Merkato is a sprawling market in the north of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It’s not really a market in the traditional sense, with most stalls these days turned into makeshift shops. This post is about a visit there during the rainy season.
I can highly recommend this guidebook to Ethiopia, it’s one of the best guides I have read –
Merkato Market is considered one of the biggest in Africa.
Getting there through the crazy traffic, you arrive at a scene of what appears to be organised chaos, as the smells of the rain waters mixing with the trash from the ground hit your senses.
The old and the new mix there, a sign of a city in growth. Trucks and cars vie for space with donkeys and people to carry goods to the shops. The streets are busy with shoppers, bustling along with their umbrellas.
But keeping dry there during the rain is a lost cause. You may keep your upper dry, but your lower half will soon be soaked, but this doesn’t stop the people from going about their business. Old men carrying heavy items mix with young boys looking to make a bit of money.
Merkato is arranged into separate areas for different items. This technically should make it easier for finding what you are looking for, but with the chaos there, it could still confound the best shoppers.
Everything from electronics to clothes, heavy industrial steel girders to tires, and all that goes in-between, can be found, some hidden up small alleys away from the main streets. Get a coffee at a cafe and watch all the people rushing around.
It’s the perfect people watching place.
You could easily get lost if you take any of the side alleys, and during the rain the alleys turn into a mud bath. At times you might feel a little intimidated with all the noise and busy atmosphere, especially as Merkato is known for its pickpockets and thieves who not only target the few foreigners, but also the locals.
Mostly though you will find people too busy with their own lives to pay you much attention, and those that do are mostly friendly and intrigued at seeing you wander around. Just use common sense, and it’s always better to visit with someone else so you can keep an eye out for each other.
When the rain subsides and a ray of sun hits the streets it’s an explosion of activity. People who had been huddled into corners trying to stay dry hit the streets and join those who were not put off by the rain. The buses from the nearby bus station come rolling out, along with more trucks filled with produce.
The place doubles in traffic and movement in a heartbeat. You can wander through it all fascinated at everything going on.
After leaving Merkato Market and getting back on the main streets of Addis Ababa, you enter a different kind of chaos. As the rain rolls back in.
Visiting the Merkato is one of the best things you can do in Addis Ababa and is worth going to. Don’t be put off by the somewhat bad reputation.
I have visited many times and had no problems.
That being said things can happen, so use my previous advice and try to go with someone else, and also leave any valuables in your hotel. I have taken my camera there, obviously because of the pictures on here, and found it was no problem.
If you do go there then feel free to come back and comment on this post how your visit was, it could maybe help other travellers out in the future.