Sunday, April 03, 2005

Getting to Ethiopia

GETTING THERE: At least six airlines, including KLM, Northwest and Ethiopian airlines, fly from Washington Dulles to Addis Ababa, mostly with two stops. Round-trip fares start at about $1,700.

GETTING AROUND: Many travelers book tours -- not a bad idea. Bus rides are often grueling (the trip over dirt roads to Lalibela from Addis can take two days), but the excellent Ethiopian Airlines (said to be one of the best airlines in Africa) has frequent flights throughout the entire historical circuit -- and in-country fares are very economical, especially if booked ahead in the United States. (I did not book ahead, but my circuit of flights from Addis to Lalibela to Aksum to Gonder to the lake resort of Bahar Dar and then back to Addis cost only $318.)

WHEN TO GO: There is a rainy season from mid-June to mid-September, but Ethiopian weather is otherwise stunning -- in the low 70s during the day with brilliant sun. The great religious holidays, Christmas and Epiphany or Timkat, come during the January high season.

WHERE TO STAY: The Sheraton Addis (Taitu Street, 011-251-1-171717, www.Sheraton.com) is reputed to be the best hotel in Africa, with rooms starting at $181 a night for a double. Economical alternatives are the centrally located Ghion Hotel (011-251-1-513222 or -510240, www.ghionhotel.com.et, $60), with a nice pool -- or, in the Piazza district, the Taitu (011-251-1-553244 or -560787, $10-$25), thick with atmosphere. I loved the Baro (001-251-1-559846), also in the Piazza, with a leafy courtyard; a basic room with bath cost me $6 a night. In Lalibela, Harer, Gonder and Aksum, the hotels are often humble but clean and friendly, averaging $10 a night.

WHERE TO EAT: In Addis, real splurges at $20 a person are Dashen (behind the main post office), a great Ethiopian restaurant with a nice garden, chic decor and fantastic food, and Castelli (in the Piazza area), an Italian place as good as almost any restaurant in Rome. Blue Tops (opposite the National Museum), where I had lunch with Tigist Bekele (who has sung at Dukem Restaurant on U Street NW in Washington), serves fine Ethiopian and Italian food in a relaxed atmosphere. Good Ethiopian food is plentiful in the cities and towns for $5 to $8; in Addis you also find Italian, Chinese, Middle Eastern and the not-quite-recommended Burger Queen.

INFORMATION: The Web site of the Ethiopian Embassy is helpful: www.ethiopianembassy.org. The Ethiopian Tourism Commision offers good information on both historical and natural sights: www.tourismethiopia.org.


Hotelview: Sheraton Hotel Addis Ababa Ethiopia
Sheraton Addis

Regal Palace in Africa's Capital
by A Yahoo! User from New York City, NY, USA.

Everything about this hotel is down right regal

The contrast with the poverty at it's very gates

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