Experience the unique tribes of South-West Ethiopia.

This is based on a trip I did to some of the tribes in South-West Ethiopia back in 2010 with two others. But having given the advice on how to do it to two travellers in August 2013, they say the advice is still valid.. Many travellers in Ethiopia are interested in seeing the traditional tribes of Omo and Mago national parks amongst others, but are put off by the expensive prices of the tours to get there. So here is some advice on how to do it cheaply, and have a more unique experience than being on a tour.

hamer tribe ethiopia

Hamar tribe in South-West Ethiopia

We started in the provincial town of Konso in the South. We asked around the crossroads in the centre of town for someone who knew the area where some of the tribes were, and who could speak with them. We found a guide and paid him 25 US dollars a day to take us. The two travellers I gave advice too said they paid 30. We decided to hitch-hike to save money on expensive 4WD rentals. The guide was very useful in organising a lift to the town of Turmi inside the tribal region. Expect to pay some tips to the people who give you a lift, 5-10 US dollars should be good.

hamar tribe ethiopia

Tribal people and beautiful scenery in the region

According to the government, tourists are not allowed to use public transport(which is extremely limited anyway), and must have their own car. But we didn’t have too much trouble with hitching rides. Except for one day near Turmi where we waited for several hours under a tree for any vehicle to come, and none did.

But there was a local village nearby and the tribe were intrigued at these strangers sitting under a tree and not in their own 4WD car. The tribe are used to the expensive tour groups coming in, taking photos for 20 minutes, then going away. So they came over, and through our guide translating, talked with us, sat with us, laughed with us, and generally hung out for many hours. It was interesting to see a tour show up, as they all disappeared to the village to put on a tourist show for 20 minutes, then came back to relax with us.

hamar tribe ethiopia

A fellow traveller waiting under a tree with some curious Hamar

When a lift never came, a Hamar man from the village walked us through the bush back to Turmi under a full moon, through the bush. A magical experience. We managed to hike to some villages in the middle of nowhere where cars do not go, and they are not used to tourists. Here you can camp in your own tent near the village, or there is normally a hut for teachers that you can share. You most likely will be able to eat and chat with the tribe, paying no money, and really have a great time. The Hamar tribe we stayed with were getting ready to celebrate a boy coming of age, and everyone was drinking and celebrating at night. We joined in!

hamar tribe ethiopia

Having a locally brewed drink with the Hamar tribe.

The next day they started face painting each other. The women were very drunk as they prepared for the ancient tradition of being whipped by the men as a show of their love. I personally did not like it, but it is their tradition. We spent all morning with them, the same tribe we stayed with the night before, and felt like we knew them pretty well now, and were accepted easily amongst them.

Then the boy coming of age had to jump over several bulls, back and forth a few times to show his manhood. This is a major tourist attraction, and out of nowhere the expensive tour groups showed up in their cars, took photos for 1 hour or so, then went away. It was strange seeing all the tourists showing up after being alone with the Hamar tribe for so long. The bull running felt like a human zoo attraction.

hamar tribe ethiopia

Getting ready for the bull running ceremony.

When you get a lift to places it will probably be with an Ethiopian driving around the area. There are not many vehicles so expect to wait. We came across a crocodile infested river after one such lift, and had to cross the river in a small local canoe that barely floated. Afterwards we hiked through the sweltering heat of a forest to get to some open plains. Here we ran into tribes we hadn’t seen before, different from the Hamar. Some ran away from the cameras scared, and in the middle of nowhere it felt very exotic and foreign.

We stayed the night in a local town nearby. There are small towns scattered around the tribal areas, and all have rather basic, not so great budget hotels, but are handy for moving around. Bring a tent if you can, so you can camp around the villages, or ask to sleep in a hut.. Expect to pay a small tip to sleep there, maybe 100-200 birr.

mago national park

Crocodile river.

crocodiles ethiopia

Crocodiles on bank of river.

local canoe ethiopia

Wood canoe taking us across crocodile river




Summary of how to travel to the tribal regions of Ethiopia for cheap.

I wont go into lots of detail about our trip into the tribal regions of Ethiopiathis post was just to give you a rough idea of what can be done. If you have a lot of time it is better, as no lifts are guaranteed, and you may have to spend more time than you think. Between 3 of us we payed about 25 US dollars a day per person, including guide, tips for lifts, cheap hotels and food, and all to have a very unique experience.

Compare that to the tours that charge 100 US dollars upwards per person, and for the budget traveller the way we did it makes more sense. Of course if you have limited time and want to be safe, then taking a tour to get a feel of the place is fine as well. You may have to budget 50 US dollars a day to be safe when doing it yourself just in case, but it should be much cheaper. It is also better not to go in a big group, as getting a lift you may not be able to get everyone in the car. Your guide and maybe 3 people maximum should be good. If you are heading to the tribes I hope this advice will come in handy and you have a great time!

I highly recommend getting this guide to Ethiopia

tribal woman ethiopia

Tribal woman Ethiopia.

omo-valley-tribes

 

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Jonny Duncan is a freelance blogger and photographer. He specialises in budget travel and outdoor adventures with over 20 years of experience. He started blogging in 2013 and has helped many travelers plan their travels since.

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