The Omo Valley Tribes Adventure in Ethiopia (+ How To Visit Cheaply)

omo valley Ethiopia guide

This is based on a trip I did to the Omo Valley tribes in Ethiopia with two others.

Many travellers in Ethiopia are interested in seeing the traditional tribes of the Omo National Park and Mago National Park, 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 on a budget and have a more unique experience than being on a tour.


How to Visit The Omo Valley Tribes (Cheaply)

 

 

Omo Valley tribes
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Hamar tribe of the Omo Valley.

 

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.

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.

 

Omo Valley TRIBES ETHIOPIA
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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 to 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 and 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 hanged 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.

When a lift never came a Hamar man from the village walked us through the bush back to Turmi under a full moon. A magical experience.

We managed to hike to some villages in the middle of nowhere where cars don’t 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!

 

Omo Valley tribes
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Having a locally brewed drink with the Hamar tribe in the Omo Valley.

 

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A little tipsy after the drink!

 

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.

 

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Getting painted for the bull running.

 

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.

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.

 

Crocodile River in The Omo Valley

 

 

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.

 

Omo Valley river
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Crocodile river.

 

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Wood canoe taking me across crocodile river.

 

There 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.

 


Visiting The Omo Valley Tribes

 

 

I wont go into lots of detail about our trip to see the Omo Valley tribes as this post was just to give you a rough idea of what can be done.

If you have a lot of time it is better for doing the trip this way 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 when doing it yourself just in case, but it will be much cheaper than a tour still. It’s 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 three people maximum should be good.

If you are heading to the Omo Valley tribes I hope this advice will come in handy and you have a great time.

 

Useful Omo Valley Tribes Links:

 

This is the guide I recommend for travelling to Ethiopia that has an in-depth section on the Omo Valley:

Ethiopia (Bradt Travel Guides)

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Be sure to take travel insurance as you will be going to a remote place. I use WorldNomads (find a quote with that link) as I find them to be excellent for adventure travel, therefore perfect for visiting the Omo Valley tribes.

And this is my own Ethiopia travel guide as well as why you should go backpacking in Ethiopia.

A gear list of what I would take with me on a trip to Ethiopia.

 

If you liked this article about the Omo Valley tribes a share would be appreciated! –

 

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24 thoughts on “The Omo Valley Tribes Adventure in Ethiopia (+ How To Visit Cheaply)”

  1. Dude, travelling is all in the eye of the beholder. Just remember you went tramping in Afghanistan, that was epic!;)

  2. Yea, of course. No worries though, we’ve got a quick trip down to Arslanbob in southern Kyrgyzstan planned for once I’m back in town. Only a few days, but a few days of proper traveling!

  3. The Roaming Coconuts

    Thanks for the post, the information is really helpful. I’m traveling to Ethiopia next month and would really like to visit the tribes of Omo, but as a solo traveler was a bit put off by the prices. It’s good to know there are cheaper alternatives than a packaged tour, not to mention that I don’t want to show up with a group of Westerners who are just there to take pictures. Did your guide speak the local language? By the way, crossing that crocodile river looks terrifying!

  4. Hey, glad the information was useful. The advice should still be ok as my friends did this just half a year ago. The guide had no problem communicating with the people. Yeah those crocodiles were not pretty scary! Enjoy Ethiopia, it is a very interesting place to travel.

  5. Hey Jonny,
    thanks for the great info!
    I am going to travel around Eth and Somaliland for 6 weeks and would like to see the Simien mountains and Omo.
    I’m sort of wondering whether it’s worthwile to bring all the camping gear to Ethiopia. What do you think, is it worth all the schlepp?

    Also, I’m travelling solo. Is it realistic to find others for that sort of thing on the road?

    Germany says Hi!

  6. Hey Bela!

    I didn’t have any camping gear with me and had no problem. In the Omo Valley I stayed at a teachers house or cheap hotels in the provincial twons in-between and I only did a day hike into the Simien Mountains. If you were planning a few weeks of hiking and being in Omo then it would be worth taking your camping gear, otherwise I wouldn’t worry about it and just try and stay with locals where you go. I think in Gondar there are companies that provide guides and camping gear for quite cheap so that’s an option as well. $30 a day is no problem on the cheap. I spent some days there on $15! However if you want to do anything like the Danakil Depression then that would be expensive.

    Have fun! Let me know how the trip went with a comment after it’s done 🙂

  7. Thanks a lot, man, will do! I’ll leave out the Danakil for security and budget reasons, although that volcano looks absolutely unreal. Next year I might go to Niger to visit some Touareg friends and stay with them, so I guess that’s enough sand already

  8. Enjoy! I may be in Niger myself sometime next year. I was thinking about heading through West Africa at some point but too hot right now. Was going to do it last year but the Ebola thing happened.

  9. Nice! If you want to go to visit the Touareg, you’d want to go to Agadez, it’s sort of the last outpost where they come if they need anything they cant make themselves. That is, if it doesnt come to them by camel (no Jeeps involved to this day :-))
    You might possibly also be interested in this documentary: ”
    “Agadez, the Music and the Rebellion” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUcePTVPkZU – it’s about the Touareg Band Bombino and their lives, struggle to retain their identity and so forth. You can torrent it off the net, that’s how I got it. Actually my friend used to be a member 😉

  10. Our experience of visiting the Mursi and Hamer Tribes in the Omo Valley was incredibly rewarding, interesting and something we still contemplate to this day. For the adventurous who are interested in culture in Africa, this is an experience you absolutely should not miss.

  11. Hey Jonny, I’m planning a trip to Africa including Ethiopia for next year and this info is really helpful!
    I was wondering what time of the year you did this, because I’ve heard that going to the Omo Valley during the rainy months can be very complicated.
    Thanks in advance for your help!

  12. I have not heard from any female travellers who went there alone so can’t say. The tribes were relaxed to stay with and they’re used to tourists so I guess it would be ok. Should be fine with your son as well. Just be aware that close to the Kenya border there can sometimes be conflict with neighbouring tribes with cattle rustling. The tribes all have guns for protection. But stick to the main travelled route and it should be fine. However if you’re really concerned I would say take a tour or even rent your own 4wd and head there and go camping.

  13. There are lots to visit in Africa but I highly recommend spending some time visiting the tribes. Like that of Harmer tribe, I really admire how they value their culure like their bull jumping ceremony. There are lots of activities and ceremonies to witness in this country making it an ideal holiday destination. Anyway, I read about the bull jumping ceremony here and it’s really interesting: https://absoluteethiopia.com/the-culture-behind-the-bull-jumping-ceremony/

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