Accommodation is generally good value by international standards. Unfussy backpackers will find there are plenty of places to stay, with even the smallest of towns normally having half a dozen basic and inexpensive guesthouses; some larger towns might have literally hundreds to choose from. Standards of cleanliness and comfort levels, however, are generally very low, and accommodation aimed at or suited to a more demanding clientele tends to be in shorter supply, at least outside of Addis Ababa and a few major tourist centres. Scarcer still are hotels and lodges with sufficient character or individuality to slot into the “boutique” category or be recommended on much more than a functional level.
When you arrive at any hotel or guesthouse, be aware that Ethiopians tend to refer to any room with one bed as a single, even when it has a double bed and it is perfectly acceptable for a couple to share it. If you ask for a double room, more often than not you’ll be shown a twin, which is typically a lot pricier than a single-that’s-actually-a-double. Presumably as a result of homophobic propaganda, most lodgings in Ethiopia now forbid two men to share a room with a double bed, and some also object to men sharing a twin. People are generally more relaxed about two women sharing.
Hotels, resorts and lodges
Hotels that genuinely meet international standards are thin on the ground. Chains such as Radisson Blu, Hilton and Sheraton are represented in Addis Ababa, and there is also at least one hotel, resort or lodge of comparable four- to five-star quality in Bishoftu, Bahir Dar, Lake Langano, Hawassa and Bale Mountains National Park. Elsewhere, most important tourist sites, for instance Gondar, Lalibela, Gheralta, Ziway and Simien Mountains National Park, have at least one hotel or lodge approaching international standards.
Otherwise, the vast majority of “proper” hotels in Ethiopia are bland multi-storey “city hotels” offering functional but forgettable en-suite accommodation, though they will at least still offer hot water, satellite TV, wi-fi and a restaurant serving a mixture of local and international dishes. In some cases, such hotels will be very clean, quite modern in feel, and well maintained and managed. Most, however, are quite run-down and it would be rare indeed to have a room where everything worked 100 percent. Two popular tourist destinations that (rather inexplicably) suffer from a long-standing lack of quality tourist accommodation are Aksum and Harar.
Hostels and budget accommodation
There are no proper youth or backpacker hostels in Ethiopia, though one or two established backpacker haunts in Addis Ababa come close to fitting the bill, at least insofar as they are good places to hang out and meet other travellers. Otherwise, budget accommodation generally falls into two broad categories. The first (and best) consists of more basic (or more tired) variations on the type of city hotel described above, and would include for example Aksum’s Africa Hotel and Bahir Dar’s Ghion Hotel. The second category comprises the countless basic local guesthouses that can be found in most towns of any substance, usually not too far from the bus station. Most of these will charge under $8 for a room, though foreigners are often asked an exaggerated faranji price. Although many budget travellers do make use of this type of accommodation, it should be stressed that much of it is basic by any standards: bare and grubby rooms using less than pristine common showers and often plagued by fleas or bedbugs. Many such places also double as brothels and cannot be recommended to solo female travellers.
Unlike in many African countries, Ethiopia offers limited opportunities for organized camping. The main exceptions are the Bale and Simien mountains national parks, where hikers can, and in some circumstances might need to, camp. Otherwise, it would be difficult to justify the additional weight that carrying camping equipment entails.
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