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Why You Should Go Backpacking In Ethiopia – Backpackingman

Backpacking in Ethiopia is one of the best things you could do as a backpacker.

You have diverse cultures, different landscapes, a rich history, decent food, plenty of adventure, and it’s cheap to travel.

In fact it is one of the most fascinating countries you could see in Africa, if not the world.

It’s surprising then that it doesn’t have a bigger backpacker scene.

But then the lack of more travellers adds to its charm, and the ones you do meet tend to be of a similar mindset of escaping the more popular places.

It may be in part to an image problem that the country picked up in the 1980’s, with pictures of starving people in an undesirable climate.

The reality is that you will see poverty, but the images of the past are changing to one of hope and optimism.

Visiting and spending money into the economy will help it progress forward into a happier future.

I’ve spent two months backpacking in Ethiopia and have included links to articles that I have written about to specific areas in the country.





Backpacking in Ethiopia



The Beautiful Landscapes of Ethiopia

Simien mountains backpacking in Ethiopia
Leading up to the Simien Mountains in the north.

Ignore that thought you may have of dry, dusty deserts. Yes it does have those in abundance, but it’s only a part of the vastly changing landscape.

Imagine green rolling hills heading up into towering mountain peaks. Deep green forests bursting with life. Volcanic plains. You will see them all.

In the north there are the Simien Mountains, a perfect hiking destination. There you can disappear into the mist and come across the gelada monkeys that inhabit the mountain range, as well as other wildlife.

The north part of Ethiopia is very green and fertile. The impressive Blue Nile Falls are located there, and the nearby Lake Tana is great for relaxing around.

Blue Nile Falls backpacking in Ethiopia
The Blue Nile Falls.

The vast desert areas are mostly in the east, where you will come across the Danakil Depression, one of the hottest places on earth.

The area is surrounded by salt flats and active volcanoes, and is insanely hot. But the remoteness and harsh landscape just make it more of a unique place to visit.

backpacking Ethiopia danakil depression

To get there you will need to be with a group of cars for safety reasons, as breaking down would be very bad to say the least.

Traders collect slabs of salt and take them out on camel trains from the region to be sold in the markets. It’s highly regarded.

On tour in the Danakil Depression of Ethiopia
On the salt plains of the Danakil Depression.

The south is home to forests full of wildlife and some mountain ranges.

There are dry landscapes punctuated with some trees and bush which can be found in the west of the country. In the south-east it’s very harsh desert.

Crocodile infested rivers are also around where you can cross in small wooden canoes that barely float. Very nerve racking when you see the crocodiles on the banks go into the water and disappear.

Having reached the other side sweltering heat awaits you in the forest and tough terrain.

Crocodile river Omo Valley backpacking in Ethiopia
Crocodile river.

It’s there that you can visit the remote tribes of the Omo Valley.

Travel around there can be very difficult.



The People and Food of Ethiopia

People of Tigray in Ethiopia.
Locals in the Tigray region of the north.

There are so many different groups of people in Ethiopia it could feel like you are seeing many different countries.

From the remote tribes of the south in the Omo Valley (see woman in picture at beginning of post), to the muslims of the far east in Harar, the Afar tribe in the deserts, and many others.

backpacking Ethiopia Tigray

Most of the people will be curious to meet you and welcoming.

Depending which part of the country you are in more will be welcoming than others.

The more remote places are definitely the friendliest.

Afar girl in Ethiopia
An Afar girl in the eastern desert.

Like every country you will get some who are not so nice, and in Ethiopia it is mostly the hassle you get from touts and children/teenagers begging that are the biggest nuisance.

But you can look past that and delve deeper into the mindset of most Ethiopians and see an amazing cultural people.

You will see the orthodox Ethiopian christians in abundance at places like Lalibela, Tigray, and Lake Tana regions of the north, as well as others.

backpacking Ethiopia Tigray

I always say that it’s the people and food that make a place special, and everything else is a bonus. That can certainly be said for Ethiopia.

As far as the food in Ethiopia goes you will find injera covered in all kinds of spiced vegetables.

Injera is a kind of sour pancake, and is found almost everywhere. Be sure to try one at a good restaurant at least once.

There are also plenty of goat and lamb dishes, some of which are served up in huge communal pans to be eaten with hands.

Injera food Ethiopia
Injera pancake covered with different spiced vegetables.

If you enjoy coffee then welcome to coffee paradise!

Ethiopia is where coffee originally comes from, and many times you will be welcomed with a free cup of Ethiopian coffee, and when you do have to pay it costs almost nothing.

They even do a beautiful coffee ceremony where they roast the beans in front of you.



Backpackers Love an Adventure

Feeding hyenas in Harar
Feeding wild hyenas in Harar.

Backpacking Ethiopia will lead you to see so many different environments, and find some adventurous activities.

In the historic muslim city of Harar in the east you can feed wild hyenas in Harar . A man who deals with them regularly calls for them when the sun sets and they come creeping slowly towards you.

As long as there is meat to feed the hyenas they wont be interested in having a bite of you.

Want to know what it feels like to have one of the strongest jaws on earth snapping a piece of meat 30cm from your face from a stick in your teeth, then that is where to go.

The Danakil Depression is the ultimate in adventure. Hot remote desert, local Afar tribes, and active volcanoes to climb.

When you head into this region you need to have several soldiers escort you for safety against rebels from Eritrea.

Fancy scouting with a group of soldiers like a ghost in the dark up a volcano that is still active? You can.

Seeing the beauty of the lava boiling away in the top of the crater is mesmerising. You can read about that Danakil Depression tour here.

Soldier in Danakil Depression.
Soldier takes a photo of the lava with a phone.

You can go hiking in the Simien Mountains where you will be able to get up close with large families of gelada monkeys.

Hanging out with them in the often misty mountains is an unforgettable wildlife experience.

Hiking in the region is also perfect as long as you get the right weather.

Visiting gelada monkeys in the Simien Mountains
Relaxing with gelada monkeys in the Simien Mountains.

The south is perfect to get lost in the remote tribal regions of the Omo Valley. Tours go there but are expensive, and it can be much more fun to go with a small group of travellers hitch-hiking in.

Then go walking between the villages and stay with the various tribal people. I wrote about how you can do that trip –  here’s how you can visit the Omo Valley for cheap.

There are many more adventures to be had, you just have to go looking for them.



The Fascinating History of Ethiopia

Ark of the Covenant in Axum
A priest keeps watch over the church in the background that is said to house the Ark of the Covenant.

The legend of the Queen of Sheeba comes from the north of the country where there are many ancient remains of settlements. Indeed the region around the town of Axum is covered in historic remains.

This is also where the Ark of the Covenant is supposedly kept in a church. Indiana Jones anyone?

The area is also home to the rock churches and monasteries of Tigray, built high into the sides of mountains with beautiful vistas.

It can be very adventurous getting to some of them, with having to climb up steep cliff faces by rope, and walk on narrow planks of wood with a straight drop down.

Further south is Lalibela, one the historical highlights of Ethiopia. Here the rock churches are built into the ground, and you enter sometimes through tunnels, moving around in the dark.

Monasteries of tigray
Monastery in Tigray blends into the surroundings.

At Lake Tana there are monasteries containing ancient manuscripts of the orthodox Ethiopian church.

You have to take a boat to reach some on remote small islands, seeing fishermen out on their traditional canoes.

The castles of Gondar are nearby a little further north, an impressive network of intertwined structures that are labelled Africa’s camelot.

Gondar castles

The city of Harar is home to old muslim buildings and traditions,

Then there is the many different cultures of the tribes scattered around in the south.

In fact there is enough history to satisfy anyone.



Backpacking Ethiopia is Cheap

Yes the holy grail of backpackers is cheap travel, and Ethiopia is one of the cheapest you can find.

Staying in budget hotels, eating food such as injera, taking local transport and so on, you could get by on as little as $15 a day, even less.

But that would be living very frugally, and you would want to spend a little more sometimes to do things..

But that’s just to give you an idea on how cheap it can be.

If you end up getting out to places like the Danakil Depression then that will cost you a lot more as there is no public transport.



Go Backpacking in Ethiopia

Hopefully this has persuaded you to think about having an adventure in a country that deserves more attention than it gets.

It truly is one of the most fascinating places you could end up backpacking in.

Backpacking Ethiopia
Waiting for a ride in the tribal regions of the south.

You can read more about Ethiopia with my epic travel guide to backpacking in Ethiopia.

And his is what I recommend you pack for backpacking in Ethiopia.

Don’t leave home without my favourite guidebook for Ethiopia:

Ethiopia (Bradt Travel Guide)

I recommend using SafetyWing Travel Insurance for your trip, just in case, it’s best to be prepared.

If you liked this article about backpacking Ethiopia a share would be appreciated! –

27 thoughts on “Why You Should Go Backpacking In Ethiopia – Backpackingman”

  1. Katie Featherstone

    Wow, incredible portraits. I honestly had no idea that Ethiopia has salt flats. It sounds like such a beautiful country- I would absolutely love to go backpacking there. What an adventure!

  2. Yeah Ethiopia is seriously overlooked by travellers. I mean you get some there, but nowhere near as many as other destinations. It’s such a beautiful place, I’m always telling people about it.

  3. Wicked post man, love your photos too. We are in Ethiopia now, it’s been a dream to come here and I can attest to your fondness for the country, people and food(welcome change from East Africa!) Im wondering if you stayed at any decent guesthouses that you would recommend or if you had good luck just wandering around and negotiating? Much thanks

  4. Hey Alyse! Cool you’re loving it there as well. To be honest it was 2 years ago and so much travel related things have happened since that I can’t remember specific names of guesthouses. Sorry. Enjoy your time!!! 🙂

  5. Hey! I love this post, makes me really looking forward to going to Ethiopia. I understand this is two-three years ago for you, but Im gonna go for some questions nevertheless!
    What kind of gear do I need to bring – Is there any must haves that I should bring in my backpack?
    Is there something I should think specifically about since Im traveling alone?
    Thankful for any tips!

  6. I wouldn’t worry so much about what to bring. I went with just a 30 litre backpack with minimal stuff and was fine. Bear in mind that if going to higher altitudes bring a lightweight fleece or light synthetic/down jacket as can get chilly, such as hiking in the Simien Mountains. Otherwise nothing special needed. I met a few women travelling solo. It’s generally the same as everywhere. Don’t walk alone at night in dodgy looking places in cities etc. There are other travellers around so for sure you will meet people and travel with them. That’s what I and many others did 🙂 You’ll love it there!

  7. Hi

    I’ve been trying to find a cost effective way to do the Danakil Depression for close to a year now. How did you go about getting there what organiser/travel agent? Did you have a large group who were willing to split the cost? I can’t find any options for a solo traveller willing to join a group except for one tour but the dates aren’t possible. Thanks in advance.


  8. Hey. I couldn’t find any cheap option to visit as it’s a seriously hard place to get to. You could probably get around halfway in hitch-hiking but the most interesting stuff to see you will need to be on a tour. I was in Mekele and just went to a tour company there and they joined me with other groups of travellers going in. It’s easier if you have the time and can wait around a few days in Addis Ababa or Mekele for other travellers. Mekele is cheaper than Addis to organise (well it was 3 years ago). In 3 years since I went things might have changed. I can’t remember the company I used.

  9. Hey Marie! I’m going to be traveling solo in Ethiopia for August. If you’re still there we should meet up!

  10. Hi Every one, I couldn’t help it notice that it seems to be a bit hectic to find a cheapest way option since most of the information you may need are not found on the internet. I am originally from Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, but recently moved to London and i used to work as a tour guide. In my opinion, the easiest way to do this is find someone Ethiopian you know at work, school any place and ask advise to assign you with family member or friend in Ethiopia. Trust me it makes things 10 times easier and cheaper. Because things are not like in Europe or America that you search on the Internet and compare everything. Things are done with a good contacts through out individuals. If you have any question let me know and i will help you with advise.

  11. Hi Bisrat,
    are you ethiopian living in Ethiopia ?? I am planning on travelling to Ethiopia on february 4th 2017 staying 3 weeks. Would love to get some advice . Planning to do a roundtrip from north to south or vice versa. Br

  12. Hello!!! i really liked your post… i have been backpacking for many years, now i’m working for an airline company and i’m thinking about 10 days of backpacking there by myself(as i usually do). do you think 10 days would be quite enough to see at least a bit of it?? have got any reccomendation about the route i could make in 10 days?? i’m really interested in get in touch with tribes but want to avoid overtouristic places!!! thank you brother!!

  13. 10 days would be pushing it and if you want to meet tribes then I would suggest concentrating your time to get to the Omo Valley in the south. With 10 days you could join a tour or take the risk and do what I did and hitch-hike into the region, but timewise might not be good.

  14. Hey, thanks for the info! I’m currently planning my trip. But I am a male solo traveler, is it safe to back pack Ethiopia on my own?

  15. Hey, Thats an awesome Info, Thanks, am an Ethiopian Currently living in Addis Ababa But I wanna travel and through the rural areas, If anyone wants to travel with me, someone who speaks Amharic and familiar with the environment please let me know,….. #”fuck it” I’m looking for adventure

  16. 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.

  17. Hi there, has anyone travelled around Ethiopia during the month of August?
    Is it true that it rains all the time and the weather makes things much more difficult?
    And when you say that “tour companies are expensive”, how much expensive? Especially for what concerns the south.
    Thank you in advance!

  18. I am heading to Ethiopia last week in November for about 10 days. I know it will be pushing it but any suggestions on combining north and south? OR rather north or south? Any reputable travel agencies in Addis? The idea is to backpack but I will be a solo female traveller and not sure on the safety of public transport. Still doing a lot of reading up at the moment to get a better idea on what to expect and to figure out my means of travel. ALSO any places in Addis where I can do a cooking class? Thanks!

  19. Ana Katrina Lopez

    You’ve just made backpacking in Ethiopia sound fun. Thanks for sharing this post. I was looking into traveling to this country and was wondering what the experience would be like. It seems that Ethiopia has so much to offer travelers. Were you able to visit a lot of places during your trip? I heard Aksum is a great place to visit because of the ancient history and culture in the area. Looking forward to reading more about your future travels!

  20. Hello everyone,
    My name is amsalu from Ethiopia..
    I am tour organizer to the whole Ethiopian tourist attractions especially Simien mountain and danakil depression.
    We have available groups everyday
    For more information contact us via whatsapp +251955195392

  21. Hello there
    My name is amsalu from Ethiopia i am tour organizer to the whole Ethiopian tourist attractions especially Simien mountain and danakil depression we have available groups everyday.
    For more information contact us via whatsapp +251955195392

  22. Pingback: Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Simien Mountains of Ethiopia

  23. Pingback: The Danakil Depression - Visiting One of The Hottest Places On Earth

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