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)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.
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