school instruction. ENGLISH is used extensively in schools as the major foreign language. The Ethiopia Kingdom also has an ancient language, GE’EZ, that like Latin, no one commonly speaks anymore but is used for celebration of an Orthodox Mass. The Ge’ez is an alphabet. It’s even got its own Latin sort of language that no one speaks. Ge’ez is related to Arabic and, crucially, Hebrew – the language of the Old Testament and of Solomon whose history Ethiopia profoundly intertwines with its own.


Christianity has been the predominant religion in Ethiopia since the 1st Century AD, and by the 4th Century was adopted as the state religion. Now, the Christians comprise 60.8% of the total population who, by and large practice Ethiopian Orthodox. Islam has a sizeable 32.8% of the population, while the minority traditional religions are adhered to by the remainder.


The smiling faces of the friendly Ethiopians are the real deal. Ethiopia is a place like nowhere else on earth, perhaps because they celebrate Christmas on January 7, or maybe simply because of their lip plates or alphabet. Ethiopian tourism is revolves around people, who, you’ll find, make the places they inhabit attractions such as the people of the Omo and the Suri Tribe. Ethiopia is a tough place to visit, but even tougher to live in, and this is how the Ethiopians get to be so interesting.  The Ethiopians are a window to the past as a people who live so close to their ancestors’ ways. All the daily situations they need to go through as famine and drought make uo for the amazing and fun culture and practices the people have now. Not to deny, the World Heritage Site of Lalibela’s Rock-Hewn Churches, King Fasilide’s Castle, and churches and mosques are the deal-breakers making for a real fascinating journey. Addis Abbaba is the capital, but Dira Dawa is safe, ordered, and neat – a place Addis is entirely not.


Ethiopian cuisine is special, down-to-earth, and unfussy and a recurrent influence on the cuisines of the nations surrounding it. Definitely, it’s something you should not miss even when there’s Chinese food on board, so put your cutlery and chopsticks down because we’re going to eat with the Ethiopian injera. With injera at hand, scoop out some wat the classic home-made Ethiopian stew of chicken, beef, and vegetables. Wat is made with onions, spices, and clarified butter or niter kibbeh. Ethiopian food is quintessentially spicy using a condiment berberi or berbere made from chilli powder and more spices, cooked with the stew or eaten, or, take this, raw meat as camel. Along with freshly butchered camel from the market, locals eat the raw meat with a condiment-combo of berbere and a spritz of lemon.

Partaking Ethiopian food is a salubrious moment and certain etiquette is mandatory to not offend, such as the use of the right hand to tear off injera and feed yourself, or not touching your lips with your fingers. If someone feeds you off their hand, eat it. It’s either a sign of hospitality, or that they simply adore you. It’s the same thing locals do when dating, one will notice. To some, the bottom part of the injera that has sucked in all the juices from all the kitfo (raw spiced meat) and wats is the best. Dessert-wise, honey is a staple used for making honey bread called yemarina yewotet dabo. Ethiopians don’t normally end a meal with a confection, but with coffee completed with honey. Surely, there are highbrow Ethiopian and Italian restaurants, but the thing is, nothing does home-cooked like the Ethiopians. This is the experience you would like to go for when in this place, be it Addis or Dira Dawa.


Backpacking in Ethiopia

Backpacking Addictz looks at Backpacking in Ethiopia.

Joshua Boorman

Joshua Boorman

Founder & Editor in Chief at Backpacking Addictz
Come with me on a journey with me to various destinations throughout the world. We discuss all things Backpacking, Lifestyle Design & Online Business to help you achieve new found freedom and create a life of meaningful fulfillment.
Joshua Boorman

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